Archive for ‘Foreign Policy’

Indo-Pak Peace Talks Resume

By , 11 February, 2011, No Comment

Big news out of the Subcontinent this week: India and Pakistan are resuming peace talks after almost two years’ stalemate. The talks, which Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is calling the ‘comprehensive dialogue,’ will cover political, economic and security issues and will be structured not only around meetings between the two countries’ heads of state and foreign ministries, but also the ministries overseeing commerce, culture and natural resources. This structure will prevent, significantly, progress on any one area from being held hostage by stagnation on another.

Will these talks bear fruit? I’m skeptical, though not for the usual reasons. Read why here.

Confusion in Foggy Bottom

By , 10 February, 2011, 1 Comment

An update on U.S. policy re: Egypt over at Foreign Exchange:

And today, I saw and heard a very simple explanation: there is, after the violence of last Wednesday and Thursday, a commitment to organic Egyptian democracy in some top quarters (notably the White House), and a commitment to a rapid technocratic transition in others (notably the Pentagon), and no capacity or mechanism to efficiently share information, forge a consensus across departments, and coordinate a message. The State Department, where I’m writing this, has the unfortunate task of representing that to the world.

It’s a common critique of this Administration—indecision combined with multiple centers of power—but it happens to be true. If there isn’t an official U.S. statement tonight, it’s because there isn’t an official U.S. position right now. In part, that is a reaction to a speech from Mubarak that came—according to both intelligence and diplomatic sources—as a surprise to the U.S. But it is not clear, based on the messages today and conversations with officials while I waited for the briefing-that-never-came, that there was a coordinated U.S. position before the speech either.

Read it all here.

Assorted Questions on Egypt

By , 3 February, 2011, 2 Comments

A quick post at Foreign Exchange laying out what I see as outstanding questions as we head into the wee hours, Cairo-time. Here’s hoping one of the intrepid reporters there right now takes some of these on:

…for the last few years, the key value of Egypt’s relationship to Israel has been economic: some $500 million worth of total trade in oil, food crops, consumer products, growing at a remarkable rate-roughly doubled since 2007 alone. If the political peace holds, but relations are frostier post-Mubarak, as Israeli representatives say they will be, and if the borders around Gaza tighten as a result, what happens to that trade? Or, will the dependency of populations in both countries on that trade prevent a political regression?

The reporters themselves seem to have become the story in the last 36 hours in a way that reminds me somewhat of the press crackdown in Pakistan in the waning hours of the Musharraf regime, but even more of the press evangelism of the 1830 revolution in Paris which old readers will know I spent some time mulling over many moons ago. Actually, what we’re witnessing across North Africa and the Middle East is somewhere in between the two, and I’m still working out how they fit together. Stay tuned.

A Brief Update on Sudan

By , 20 January, 2011, No Comment

Not so much a blog post as a quick selection of reporting nuggets over at Foreign Exchange. If you’ve been following the Sudanese Peace Process, potentially of interest.

Dust Settles in Tunisia

By , 17 January, 2011, 1 Comment

A second post on the Tunisian turmoil at Foreign Exchange:

Six members of Ben Ali’s government–technocrats, not core political advisors–have retained their posts or moved into new and equally senior ones, including the President, Prime Ministership and the ministries of defense and foreign affairs; three opposition leaders, from the centre-left have been granted minor cabinet posts; they are joined by a handful of trade unionists, lawyers and civil society figures. The new cabinet has committed itself–in addition to organizing the elections–to lifting the ban on NGOs, including the Tunisian Human Rights League, and on freedom of information and expression, or the lifting of Ben Ali’s censorship regime.

Here’s what’s not in the announcement: the three most radical opposition voices–the secular leftist academic Moncef Marzouki’s party, Hamma Hammami’s hard-left communist worker’s party, and the Islamist Ennadha led by Rached Gannouchi–were not invited to the talks. These three parties were banned from Ben Ali’s regime, while the three parties brought into the interim coalition were always considered by Ben Ali as ‘legitimate’ opposition. Under his dictatorship, to be legitimate was meaningless, as there were no free elections to contest. But carrying over that distinction–picking and choosing your political opponents–into a post-revolt government that plans to transition Tunisia to democracy is problematic, especially when those parties command such large support among the demographics–the young, the students, the poor–who were in the front lines of the revolt.

Read the rest here.

Ben Ali’s Rhetorical Alchemy, or How the West Was Duped

By , 15 January, 2011, No Comment

An opinionated post today at Foreign Exchange on the coup in Tunisia:

Like many journalists reporting on Tunisia this weekend, I’ve been dismayed by the response coming from France. To recap, the French government backed and defended Ben Ali’s regime throughout its tenure, including in the final weeks when his forces were clashing with protesters in the streets, and when other countries–notably the U.S.–were cutting their ties. Now the dam has burst, their statement to the press translates roughly to, ‘We’ll wait and see.’ Charmant.

So I am dismayed, yes, but not entirely surprised. It is not the first time that a major Western democracy has backed a dictator in the Muslim world and found their support meaningless in the face of popular revolt: the U.S. experience with the Shah in Iran and Musharraf in Pakistan are two important precedents.

In this case, as in those, two explanations are emerging for this behavior.

Don’t you desperately want to know what they are? Find out here.

The Wikileaks Subpoena

By , 14 January, 2011, No Comment

I’m getting to this a week late, because I was on the road on behalf of Public Business when the story broke, but some thoughts on the subpoena. Seems to me there are two conversations to be had:

One is from the perspective of individual consumer privacy and what kind of legal compliance policies companies ought to have when it comes to user data. Companies, plural, because, as Tom Phillips has noted, there’s a whole lot of language in the subpoena that’s got nothing to do with Twitter. And, I would add, several classes of company not covered in this subpoena who might be targeted for data in future lawsuits if this prosecutorial M.O. persists. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a while, at least since I had the chance at Columbia to take a course on privacy with a professor who prophesied that the ability to broadly subpoena Google + Microsoft + Citigroup + BofA would produce 21st century totalitarianism. While I thought his vision hyperbolic–and while we butted heads a lot in class–that the information subpoena was a scary tool was something on which we agreed.

The second conversation taking place is one about journalism and shield protection.

Read More →

Sudan: What Do you Mean by Independence?

By , 13 January, 2011, No Comment

First of several posts up at Foreign Exchange today about the referendum for independence in Southern Sudan:

A rare bit of uplifting news in foreign policy land this week, as emerging returns from the independence referendum in Southern Sudan suggest minimal violence and 60% voter turnout, which is nothing short of remarkable given the distances people traveled to polling stations and the fact that any population figure for Southern Sudan includes a fair number of individuals who don’t actually live in Sudan anymore but in refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and further afield.

The positive headline aside, there are some very large unanswered questions about what independence means, substantively. The most important one, from the perspective of this blog, is that an independent South is going to be a landlocked, poor state with one valuable natural resource – oil – and no capacity to refine or export it.

Read the rest.

Thinking Long Term on India and Iran

By , 5 January, 2011, No Comment

New post at Foreign Exchange on the India-Iran oil deal and the challenges of securing funding for it amidst the US-led sanctions on Tehran. My take:

the U.S. position in recent years has been that India is most valuable as an ally when it is looking eastwards, and competing with China in the South China Sea or through trade relationships in South East Asia; that is the view favored too by a number of Indian policy wonks and popular in the Indian press.

But this banking move suggests that inside the halls of power, Indian leaders understand what I tried to argue in November: that India is most likely to challenge China, and thereby benefit other great powers, if it rectifies relations in South Asia and uses its relationship with Iran to build a trading zone to its west.

From Washington’s perspective, it’s a classic clash between short- and long- term policy objectives, between the nuclear issue and the need for an India that is strong in the region. There are no signs as yet that the U.S. government wants to shift its strategy towards the long-term and let this deal stand, but if it did, I for one would welcome it.

Read it all.

Disappearances in Pakistan

By , 30 December, 2010, 1 Comment

I’m vague and inconclusive over at Foreign Exchange again today, this time in response to an NYT story about disappearances in Pakistan.

I must admit the Times story doesn’t sit easily with my reporting in Pakistan…The Times makes two common foreign policy reporting mistakes–trying to fold an old local dispute largely ignored by the international community into a more recent narrative in which the West has a stake; and glossing over the conflicting interests of diverse factions within Pakistan (the courts, the President, the army). That’s a shame because ultimately, the competing centers of power in Pakistan are a much larger problem for its NATO allies than are these human rights violations, and in desperate need of elucidation.

Read it here.