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from Ian Bremmer:

Four Debate Questions for Obama and Romney

There will always be a wide gap between what candidates promise and what they deliver once elected, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. After all, this is an area where U.S. presidents have less control than either candidate will ever admit near a microphone. But this year, there are contradictions that cut straight to the heart of debates over American power and how it should be used. With that in mind, here are the questions I would like to see each candidate answer.

THE CHINA CONUNDRUM

    President Obama, given how much money the United States borrows from China each day, how can your administration expect to persuade the Chinese government to do anything it wouldn’t otherwise do? Governor Romney, you have pledged that, if elected, you will formally label China a “currency manipulator” on day one of your presidency. This decision would surely provoke a sharp response from China. Are you risking a trade war, and how could the United States win a trade war with China?

China-bashing has figured into many a U.S. presidential campaign. As China’s economy and geopolitical importance has grown — and as U.S. manufacturing jobs have moved from U.S. swing states to China and other foreign countries — both sides have tried to score points by promising to “get tough” with Beijing. Given the economic interdependence of the two countries and continued Chinese willingness to loan money to the United States, voters are right to wonder how seriously they should take all this anti-Chinese rhetoric.

SYRIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST

    President Obama, does the United States have a moral responsibility to protect Syrians from their government? Governor Romney, if we were to see large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, similar to those we saw last year in Cairo, would your administration side with the Saudi citizens demanding democracy? Or would you side with their government, a key U.S. ally?

President Obama cited moral concerns for the U.S.-led NATO intervention in Libya. Syria is a much more politically and logistically complicated problem for outsiders contemplating involvement, but the moral imperative — protecting citizens who are being killed by their government — appears the same. Where is the line in U.S. foreign policy between pragmatism and moral concerns?

Governor Romney has two principle criticisms of the Obama Middle East policy: The White House has refused to stand with U.S. allies in the region and has refused to stand with those who demand freedom. There are many ways to highlight the contradiction in these critiques, but the most efficient is to ask about Romney’s attitude toward the potential for pro-democracy demonstrations inside an authoritarian state that is also a crucial U.S. ally and the world’s leading producer of crude oil.

from The Great Debate:

Can Romney put foreign policy in play?

This piece was updated after GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s major foreign policy address on Monday. It reflects Romney’s remarks.

In the first foreign policy speech following his momentum-gaining debate against President Barack Obama, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney expanded on his vision of an “American century,” a view he tied to the legacy of leaders like General George Marshall as he outlined a muscular, moral U.S. foreign policy with American exceptionalism at its core.

from Expert Zone:

Pakistan apology deal incidental to real problem of its support for terrorists

(The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not represent those of Reuters)

As Washington closed down for the Independence Day holiday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly apologised to Pakistan for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers inadvertently killed by a NATO military strike along the Afghan border last November.

from Photographers' Blog:

The boy in blue

By Lucas Jackson

One of the ubiquitous presences when traveling through Afghanistan on an embed with U.S. soldiers is that of scores of children either watching the soldiers passing in convoys or patrolling their villages. It is not uncommon for dozens of faces to be staring at you, often while standing mere feet away from the obvious out-of-towners.

The soldiers do their best to either ignore these multitudes of staring eyes or to interact with them but most often the children react shyly when confronted or when someone tries to talk to them. As a photographer traveling with these soldiers I also stand out, even more so than the soldiers which they are at least used to seeing. I am dressed differently and instead of a rifle I carry something they see far less often - cameras. For me these trips are as frustrating as they are interesting. I try to catch moments when these children are interacting to the presence of the military in their town or with each other. But I often find that as soon as I point the camera, I either become the center of attention or my young subjects turn and run away.

from Photographers' Blog:

Keeping vampire’s hours

By Tim Wimborne

Photography is capturing light reflecting off things to make pictures. I shoot a lot after sundown over here. That just seems to be the nature of this war. Soldiers I have been embedded with have technology that gives them an upper hand at night and so they tend to be fairly active in the dark.

Shooting at Combat Outpost Pirtle-King takes this to a record level. Soldiers here describe working on this base as "sitting in a fish bowl". There are steep slopes above on three sides providing enemy gunmen ample concealed fighting positions from which to fire down. There seemed to be one particularly active sniper in the area at present.

from David Rohde:

Little America: An Afghan town, an American dream and the folly of for-profit war

American officials inspect a field in Helmand, 1960s

Eight years ago, a 72-year-old American aid worker named Charles Grader told me a seemingly fantastical story. In a bleak stretch of Afghan desert that resembled the surface of Mars, several dozen families from states like Montana, Wisconsin and California had lived in suburban tract homes with backyard barbecues. For 30 years during the Cold War, the settlement served as the headquarters of a massive American project designed to wean Afghans from Soviet influence.

American engineers oversaw the largest development program in Afghanistan’s history, constructing two huge earthen dams, 300 miles of irrigation canals and 1,200 miles of gravel roads. All told, the project made 250,000 acres of desert bloom. The town, officially known as “Lashkar Gah,” was the new capital of Helmand province and an ultra-modern world of workshops and offices. Afghans called it “Little America.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

For a fistful of dollars, America and Pakistan wrangle

Pakistan's relationship with the United States can't get more transactional than the prolonged negotiations over restoration of the Pakistani supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, according to leaked accounts of so-called private negotiations, is demanding $5000 as transit fee for allowing trucks to use the two most obvious routes into landlocked Afghanistan, blocked since November when two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed in an U.S. air strike from Afghanistan. The United States which apparently paid about $250 for each vehicle carrying everything from fuel to bottled water all these years is ready to double that, but nowhere near the price Pakistan is demanding for its support of the war. It also wants an apology for the deaths of the soldiers but America has stopped short of that, offering regret instead.

from Thinking Global:

How NATO can revitalize its role

White House reporters can be forgiven their collective shrug when they received the readout from President Obama’s meeting last week with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in advance of the alliance’s Chicago summit this weekend. Laced with the usual, mind-numbing NATO-speak, the dry listing of the summit’s three areas of focus – Afghanistan, defense capabilities, and partnerships – didn’t sound like the stuff of history.

However, beneath the third agenda item – partnerships – lies a potential revolution in how the world’s most important security alliance may operate globally in the future beside other regional organizations – and at the request of the United Nations. At a time of euro zone crisis, U.S. political polarization and global uncertainty, it provides a possible road map for “enlarging the West” and its community of common values and purpose. “NATO is now a hub for a global network of security partners which have served alongside NATO forces in Afghanistan, Libya and Kosovo,” Obama and Rasmussen agreed.

from Photographers' Blog:

Into the night: Covert travel with President Obama

By Kevin Lamarque

First there is the phone call. It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon in Washington when the phone rings. “Can you be at the White House for a meeting in four hours? I can’t tell you why, but we need you to be there.”

Hmmm … I’ve seen this show before, and I pretty much know what the deal is. President Obama is going to be traveling somewhere unsavory and everything about it will be Top Secret until he lands at his mystery destination.

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