Reuters blog archive
from David Rohde:
The secretary of state's critics call him arrogant, undisciplined, and reckless -- but his relentlessness in pursuit of negotiations might produce some of the most important diplomatic breakthroughs in years.
When John Kerry succeeded Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in February, Clinton’s emotional departure from the State Department received blanket media coverage. Kerry’s arrival received next to none.
“So here’s the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years,” Kerry said in a speech to State Department employees on his first day on the job. “Can a man actually run the State Department? I don’t know.”
As the crowd roared with laughter, Kerry pushed the joke too far.
“As the saying goes,” he said, “I have big heels to fill.”
Nearly three weeks later, Kerry’s first foreign-policy speech as secretary, an hour-long defense of diplomacy and foreign aid, was a flop. The Washington Post gave it 500 words. The New York Times ignored it. (He was also accused of accidentally inventing a new country called “Kyrzakhstan,” an apparent conflation of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.)
By Rob Cox and Christopher Swann
The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are their own.
Fracking may be changing U.S. foreign policy. The abundant supply of hydrocarbons made accessible by hydraulic fracturing has nudged the United States the closest it’s been to energy independence in a generation and also creates a buffer for the global oil price. While all of this is relatively recent, the shift may give Uncle Sam new latitude in handling knotty affairs in Syria and throughout the Middle East.
from The Great Debate:
Israel’s recent attacks on military targets in Syria have made clear the widening regional dimensions of Syria’s civil war. They have also fueled debate about whether the United States should intervene. Look, some say, Israel acts when it sets red lines, and Syria’s air defenses are easy to breach. Israel’s involvement has energized those, like Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who argue for U.S. military intervention in Syria. Unfortunately, the interventionists are drawing the wrong lessons from the Israeli actions.
The first misconception is that the Israeli strikes showed how Israel stands by its red lines in ways that bolster its credibility – a sharp contrast to the perceived equivocation of President Barack Obama’s stated red line that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “game changer.”
from Jack Shafer:
Today's edition of the New York Times visits Tehran and reports on page one that the economic sanctions leveled against Iran by the United States are not working — if by working one means that the country shows any signs of ditching its nuclear program.
Oh, it's not like the sanctions have completely flopped: Inflation is gargantuan, and the currency has melted. But the Times reporters find that Iran's citizens have yet to riot over prices. New high-rises are rising high over Tehran and a Chinese-built highway interchange is similarly soaring. Shops are filled with goods, and new eateries seem to be opening daily. In response, the Obama administration has decided to do the thing it does when sanctions don't work (and not working is something sanctions frequently do): It's adding more sanctions. (Print headline: "U.S. Ratchets Up an Economic War Against Tehran; Web headline: "U.S. Increases Pressure of Economic War on Tehran.")
from The Great Debate:
Israel did not bomb Iran last year. Why should it happen this year?
Because it did not happen last year. The Iranians are proceeding apace with their nuclear program. The Americans are determined to stop them. Sanctions are biting, but the diplomatic process produced nothing visible in 2012. Knowledgeable observers believe there is no "zone of possible agreement." Both the United States and Iran may believe that they have viable alternatives to a negotiated agreement.
While Israel has signaled that its "red line" (no nuclear weapons capability) won't be reached before mid-2013, it seems likely it will be reached before the end of the year. President Barack Obama has refused to specify his red line, but he has made it amply clear that he prefers intensified sanctions and eventual military action to a nuclear Iran that needs to be contained and provides incentives for other countries to go nuclear. If and when he takes the decision for war, there is little doubt about a bipartisan majority in Congress supporting the effort.
from David Rohde:
The return of protests, tanks and death to the streets of Cairo this week is harrowing. So is the power of the rampant conspiracy theories that cause Muslim Brotherhood members and their secular opponents to sincerely believe they are defending Egypt’s revolution. Both sides are behaving abominably.
Criticisms of President Mohamed Mursi’s foolish and unnecessary power grab and rushed constitutional process are legitimate. So are complaints that the country’s secular opposition is poorly organized, lacks majority support and refuses to compromise.
from The Great Debate:
The conventional wisdom in Washington these days is that a newly empowered president, freed from the political constraints of reelection, will have more discretion, drive and determination to take on the Middle East’s most intractable problems.
Don’t believe it. This looks a lot more compelling on paper than in practice. Should President Barack Obama be tempted to embrace it, he may well find himself on the short end of the legacy stick.
from Ian Bremmer:
This month, a curious thing happened in the annals of diplomacy. A country offered up a peace plan to put an end to a seemingly endless civil war in Syria. This country was not one of the usual foreign policy suspects -- it was not the United States, it was not in Europe, and it wasn’t Syria’s neighbor. It was a country that has no real experience in playing the world’s policeman. But, seeing a world filled with retired officers, it decided to try on the uniform for itself. China has taken another step into the spotlight of the world stage.
This is what happens in a G-Zero world -- a world without any specific country or bloc of countries in charge. China has long been content to watch world events play out and then react, trusting that another country would step in to put volatile situations to rest. But that’s not happening with the Syrian conflict and its spillover into the broader Middle East. Americans feel that the issue doesn’t affect them enough to intervene. Europeans, as a Union, don’t seem to be particularly interested, even if some smaller countries are. And with those powers on the sidelines, suddenly the Chinese have a much bigger problem -- a civil war that could metastasize into regional instability. The Chinese have far too much at stake in Iraq and Iran for that to happen: 11 percent of China’s oil imports come from Iran, and it is on track to be the chief importer of Iraqi oil by 2030.
from Ian Bremmer:
This week -- chads willing -- Americans will finally put an end to four years’ worth of electoral Sturm und Drang. Only then can the country begin to ask the question that matters much more than who will win: Will anything change? On foreign policy, it’s increasingly clear that the answer is, for the most part, no.
Likewise, this week -- politburo willing -- the Chinese will finally put an end to a year of bureaucratic angst. The powers that be hope that once a new president is installed, the Communist Party can put months of scandal behind it (Bo Xilai’s trial and Wen Jiabao’s family fortune, to name just a couple) and start to answer the question they’re most eager to put to bed: Will anything change in a new regime? On foreign policy, it’s increasingly clear that the answer is -- you guessed it -- for the most part, no.
from Nicholas Wapshott:
The murder by Islamist terrorists of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks has become one of the most contentious issues in the election. The administration has been flailing around, unsure of its facts, offering statements that turned out to be misleading. Republicans, led by Senator John McCain, have jumped on the errors by the State Department and the CIA that contributed to the confusion over our understanding of the slaughter in Benghazi, and backed an unrelenting press campaign attempting to show Barack Obama as either incompetent, a liar, or both.
Yet, despite six weeks of heavy pounding on Obama’s approach to terrorism and national security, an issue that in the past has occupied Americans as a top priority, the president’s reputation remains largely unscathed and, according to polls, voters still consider him more suited than Mitt Romney to run America’s foreign and security policies. Why has such a virulent campaign to discredit Obama’s record as commander-in-chief so conspicuously failed?