Bernd Debusmann

Libya and selective US intervention

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 25, 2011 15:44 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

“We stand for universal values, including the rights of the … people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and the freedom to access information.”

–President Barack Obama, during the Egyptian mass uprising against a detested dictator.

“The United States is … to construct an architecture of  values that spans the globe and includes every man, woman and child. An architecture that can not only counter repression and resist pressure on human rights, but also extend those fundamental freedoms to places where they have been too long denied.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a foreign policy speech in September.

That is the theory — U.S. foreign policy in defense of universal values. In practice, the United States has often been unable or unwilling to live up to the values it preaches. Like other big powers, it has placed its self-interest first, which meant dividing the world into acceptable and unacceptable authoritarians. Soaring rhetoric since the beginning of the pro-democracy uprisings in the Arab world notwithstanding, the gap between theory and practice is in full view again.

Obama, guns and media control

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 18, 2011 17:08 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

There is fresh thinking, of a peculiar sort, in the perennial debate over gun violence in the United States, world leader in civilian ownership of firearms. Censorship of news reporting on the mass shootings that have long been part of American life will help prevent other mass shootings.

So says the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an open letter responding to President Barack Obama’s suggestion that it is time for all sides in the gun debate to get together and find a “sensible, intelligent way” to make the United States a safer place. The president mentioned common sense and a White House spokesman talked of the need to find common ground.

Common sense has not been in abundant supply in decades of on-again, off-again debate on guns and violence. As to finding common ground between the leading gun lobby and advocates of better controls, the NRA’s Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, says his group will “absolutely not” take part in the sort of meeting envisaged by Obama. Such a meeting, he said in a series of media interviews, would be with people opposed to the constitutional right to bear arms.

A final goodbye to Superpower America?

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 11, 2011 16:12 UTC

Sombre analyses of America’s decline come in waves and the latest seems to be gathering strength. “AMERICAN DECLINE. This Time It’s Real” proclaims a recent magazine cover. “Yes, America is in Decline,” echoes another. Time to prepare obituaries for the world’s remaining superpower?

How long will it take for the U.S. to follow the example of the Roman Empire and end up as Italy? That’s a question the prognosticators of America’s waning power and influence (also known as declinists) tend to sidestep, perhaps because so many past predictions of doom have been so wrong.

The “This Time It’s Real” assertion is on the cover of Foreign Policy, a magazine closely read by the foreign policy community. Inside, the British commentator Gideon Rachman lays out a well-argued case for saying the U.S. will never again enjoy the dominance it had in the 17 years between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the global financial crisis of 2008.

Why high-seas piracy is here to stay

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 4, 2011 16:50 UTC


Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

WASHINGTON — In 2005, the average ransom paid for the release of a ship hijacked by Somali pirates was around $150,000. By the end of last year, it stood at $5.4 million. That means revenues for the business of piracy more than doubled every year. The 2005 to 2010 percentage increase is a staggering 3,600 percent.

The ransom numbers come from the One Earth Foundation, a U.S. think tank, and help explain why the business of piracy, probably the world’s most profitable, has been expanding — despite an increased international naval presence in the waters hounded by Somali pirates, despite a string of plans to protect shipping, and despite increasingly exasperated statements from politicians and ship owners.

Talking about pirates off Somalia, who killed four Americans on February 22, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week that “I’m fed up with it.” Piracy is moving up Washington’s list of priorities, according to her. A few weeks earlier, Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary General, noted that “piracy seems to be outpacing the efforts of the international community to stem it.”