Bernd Debusmann

World arms deals and tilting at windmills

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 30, 2011 18:17 UTC

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

For the United States, the world’s leading arms merchant, a controversial deal with the tiny island state of Bahrain is negligible, less than half a percent of America’s total sales.  But it helps explain efforts to regulate the global arms trade more tightly.

The proposed sale in question is worth $53 million, involves 44 armoured Humvees, a variety of missiles, and night vision equipment. The Pentagon announced it in mid-September, just three months after the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahue, in a speech in Geneva, included Bahrain on a list of governments that “repress dissent with impunity.” Along with Syria, Yemen and Libya, the royal rulers of Bahrain responded to the Arab Spring democracy movement by killing and jailing opponents.

In mid-September, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency told Congress that the deal would “contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”  The advocacy group Human Rights Watch said the U.S. appeared to “reward repression with new weapons.”

That would make it hard for people to take seriously American statements about human rights and support for democracy, said Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch. The deal should be delayed until Bahrain ends abuses against critics, she said on September 22.

Since then, the Bahraini rulers took more action that provided fodder to its critics. On September 29, a court sentenced a protester to death for allegedly killing a policeman and sentenced doctors who had treated wounded protesters to prison terms from five to 15v years.

The US elections and pandering to Israel

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 23, 2011 16:28 UTC

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

So much for charges from conservative contenders for the 2012 U.S. presidential elections that Barack Obama is not pro-Israel enough — the president just won seals of approval from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and the U.S. lobby that usually reflects their views.

If the elections, as some predict, will include a contest on who loves Israel most, Obama can use their praise to good effect. How much it will contribute to his legacy is another matter.

The plaudits came in response to Obama’s address to the United Nations on Sept. 21, when he rejected the Palestinians’ bid for U.N. membership in what one Israeli journalist, Chemi Shalev of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, described as “probably the warmest pro-Israel speech ever given at an annual U.N. General Assembly meeting by any U.S. president, bar none.”

To create U.S. jobs, bring in immigrants

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 13, 2011 15:04 UTC

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

WASHINGTON — In tandem with the $447 billion jobs plan President Barack Obama announced on September 8, his administration is breathing new life into an old program to draw job-creating foreigners to the United States. It’s known as the EB-5 investor program, has a clouded history, and can’t bring much relief to America’s unemployment misery.

But with 27 million people unemployed or underemployed and Obama’s own job depending on whether or not he can bring down the unemployment rate in time for next year’s presidential election, every job-creating opportunity is worth pursuing.

Which is why Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano and Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced “streamlining measures” to America’s complicated immigration laws a few weeks before the president laid out his ideas on how to spur growth, a mix of tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

A Mexican massacre and a war without end

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 6, 2011 14:01 UTC

There’s good news and bad news on the war on drugs in Mexico and the United States. The good news: cooperation between U.S. and Mexican security forces has rarely been closer. “Unprecedented,” President Barack Obama termed it in a message of sympathy for 52 people killed in an arson attack on a casino in northern Mexico.

The unprecedented cooperation he referred to ranges from the United States providing intelligence drawn from wiretaps and aerial surveillance by U.S. drones to taking part in planning operations to capture drug lords.

American agents, according to accounts from both sides of the border, had a role in hunting down 21 of the 37 men on Mexico’s list of most-wanted organized crime chiefs.