Bernd Debusmann

Pakistan and questions over foreign aid

Bernd Debusmann
May 13, 2011 14:38 UTC

In the flurry of statements on the killing of Osama bin Laden, a remark from Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, spoke volumes about how U.S. foreign aid tends to be perceived by its recipients. It’s not enough.

“The United States spent much more money in Iraq than it did in Afghanistan,” Haqqani said in a television interview. “And then it spent much more in Afghanistan than it did in Pakistan. So were there cracks through which things fell through? Absolutely.”

That twisted logic suggests that if only Washington had given Pakistan a few billion more than the $20.7 billion it provided over the past decade, bin Laden, a man with a $27 million bounty on his head, would not have “fallen through the cracks.” Those cracks were wide enough to swallow bin Laden’s one-acre walled compound with a three-storey building in a garrison town near the Pakistani capital.

The mass murderer’s six-year stay in Abbottabad has prompted some members of Congress to demand the immediate suspension of aid to Pakistan, others to look for reductions. Deep cuts, however, are unlikely. The 140,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan rely on supplies landed at the Pakistani port of Karachi and trucked through the Khyber Pass to bases in Afghanistan.

As Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s bin Laden unit, puts it: “They (the Pakistanis) know we need them more than they need us. They also know that the Saudis and the Chinese would step in with money and aid if we backed out.”

Obama and the vexed issue of immigration

Bernd Debusmann
May 6, 2011 16:22 UTC

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

WASHINGTON, May 6 (Reuters) — It was a pledge that helped Barack Obama win the presidency. “I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting.”

That was on May 28, 2008, and it went down well with the largest and fastest growing minority in the United States, Americans of Latin American descent. Of the around 10 million Latinos who went to the polls in November 2008, more than two thirds voted for Obama. For many of them, he has been a disappointment. Once in office, he put immigration on the back burner. He did not push the issue when Democrats had solid majorities in both houses of Congress.

Instead, in the first two years of the Obama presidency, around 1,100 illegal immigrants were deported every day, on average, a pace without precedent. According to the Department of Homeland Security, deportations totaled 387,790 in 2009 and 392,000 in 2010. These are not figures that have endeared Obama to immigrant communities.

Iranian dissidents and a U.S. dilemma

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 29, 2011 14:40 UTC

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

WASHINGTON — Call it the coalition of the baffled — a diverse group of prominent public figures who challenge the U.S. government’s logic of keeping on its terrorist blacklist an Iranian exile organization that publicly renounced violence a decade ago and has fed details on Iran’s nuclear programme to American intelligence.

On the U.S. Department of State’s list of 47 foreign terrorist organizations, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq is the only group that has been taken off similar lists by the European Union and Britain, after court decisions that found no evidence of terrorist activity in recent years. In the U.S., a court last July ordered the State Department to review the designation. Nine months later, that review is still in progress and supporters of the MEK wonder why it is taking so long.

The organization has been on the list since 1997, placed there by the Clinton administration at a time it hoped to open a dialogue with Iran, whose leaders hate the MEK for having sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war.

Human rights and the US as global judge

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 15, 2011 16:20 UTC

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

WASHINGTON — Every year since 1976, The U.S. Department of State has published an extraordinarily detailed report on the state of human rights in the world. The latest, out in April, runs to more than 2 million words. Printed out from State’s website, it would run to more than 7,000 pages. The report covers 194 countries.

That’s every country in the world, except one: the United States.

Which gives rise to a few questions. Is the United States the one and only country on the planet with a perfect record of observing human rights, at home or in the countries where it wages war? If not, why does the government feel entitled to scrutinize the human rights practices of others? The report discovers blemishes even in countries that rarely come to mind in the context of human rights violations.

Switzerland, say, where in 2010 “police at times used excessive force, occasionally with impunity.” Or Canada, where “human rights problems included harassment of religious minorities, violence against women, and trafficking in persons.” Or the tiny South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, where American human rights checkers found “police violence, poor prison conditions, arrests without warrants, an extremely slow judicial process, government corruption, and violence and discrimination against women.”

Obama, Trump and the 2012 elections

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 12, 2011 13:39 UTC

“Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich. So if I need $600 million, I can put $600 million in myself. That’s a huge advantage … over the other candidates.”

So says real estate magnate and reality TV show host Donald Trump, talking about the 2012 U.S. presidential elections.

It’s 18 months to go to November 6, 2012, an eternity in politics, but two things already seem clear: it will be the most expensive campaign ever and the line between the political fringe and mainstream politics will often be blurred.

U.S. intelligence and the wisdom of crowds

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 1, 2011 14:11 UTC

After a string of world-shaking events America’s spies failed to predict, most recently the turmoil sweeping the Arab world, a vast project is taking shape to improve forecasting. It involves thousands of volunteers and the wisdom of crowds.

It’s officially known as the Forecasting World Events Project and is sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Activity (IARPA), a little-known agency run by a woman, Lisa Porter, who is occasionally described as America’s answer to the fictional Agent Q who designs cutting edge gadgets for James Bond. Much of IARPA’s work is classified, as is its budget. But the forecasting project is not classified. Invitations to participate are now on the Internet.

The idea is to raise five large competing teams of people of diverse backgrounds who will be asked to make predictions on fields that range from politics and global security to business and economics, public health, social and cultural change and science and technology. The project is expected to run for four years and stems from the recognition that expert forecasts are very often wrong.

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.”

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.”