Opinion

The Great Debate

In Cuba, low-hanging fruit for Obama

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

A look at a list of the foreign policy problems facing U.S. President Barack Obama could send the sunniest optimist into depression.

The Arab-Israeli conflict: no solution in sight. Afghanistan/Pakistan: the outlook is bleak. Iran and its nuclear plans: tricky. No easy wins here. Iraq: the war is not over.

But in the foreign policy landscape, there is one low-hanging fruit ripe for the picking — Cuba – and the picking has just been made easier by a report commissioned by the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, and released this week.

Among its key points: the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, the only Cold War policy still in force, has been counter-productive; U.S. policies are harming national security interests by impeding cooperation on such key issues as narcotics traffic; and the U.S. image in Latin America has been tarnished by Washington’s insistence that the region share hostility towards Cuba’s communist government.

Goodbye to rugged American individualism?

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Shock!! Horror!! The United States is becoming more like Europe! The rugged individualism that makes up part of the country’s self-image may be doomed. Paternalism threatens to throttle enterprise and initiative.

That has been the reaction of Republican leaders to the $787 billion stimulus package President Barack Obama signed this week after a contentious debate that echoed arguments made more than 80 years ago on the eve of the Great Depression.

“We were challenged with the choice of the American system of rugged individualism or the choice of a European system of diametrically opposed doctrines – doctrines of paternalism and state socialism,” Herbert Hoover said in his closing campaign speech for the 1928 presidential elections he won comfortably. The European ideas, he said, undermined the initiative and enterprise that propelled Americans to “unparalleled greatness.”

Clean up Washington: mission impossible?

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Can any U.S. administration avoid the fate spelled out in the following 12 words? “We were elected to change Washington and we let Washington change us.”

Thus spoke John McCain when he formally accepted the Republican party’s nomination for president last September. He then listed a number of reasons why the party had lost the trust of the American people, including that “some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption”.

Obama and the Afghan narco-state

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

To understand why the war in Afghanistan, now in its eighth year, is not going well for the United States and its NATO allies, take a look at two statistics.

One is Afghanistan’s ranking on an international index measuring corruption: 176 out of 180 countries. (Somalia is 180th). The other is Afghanistan’s position as the world’s Number 1 producer of illicit opium, the raw material for heroin.

First 100 Days: Obama, Iran and Richard Nixon

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

Here is a piece of advice for Barack Obama for dealing with Iran, one of the countries that will loom large in his presidency. Forget the way five of your predecessors dealt with the place. Take your cue from Richard Nixon and his 1972 breakthrough with China.

Just as Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, realized that a quarter of a century of isolating and weakening China had not served America’s interests, so Obama should acknowledge that 30 years of U.S. policy since the 1979 Iranian revolution has failed and that what is needed is a grand bargain, a shift as fundamental as the one Nixon achieved with China.

Those suggestions come from Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, a husband-and-wife team of independent experts who worked on Middle East policy on the National Security Council during George W. Bush’s first term in the White House.

In Gaza war, lions led by donkeys?

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

It’s not often that a senior member of Washington’s usually staid and cautious foreign policy establishment likens Israeli political leaders to donkeys and questions their competence. But the fighting in Gaza prompted Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to do just that.

“Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s action seriously damage the U.S. position in the region, and hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.

“To paraphrase a comment about the British government’s management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys…The question is not whether the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) learned the tactical lessons of fighting in 2006 (in Lebanon). It is whether Israel’s top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them,” he writes in an analysis on Gaza.

Pakistan, Mexico and U.S. nightmares

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

What do Pakistan and Mexico have in common? They figure in the nightmares of U.S. military planners trying to peer into the future and identify the next big threats.

The two countries are mentioned in the same breath in a just-published study by the United States Joint Forces Command, whose jobs include providing an annual look into the future to prevent the U.S. military from being caught off guard by unexpected developments.

from Reuters Editors:

Typewriters, Technology and Trust

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

A little girl in my family got a typewriter for Christmas.

Not a laptop. Nothing with a screen. A typewriter. The old-fashioned manual kind with a smeary ribbon and keys that stick.

Typewriters had pretty much gone the way of dodo birds, car tail fins and cigar-chomping editors who yell “Stop the Presses” quite some years before my granddaughter was born. But it was the typewriter used by the school-age, aspiring journalist in the movie “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" that captivated her.

American guns and the war next door

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Last year, around 2,500 Mexicans died in the twin wars drug cartels are waging against each other and against the Mexican state, using weapons smuggled in from the United States. In the first 11 months of this year, the death toll was 5,367, according to the Mexican attorney general. Next year?

There is no end in sight. At least two of the lethal ingredients in the toxic brew that fuels Mexico’s ever-widening violence are unlikely to change: lax American gun laws and a Mexican border that barely controls north-south traffic. On many of the crossing points along the 2,000-mile frontier, travelers coming in from the United States, by car or on foot, are routinely waved through without even having to show identity papers.

Can Obama avert an Arab-Israeli disaster?

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Time is running out for Israel and the Palestinians. Barack Obama is probably the last American president to have the option of pursuing an accord leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the so-called two-state solution.

If that fails, another generation will be locked into bloodshed and strife. That is the bleak scenario painted by two senior American Middle East experts in a new book, Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President. It is the product of an 18-month joint study by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, two pillars of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

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