Opinion

The Great Debate

Mideast’s dynamic opportunity for peace

The Arab world may be in turmoil, but its leaders actually need an enduring peace—now in Gaza and long-term with Israel—because regimes across the region are vulnerable as never before.

Whether they like it or not, that’s true for newly elected Islamists. And old-order autocrats need resolution to prevent protests at home from turning against them.

The challenge for Washington is taking advantage of the vulnerability to work with the new political roster — including players it doesn’t know all that well. The tectonic political shift over the past two years offers a dynamic opportunity.

Committed U.S. diplomacy could not only spur meaningful movement on the 64-year conflict. It could enhance Israel’s security and prevent a whole new type of tension with the region’s new governments.

The potential is visible in budding relations between President Barack Obama and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who has evolved since June from an unknown engineering professor to the most powerful Arab leader. They’ve talked often during the crisis. Mursi is now brokering what happens next.

McGovern: Forging a modern political party

George McGovern’s death Sunday marked the departure of a remarkably influential figure in American national politics. Though remembered largely for his landslide defeat to Richard M. Nixon in the 1972 presidential race, McGovern succeeded in reshaping the U.S. political landscape for the next 40 years.

His losing campaign forged the modern political party. Just as Barry M. Goldwater’s crushing defeat in 1964 mobilized a generation of conservative activists and transformed the GOP, McGovern’s insurgency led to the modern Democratic Party of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. For the South Dakotan senator bequeathed to his party a reconstituted style of politics, a cadre of activists and an new path to electoral victory.

McGovern’s star-crossed campaign opened up the entire U.S. political process—he appointed, for example, the first national party chairwoman. More important though, he created a template for challenging the party establishment, one emulated frequently over the next 40 years — by the Republican right as well as the Democratic left.

Biden changes 2016 race as well as 2012

Whoever wins on November 6, and however the president is thought to have done in the remaining debates, the only sure winner of the debate season is Joe Biden.

He has moved from the nearly man to the coming man, from also-ran to man-to-watch. Why so? Biden attracted a great deal of criticism from conservatives for his grimacing in the veep debate in Danville, Kentucky, for laughing in the face of GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, for shamelessly grabbing all the attention so that even when Ryan was speaking, everyone was watching Biden’s scoffing antics on the split screen. The Democratic base loved every second.

In a practical lesson on how to hug the limelight and dominate the conversation, Biden showed President Barack Obama how he should have torn into GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Denver — and how he will have to make up lost ground in the few remaining weeks.

The U.S. needs to walk the walk on African security

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wraps up her travels across the African continent to showcase President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive to advance the “prosperity, security and dignity of its citizens,” she might have some explaining to do.

No doubt about it, the directive is a great strategy focused on strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, trade and investment, advancing peace and security, and promoting opportunity and development in Africa. It’s the right combination of the right ingredients. However, when the United States recently had the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to these objectives in fragile regions around the world, including Africa, the Obama administration walked away. Instead of standing with other nations against the illicit and irresponsible arms trade that kills 1,500 people a day, it abruptly reversed course.

Negotiations for a global arms trade treaty were 10 years in the making. But during the final hours at the United Nations in New York, the United States, which was getting the final text adjustments it wanted, surprised everyone by suddenly voicing opposition. Russia and China piled on, halting the entire process.

Is Burma the next Mexico?

By Federico Varese
The opinions expressed are his own.

Hillary Clinton had many “hard issues” to tackle during her recent visit to Myanmar. Yet there was no mention of one of the most, if not the most, difficult issue Burma faces: their lucrative drug trade.

Northern Burma is the home of the “Golden Triangle,” a hub for opium production and the location of hundreds of heroin and amphetamine refineries. So how do political leaders and the international community plan to tackle this problem in the event that Burma truly becomes  a democratic country?

The totalitarian regime which has ruled Burma since 1962 has been, to a point, successful in keeping the production of illicit substances under control. In 1999, Burma’s notorious military junta (which is now dissolved) started a ruthless elimination plan of opium in the Golden Triangle (the Shan State, the Wa Region and the Kachin State). The region produced one-third of the world’s opium in 1998, but that figure was down to about 5% nine years later. From 2006 to 2007, the army eradicated 8,895 acres of opium fields. A 2007 United Nations Report trumpeted that “a decade-long process of drug control is clearly paying off.”

Why is Obama giving Libya to the Russians?

By John Bolton
The opinions expressed are his own.

With President Obama’s Libya policy staggering from one embarrassment to another, last week he and Secretary of State Clinton outdid themselves. They publicly welcomed Russia’s effort to insert itself as a mediator, an act of such strategic myopia that it must leave even Moscow’s leadership speechless.

Permanent Security Council members Russia and China abstained on the initial resolution authorizing force to create a Libya no-fly zone and to protect innocent civilians. By not casting a veto, Russia thereby tacitly allowed military action to proceed. As they did, Russia repeatedly second-guessed and harshly criticized NATO’s operations. Now, as a mediator, Russia will, in effect, have the chance to rewrite the Council’s resolution according to its own lights.

Given the uncertain trumpet sounded by both Obama and NATO, and the still-inconclusive outcome of the “kinetic military action,” the reputation and credibility of U.S. and NATO, militarily and politically, have been gravely impaired. The President likely doesn’t appreciate these wounds as he leans over backwards not to be seen as the regime-changing unilateralist he imagined his predecessor to be.

Iraq, America and hired guns

Here is a summary of America’s future role in Iraq, in the words of President Barack Obama: “Our commitment is changing — from a military effort led by our soldiers to a diplomatic effort led by our diplomats.”

And here is a note of caution about that promised change: “Current planning for transitioning vital functions in Iraq from the Department of Defense to the Department of State is not adequate for effective coordination of billions of dollars in new contracting, and risks both financial waste and undermining U.S. policy objectives.”

Obama’s statement came in an Aug. 2 speech in which he confirmed that by the end of this month, America’s combat role would end. The 50,000 American soldiers remaining in Iraq (down from a peak of almost 170,000) would advise, train and support Iraqi security forces. By the end of next year, the last U.S. soldier would come home.

Burning borrowed money in America’s wars

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

The Pentagon has an evocative term for the level of spending on a war: burn rate. In Afghanistan, it has been running at around $5 million every hour for much of the year. The burn rate will begin going up next week when the first of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops arrive.

Once they are all in place, the burn rate is estimated to exceed $10 million an hour, or more than $8 billion a month. Much of that is literally burned — in the engines of American jeeps, trucks, tanks, aircraft and power generators. On average, each of the 183,000 soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq requires 22 gallons of fuel a day, according to a study by the international accounting firm Deloitte.

Obama and the wrong side of history

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

Ringing words, smoothly delivered: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Did that memorable line from President Barack Obama’s inaugural address on January 20 mean his administration would break with a long American tradition of paying lip service to democracy and human rights while supporting authoritarian rulers friendly to Washington? Too early to say for sure, but probably not.

Obama and flawed logic on Cuba

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate

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

The U.S. case for isolating Cuba and keeping it out of international meetings such as this week’s Summit of the Americas sounds simple: the country doesn’t have democratically elected leaders, it holds political prisoners, it violates human rights and its citizens can’t travel freely. All perfectly true.

But if the logic used for isolating Cuba were applied consistently, neither China nor Saudi Arabia, for example, should have taken part in the London G20 summit. The U.S. State Department estimates China has “tens of thousands” of political prisoners and describes it as “an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party … is the paramount source of power.”

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