Opinion

The Great Debate

Africa’s about more than Ebola, it’s about optimism, too

The seat of the representative from Guinea remains empty at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington

The conversations at the U.S-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington this week, Secretary of State John Kerry said on the first day, are very different from discussions about Africa 15, or even 10, years ago.

He’s right — and he should know.

In the early 2000s, then-Senator Kerry (D-Mass.) was one of the leaders in the bipartisan effort to scale up U.S. funding for the HIV/AIDS pandemic through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — just as both programs were gaining their footing in Africa. As recently as 2000, The Economist had featured a notorious cover story calling Africa “the hopeless continent,” and debating its future of war, disease and endless poverty.

Kerry takes his seat with Kikwete and Mahama as they arrive for a civil society forum during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in WashingtonThe representatives from some 50 African nations who arrived in Washington this weekend, by contrast, brought with them a ringing sense of optimism and hope — to say nothing of style and flair.  In this miserable political year, the city could do with all those attributes.

The outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa is making headlines, but recent progress on health issues in Africa has been little short of miraculous. As President Barack Obama said to members of the Young African Leaders Initiative last week, “over the last 20 years, HIV occurrence has been cut in half in Africa. …Tuberculosis and malaria deaths have been reduced by 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively.” Africa is now home to many of the world’s fastest-growing economies, a burgeoning middle class and a vibrant technological sector, including mobile banking.

That is why so many of the African leaders attending the summit want to talk about their home not as a continent in crisis but as one of opportunity. They have come to discuss investment, trade — especially the tariff-free provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, due to be renewed by Congress next year — and infrastructure, all vital to the continent’s continued economic development.

A missed opportunity to ease tensions with China

Chinese Premier Li speaks to U.S. Treasury Secretary Lew next to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry during a meeting at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing

Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew traveled to Beijing this week for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, at a time when U.S.-China tensions are running higher than at any point in the past decade. Though each country’s bureaucrats were able to put on a good face and paper over significant disagreements, they were unable to make progress on any major security or economic issue.

Unfortunately, the U.S. administration passed up a chance to advance and elevate the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty, an agreement that sets the rules of the road for cross-border investment. Doing so could have yielded major economic benefits and had positive spillover effects on the strategic issues vexing both countries. But now, with little for the two sides to hang their hats on, the relationship is ripe for more tension.

A year ago, when President Barack Obama met with new Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Sunnylands Ranch in California, the two laid out an ambitious agenda, agreeing to discuss contentious cyber issues, the need to increase pressure on North Korea, and more broadly chart a positive course for the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

In Africa: U.S. promotes security, China does business

kerry-li4Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang both made high-profile visits to Africa within a week of each other this month. Kerry sought to resolve the continuing violence in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, Li came bearing aid and investment deals.

The United States could learn something from Beijing’s economic playbook.

The two leaders’ agendas could not offer a more vivid picture of the different priorities that each power pursues in Africa. Washington plays regional peacemaker, while Beijing focuses intently on its long-term economic interests.

China’s two-way trade with Africa, for example, has grown by 30 percent a year over the last decade. It is now Africa’s largest trading partner, importing largely natural resources.  More than 85 percent of China’s imports from Africa consist of petroleum, copper, iron, and other raw materials needed to build China’s growing domestic infrastructure and fuel its continued economic growth.

Reaching for a deal on Crimea

There is a disturbing air of inevitability in Western capitals surrounding Russia’s annexation of Crimea. A growing consensus views this scenario as a rough analogy to  Moscow’s recognition of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the 2008 war — perhaps more severe, but still manageable.

Such complacency is misplaced, however. The consequences of the annexation of Crimea are not manageable. The moral high ground we currently occupy isn’t worth it.

Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s triumphalist speech on Tuesday, the United States and the European Union should not assume that Crimea is lost. Instead they should be working overtime to prevent annexation.

Assad’s terror farce at the Geneva talks

Just days before the most recent Syrian peace talks in Geneva began, a report detailing “industrial-scale” killing in President Bashar al-Assad’s prisons revealed the nature of his government. Despite this setback, the regime continues to claim that it is only fighting terrorists.

While their rhetoric is convenient, the reality is that only one side of the Syrian negotiations is actively fighting al Qaeda – the opposition. Though Assad has the capacity to attack extremists, from the spring of 2011 until today he has chosen to target civilians instead.

During two weeks I just spent interviewing Syrians in the southern border towns of Turkey, I found nearly universal opposition to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the army of foreign jihadists backed by al Qaeda that has now taken over many liberated areas across Northern Syria.

Is there a ‘right’ path for the U.S. in Syria?

Key parties to the conflict in Syria are meeting in Switzerland on Wednesday. The participants have been downplaying expectations that the “Geneva II” peace conference — which will bring together for the first time representatives from the Assad government and various rebel groups along with major international players — will resolve the conflict, or even bring about a ceasefire.

For the U.S. government, the crucial issue at this meeting and beyond is determining if and how to intervene and provide support in a conflict where there may no longer be real “good guys,” or supporters of U.S. national interests, to back. This is particularly important given Washington’s interwoven interests throughout the region — not only in Syria, but in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey and beyond.

U.S. support of the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union during the Cold War teaches two valuable lessons for the current Syrian conflict. First, understand who we are helping, what their goals are and how these goals may differ from those of the United States. Second, think in advance about the endgame.

Broaden the peace process with Iran

 

High-level Geneva talks with Iran adjourned November 11 without reaching an agreement. Lower-level talks are to scheduled to reconvene Wednesday. The Western objective is a pause in Iran’s nuclear program — stopping the clock and allowing more time to reach a permanent agreement.

Is stopping the clock a good idea? It was done once before. In 2004-5, Iran stopped enrichment temporarily. President Hassan Rouhani was then secretary of the Iranian National Security Council and negotiated the pause. A permanent agreement proved impossible at that time. So Iran started enrichment again and has now expanded its capacity.

That could happen again. But a pause that provides time for negotiation of a more permanent agreement is necessary. If Tehran goes much farther in enlarging its enrichment capacity and beginning production of plutonium, it will be a very short step from obtaining all the material it needs for nuclear weapons.

Too many cooks in the Iran nuclear kitchen

Last weekend, after years of failed negotiations, the “P5+1” nations — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany — finally appeared to be on the verge of a deal with Iran regarding curbs on its nuclear program.

All except France were ready to sign a stopgap agreement that would offer Iran limited sanctions relief in return for a freeze in its nuclear program. But Paris torpedoed the arrangement at the last moment — denigrating it as “a sucker’s deal.”

France’s torpedoing of the agreement appears less related to genuine nuclear proliferation concerns than with trying to curry favor with anti-Iranian countries — like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – who commission and buy expensive French military, satellite and nuclear hardware.  The lesson in this latest failure is there ought to be a single point of contact with Iran endowed with executive authority over resolving the nuclear issue.

The politics of Syria

Congressional Democrats are in a bind. If they vote to authorize a military strike on Syria, they could be putting the country on a slippery slope to war. But if they vote no, they will deliver a crushing defeat to their president.

What President Barack Obama did was call their bluff. Last week, more than 50 House Democrats signed a letter urging the president to “seek an affirmative decision of Congress” before committing to any military engagement. That was the Democrats’ way of going on record to express reservations about what Obama sounded like he was going to do anyway. Then, lo and behold, the president decided to do exactly what they asked. Now it’s their decision.

Anti-war sentiment is a powerful force on the left. It was nurtured by bitter experiences in Vietnam and Iraq. Obama himself comes out of that tradition. He is trying to keep faith with it by arguing, as he did at a meeting with congressional leaders, that his attack plan is “proportional, it is limited, it does not involve boots on the ground.” He added, “This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan.” Secretary of State John Kerry tried to change the metaphor when he called it “a Munich moment.” Meaning, a “no” vote would be a vote to appease a dictator.

from David Rohde:

Tech, prosperity and peace on West Bank

Secretary of State John Kerry (C) shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting at the Dead Sea, May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young 

RAMALLAH, West Bank – At first glance, it is a tech utopian’s dream. For the last two years, several dozen Palestinian entrepreneurs have been getting training from Israeli high tech experts courtesy of the American firm Cisco Systems.

The sessions feature no talk of politics. Instead, Israelis coach Palestinians on the latest trends in software development processes, best practices and branding.

  •