Opinion

The Great Debate

Is this why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize?

In December 2009 the world was treated to the unexpected news that President Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Among those most surprised was Obama himself. Not many sitting American presidents have won the award. In fact, Obama was only the third.

Now, as Obama stumbles his way through a proposed military strike on the Syrian government, it seems the president has not paid nearly enough attention to the history of world leaders who have won this international honor. The list of Peace Prize winners impresses: Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross; American social reformer Jane Addams; George Marshall, the architect of peaceful post-World War Two Europe; Martin Luther King Jr.; Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nelson Mandela.

Theodore Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to win a Nobel Peace Prize. The 26th president earned it the old fashioned way – with effort. Roosevelt’s journey to winning the 1906 prize began with his decision to put some teeth into the Court of Arbitration at The Hague, so that it would begin to serve its purpose of peacefully settling international disputes. The United States and Mexico submitted a dispute to the Court of Arbitration as an example to the world.

As other nations began to go seek resolution at the court, Roosevelt used this as an opportunity to call nations together to expand the ideals upon which it was founded. Russia, however, refused to participate — it was in the middle of a rather hot war with Japan.

Roosevelt wanted both nations to take part in strengthening the court, so he decided to do what many thought he could not: End the Russo-Japanese war himself. Roosevelt invited officials from both nations to the U.S. and served as mediator for peace talks. Within weeks, he negotiated a treaty that ended the war.

In Syria, try banks before bombs

As President Barack Obama weighs the U.S. response to chemical weapons attacks against Syrian civilians, one soft power option should still be at top of his to-do list: cutting off access to the U.S. financial system to those doing business with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Russian banks and others are reported to be helping the Assad regime circumvent U.S. and EU sanctions by holding Syrian money while continuing to do business, legally, in the Europe Union and the United States. With a more aggressive and coordinated approach to financial sanctions, Obama could inflict serious capital damage on Assad’s enablers — without collateral damage in the form of slain or injured civilians.

Aggressive sanctions could be more effective than bombing in hastening the end of the Syrian civil war by imposing substantial financial costs on those who are propping up Assad — without enraging the Arab street.

Navalny: Russia’s opposition hero cult

Russia’s opposition has turned into a hero cult. What was a protest movement has morphed into a one-man show called Alexei Navalny.

The man who first fought Russian corruption with crowdsourcing is now running for mayor of Moscow. But for his 10,000 volunteers, mostly kids in their early 20s with no Soviet memories, he is already president.

His campaign “feedback sessions” resemble a rock star meeting the fans. When Navalny shows up, the volunteers chant his name. When he speaks they rush up, trying to get his signature or shake his hand.

The short and long of emerging markets

Fickle investors have spurned emerging markets in recent weeks, but this rout has obscured a more alluring vista out on the horizon.

Developing economies now account for 50 percent of global output and 80 percent of economic expansion and are projected to continue growing far faster than developed nations. They are expected to possess an even larger share of global growth, wealth and investment opportunities in years to come. So much so that the labels investors use to classify some of these nations will change as the developing develop and the emerging emerge into more potent economic powers

But this long-term view has been lost on many of those who look to emerging market assets for a higher yield in the short term. Their ardor cooled when the Federal Reserve signaled it may soon ease the stimulus that has kept credit cheap, signaling higher interest rates ahead. That was coupled with signs of slower growth in key emerging markets like China and Brazil.

Obama’s key nuclear deal with Russia

President Barack Obama recently unveiled in Berlin a new proposal to have the United States and Russia reduce their long-range deployed nuclear weapons by roughly one-third, relative to levels under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Arms control skeptics swiftly attacked his plan. They asserted that reducing deployed U.S and Russian strategic warheads to about 1,000 each would risk U.S. and allied security — especially when other countries are now modernizing their nuclear forces. They also claim that Russia will not take up the offer.

These critics, however, fail to make a persuasive case that Obama’s proposed cuts go too far. In fact, 1,000 deployed strategic warheads is a solid proposal. The case is compelling:

How Russia puts business behind bars

President Vladimir Putin at a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The Russian Duma approved its much anticipated amnesty for entrepreneurs on July 2, seeking to halt the legal onslaught against the Russian business community. More than 100,000 Russian businesspeople are now either in prison or have been subject to criminal proceedings, according to Boris Titov, Russia’s official ombudsman for the defense of the rights of entrepreneurs. He maintains that the majority are innocent.  Releasing them — and improving Russia’s overall business climate — remains critical as the Russian economy continues stumbling along with low growth and falling revenues.

Russia has reached this disastrous state because of Moscow’s abuse of criminal law statutes — specifically provisions covering economic crime. Law enforcement authorities use these statutes, many still based on Soviet law, essentially to criminalize regular business activity, otherwise permitted under Russian civil law.

from David Rohde:

Prosperity without power

A woman walking near the headquarters (L) of the Federal Security Service, in central Moscow, May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

In Moscow, they are “non-Soviet Russians.” In New Delhi, they are a “political Goliath” that may soon awake. In Beijing and São Paolo, they are lawyers and other professionals who complain about glacial government bureaucracies and endemic graft.

Prosperity is spreading in many emerging market nations, but political change is not.

Civil wars and Syria: lessons from history

A man at a site recently hit by what activists said was a Scud missile in Aleppo’s Ard al-Hamra neighborhood, February 23, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

Most of the international debate about Syria policy focuses on how to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Options for NATO states and key Arab League partners include everything from enlisting Russia’s help in a diplomatic approach, with a conference now envisioned for early June, to arming the rebels to perhaps even supporting them with limited amounts of airpower. Removing Assad, however, would no more end the Syrian conflict than overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003 brought stability to Iraq. The United States must create a more integrated overall strategy.

For Russia, Syria is not in the Middle East

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with (clockwise, starting in top left.) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Prime Minister David Cameron, next Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. REUTERS/FILES

A string of leaders and senior emissaries, seeking to prevent further escalation of the Syria crisis, has headed to Moscow recently to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. First, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, then British Prime Minister David Cameron, next Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now, most recently, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon These leaders see Russia as the key to resolving the Syria quandary.

But to get Russia to cooperate on any stabilization plan, the United States and its allies will have to take into account Russia’s significant interests in the Mediterranean region.

Terrorism, Putin and the Cold War legacy

Russian President Vladimir Putin, April 11, 2013 REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool

Terrorism always complicates diplomatic relations.

Since the Boston Marathon bombing, the suspected handiwork of two brothers of Chechen background, Russian and American security officials have focused on a blame game.

Could better cooperation between the FBI and the FSB (successor to the KGB) have averted this bombing? Which country is responsible for the carnage? The United States, which Russia warned in 2011 about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother who was killed in the police shootout a few days after the bombing? Or Moscow, which gave Washington scant evidence to pursue in that query?

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