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FPI Afternoon Roundup

FPI Afternoon Roundup

The Foreign Policy Initiative

December 11, 2009

Obama Administration

FPI Executive Director Jamie Fly writes: “So in sum, today's speech brought us some soaring rhetoric from a President who has spoken timidly about issues of war and peace but, all in all, it portends more of the same. Just as the President clouded his very positive announcement last week at West Point with unfortunate rhetoric about withdrawal, it is likely his grand defense of intervention in Oslo obscures the unfortunate reality that the President is more comfortable speaking about such action than taking it.” – Foreign Policy

FPI Policy Advisor Abe Greenwald writes: “It is perhaps now dawning on Obama that it is not just neoconservatives who believe in an America that conquers evil abroad. In fact, that conception of American morality is older than the relatively new one Obama espouses. War presidents have appealed to this aspect of American exceptionalism for centuries. Among other things, the War of 1812 was an attempt to eradicate the evil of monarchic rule; the Civil War, a push to eliminate the evil of slavery; World Wars I and II, fights to destroy the evil of totalitarian ideologies; and the Cold War, a triumph over the ‘Evil Empire.’ If Obama has not yet been mugged by reality, he is at least being shaken by ever-dropping approval ratings.” – National Review

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Richard Haass writes: “The president sought to portray himself in Oslo as both a realist and an idealist. To be sure, he argued not just for peace but for justice as well. But make no mistake about it: this was a supremely realistic statement about the presence of evil in the world, the limitations of international institutions, the need to talk to tyrants, and the unavoidability of war. This may have been a Nobel Peace Prize speech, but the U.S. president is no pacifist.” – Huffington Post

Editorial: "When he announced his plan to send an additional 30,000 troops last week, Mr. Obama’s speech was well argued but sounded more like a legal brief than an exemplar of presidential oratory.…On Thursday in Oslo, Mr. Obama argued his case far more eloquently. We’ll leave it to the philosophers to debate what is and what is not a just war. But we agree that this war is a very difficult but necessary one. We also know that there is no chance at all of winning it, and the broader fight against terrorism, unless the United States hews to international standards and upholds its own ideals. That is Mr. Obama’s promise and his challenge going forward." – New York Times


Nathaniel Fick writes: “President Obama has come under fire for saying that United States forces would begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011. Was this a good idea? From a purely military perspective, announcing a timeline makes no sense. It gives our adversaries insight into our plans, dulling the edge of strategic ambiguity. But changing the trajectory of this war requires much more than killing and capturing Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Progress depends on two political developments: inducing the administration of President Hamid Karzai to govern effectively, and persuading Pakistan that militant groups within its borders pose as great a threat to Islamabad as they do to Kabul.” – New York Times

Editorial: “As President Obama made clear in his West Point speech and again in his Nobel lecture in Oslo, his commitment to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan is not a decision he joyfully embraced, nor one he took lightly. But if Mr. Obama and his counselors are right in thinking that securing Afghanistan is essential to securing America -- and we believe they are -- the boost in troop levels is necessary. Given that there are no good options in this trying and prolonged conflict, the move to send more soldiers while refining the mission and placing the Afghan government on notice that the U.S. commitment is not forever represents the right combination of resolve and tough pragmatism.” – Miami Herald

Editorial: “Hillary Rodham Clinton was positively ebullient last week. The secretary of State announced that she was ‘extremely heartened’ by other NATO members' pledge to send about 7,000 troops to Afghanistan. Was her enthusiasm warranted? Discount some of it as necessary diplomacy to encourage more progress in this eight-year war. Subtract a bit more, because the pledge is not all that it appears. But by and large, grant America's top diplomat her moment of satisfaction. NATO has done well, all things considered.” – Christian Science Monitor

“The top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said Friday that he would leave when his contract expires early next year, as the organization was already looking for a replacement. Mr. Eide, a 60-year-old Norwegian diplomat who came under criticism for his handling of the fraud-ridden Afghan presidential election in August, said that he had always planned to not renew his contract, which expires in March, and that his departure had nothing to do with the tumultuous aftermath of the national ballot.” – New York Times


“Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Friday that world powers will soon impose ‘significant additional sanctions’ on Iran over its failure to engage in talks on its nuclear ambitions. Gates, speaking to a group of about 300 U.S. soldiers in northern Iraq during a weeklong tour of war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, played down the prospect of military action against Tehran. ‘There are no good options in Iran,’ he said, in response to a query from a soldier wondering about the prospect of war with the Islamic Republic. ‘One of the things that weighs on me is that if we have learned anything from Iraq over the past six years, [it] is the inherent unpredictability of war.’” – Washington Post

“European Union leaders on Friday urged international action against Iran because of its refusal to cooperate over its nuclear program, as the threat of new sanctions looms. ‘Iran's persistent failure to meet its international obligations and Iran's apparent lack of interest in pursuing negotiations require a clear response,’ said a statement approved by the 27 EU leaders at a summit in Brussels.” – Associated Press

Editorial: “The students, for their part, seem to be girding for a long fight, and the West should follow their lead. Western governments should offer the reform movement moral support, as President Obama did in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, promising to be a voice for the aspirations of reformers such as the ‘hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran.’ But the West also must be careful not to undermine the reformists with too close an embrace.” – LA Times


Saif Nasrawi writes: “While Western and Egyptian media have been preoccupied in recent years with small demonstrations in downtown Cairo protesting the widely-held belief that President Hosni Mubarak is grooming his son Gamal for the presidency, they have missed the bigger story: A rising labor force has become Egypt’s most effective political force. Since the massive strikes of 27,000 Ghazel al-Mahalla textile company workers in 2006 and 2007, Egyptian workers have started to shift their demands from strictly economic ones involving salaries, bonuses, and industrial safety, to raising more political questions of re-configuring their relationship with the state.” – The Daily Star


“International energy firms thinking of bidding for a piece of Iraq's oil fields face a tough choice, analysts say. Either they accept the massive risks of investing in the still-fragile country or they give up the opportunity of a lifetime.” – The China Post

Con Coughlin writes: “When George W Bush authorised a military surge in late 2006, in order to end the sectarian strife that had brought Iraq to the brink of all-out civil war, the government was set 18 benchmarks to be met before the American military could be withdrawn. These included the requirement that the predominantly Shia Muslim government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki reached out to Saddam’s disaffected Sunni supporters….But since the election of Barack Obama, many of these requirements have fallen by the wayside. Having opposed the Iraq war from the outset, the US President is more interested in bringing troops home than in making sure Iraq is capable of coping on its own.” – Telegraph


“Turkey's constitutional court has banned the country's main pro-Kurdish party for having links to armed separatist fighters. The court voted on Friday to shut down the Democratic Society Party (DTP) and banned dozens of members from joining other political parties for five years.” – Al Jazeera


Philip Stephens writes: “The election victory in September of Yukio Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan marked a revolution in Japanese politics after half-a-century of virtually uninterrupted rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. The US has struggled to grasp the significance of the transfer of power from its faithful allies in the LDP to a party of political insurgents. The military base dispute has become a lightning rod for differences about how to respond to a changing geopolitical landscape. The strategic challenge shared by Washington and Tokyo is how to engage a rising China while balancing its regional ambitions. The difficult question is how.” – Financial Times


Frank Calzon writes: “When Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was asked by British and American diplomats about proposals to lift sanctions against the dictatorship ruling her country: she immediately answered: ‘In exchange for what?’ A question that President Obama should ask those who propose the unilateral lifting of what is left of U.S. sanctions against the Castros Dynasty in Cuba. Failing to condition the United States' Cuba policy on reforms and yielding to Havana's braggadocio strengthens the hard-line gerontocracy that misrules the island and inspires the world's like-minded despots to parrot Fidel Castro's anti-American rant.” – Miami Herald


“The ousted Honduran president has rejected an offer to leave his country for Mexico because it would require him to abandon his claims to the presidency. Honduras' de facto government has said it would allow Manuel Zelaya safe passage out of the country only if he applied for political asylum in Mexico.” – Al Jazeera


Mikhail Tsypkin writes: “Moscow has begun promoting its Draft Treaty on European Security in meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and NATO.…The invitation to alliances and international organizations to become signatories has two objectives. One is to strengthen the legitimacy of the weak organizations founded and supported by Russia (the CIS and CSTO). The other goal is to dilute somewhat the collective security obligations of NATO members. According to the draft treaty, the policies of existing “military alliances” are not supposed to impact negatively the security of other parties.” – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


“EU leaders have agreed to pay 7.2bn euros (£6.5bn; $10.6bn) over the next three years to help developing nations adapt to climate change.” – BBC News


“Ever since Greece’s credit rating was downgraded last week, its new Socialist government has fought back, saying it has the mettle to tackle the soaring deficit and structural woes that have earned it a reputation as the weak link in the Euro zone. “We will reduce the deficit, we will control the debt, and there will be no need for a bailout,” the Greek finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, said in an interview in his office here last week….But Mr. Papaconstantinou may have good reason for the traditional Greek metal worry beads he fingered during the interview. Outside his office, garbage was piled high in Syntagma Square, the result of a two-week strike by trash collectors.” – New York Times


“A jailed Mafia godfather told a court in Turin today that he did not know and had never had links with Marcello Dell'Utri, a senator and close associate of Silvio Berlusconi, thus casting doubt on evidence from a Mafia informer who last week linked the Prime Minister to Cosa Nostra.” – Times of London


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"Dr. Strangelove" Speaks to Today's Strategists: A Book Discussion of The Essential Herman Kahn

Hudson Institute
December 14
Democratization as a Source of Tension between the United States and Egypt
Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars
December 14
Russia on the Pacific: The Rising Role of the Russian Far East Among Pacific Rim Nations
Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars
December 14
Starting with START: A New Era in Arms Control or the Beginning of Unilateral Disarmament? American Enterprise Institute
December 15
What is at Stake for the U.S. in Afghanistan?
The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University
December 15

Implementing the Lisbon Treaty: An Update on Europe's Transformation
Heinrich Böll Foundation North America
December 16

18 Months and Beyond: Implications of U.S. Policy in Afghanistan
Middle East Policy Council
January 7


Afternoon Roundup is a daily product of the Foreign Policy Initiative, which seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America's global economic competitiveness. To submit comments or suggestions, email


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