Welcome to an amoral world without just wars
August 1st, 2014
09:10 AM ET

Welcome to an amoral world without just wars

By Leon Aron, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Leon Aron is a resident scholar and the Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.

Two wars – one in Gaza the other in eastern Ukraine – are unfolding simultaneously. They have nothing in common except this: both should be being seen as unambiguous in terms of which side is right and which wrong. And second, both are likely to end in a strategic (i.e. long-term) defeat for the right side because of the attitudes that shape the approach of Western leaders to both wars.

The facts are not in dispute. In Ukraine, the legitimate government in Kiev is trying to restore Ukrainian sovereignty over its territory, in practical terms seized by Russia in a proxy war using professional special troops, intelligence officers and mercenaries (kontraktniki) to train assorted thugs known collectively as "rebels" or "separatists" who are being armed and supplied by Russia.

In Gaza, Israel is battling a fundamentalist terrorist organization dedicated to killing Jews, Christians and gays and oppressing women. As in Ukraine, they attacked first, by firing hundreds missiles at Israeli cities and towns.

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Topics: Conflict • Israel • Middle East • Russia • Ukraine
July 31st, 2014
11:37 PM ET

The rise of Putinism

By Fareed Zakaria

When he came to power in 2000, Putin seemed a tough, smart, competent manager, someone who was determined to bring stability to Russia — which was reeling from internal chaos, economic stagnation and a default in 1998. He sought to integrate Russia into the world and wanted good relations with the West, asking Washington for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization and even NATO. His administration had technocrats who were Western liberals, well versed in free markets and open trade.

Over time, however, Putin established order in the country while presiding over a booming economy as oil prices quadrupled under his watch. He began creating a repressive system of political, economic and social control to maintain his power. As he faced opposition, particularly in the parliamentary elections of 2011, Putin recognized that he needed more than just brute force to defeat his opponents. He needed an ideology of power and began articulating one in speeches, enacting legislation and using his office to convey adherence to a set of values.

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Topics: Fareed's Take
July 31st, 2014
02:32 PM ET

U.S. must act to prevent regional energy crisis

By Peter Schechter and Jason Marczak, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Peter Schechter is director and Jason Marczak is deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. The Center recently published a report titled “Uncertain Energy: The Caribbean’s Gamble with Venezuela.” The views expressed are their own.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Caracas last week with a new $4 billion gift for a country desperately looking to external financing to keep its economy afloat. The catch? Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro reportedly must send China an additional 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil in addition to the more than 500,000 bpd of crude it is already providing to China.

With Venezuela’s production in decline, this latest announcement calls into question the long-term viability of Venezuela’s Petrocaribe oil alliance and the energy future for the Caribbean and Central American states that depend on it. The United States must act to proactively prevent a crisis off our shores. Vice President Biden has taken initial steps to lead this effort, but more must be done.

For nearly ten years, some of the United States’ closest neighbors have used Petrocaribe – Venezuela’s financially attractive energy alliance and Chávez’s brainchild – to procure flexible credit terms to purchase crude oil and petroleum products. But Venezuela’s economic situation is dire, putting the benefits of the oil alliance at risk. Central American and Caribbean states will have little recourse if credit dries up, and the alliance’s government ministers, business leaders, and consumer advocates privately fret about how continued dependence on Venezuela for energy supplies might come back to pull the rug from under their economies. FULL POST

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Topics: Energy
How to view a changing Cuba
July 30th, 2014
06:12 PM ET

How to view a changing Cuba

By Kevin O’Donnell

GPS intern Kevin O’Donnell speaks with Jorge Dominguez, professor of Mexico studies at Harvard University, faculty associate of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and the author of numerous books on Cuba, about relations with the United States. The views expressed here are his own.

It seems discussion about Cuba in the United States rests on some outdated assumptions. What assumptions do you believe Americans need to challenge when we talk about Cuba?

I think the main point to bear in mind is that it’s changing. When Fidel Castro was president, there were moments when things seemed to be changing in two important ways, and both times he reversed them. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the Cuban government opened up the possibility of allowing farmers to sell their goods at market prices. But he cancelled that and prohibited those sales in 1985.

In the early 1990s, he authorized self-employment for the first time. I could become a plumber in private practice, I could become an ice cream vender, I could have a restaurant in my living room. But then, in the early years of the last decade, regulations became more onerous and taxes became very high, and the number of people who could afford this kind of work actually declined.

This time, under Raul Castro, it looks as if these same changes will stay, so now farmers can sell their products at market price. Now about half a million people have self-employment licenses in a population of just over 11 million people.

It’s a significant fraction of the work force working in the private sector. But also, Raul Castro talks the talk – these are changes he values. So the alignment between the policy changes and what the top leader thinks for the first time in over a half century now clicks. That is a significant change. FULL POST

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Topics: Cuba • Foreign Policy • United States
Did NSA snooping hurt U.S. image? Not so much
July 30th, 2014
02:00 PM ET

Did NSA snooping hurt U.S. image? Not so much

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

It is conventional wisdom among many pundits and opinion leaders that recent revelations of spying by the U.S. National Security Agency have deeply scarred America’s reputation abroad. The problem with such a narrative is that recent public opinion data paint a far more nuanced picture. True, foreigners don’t like that Washington spies on them and their leaders, and such NSA activities have eroded America’s soft power standing as a preeminent defender of personal freedoms. But there’s no evidence that the NSA’s recent behavior has sparked a general rise in anti-Americanism around the world.

Make no mistake about it. Publics around the world aren’t happy about NSA spying. In 37 of 43 nations outside the United States that were surveyed recently by the Pew Research Center, majorities say American surveillance of ordinary citizens in the respondent’s country is unacceptable. This includes 97 percent in Greece, 94 percent in Brazil and 91 percent in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia. But it also includes opposition by important U.S. allies: 87 percent of Germans, 85 percent of Japanese and 70 percent of the British.

There’s similar public opposition to U.S. spying on the respondent’s national leaders. Majorities in 34 countries find such action by Washington to be offensive. This sentiment is particularly strong in Germany, where the American government allegedly listened in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone conversations. But there are similarly overwhelming objections in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Venezuela, Greece and Brazil. FULL POST

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Topics: United States
July 30th, 2014
11:58 AM ET

What I'm reading: A Chinese Gold Standard?

By Fareed Zakaria

“China’s nearly $4 trillion in reserves — accumulated through its mercantilist trade policies — give it plenty of ammunition to claim leadership in the creation of a new monetary order,” writes Kwasi Kwarteng in the New York Times. “The Chinese, however, are most unlikely to bid for monetary hegemony in the near future. For the past 25 years they have pursued a policy of aggressive export growth to drive their economy. China successively devalued its currency, from 1.50 renminbi to the dollar in 1980, to 8.72 in 1994. (Today the renminbi trades at 6.20 to the dollar, which the United States still considers artificially low.)”

“Could China someday peg its currency to gold, as Britain did in 1821? China has the reserves to do this, and it could have the political will, if the dollar proved to be unreliable as a store of value in the future.”

“Recommending Finlandization for Ukraine is bad advice on several levels,” writes James Kirchick for American Interest. “First, it misunderstands and misinterprets Finland’s experience, either downplaying or outright ignoring the costs that this policy imposed upon the country’s democracy. Proponents of Finlandization discount the danger that it posed to the European continent as a potential model for other countries susceptible to Russian pressure and influence. Furthermore, compelling neutrality upon an unwilling Ukraine is a stark moral capitulation to foreign aggression. Foreclosing the possibility of EU and NATO membership to Ukraine would shred the basic precepts of Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture, enshrined in agreements stipulating that countries be allowed to choose their own political and security alliances free from foreign intimidation and threats.” FULL POST

July 29th, 2014
05:11 PM ET

Understanding the violence in Gaza

CNN’s New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the roots of the unrest in the Middle East. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Who are the key players, and what are their current positions?

Benjamin Netanyahu is, of course, the prime minister of Israel, a longtime hawk and longtime hardliner on Israeli security issues. John Kerry is the secretary of state who never stops trying which, you know, has caused some controversy. And Khaled Meshaal is a somewhat unknown figure compared to these two. The head of Hamas, he doesn’t live in Gaza because I think he would not stay alive in Gaza, and so he has moved around various places – Qatar and places like that.

Let’s make sure everybody understands what the playing field is, what Israel wants. No more rockets.

You can understand why. The important thing to point out is even though, of course, very few Israelis die because of these rockets because the iron dome air defense system is really quite extraordinary, it still paralyzes the society. Some of these rockets could get through. Everyone is in bomb shelters, and it produces a state of heightened urgency. Imagine any society having to live with that. So that's why the rockets are important, even though they don't…of course, the range and accuracy could keep getting better.

It has kept getting better. You don't want to confuse the success of the defensiveness of Israel with its dome and other defense systems with absence of a threat. So that’s why demilitarizing Gaza is very important.

Right. This is the big demand in a sense – a demilitarized Gaza so that you don't face a constant threat. This is, of course, the hardest one to do, because in today's world it's so easy to get small arms, light ammunition, all kinds of things, and Hamas has been doing it for decades now.

And the tunnels play into that…

Right. And you see that these tunnels are fairly elaborate and well done. As people have pointed out, they are concrete. How do you prevent the building of concrete tunnels? What kind of embargo do you have to put in place? Gaza lives under a very, very tight Israeli embargo. That means you allow people not to get concrete. Concrete is fungible. You can use it for anything, and the problem is, therefore, how do you stop getting concrete in when they may want it to build schools? FULL POST

July 29th, 2014
12:12 PM ET

Extraterrestrial beauty

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Since life on Earth is so tumultuous these days, we think we could all use a little extraterrestrial beauty. Earlier this month, a Japanese artist teamed up with the company J.P. Aerospace and launched a pine bonsai tree and a bouquet of more than 30 types of flowers into the stratosphere. Literally.

The images are stunning. The plants were placed in devices attached to helium balloons that rose roughly 90,000 feet before returning to earth after the balloons burst.

The devices, which had parachutes, were discovered five miles from the launch site. The bonsai and the flowers, however, were never found.

Another mystery of the universe.

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Topics: Last Look
TSA's cellphone rule part of deadly race
July 29th, 2014
11:36 AM ET

TSA's cellphone rule part of deadly race

By Brian Michael Jenkins, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Brian Michael Jenkins is senior adviser to the RAND president and the author of Al Qaeda in Its Third Decade: Irreversible Decline or Imminent Victory? and the commentary 'Generations of Terrorism.' The views expressed are his own.

As officials in the West sift through the evidence to try to establish how exactly Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was downed in eastern Ukraine, it is easy to forget that only a couple of weeks ago, many analysts were focused on a quite different threat to civilian aircraft.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration grabbed headlines when it announced that uncharged cellphones would not be allowed aboard commercial aircraft as part of increased U.S. scrutiny of cellphones and other electronic devices on certain U.S.-bound flights. The move came in response to intelligence that terrorist groups in Yemen and Syria might be plotting new attempts to sabotage airliners.

The reason for the concern about devices that don't function seems obvious: TSA inspectors hope to make sure cellphones are cellphones and laptops are indeed laptops – and that neither are cleverly disguised bombs. After all, terrorists have a long history of seeking to conceal explosives aboard aircraft, and using electronic devices as camouflage is nothing new. So why the concern now?

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Topics: Terrorism
July 28th, 2014
04:44 PM ET

What I'm reading: Sanctions and Russia’s Achilles heel

By Fareed Zakaria

“But even by hinting as to what sectoral sanctions might look like, Obama has upset Russia’s economic calculations. Obama is often criticized for not backing up the ‘red lines’ that he draws. But in Ukraine, Obama essentially has drawn a ‘gray line’ – demanding Russia take certain actions to end the crisis,” writes William E. Pomeranz for Reuters. “No one knows when this gray line is crossed, however. So these new sanctions only heighten the uncertainty – and risk – of doing business in Russia.”

“The market responded immediately, with dramatic declines in the Russian ruble and the Moscow stock market. In addition, the sanctions only exacerbated an already difficult situation for Russian companies. Syndicated loans for Russian commodities producers are down more than 80 percent over the past six months. The appetite for Russian bonds has also decreased considerably in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. So the current round of sanctions made a bad situation worse.”

“Arab leaders, usually prodigal in their outpourings of ritual solidarity with the Palestinians, have been curiously silent,” writes David Gardner in the Financial Times. “Partly that is because Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their allies are so hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian chapter. It is also because the ferocious Syrian war, and lightning surge of Sunni jihadis from Syria into Iraq, eclipses what for many looks like a new episode in a wearisomely familiar feud. Paradoxically, Israel wants to weaken but not overthrow Hamas – the cynical military expression is ‘mowing the lawn.’ For beyond Hamas lies the unbridled savagery of movements such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which already has followers in Gaza and the Palestinian refugee camps up and down the eastern Mediterranean that serve as universities of jihad.” FULL POST

July 28th, 2014
12:24 PM ET

EU the world's great no-show

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

On Ukraine, Europe has always been a step behind, internally conflicted, and unwilling to assert itself clearly and quickly. Those same qualities have been on display ever since the shoot-down of Flight 17…

…It's really difficult to have your voice heard and feared when you both speak softly and carry a twig. The problem is now being described by some as European cowardice and appeasement. But it is better explained by an absence of coherence among 28 very different countries, a lack of strategic direction, and a parochial inward orientation that hopes the world's problems will go away.

The result nevertheless is a great vacuum in international life with terrible consequences.

If we look back years from now and wonder why the liberal, open rule-based international order weakened and eroded over the years, we might well note that a crucial problem was that the world's most powerful political and economic unit – the European Union – with a population and economy larger than America's, was the great no-show on the international stage.

Watch the video for the full Take or read the WaPo column

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Topics: Fareed's Take • GPS Show
Why Putin was in Latin America
July 28th, 2014
12:04 PM ET

Why Putin was in Latin America

By Diana Villiers Negroponte, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Diana Villiers Negroponte is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed are her own.

As speculation has continued over what role Russian support might have played in the alleged shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight by pro-Russian rebels, one question has inevitably arisen: Is Russia becoming isolated?

But while international attention is focused on Washington and European capitals as they mull whether to impose tougher sanctions, it is worth remembering that Russian interests and influence extend far beyond Europe’s borders. Indeed, despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s suggestion earlier this year that Russia is merely a “regional power,” a recent visit to Latin America underscored that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests don’t end in Europe’s backyard.

On July 11, Putin began a weeklong trip to Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua and Cuba, which included attending the sixth BRICS’ summit and the launch of the organization’s New Development Bank. But what did the trip, which included meetings with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina and a photo-op with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, say about Russia’s foreign policy?

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