Barack Obama has won reelection as America’s president. But while the economy – and avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff – will inevitably take up much of his time, there are numerous foreign policy challenges facing the next administration. GPS asked 10 leading foreign policy analysts to name 10 things that Obama should focus on next. The views expressed are, of course, the authors' own.
Keep Arab Spring on track
By Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch.
The biggest human rights challenge facing President Obama in his second term is finding ways to help keep on track the reform agenda that launched the Arab Spring. Most important is ending the horrible slaughter of civilians in Syria. Obama should stop pretending that Russia’s and China’s obstructionism absolves the U.S. of responsibility to continue ratcheting up pressure to stop the atrocities.
In Egypt, the regional trendsetter, Obama has properly said he respects the election that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, but now he should press the government, like all others, to respect basic rights, including of women and minorities. In Libya, Obama should stop treating the country as a “mission accomplished” and actively help elected authorities build the rule of law. And Obama should keep his promise to “promote reform across the region” and stop the discrediting double standard of making exceptions for U.S. allies, whether friendly monarchs or Israel.
By Michael O'Hanlon, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings (where he was a colleague of Rice’s for several years), teaches at Princeton and Columbia and Johns Hopkins and is a member of the CIA External Advisory Board. The views expressed are his own.
Ambassador Susan Rice has been roundly criticized of late for her comments made on five Sunday morning talk shows the weekend after the Benghazi tragedy in which four Americans lost their lives to a terrorist attack. Because Rice stated her belief that the violence was the result of a mass demonstration gone bad, rather than the planned extremist attacks we now know them to be, some have even gone so far as to demand her resignation from her current cabinet position as United States ambassador to the United Nations.
This is way off the mark and extremely unfair to a dedicated official who has served the country tirelessly and remarkably over her four years in the Obama administration. Rice did not choose all her words perfectly that weekend, even based on what was known at the time, it is true. There should have been a bit more nuance and more acknowledgement of the uncertainty in some of them. But there is no basis for concluding that she sought to mislead, and no reason to think that harm came to the country's interests because of her comments. While there are issues worth debating in regards to Benghazi, to Libya, and to the state of the Arab awakenings more generally, the unkind focus on Rice badly misses the mark.
By Sarah Chayes, CEIP
Editor’s note: Sarah Chayes is a senior associate on the South Asia program of the Carnegie Endowment for International for International Peace, which published this article here. The views expressed are her own.
Protesters “were piled into pickup trucks with their black flags,” recalled two Tunisian eyewitnesses, the co-founder of a humanitarian group and a college professor. Both requested anonymity for security reasons. “I knew something would go wrong,” shuddered one. Although no loss of American life resulted, last month’s organized attack on the United States embassy in Tunisia – in which four locals did die – was at least as portentous as the sack of the Libyan consulate.
Unlike residents of Benghazi, Tunis-dwellers did not turn out to challenge the commandeering of their public space by well-marshaled extremists. And, whether through immaturity or latent connivance, the attitude of the Tunisian government has been equivocal. Further incidents, such as the roughing up of an elected official a couple of weeks ago, suggest that the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party may be flirting with violence to help ensure its grip on power.
In a major speech two weeks before he debates President Barack Obama on international issues, Mitt Romney argued that Obama is failing to provide the global leadership needed and expected by the rest of the world.
Romney called for the U.S. to join allies in ensuring that rebels fighting government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad get military hardware they seek. He also criticized Obama's overall approach to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he argued that last month's attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans "was likely the work of the same forces affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001."
What's the difference between the candidates' stances and what does this mean for U.S. policy? Fareed Zakaria weighs in on this and more in this edited conversation:
Q: One of the points you've brought up before is that these two candidates really see eye-to-eye on a lot of foreign policy issues. The only one that we really heard that was different was Romney's stance on arming the Syrian rebels. How does the United States go about doing that?
ZAKARIA: If you were to have listened to that speech, you would assume, atmospherically, that Romney had very strong disagreements with the Obama administration, but his problem is that Obama has run a foreign policy almost like a moderate Republican. It's been internationalist. It's not been too liberal in the sense of human rights oriented. It's been tough. So the Syrian issue is the one place Romney can find to make a distinction. FULL POST
By Fareed Zakaria
Mitt Romney and his campaign feel that they have an opening in the presidential campaign, on foreign policy at least. The unrest in the Middle East the past couple of weeks, including the killing of the American ambassador to Libya and widespread protests over a controversial YouTube video that has been condemned as blasphemous, has left a general sense of turmoil in the region. The Romney campaign wants to take advantage of it.
On the surface, it seems like a reasonable idea. And Obama has made some missteps including the inexplicable decision to not meet with any foreign leaders this week during the U.N. General Assembly. But I don’t think it will work. And one need look no further than President Obama’s speech at the General Assembly to see why.
International events, even crises, typically help the president because they make him look, well, presidential. The symbolism of Obama delivering a speech at the United Nations will have been a powerful reminder to the public that Obama is the president and Mitt Romney is not. This in turn has the effect of conferring a certain gravitas on the incumbent.
By Fareed Zakaria
There is a kind of bipartisan arrogance that is often at work in Washington, where both sides believe that everything happening in the world is a consequence of American power and policy. If only we had made a different speech or implemented a different policy, or sent out a different tweet. But the truth is, what is happening in the Arab world is not about us – it is really about them.
Watch the video for Fareed's take on the reasons for the unrest in the Arab world. Fareed Zakaria GPS airs on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
By Nick Witney, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Nick Witney is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and former head of the European Defense Agency. The views expressed are his own.
It has been a good couple of weeks for extremists on both sides of the divide between the Western and Muslim worlds. In Benghazi, jihadists killed the U.S. envoy and three colleagues – an act of barbarity guaranteed to create shock and revulsion. Like-minded fanatics fanned the flames through attacks on embassies across the Middle East. The authors of the poisonous little video that began it all thus found themselves succeeding beyond all possible expectation.
Better still, from the perspective of this improbable coalition of hate-mongers, has been the way in which, in the run-up to the U.S. presidential poll, the “clash of civilizations” narrative has been embraced by many in the Western media. So much for the Arab Spring, we are told, when the heirs to the toppled autocrats turn out to be anti-Western Islamists. So much for the chances of Arab democracy, when the right to freedom of expression is so little respected. Time to stop apologizing, and stand up for “Western values.”
Such conclusions may tell us more about their authors than about the real world. Islamists were, after all, soundly defeated in Libya’s recent elections, and the United States is in a minority of Western countries where an absolute right to freedom of expression is not constrained by some form of “hate speech” legislation. Yet the mutual suspicion, and sometimes antipathy, between the Islamic and Western worlds cannot be gainsaid. It has been going on for centuries – and the appearance of large Western armies in two Islamic countries over the past decade, let alone the issue of Palestine, has done little to help. Which makes it all the more important for the West to do whatever it can to help the Arab Spring succeed.
By Christopher Chivvis, Special to CNN
Christopher S. Chivvis is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and teaches at the Johns Hopkins, School of Advanced International Studies. The views expressed are his own.
A year since Tripoli fell to NATO-backed Libyan rebels, progress in achieving lasting security remains elusive and could even be faltering. Recent attacks suggest that Libya’s stability – and one of the Obama Administration’s biggest foreign policy successes – could be in danger. The countries that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi a year ago have a special obligation to ensure the new Libyan government gets all the help it needs to respond to these new threats effectively.
Gadhafi’s death last October marked the end of the war and the beginning of a new age for Libya. But progress on all fronts since then has been slow and hard-won. While Libya held successful national elections last month, a recent spate of terrorist-style attacks in Benghazi and Tripoli indicate the Libyans are not out of the woods yet.
By Isobel Coleman, CFR
Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Democracy in Development originally appeared here. The views expressed are her own.
The path to democracy hardly begins and ends with elections. There is necessarily a lot of heavy lifting along the way to ensure that a full set of human rights are protected. In the reconstituted Arab states of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, balancing conservative religious beliefs and social mores with minority rights, women’s rights, and freedom of speech is already proving to be a tough challenge.
In Tunisia, arguably the most secular and progressive of the transitioning countries, worryingly violent protests have marked the deep tensions that exist between religious and secular elements in society. Unsurprisingly, these tensions are playing out not only in the streets, but also in cultural spaces such as art galleries, in the media, and in the courts. Last fall, protests erupted after a Tunisian television station showed the acclaimed movie Persepolis– a coming-of-age story set in Iran that depicts God in a human form, something that Islam forbids. The head of the station’s home was ransacked by demonstrators in the ensuing demonstrations. What really alarms secularists is that the court fined the executive $1,600 for “disturbing public order” and “threatening public morals.”
By Steven Cook, CFR
Editor’s note: Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of From the Potomac to the Euphrates originally appeared here. The views expressed are those of the author.
It’s fair to say that Egypt continues to be interesting. Yesterday, President Mohamed Morsi announced the retirements of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Lieutenant General Sami Anan, which comes just a few days after he sacked Egypt’s intelligence chief, the governor of North Sinai, and the head of the Military Police. What’s happening here? Speculation is rampant. Was Morsi’s shake-up the result of plotting within the military’s own ranks, revealing a much-rumored split within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces? Does kicking Tantawi and Anan upstairs – they will both serve as advisors to the president – constitute a Muslim Brotherhood coup? Both scenarios are possible, but it’s more likely that Morsi is doing precisely what he seems to be doing: consolidating his power.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Kofi Annan’s resignation as the U.N. and Arab League joint special envoy is a blow to any hopes that the situation in Syria could go down a stable path. It has also dashed hopes that an early route could be found to an inclusive government that could oversee decreasing levels of violence. Annan represented the possibility of something positive for Syria, and his departure is a sign that things are going to continue to spiral downwards.
There are two basic problems in Syria – an internal and an external political divide. The internal divide is evident every day. We have a brutal regime that is using maximum force, one that is making no concessions and that is simply holding onto power by any means possible. That is the principle problem in Syria, and one that can only be resolved if Bashar al-Assad and the people around him are deposed from power.
But there’s also a sectarian problem in Syria as is evidenced by the fact that minorities, who comprise 40 percent of the population, don’t seem to have joined the opposition. The Alawites, of course, who make up about 12 percent of Syria, are sticking with the Alawite-dominated regime. But the Christians appear to be doing so as well, for fear of what would happen to them in a majoritarian and more Islamist Syria. Other Syrian minorities such as the Kurds also don’t seem part of the Free Syria Army.
By Paul Wolfowitz and Mark Palmer, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mark Palmer is a member of the board of Freedom House. Paul Wolfowitz is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and a former U.S. deputy secretary of defense under President George W. Bush. The views expressed are solely those of the authors.
The recent elections in Libya were an emotion-filled celebration of the Libyan people’s thirst for self-government after four decades of extreme tyranny. Admittedly, those elections are only a first step on what will be a long road. And they weren't perfect, but then neither was the NATO military intervention that made those elections possible.
Nonetheless, those elections wouldn’t have happened without that NATO action, which in turn would have been impossible without U.S. support, hesitant and halfhearted though it was. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can take some quiet satisfaction in the elections, since she was a leading advocate of U.S. military action within the Obama administration, reportedly taking on her very powerful Pentagon colleague, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.