Enough with the tough guy debate
March 7th, 2014
12:07 PM ET

Enough with the tough guy debate

For more on the latest developments in Ukraine, watch a special live edition of "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

By Fareed Zakaria

Inevitably, the crisis in Ukraine is being discussed in Washington largely through the lens of political polarization. It seems like any and every topic is fodder for partisan dispute these days, even the weather – actually, especially the weather.

Many Republicans are arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened in the Crimea region of Ukraine because of President Barack Obama's weakness. Putin saw that Obama didn't want to go to war in Syria, for example, and this emboldened Putin.

Well, who knows right? It's tough to know what would have happened in an alternative universe. Imagine that we still had Putin around in charge of Russia, but imagine he faced a different president, one who was tough, aggressive, who had no compunctions about invading countries.

Oh wait, we ran that very experiment in 2008! Putin faced George W. Bush, a president who had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq for good measure (and, in the latter case, defying massive international pressure and opposition). And yet, Putin invaded Georgia. And not, as he did this time, in a stealthy way with soldiers who were already there who simply switched their uniforms. He sent in Russian tanks roaring into Georgia and – without any referendums – simply annexed two pieces of that country.

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Topics: Barack Obama • Russia • United States
Obama has demoted liberty
October 3rd, 2013
08:56 AM ET

Obama has demoted liberty

By Will Marshall, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Will Marshall is the president of the Progressive Policy Institute. The views expressed are his own.

President Barack Obama has demoted liberty and democracy as primary U.S. foreign policy goals, at least where the Middle East is concerned.  So the president informed the world in his address to the United Nations last week.

Obama said four “core interests” would henceforth guide U.S. policy toward the Middle East and North Africa: protecting our allies, ensuring the flow of oil, fighting anti-American terrorists, and preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction. While he said U.S. efforts to “promote democracy, human rights, and open markets” will continue, they are now relegated explicitly to the second tier of U.S. interests.

Not so fast Mr. President. Shouldn’t Democrats at least be questioning Obama’s logic, if not raising objections?  After all, the president’s embrace of realpolitik is at odds with the party’s liberal internationalist outlook, which on balance has served America and the world well for seven decades. And it collides with America’s strategic interest in banking the fires of political violence and extremism in the world’s most turbulent region.

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Topics: Barack Obama • Middle East
Obama has lost control over Syria policy
September 17th, 2013
10:59 AM ET

Obama has lost control over Syria policy

By Robert Hutchings, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert Hutchings is dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas and co-director of its “Reinventing Diplomacy” initiative.  He served as chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005. The views expressed are his own.

Clausewitz famously wrote about the fog of war – the confusion and chaos that undermine even the best laid battle plans.  The same could be said of diplomacy, particularly the last two weeks of American diplomacy toward Syria.

In an earlier commentary, I praised the Obama administration for handling an intractable challenge reasonably well, but warned of the danger of escalation once military action commenced.  That was before the decision to delay action while consulting Congress. Since then, the administration’s cautious approach has unraveled, and the president has wholly lost control over U.S. policy.

There was no need to go to the full Congress – and many reasons not to do so. The limited strikes the administration was considering did not rise to a level that required Congressional endorsement.  Consultations with senior Congressional leadership, even without gaining their full support, would have been sufficient. The policy would then have been judged by its effectiveness, and had the objectives been limited to punishment for the al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, there were good prospects of success. Taking such limited but important action without Congressional authorization could easily have been defended on grounds of urgency.

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Topics: Barack Obama • Syria • United States
September 11th, 2013
09:14 PM ET

Obama on the path to success in Syria

By Fareed Zakaria

The Obama administration is right to carefully and thoroughly pursue the diplomatic path — even though it will be difficult. While Syria and Russia are doing so as a way to avert an attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin might also be happy to see Assad’s weapons locked up or destroyed. In fact, this gambit might be a way for Russia to achieve its real goals in Syria: no regime change and no chemical weapons. Russia has always worried that these weapons could fall into the hands of jihadi groups, which could give them to compatriots in Russia’s south, which is teeming with religious militants. Syria’s other chief sponsor, Iran, historically has been strongly opposed to chemical weapons since Iranians were brutally gassed by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

If the Obama administration believes that the ban on chemical weapons really is an international norm in danger of erosion and that the threat of a military strike is the way to shore it up, it needs to build some support among Congress, the U.N. Security Council, NATO, the European Union, the Arab League or other such groups. Recall that the Bush administration in the run-up to Iraq got congressional authorization; as its basis for action, it could point to 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions that Iraq had broken. After the invasion, 38 countries sent troops. It is ironic that Washington’s sole goal is to uphold an international norm, but it faces opposition from most countries and international public opinion. The negotiations do buy time for Syria, but also for the Obama administration.

Read the full Washington Post column

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Topics: Barack Obama • Syria
America’s international image slipping
July 26th, 2013
11:45 AM ET

America’s international image slipping

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.

In the fifth year of the Obama presidency, the United States’ image remains strong around the world compared with the last years of the administration of President George W. Bush. Still, pro-America sentiment is slipping.

The decline is in no way comparable to the collapse of U.S. standing in the first decade of this century. But the “Obama bounce” in the global stature of the United States experienced in 2009 is clearly a thing of the past. And this gradual erosion of support is, in part, due to the diminishing popularity of U.S. President Barack Obama himself in some nations.

In 28 of 38 nations, half or more of those surveyed express a favorable opinion of the U.S., according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. This includes more than half those surveyed in seven of eight European countries, including three quarters in Italy, two thirds in Poland and 64 percent in France. Only in Greece does just 39 percent of the public say they have a favorable view of Uncle Sam.

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Obama's risky Syria move
June 15th, 2013
09:30 AM ET

Obama's risky Syria move

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

By Fareed Zakaria

So, the Obama administration has now decided that Syria’s use of chemical weapons crosses a red line and, as a result, the United States will supply the opposition with small arms and ammunition.  This strikes me as a risky decision – too little to have a real impact and enough to commit the United States in a complex civil war.

First, let’s be clear. This will not ease the humanitarian nightmare unfolding in Syria. The opposition forces will now have some more arms and will fight back, presumably killing more of the regime’s soldiers and supporters. Levels of violence might well rise not decline.

So what exactly is the objective of this policy shift? Is it the defeat of Bashar al-Assad? If so, can such a small shift in American support for the opposition really do that? The opposition forces are disorganized. Joshua Landis, the Syria scholar, estimates that there are 1,000 militias that make up the rebel forces. Such a decentralized opposition would need a lot more than more small weapons and ammunition to succeed.

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Topics: Barack Obama • Syria • United States
Can Obama, Xi Break summit stalemate?
June 4th, 2013
07:25 AM ET

Can Obama, Xi Break summit stalemate?

By Elizabeth Economy, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Economy is C.V. Starr senior fellow and director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are her own.

Presidential summits between the United States and China have become disappointingly predictable.  Before every summit there is a sense of anticipation. What issues will be at the top of the agenda?  What new agreements might be reached? How will the two presidents get along? During the summit, news is scant. There are hints of common purpose, but mostly there are admissions of significant differences. And then, inevitably, there is the post-summit letdown. The issues were the same as always. The leaders didn’t really get along (although no one quite says that). And new agreements were never in the cards.

It is possible for President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping to break this summit stalemate when they meet on June 7 to 8 at the Sunnylands estate in California. To do so, however, will require flipping the summit process on its head. Rather than working toward agreement across all the areas of conflict before them – which after all will take years not days of negotiation – the two presidents need to begin by headlining what in the U.S.-China relationship actually works and then delivering that message to the American and Chinese publics.

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Topics: Barack Obama • China • United States
Obama nails it on drones
May 23rd, 2013
07:23 PM ET

Obama nails it on drones

By Michael O’Hanlon, Special to CNN

Michael O’Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity. The views expressed are his own.

President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism speech Thursday did not deliver any radical policy changes or huge revelations, but it was well done nonetheless. It explained his reasoning behind the use of certain techniques of warfare including drone strikes and Guantanamo detentions, even as he also promised to minimize the use of these methods in the future and try to move towards a world in which the 2001 authorization for war against al Qaeda and affiliates would no longer be needed.  It was an intelligent blend of the tone of his more idealistic speeches, such as the Cairo address of June 2009, with his more muscular messages like the December 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

But one section of his speech is worth particular focus – the use of armed unmanned combat vehicles or drones. Even though President Obama did not specify exactly how drone strikes would change in the future, and did not provide a great deal of new information about them, the modest amount of detail he did provide was welcome. That is because U.S. drone strikes are badly misunderstood around the world, a point underscored by a New York Times op-ed today contained the following statements:

“...the C.I.A. has no idea who is actually being killed in most of the strikes. Despite this acknowledgment, the drone program in Pakistan still continues without any Congressional oversight or accountability.”

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Topics: Afghanistan • Barack Obama • CIA • Pakistan • Terrorism
Obama’s golden outreach opportunity
March 19th, 2013
09:53 AM ET

Obama’s golden outreach opportunity

By Gabriel Kohan and Mark Donig, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Gabriel Kohan and Mark Donig are Middle East policy analysts whose work has appeared in CNN, Foreign Policy, Forbes, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The views expressed in this piece are their own.

Since the White House announced last month that President Obama would be headed to Israel, analysts have floated numerous flawed theories suggesting that the president’s trip is motivated primarily by either a desire to enhance cooperation on various security issues or to thaw the frosty relationship between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Advocates of the first theory overlook the fact that, while security issues will be addressed, this trip to Israel is not necessary for the two countries to enhance their already unprecedented security relationship – the president could accomplish the same without leaving Washington. Meanwhile, proponents of the second overestimate the impact of one more face-to-face meeting between a president and prime minister who have already met in person a number of times over the previous four years.

Rather, the greatest impact that this trip could have is not between leaders or governments, but between President Obama and the Israeli public. By using this trip to speak directly to the Israeli people and to reassure them of America’s commitment to Israel’s security, President Obama can begin to forge the kind of trust with the Israeli public that has so far eluded him, in part due to his previous requests for Israeli concessions on territory and settlements that some perceived as insensitive to Israel’s precarious security situation. In building this good faith, Obama can begin to “reset” his relationship with Israelis who may not trust today that the president will “have Israel’s back,” and can use that newly built trust to help achieve longstanding American foreign policy goals in the Middle East.

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Topics: Barack Obama • Israel • Middle East
Zakaria: Obama should think big
February 12th, 2013
04:44 PM ET

Zakaria: Obama should think big

Fareed Zakaria offers his take on why President Barack Obama should think big in his upcoming State of the Union address. Watch CNN's comprehensive coverage of the address, starting at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday.

On the president’s watch, we know that the country has now added 1.2 million jobs since he took office, but it’s not creating enough jobs fast enough to sustain a strong recovery. You see the housing market is coming back. The stock market is rallying. But how much can this president really do in the next four years to get the economy going again?

He could do a lot. We are actually in good shape compared with Europe, compared with Japan.

What this president should do is try to enlist Congress in recognizing that with borrowing costs at historical lows, what we need to do is rebuild America and gain jobs…and allow the economy to get to a kind of escape velocity.

If the president were to announce he has a big, new infrastructure bank that is going to borrow money, but which is going to spend it to rebuild America – invest in the future, rebuild the bridges and highways, build a new generation of smart grid, build a new airport system, a new air traffic system – I think the public at large would like to hear that.

This is the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal. People said we could never do something like that. It was the largest and most expensive government project ever, but unleashed 100 years of economic trade.

So, we have to think in those large terms. If we do, we can do things. If we believe we are entirely constrained, we can’t do much.

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Topics: Barack Obama • Politics • United States
Is Obama out of step with America on foreign policy?
January 28th, 2013
12:31 PM ET

Is Obama out of step with America on foreign policy?

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.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address is now history. It has been labeled “progressive,” “partisan,” “one of the best ever” and “pedestrian.” Whatever the positive or negative take on its content, the speech was largely about America’s domestic concerns. The limited internationalism highlighted in the speech lacks significant support from the American people, especially those who got him reelected.

The economy, jobs and the budget deficit dominate public concerns in the United States, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. More than eight-in-ten Americans think Washington should pay less attention to problems overseas and more attention to issues at home. And such isolationist sentiment has increased 10 percentage points in the last decade.

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Israel in 2013: Six things to watch
December 11th, 2012
12:02 PM ET

Israel in 2013: Six things to watch

This is the second in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.

By Steve Linde, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Steve Linde is editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. The views expressed are his own.

Life in the Holy Land is often intense and seldom boring, and the country has captured the attention of the international news media for almost 65 years. This is not likely to change in 2013. Although Israel has a population of only eight million, almost every day generates unexpected and exciting developments. While journalists are not prophets, I would suggest that there are six key challenges facing the Jewish state in the year ahead:

National elections – Israel is all set for what promises to be an interesting national election on January 22, with 34 lists registered to run. A strong right-wing list comprising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud party and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) is facing off against a splintered Center and Left that includes, inter alia, Shelly Yacimovich's Labor, the Tzipi Livni Party, Yair Lapid¹s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) and Shaul Mofaz¹s Kadima. Current polls show the now merged Likud-Beiteinu  list comfortably ahead, with about a third of the seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament. But with growing discontent over the current government¹s foreign and socioeconomic policies, Likud- Beiteinu may in fact win fewer seats than its two component parties have in the current Knesset (42).

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Topics: 2013: What's Next? • Barack Obama • Iran • Israel • Middle East • Terrorism
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