The danger of our shoot to kill terrorist policy
May 8th, 2013
09:39 AM ET

The danger of our shoot to kill terrorist policy

‘Beyond the Manhunts: How to Stop Terror’ – a GPS special premieres 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET this Sunday

By Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr. is the former chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and head of the National Clandestine Service and author of Hard Measures. The views expressed are his own.

When I first published my memoir Hard Measures, How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, a year ago, I got lots of requests to participate in documentaries. I turned most of them down. But I agreed to be interviewed for Greg Barker’s Manhunt because of a promise he made – and kept – to tell the story using only the voices of the people involved in the search for Osama bin Laden. Too many filmmakers and journalists come to this story with their own agenda. They arrive with all the answers and only seek snippets of quotes to bolster the conclusions they have previously made.

Barker took another approach and let the men and particularly the women of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center explain their reasoning and actions. Viewers hear directly from those who were central to raising the alarm about bin Laden and long before most Americans had heard of him – and those who contributed to bringing down the al Qaeda leader and most of his henchmen.

Reasonable people can and do disagree about the tactics we employed. But no one should doubt the sincerity and motivations of these intelligence officers. Manhunt does an excellent job of illuminating not only the meticulous work done by CIA officers, but also the pressure we all felt to prevent follow-on attacks.


Meet China's hardline new president
March 8th, 2013
11:12 AM ET

Meet China's hardline new president

By François Godement, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: François Godement is a senior policy fellow and head of the China program at the European Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.

This week’s National People's Congress will complete China’s once-in-a decade leadership change, with Xi Jinping becoming the country’s new head of state. China's partners, and above all Americans, want a China that is a predictable and reliable. After all, huge business interests require stable relations with China. And there is no doubt, China is becoming more powerful – it is not only present in most parts of the world, but has also become a determining factor in the international arena. We would all therefore love to see Mr Xi as a Chinese Gorbachev. But getting to know Xi’s real personality, and his likely style of governing, feels like Kremlinology. And what is emerging is worrying.

Xi is reputedly a charmer with an engaging and easygoing style. His wife is a famous singer, his daughter is quietly studying at Harvard. It is reported that he is even reluctant to embrace a luxurious lifestyle (although this does not appear to prevent some of his relatives from doing so). In public, Xi refrains from making controversial statements – an exception of course being the 2009 remark about the "full stomach" and the "constant finger pointing of Westerners" during a trip to Mexico.


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Topics: Asia • China • Foreign Policy
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.


January 14th, 2013
12:47 PM ET

No, U.S. isn’t turning back on Middle East

By Jon Alterman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jon Alterman is head of the Middle East program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views expressed are his own.

Much of the talk about the U.S. “Pivot to Asia” has one thing wrong: it is not a pivot away from the Middle East. That is not to say that some in the Obama administration don’t wish they could pivot away from the Middle East, or that the U.S. Central Command isn’t exhausted from fighting wars for more than a decade. Both are true. Instead, it is to say that Asia’s ties to the Middle East are growing vigorously, and a U.S. commitment to Asian security necessarily means the United States inherits Asia’s growing interests in the Middle East.

The United States cannot pull out of the Middle East. Rather, its increasing engagement with Asia means that it is increasingly getting pulled into the Middle East, although from the other side.


What a values-based foreign policy would look like
November 19th, 2012
11:39 AM ET

What a values-based foreign policy would look like

By Sarah Margon, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sarah Margon is the deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.

Second terms are when presidents start to think about their legacy. And with a first term that earned President Barack Obama strong national security bona fides, he has the opportunity to pursue a robust foreign policy that more closely aligns U.S. values and interests. Historically, many presidents have supported such an agenda, but few have been able to follow through for fear of looking weak. Freed from the political constraints of his inaugural four years, and with two-thirds of Americans, according to polls, confident in his ability to handle major national security challenges, Obama can now stop paying lip service to this ideal.

The foundation for such an approach already exists. In 2011, Obama asserted that a “strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of [core national security interests] will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind. Failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense.”


November 14th, 2012
10:59 AM ET

How U.S. can help avert Asia crisis

By Patrick M. Cronin, Special to CNN

Patrick M. Cronin is senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own.

Mounting tensions over the East and South China Seas are threatening to torpedo the Asian Century. China and the Philippines locked horns near Scarborough Shoal this past spring. Now, China and Japan are in the midst of a dangerous standoff over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.  The United States, bound by treaty to help defend Japan, is caught in the middle of this fracas. America’s power and purpose are in jeopardy if the world’s three largest economies cannot step back from the brink.

The proximate cause of the problem is China’s insistence on creating a new status quo. A weaker China once kept mum over the islands, but a stronger China is reasserting its historical claims. Japan is equally convinced of its sovereignty, having regained control over the islands as part of America’s 1972 reversion of Okinawa. Japan rightfully worries about Chinese “salami tactics” that seek to gain territory one slice at a time. After all, China does not recognize Japanese sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands and some even claim the “ancient Chinese kingdom” of Okinawa. Japan’s muscular use of its Coast Guard, coupled with occasionally inflammatory public utterances about history, only fuels nationalist sentiments.


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Topics: Asia • China • Foreign Policy • Japan • United States
How China sees the election
November 5th, 2012
07:05 PM ET

How China sees the election

By Shen Dingli, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Shen Dingli is director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai. This is the last in our series of articles looking at how the world views the presidential election. The views expressed are his own.

As Americans head to the polls to elect their president, many in China – which itself is seeing a leadership transition – are watching closely.

Being the incumbent, President Barack Obama has the resources and visibility that come with his office at his disposal, and incumbents in recent years have generally fared well in U.S. elections. And Obama’s health care reforms – which he has argued will benefit tens of millions of Americans – would likely be enough to sway many Chinese, were they allowed to vote.

But what of U.S. policy toward China?


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Topics: 2012 Election • Asia • Barack Obama • China • Foreign Policy • Mitt Romney
October 23rd, 2012
03:28 PM ET

Candidates treading fine line on Iran

By Erik Voeten, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Erik Voeten is an associate professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Government. He blogs at The Monkey Cage. The views expressed are his own.

Last night’s foreign policy debate contained few surprises. As expected, both candidates sought to bring the focus back to domestic issues whenever they could. Each candidate vied to convince the public that he loved Israel more and that he would be tougher on China. Each tried to sound strong without coming across as bellicose. David Brooks observed in the post-debate analysis that Romney mentioned peace more than George McGovern ever did. On most issues, Romney did not disagree much with the strategies pursued by the Obama administration. He just claimed that he would have executed them better.

This is not unusual. On foreign policy, the candidates mostly try to persuade the public that they are competent. Partisan differences towards foreign policy issues are relatively minor, at least during this election season. The key is to convince the public that when you are in charge, Americans will be safer and more prosperous, more “bad guys” will be killed, and more “good guys” will live happy productive lives and thank the United States of America for it.


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Topics: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Foreign Policy • Iran • Middle East • Mitt Romney
Zakaria: Tonight, it's about character
October 22nd, 2012
01:24 PM ET

Zakaria: Tonight, it's about character

By Jason Miks

Fareed Zakaria discusses the importance of the third and final presidential debate taking place tonight in Florida, and looks at the issues likely to be tackled.

How many Americans really care deeply about foreign policy issues?

Well, the substance of the issue they don't care about. Foreign policy is a little bit different from domestic policy. In domestic policy you’re trying to see whether the candidate agrees with you or whether you agree with him. It’s often a checklist of things: abortion, the economy, taxes.

Foreign policy is really a prism through which people look at the character of the person, the values, the strength, the consistency. So it is important, but not in a direct way in the way that domestic policy is.


October 21st, 2012
08:22 PM ET

What the candidates need to talk about: 4 key issues

By Council on Foreign Relations

Editor’s note: The third and final presidential debate will focus exclusively on foreign policy and national security. Four CFR experts weigh in on the questions and issues they believe warrant discussion. This briefing was originally published here. The views expressed are the authors’ own.

Stephen Biddle, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Defense Policy


We know both candidates want to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. And we know they have about the same timetable for doing it. What we don't know is how this will secure our interests there.

The war is likely to be stalemated in 2014 when the U.S. combat role ends and the Afghans take the lead. To maintain that stalemate will require multiple billions of dollars a year to keep Afghanistan's security forces in the field. If we’re going to keep writing these checks, what’s the plan for bringing the war to a successful conclusion after 2014? Is there one?


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Topics: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Foreign Policy • Mitt Romney
October 19th, 2012
10:29 AM ET

What readers want the candidates to talk about

By Jason Miks

Earlier this week, GPS asked readers which foreign policy issues the presidential candidates should be discussing. The discussion in the second debate, on Tuesday night, focused largely on Libya, specifically the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens. But readers also had some other ideas about what they want discussed. With the third and final presidential debate taking place Monday, and with foreign policy as the theme, here’s what GPS readers say they are looking for:

Mithila Saraf” was one of many who suggested that Iran’s nuclear program should be the key U.S. concern.

“Between America’s commitments to Israel and the escalating tensions between Iran and several of its neighbors, America’s action (or inaction) in this matter will be vital to how the situation unfolds,” Saraf said. “So far, the Obama administration has held a firm verbal stance, but there has been little inclination towards physical force. Several Republicans have expressed…that they would want to change that.”


Time for grown up policy debate
October 16th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

Time for grown up policy debate

By Danielle Pletka, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Danielle Pletka is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are her own.

The pressure’s on President Barack Obama for a stellar debate performance tonight, but the discussion has been dominated by questions of style over substance. Much as Obama’s somnolence is the lingering impression of the first presidential debate and Vice President Joe Biden’s manic performance saturated the second, the third is likely to be an exercise in prurience. Who will sigh? Who will squeeze into the other’s personal space? Will Romney finally admit he prefers the 53 percent? Will Obama pronounce some mysterious Arabic phrase as only a Muslim would?

But there are serious questions to be answered by each man, and their answers should illuminate the race more than any turn of phrase or unseemly grin. Presumably, as this is a town hall format, the public will dominate the topics, which means that questions on unemployment, taxes, healthcare and education will come before national security. That’s only natural, but we are at war, and the American people deserve some answers from the commander-in-chief and the man who seeks to take his job.


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