By Rudy deLeon and Aarthi Gunasekaran, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Rudy deLeon served as deputy secretary of defense from 2000-2001 and is senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Aarthi Gunasekaran is a research assistant at the Center for American Progress. The views expressed are their own.
At the peak of the Cold War, a Soviet military fighter shot down a civilian airliner and all 269 passengers on board were killed, including a U.S. congressman and 61 other Americans. The world waited for a response from the United States.
But President Ronald Reagan didn't offer much beyond strong rhetoric and careful words, only condemnation without a serious call for action. He urged the international community to deal with the Soviets in a calm manner; labeled the Soviets as "savagery," "murderous," "monstrous," and united the European allies against a Soviet system nearing its end.
"We didn't elect a dictionary. We elected a president and it's time for him to act," is said to have sounded conservative columnist George Will. Reagan was the commander-in-chief at the time, and a conservative stalwart who today's hardliners believe would have never allowed such aggression go without response.
By Fareed Zakaria
Part of Obama’s problem is that he has made grand pronouncements on issues where he would not use American power forcefully, Syria and the Arab Spring being the clearest examples. Speech became the substitute for action — hence the charge of fecklessness. And on the issues where the United States has been engaged — Ukraine, Asia — his statements have been strangely muted. In his speech to European leaders on Ukraine, Obama struck most of the right notes but also offered caveats about not acting militarily. It is difficult to stir the world into action, and into following the United States, if the president is telling you what he would not do rather than what he would do.
But the broader problem is that critics want the moral and political satisfaction of a great global struggle. We all accuse Vladimir Putin of Cold War nostalgia, but Washington’s elites — politicians and intellectuals — miss the old days as well. They wish for the world in which the United States was utterly dominant over its friends, its foes were to be shunned entirely and the challenges were stark, moral and vital. Today’s world is messy and complicated. China is one of our biggest trading partners and our looming geopolitical rival. Russia is a surly spoiler, but it has a globalized middle class and has created ties in Europe. New regional players such as Turkey and Brazil have minds of their own and will not be easily bossed.
Read the Washington Post column
By Greg Scoblete and Kevin Sullivan, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Greg Scoblete and Kevin Sullivan are the editors of RealClearWorld, which recently named GPS one of the top 5 international news analysis sites of 2013. The views expressed are their own.
There was no shortage of eye-grabbing global headlines in 2013. The Catholic Church chose a new Pope. China and Russia flexed their muscles. The U.S. and Iran, meanwhile, took a step back from the brink of what looked like a potentially explosive confrontation. But while these stories commanded an ample share of media attention, we’ve found four significant stories that may have slipped under your radar.
Global poverty retreats
With Southern Europe still reeling and the anemic U.S. recovery wobbling along, good economic news has been in short supply. But if you widened the lens, 2013 actually delivered some encouraging, indeed historic, news. It came in the form of a study from Oxford University’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative that concluded that developing countries were enjoying remarkable success in alleviating the worst poverty. They’ve had so much success, in fact, that Oxford predicted that crushing poverty in many of the least developed countries in the world (think Bangladesh, Rwanda, Nepal) is actually on track to be fully eradicated within 20 years.
This optimism was echoed by the United Nations’ 2013 Human Development Report, which noted that “[n]ever in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast.”
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.
Michigan Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s famous axiom that partisan politics stops at the water’s edge has always been more an expression of hope than a description of reality. Since he uttered his famous dictum in the 1940s, Americans have disagreed along ideological lines about a range of international issues: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, trade with Japan, the Iraq War, relations with China and climate change. With national debates looming next year over Iran, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, trade and China, continued partisan discord is probably unavoidable. What may be different this time is the shear depth of that partisan divide.
Americans differ in their judgment of the trajectory of the United States on the world stage. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans and 86 percent of those who agree with the Tea Party (among Republicans and Independents who lean toward the Republican Party) say the United States plays a less important and powerful role as a world leader today compared to 10 years ago. Just 33 percent of Democrats agree, according to a new public opinion survey, “America’s Place in the World,” undertaken by the Pew Research Center in conjunction with the Council on Foreign Relations.
By Michael Mazza, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Mazza is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.
It’s difficult to know precisely what was behind China’s decision to institute an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) at the weekend. Chinese claims to the contrary, it is clearly meant to up the pressure on Japan in the two countries’ dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, over which the ADIZ extends. Internal Chinese political dynamics may also be at work here; President Xi Jinping, for example, must be benefitting from taking a strong stance vis-à-vis Japan. But whatever the reason for the creation of the ADIZ at this time, Beijing may ultimately regret it – and not only because it increases the likelihood of a violent incident over the East China Sea.
First off, the move needlessly antagonizes Taiwan and South Korea. The fact is that it puts a wrinkle into recently stable cross-Strait relations, as Taiwan also claims sovereignty over the Senkakus (known as the Diaoyutai in Taiwan), and it now has an overlapping ADIZ with the mainland.
The ADIZ is even more surprising in the context of China-South Korea relations, which have looked particularly warm of late. Seoul’s quarrels with Japan over history have been at their worst in recent months, and Beijing has effectively stoked that fire. But China’s new ADIZ overlaps with South Korea’s; covers the disputed Socotra Rock (which both countries claim as within their own exclusive economic zone); and may extend a bit too close for comfort to Jeju Island, where South Korea is building a major naval base. In one fell swoop, Beijing has reminded Seoul that South Korea has more in common with Japan than it normally likes to admit.
By Katherine Zimmerman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Katherine Zimmerman is a senior analyst at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, and the author of the recently released report The Al Qaeda Network: A New Framework for Defining the Enemy. The views expressed are her own.
The Obama administration counts Somalia as a success story, but the rising death toll from al-Shabaab’s bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall is a tragic reminder that U.S. strategy against al Qaeda, claims of success notwithstanding, is not working.
Al-Shabaab no longer controls vast expanses of territory as it once did, but reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. Dismissed too often as a Somali nuisance, al-Shabaab is more than a local militia; it is part of the growing al Qaeda global network.
The Westgate mall attack is the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since al Qaeda’s 1998 truck bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. Reminiscent of the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 164, the militants reportedly conducted a two-pronged assault with grenades and small arms, attacking separate floors. As of this writing, they continue to hold an unknown number of hostages. Among the scores of dead are Canadians, Britons, and Frenchmen. Four Americans have been listed as among the wounded.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Last March, President Barack Obama spoke about how Syria’s use of chemical weapons would be a “game-changer.” It has, except not quite in the sense that he meant. It has been an event that has confused and confounded the Obama administration. Whatever your views on the larger issues, it’s hard not to conclude that the administration’s handling of Syria over the last year has been a case study in how not to do foreign policy.
The president started out with an understanding that the Syrian conflict is a messy sectarian struggle that cannot be influenced easily by American military intervention. He was disciplined in resisting calls to jump into a cauldron. But from the start he confused and undermined this policy with loose rhetoric, perhaps egged on by some of his advisors and critics to "do something."
So he announced just over two years ago that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had to go. Now a pundit can engage in grandiose speech. The president of the United States should make declarations like this only if he has some strategy to actually achieve them. He did not.
Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Peter Beinart, a senior political writer with the Daily Beast, and Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal, about the developments in Egypt.
So, Bret, when you look at what's going on in Egypt, you now have a military coup that it's very difficult to make the case it was a soft coup. And I understand the niceties of the American government not calling it that, but you had the military take over a democratically elected government. You now have the military appointing 17 out of 19 generals as governors. How should we think about this?
Stephens: Look, first of all, it's a problem with no good solutions. You have in Egyptian politics a kind of a zero-sum game. I mean, efforts by Senators McCain and Graham, by the administration itself to try to finesse a power sharing agreement between the military and the Brotherhood, have clearly failed. The Brotherhood aims to topple the military; the military understands that it's in a kind of death match with the Brotherhood and is going to exert itself forcefully, and as we've seen this week, violently on the Brotherhood to stop them.
The question is, can we help? Can we show the military that it’s in their own interests to have a political process that if it doesn’t quite include the Brotherhood, doesn’t suppress them as violently. Because the government, especially General Sisi, will not be doing themselves favors with the rest of the Arab world – certainly not with Europe and the United States – if protesters continue to be massacred in the streets. So how do you soften those blows?
By Robert M. Danin, Special to CNN
Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the former director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. He writes the blog Middle East Matters at CFR.org. The views expressed are his own.
Writing in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, Nadav Eyal characterized his country’s view of this week’s peace talks with the Palestinians as that of “cautious pessimism.” Palestinian public opinion is even gloomier. Mutual cynicism about the prospects for peace is not surprising, given that the two sides have been unsuccessfully negotiating an end to their conflict intermittently for over two decades. Having seen their hopes and aspirations dashed so many times before, why should this time be any different?
The initial indicators are not overly encouraging: That U.S. Secretary of State Kerry had to invest so much time and effort just to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to meet suggests that he may want the talks more than them. Ultimately, it was Kerry’s sheer tenacity that made the price of saying no for the parties higher than acceding to the United States chief diplomat. But so far, what the parties have mainly agreed to is a process, not to a deal.
By David Meyers, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Meyers worked in the Bush White House from 2006 to 2009, and later for Senator Mitch McConnell. His work has appeared in the Jerusalem Post, The Washington Times and The Diplomat. The views expressed are his own.
Reports last week suggested U.S. President Barack Obama might be considering cancelling an upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s handling of the Edward Snowden saga. But while President Obama would be right in cancelling the meeting, he should do so regardless of the outcome of Snowden’s asylum application. After all, Putin has given him plenty of reasons to do so already.
For years, the Russian president turned prime minister turned president again has been waging an aggressive attack against freedom and democracy in Russia. He's imprisoned numerous law-abiding opposition figures, rigged elections, and crushed meaningful public dissent. He's also persecuted minority groups, including signing into law a troubling vague and broad law designating “homosexual propaganda” as pornography, and has presided over a system where the wealthy can increasingly literally get away with murder.
At the same time, Putin has helped Bashar al-Assad continue the slaughter in Syria (a conflict that has already claimed more than 100,000 lives), and shielded Iran as it races towards a nuclear weapon and continues to back terrorism.
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.
By Ali Vaez, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ali Vaez is the International Crisis Group’s senior Iran analyst. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The history of Iran-U.S. relations is littered with missed opportunities. The Obama administration should make sure that the victory of a moderate president in Iran doesn’t become another one.
Sending a letter of congratulation to the new president on his inauguration day – August 3 – would be a positive first step. Conservatives in Tehran will have to bite their tongues, remembering Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s congratulatory note to Obama in 2009. Republicans in the U.S. Congress, meanwhile, will have a hard time accusing the president of somehow endorsing Iran’s faulty electoral process, given that most U.S. allies in that region don’t even hold elections.
But more important than recognizing the legitimacy of a political process in which well over half of Iran’s population participated is signaling to Iran’s leadership that Washington is willing to find some sort of common ground moving forward. This could, for example, include reversing the U.S. objection to Iran attending the Geneva 2 conference on the future of Syria, a move that could be justified by Tehran’s new political face.
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
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Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
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