January 16th, 2014
09:17 AM ET

Why religious freedom matters

By Robert P. George and Katrina Lantos Swett, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert P. George and Katrina Lantos Swett serve as chairman and vice chairwoman, respectively, of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed are their own.

National Religious Freedom Day, being marked today in the United States, reminds us that freedom of religion or belief is a pivotal human right, central to this country’s history and heritage. It is also recognized as such by the United Nations and other international bodies. Yet the issue frequently sparks debates that too often generate more heat than light.

That the mere mention of religious freedom triggers such powerful emotions, in the United States and overseas, helps explain why this critical right has not been accorded the centrality and respect it deserves, especially as a component of U.S. foreign policy. But whatever the reason, the United States must still look closely at the issue – and why it is key to successful U.S. foreign policy.

Back in 1948, the United Nations affirmed religious freedom as a core right in Article 18 of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." Further affirming this right, the governments of 156 nations in 1966 signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  The ICCRP, which the U.S. ratified in 1992, includes language similar to Article 18.

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Topics: Religion • United States
Iran action plan is no step forward
January 15th, 2014
08:57 AM ET

Iran action plan is no step forward

By Maseh Zarif, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Maseh Zarif is deputy director at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. The views expressed are the writers’ own.

Obama administration officials have been preening since the announcement that the November 2013 “Joint Plan of Action” (JPA) deal with Iran will be implemented beginning January 20.  But the credibility of the deal – and the negotiators that struck it – is in trouble for one simple reason:  The JPA fails to verifiably eliminate Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Or more succinctly, in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s words: “In Geneva agreement world powers surrendered to Iranian nation's will.”

It became apparent during negotiations last year that the administration was ready for a deal that left Iran with considerable options in developing a nuclear weapon. The “first step” agreement did nothing to force Iran to address weaponization-related activities or its pursuit of ballistic missiles, which could serve as delivery vehicles for a nuclear warhead. And over-reliance on Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency will be another problem. Indeed, Tehran just postponed a forthcoming meeting with the IAEA on weaponization questions.

Uranium enrichment and other related projects will continue unchecked, despite officials’ arguments that Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle activities would be halted in significant ways. Indeed, a senior administration official conceded this week that the testing and feeding of advanced-generation centrifuges will be allowed under the deal’s implementation plan. The Iranians will, as a result, continue to improve their ability to produce enriched uranium more efficiently.

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Topics: Iran • Nuclear • United States
January 14th, 2014
08:30 AM ET

U.S. isolationism isn't protectionism

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.

Isolationism is not protectionism. And confusing the two can create a false impression of the trajectory of U.S. global engagement in the year ahead.

New polling data showing that the American public is turning inward, preoccupied with domestic affairs and less interested in international engagement, is not evidence of a rise in U.S. economic protectionism, with its grave consequences for global business. Indeed, even as their doubts grow over the future U.S. geopolitical role, Americans say that the benefits from U.S. participation in the global economy outweigh the risks. And even as they harbor doubts about the impact of trade agreements on wages and jobs, public support for closer trade and business ties with other nations stands at its highest point in more than a decade.

The Obama administration’s disengagement from Iraq and Afghanistan, its “leading from behind” in Libya and its reluctance to become involved in the Syrian civil war all reflect a broad public reassessment of America’s future security role in the world. But the White House’s pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, two unprecedented trade deals, equally reflect Americans’ newfound acceptance of the importance – or at least inevitability – of U.S. economic integration with the rest of the world.

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The War on Terror’s authoritarian template
January 14th, 2014
08:00 AM ET

The War on Terror’s authoritarian template

By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is associate professor at Texas A&M University School of Law where she teaches national security, civil rights, and Middle East law. She serves as president of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association and is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed are her own.

Egyptian society, once teeming with calls for freedom, justice and dignity, has been replaced with an atmosphere of vengeance. Instead of calls to preserve fundamental human rights, Egyptians now praise their internal security forces for killing and arresting en mass those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood – the newly declared enemy of the state.

That these are the same people who won Egypt’s first freely contested parliamentary and presidential elections is apparently of no consequence. What is consequential, however, is the transformation of a grassroots revolution into an indefinite War on Terror. Rather than challenge police abuses, Egyptians compete to be the most patriotic in supporting the army and security forces’ violent crackdown of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the crackdown's expansion to secular youth groups is met with equal support.

When criticized by the international community for violating international norms, the Egyptian state points to the language of the U.S. government as its exemplar. And, sadly, it is true that the United States’ War on Terror effectively legitimized practices that were once only associated with pariah states.

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Topics: Egypt • Terrorism • United States
December 22nd, 2013
08:30 AM ET

Dennis Blair: Administration has done a bad job of explaining NSA program

Fareed speaks with President Obama's first director of National Intelligence, now retired Naval Admiral Dennis Blair, about the NSA surveillance program. Watch the full interview at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

Do you understand the kind of anger that this has generated around the world and in the United States, because there's a sense that the NSA – and it is really about the NSA – has this technological capacity to look into almost anything, anyone's phone calls, anyone's emails. And the response of the intelligence community seems to be, well, trust us. We're not going to do anything really silly with this.

I do believe, and I tried when I was Director of National Intelligence, to talk more openly about this program. I think we can do that without talking about specific details, which are what have to be kept secret. And I think that this administration has done a bad job of explaining it. And had we done it from an early stage, from the time that I was DNI on, then these revelations would have been less shocking.

I think a couple of things are worth mentioning, though. The scale of these programs is large because the scale of communications is large. And there are billions of phone calls, emails, tweets and other forms of communication being made all over the world.

So in order to try to find ones that are being made by those hostile to the United States, it will require big programs, large computers, lots of data.  So that simply is a question of scale, not a question of principle.

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Topics: Spying • United States
December 20th, 2013
02:48 PM ET

Americans deeply divided 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.

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.

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How left and right can unite to save the U.S. economy
December 20th, 2013
10:30 AM ET

How left and right can unite to save the U.S. economy

By Justin Talbot Zorn, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Justin Talbot Zorn is a Public Service Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School and has served as legislative director to two Democratic members of Congress.  He researched long-term planning in government as a Fulbright Scholar in Singapore. The views expressed are his own.

There’s been an intriguing development in this otherwise dreary political year: the emergence of a serious multi-issue alliance between progressive Democrats and Tea Party Republicans.  On big issues ranging from NSA spying and Syria to Farm Subsidies and Too-Big-To-Fail Banks, unlikely left-libertarian coalitions have shifted the balance of power in Washington.

Still, on the single issue that most animates Rand Paul’s army of Tea Party acolytes —the Fed’s loose money policies known as Quantitative Easing (QE)—there’s been little or no cross-party love.  While some progressives have sought more transparency at the Federal Reserve, the left’s understandable preference has been to boost employment and wages through Fed-fueled consumer demand rather than to worry about any long-term imbalances caused by abnormally low interest rates.

This could change.

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Topics: Economy • United States
December 15th, 2013
11:28 AM ET

What education lessons can U.S. learn from overseas?

Fareed speaks with Wendy Kopp, the CEO and co-founder of Teach for All and the founder of Teach for America, about improving education in the United States.

So what seemed to be the best practices that are applicable?

Kopp: I mean just to go back to the Shanghai example, it was about teachers. It's also about school leaders.  And it's about, you know, system leadership. We were blown away by the caliber of the folks who have, over a long time, driven the change. And if you get under the covers, some Shanghai schools are stronger than others. And they take those school principals who are running the best schools and pair them up with the principals at the other schools so that they can transfer the practices. Like this is a people business. I actually couldn't agree more that technology can give a ton of leverage to really strong people.

But to me, and this is what Teach for All is all about, but we've got to start channeling our top talent toward this challenge of improving educational outcomes and especially taking on educational outcomes for the most disadvantaged kids. And that needs to happen all across the world.

Watch the video for the second half of the panel or tune into GPS today at 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

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Topics: Education • United States
December 15th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

'An absolute wake-up call for America'

“An absolute wake-up call for America.” That’s what U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan called the recent release of test scores showing how American kids compared with their peers around the world. The test is called the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA. Here's how American kids ranked: 17th of 34 countries in reading, 21st in science, 26th in math, which doesn't look good.

How do we improve them? We have a terrific panel. Joel Klein is the former chancellor of New York City's school system. Wendy Kopp is the CEO and co-founder of Teach for All and the founder of Teach for America. Sal Khan, well, Sal Khan is one of the most innovative educators in the world and of course the founder of Khan Academy. And Tom Friedman is the three-time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times.

Watch the video for the panel or tune into GPS today at 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

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Topics: Education • United States
December 14th, 2013
01:45 AM ET

The real tragedy of America's gun violence

Watch Global Lessons on Guns, a Fareed Zakaria GPS special, this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

It’s a year since the tragedy at Newtown, yet remarkably little has changed. Despite the loss of 26 lives in the Sandy Hook School shooting that day, including 20 children, Washington has failed to coalesce around any really substantive changes to America’s gun laws. Sadly, that means it is only a matter of time before the next mass shooting.

As part of a GPS special on the issue, we went all over the world in search of solutions and lessons that we might apply here to bring down the epidemic of gun violence that afflicts us. We saw many interesting ideas that worked, all of them centering around some simple, common sense ideas that would put some checks on the unfettered sale and possession of firearms.

What we did not find was a large-scale, nationwide example where expanded attention to mental health issues could be tied to a reduction in homicides or suicides using guns.

This might surprise you. Every time there is a serious gun massacre in the United States – and alas these are fairly common – the media focuses on the twisted psychology of the shooter and asks why we don't pay more attention to detecting and treating mental illness.

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Why the Iran deal is good for U.S.
December 12th, 2013
01:33 PM ET

Why the Iran deal is good for U.S.

By Laicie Heeley, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Laicie Heeley is the director of Middle East and defense policy at The Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Two weeks after the P5+1 powers reached a deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in return for some sanctions relief, the American public is still trying to make sense of the deal.

Multiple polls, including from Washington Post/ABC and Reuters/Ipsos indicate strong American support for the deal with Iran. Yet a new Pew Research poll suggests many Americans are skeptical about Iran’s intentions, with a plurality disapproving of the agreement.  Given that the agreement is so complex, it’s understandable that the U.S. public is making up its mind about the deal. But the reality is that after decades of disappointment, the United States is finally approaching a win with Iran. This is a good deal for the United States and its allies.

The details of the accord, reached in Geneva  by the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, square firmly within America’s national security and non-proliferation interests by freezing the progress of Iran’s nuclear program before it reaches critical weapons capacity, while also initiating a rollback of the most sensitive parts of Iran’s nuclear program. That’s a boost for both U.S. and international security. Leading national security experts from across the ideological spectrum agree, including former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who have found common cause in championing the possibilities an accord presents.

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Topics: Iran • Nuclear • United States
December 5th, 2013
11:48 PM ET

Is the U.S. making the grade in education?

By Fareed Zakaria

The United States has done very well in harnessing the talents of its top 1 percent and in attracting the top 1 percent from the rest of the world to live and work here. These are the engines of innovation, growth and dynamism. But the country’s vast middle class — and below — has seen its wages stagnate for three decades. And this is getting worse as technology and globalization depress job prospects for people in the middle.

The real story of these tests has been “the rise of the rest.” The United States has muddled along over the past few decades, showing little improvement or decline. Meanwhile, countries including South Korea and Singapore have skyrocketed to the top, and now China, Vietnam and Poland are doing astonishingly well. These countries have workers whose productivity levels have been rising in tandem with their educational achievements.

There are many reasons, but to put it simply, many of these countries are playing to win.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Education • United States
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