October 9th, 2013
03:19 PM ET

What I'm reading: What default would say about idea of America

By Fareed Zakaria

“Recent threats to shut down the government or, worse, default on the debt represent a revocation of the rules. In its nihilism, the Tea Party is closer in spirit to the nullifiers of the 1830s, who were willing to put the union at risk to defeat a national law,” writes Stephen Mihm for Bloomberg.

“‘Let it never be forgotten,’ Calhoun once said, that ‘where the majority rules, the minority is the subject.’ Perhaps, but nullification and secession, like the Tea Party tactics of today, elevated the minority into a position of terrifying power. One tyranny simply replaces another.

“These tactics have long-term costs. If the U.S. defaults on its debt because a handful of Republican legislators don’t like a law vetted by all branches of government, the damage will go beyond a much lower credit rating. Something else – a sense that the U.S. is, for all its differences, united – will have been lost.”

“Managing the congressional politics around sustaining Afghan forces after the transition was feasible back when Washington assumed that a troop surge before the transition would put the Taliban on a glide path to extinction,” writes Stephen Biddle in Foreign Affairs.

“The United States would still have had to give billions of dollars a year to the ANSF, but the war would have ended relatively quickly. After that, it would have been possible to demobilize large parts of the ANSF and turn the remainder into a peacetime establishment; aid would then have shrunk to lower levels, making congressional funding a much easier sell. But that is not the scenario that will present itself in 2014. With an indefinite stalemate on the horizon instead, the politics of funding the ANSF will be much harder to handle – and without a settlement, that funding will outlast the Taliban’s will to fight only if one assumes heroic patience on the part of Congress.”

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Why the 'Netanyahu Doctrine' makes sense
October 1st, 2013
12:18 PM ET

Why the 'Netanyahu Doctrine' makes sense

By Einat Wilf, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Einat Wilf is a former member of the Israeli Knesset and sat on its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged from his meeting Monday with President Barack Obama, he may have recognized in the president a fellow proponent of the Netanyahu Doctrine: to avoid the use of force, be ready to use it. After all, Obama had just reiterated that he won't take any options off the table on Iran, “including military.”

Of course, the Netanyahu Doctrine is nothing new – the ancient Romans described it as si vis pacem para bellum, “he who wants peace must prepare for war.” Hebrew wisdom extolled self-restraint as the highest form of heroism, and such ancient wisdom has also guided Netanyahu's policies, and not only on Iran. But while this doctrine did not originate with Netanyahu, the prime minister has become closely associated with its application in the region, despite facing significant criticism.

The doctrine is simple to formulate, yet nearly impossible to successfully implement because to be a success, three components must be in place: the capability to use force, projection of a true willingness to use it, and a deep desire to avoid doing so. No one, including the leader, knows what will actually happen at the critical moment of decision regarding the use of force, but the other side should be sufficiently concerned and unsure to consider the threat credible. When done right, the doctrine is a masterful tightrope walk over the twin abyss of Vietnam and Munich: Prepare for war too much and you risk instigating the very war you wish to avoid; prepare too little and you risk encouraging aggression through weakness and appeasement.

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September 26th, 2013
02:42 PM ET

What I'm reading: Scandinavia's superior prisons?

By Fareed Zakaria

“As India’s most dynamic states post rapid and sustainable growth rates, the country is rediscovering its natural fabric as a nation of strong regions. States still growing at or near double-digit rates represent India’s secret weapon for competing with the other major emerging markets, from China to Brazil, Indonesia to Mexico,” writes Ruchir Sharma in Foreign Affairs.

“The only hitch is that despite the chief ministers’ high popularity in their home states, many of them are pushing rapid development with an autocrat’s haste. Nevertheless, if India is to come back as a success story among the emerging markets, New Delhi should find ways to encourage the rise of its breakout states and the spread of their success to India’s other states.”

“It isn’t clear to me why China’s economy must deteriorate next year,” writes Jim O’Neill on Bloomberg. “China’s slowdown to its current 7.5 percent growth rate was well signposted by a sharp slowdown in leading indicators. Those measures, including monetary growth and electricity usage, are no longer flashing red. Coincident indicators such as the monthly purchasing managers’ index have picked up. Unless you believe that China is somehow doomed to fail, these signs are encouraging. They suggest that the rest of this year and the first part of 2014 might see slightly stronger growth.”

“The more resourceful pessimists next argue that the better growth signals are coming from parts of the economy where growth is unsustainable - such as the urban housing market and government-directed investment - from excessive growth of credit extended by shadow banks, and not from a broadly based expansion of consumer spending. If this were clearly the case, I’d be a pessimist, too, because a buoyant China needs consumers to take the lead.”

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Topics: China • India • What we're reading
September 18th, 2013
10:37 AM ET

How Saudi Arabia is pushing for war

By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  He previously served as a Democratic professional staff member covering Middle East issues at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are his own.

When Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal in Paris this week, he likely got an earful of complaints over Syria.  There was no public news conference after their meeting, which makes sense given that the Saudis often prefer that their sensitive consultations with the United States remain hidden behind closed doors.  However, Kerry’s announcement earlier in the day of a conference to boost the Syrian opposition was probably intended in part as a sop to the Saudis.

Barely one week earlier, Kerry came out of another meeting with Saud al-Faisal trumpeting that the United States had Saudi Arabia’s support for military action against Syria.  This was an understatement. Riyadh was downright aggressive in its push for an American-led intervention after the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack that U.S. officials say killed more than 1,400 people in Ghouta, Syria.

The Saudis badly wanted to see a strike on Syria, and they have grown frustrated with America’s fitful diplomacy since then.  Recently, they have seemed less willing than usual to submerge their disagreements with Washington from public view.  And there is undoubtedly a real sense of urgency to their efforts.

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Topics: Saudi Arabia • Syria
September 10th, 2013
11:44 PM ET

What I'm reading

By Fareed Zakaria

What Cuban missile crisis says about Syria

“The most useful lesson that our current president could draw from the Cuban missile crisis would be to emulate Kennedy in slowing down the seemingly inexorable rush to war. With his controversial move to include Congress and the American people in the debate, Obama laid himself open to charges of indecisiveness. But he succeeded in buying a little time. This has allowed a possible alternative to military action to emerge,” writes Michael Dobbs in the Washington Post.

“Next to popular support, time is the most valuable of all political commodities. Like Kennedy before him, Obama now has an opportunity to escape from the box that he created with his Syrian red line. But for the gambit to succeed, he will also have to maintain the credible threat of force against the Syrian regime. He cannot allow his bluff to be called. It is a delicate balancing act.”

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September 4th, 2013
02:14 PM ET

What I'm reading

By Fareed Zakaria

Syria shows limits of drones

“In a politically complex environment – one in which the United States is not at war and the targets are unclear – armed drones are really not all that useful,” writes Audrey Kurth Cronin in Foreign Affairs. “They might seem like a cool new tool to many observers and policymakers, but the horrible predicament in Syria reveals the sharp limitations of the technology - and the serious problem of relying upon it so heavily in the U.S. force structure. Rather than looking for a quick technological fix, U.S. policymakers should invest more in good analysis and robust human assets on the ground, so as to sort friend from foe.”

The biggest fear in Lebanon these days is car bombs exploding in residential neighborhoods, argues Rania Abouzeid in the New Yorker. “Here in Beirut, trying to predict which neighborhoods might be hit has become a dark parlor game. Will it be like 2005, when a string of small bombs were planted in mainly Christian areas? Or large-scale explosions in Sunni and Shiite areas that result in double-digit deaths? Will night spots be hit? Restaurants? Which ones?”

“The country’s center is holding for now, in part because it is serving as a ‘back office’ for the various parties in Syria, who are using its banks, its port, its airport, and its territory. Its border areas, however, are fraying. As in the seventies, some rebel groups have carved out safe havens that they also use as clandestine bases, and for logistical support. The relative stability of these areas serves their needs for now, but perhaps not for long.

“The big question is what, if anything, Hezbollah might do if there’s a Western strike against Syria.”

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August 24th, 2013
11:00 PM ET

How to understand Iran’s supreme leader

By Global Public Square staff

One of the most powerful leaders in the world once said this:

“Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is the best novel that has ever been written in history ... I have said over and over again, go read [it] once. Les Miserables is a book of sociology, a book of history, a book of criticism, a divine book, a book of love and feeling.”

Who said those words? It was not the president of France. In fact, it was not any Western leader at all. Those are the words of a man the West has come to perceive as a sworn enemy – Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and Ayatollah of Iran.

This revelation is part of an important essay in the new edition of Foreign Affairs, by the Iranian dissident and writer Akbar Ganji. It turns out Khamenei believes novels have given him a deep insight into the West. The Supreme Leader has read The Grapes of Wrath, as well as Uncle Tom's Cabin and many other books from around the world. Ganji's essay, entitled ‘Who is Ali Khamenei?’ provides fascinating insights into the most powerful man in Iran.

Remember, Khamenei has been in power in Iran since the beginning. When Iran had its revolution in 1979, and Iranians overthrew the American-backed Shah to found the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei was at the forefront. He became president in 1981, and then Supreme Leader in 1989, with full control over the military, executive, and judiciary.

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Topics: Iran • What in the World?
Why U.S. should raise rights with Saudi Arabia
August 20th, 2013
09:36 AM ET

Why U.S. should raise rights with Saudi Arabia

By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  He previously served as a staff member covering Middle East issues at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are his own.

Barely a week after having been released from prison, prominent Saudi rights activist Mohammed Al-Bajadi was reportedly detained again on Wednesday.  Sadly, Al-Bajadi had already served more than two years in jail for something that should not have been a crime in the first place: establishing a human rights NGO that urged Saudi officials to live up to their own stated legal code.

Ironically, Al-Bajadi first ran afoul of Saudi authorities by calling attention to the plight of other individuals detained without charges, often for years at a time. In 2007, he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for four months for highlighting this issue.

In 2009, he was hauled in for questioning about his continued peaceful activism for democratic reform and for the rights of prisoners.  Although he was released without further punishment, his passport was confiscated to prevent him from traveling abroad. The organization he helped found that year, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, has consistently been denied requests for a license.  Earlier this year, the group’s assets were confiscated, and two of its other founders were each sentenced to at least a decade in prison.

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Topics: Human Rights • Middle East • Protests
August 17th, 2013
12:36 AM ET

Beinart: Egypt may be biggest Obama administration foreign policy failure

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?

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Topics: Egypt • Foreign Policy • GPS Show • United States
August 16th, 2013
03:18 PM ET

What I'm reading: U.S. vs Iran in cyberspace?

By Fareed Zakaria

“Among the world’s potential interstate confrontations, one between the United States and Iran has the greatest potential for a significant cyber component,” writes Martin Libicki in Foreign Affairs.

“Indeed, Iran has already started to flex its muscles in cyberspace. In late 2012, cyberattackers linked to Iran penetrated the network of Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil and gas company, effectively trashing 30,000 computers. Rasgas, a Qatari corporation, faced similar treatment. This spring, anonymous U.S. officials claimed that Iranian hackers were able to gain access to control-system software that could allow them to manipulate U.S. oil and gas pipelines.”

“Egypt's powerful military leadership may be offended by Obama's decision Thursday to cancel a biennial joint military training exercise that was scheduled to start next month to show his displeasure with the rising death toll, arbitrary arrests and virtual martial law,” argues Paul Richter in the Los Angeles Times. “But the generals who toppled the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, on July 3 are not likely to suspend crucial counter-terrorism cooperation with Washington, halt oil tankers and other commercial shipping in the Suez Canal, or jettison the peace treaty with Israel that has formed a cornerstone of regional peace for three decades.”

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Topics: Cyber • What we're reading
August 10th, 2013
03:40 PM ET

Time for optimism over India-Pakistan ties?

By Global Public Square staff

Washington’s efforts to broker Middle East peace have given this age-old conflict a high profile and raised expectations once again. But there is another decades-old dispute, thousands of miles away, that is getting very little attention. And for the first time in many years, there are reasons to be optimistic about its prospects: We’re talking about India and Pakistan.

Yes, the two countries have fought three full-scale wars and are locked in a nuclear arms race. They have frequent skirmishes over disputed territory in Jammu and Kashmir, as they did once again this week when five Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush.

But if you take a step back from Kashmir and examine the broader political climate in the region – India, Pakistan, and also Afghanistan – there are reasons for cautious optimism.

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Topics: India • Pakistan • What in the World?
August 8th, 2013
10:54 PM ET

What we're reading

By Fareed Zakaria

Has Merkel missed an opportunity?

The period since 2009 has been a domestic policy black hole in Germany, write Markus Feldenkirchen and Christiane Hoffmann in Der Spiegel. “No reforms were passed that looked beyond just the next few years. Yet decisive action is critical, especially now - notwithstanding the country's low unemployment rate, record-high tax revenues and an export economy that continues to set new records. But the situation is only looks rosy. Germany is not prepared for the changes that lie ahead. Clear structural reforms are necessary, and yet lawmakers deny that there is any need for action.”

“Germany's social welfare systems are designed for a society that constantly generates growth and never ages - in other words, for fair-weather conditions. Not even now, in times of historically high contributions and revenues, have lawmakers been able to compel pension, health and long-term care insurance companies to build adequate reserves for the more difficult times that lie ahead - times in which one in two Germans will be retired and the number of the chronically ill and people in need of care will be twice as high as it is today. Those who fail to act now are only creating the crises of the future.”

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