March 13th, 2014
06:15 PM ET

What I'm reading: America's looming retirement crisis

By Fareed Zakaria

“[F]irst, a bit of background on the real debt crisis in this country, the one that we haven’t talked about seriously yet, let alone come to terms with – the retirement crisis,” writes Rana Foroohar in TIME. “The key stat you need to know: the median household retirement savings for all workers between the ages of 55 to 64 is $120,000. That works out to about $625 a month. A full one-third of the workforce aged 45 to 54 has saved nothing at all for retirement. At a time when social security benefits are being paired back, public pensions are being restructured en mass, and housing growth is flat (only the top 10 markets in the country are predicted to have any significant price increases in the next 15 years), this is a looming iceberg of a crisis.”

“A diplomatic approach to Iran would not sit well with many in the Syrian opposition,” argues Jonathan Stevenson in the New York Times. “But they also have to face facts: With or without Iran, the United States and its allies will remain wary of any political deal unless the moderate opposition substantially purges its ranks of jihadists, who are infiltrating Syria in increasing numbers.”

“Even partial success in these endeavors would make Russia – which is genuinely concerned about transnational terrorism – more inclined to urge Mr. Assad toward a power-sharing deal, and possibly a graceful exit. Beyond that, it would address the regime’s purported sticking point, namely the opposition’s perceived subordination of ‘terrorism’ to political transition.

“Iran, of course, would prefer the status quo. So what, realistically, could we expect out of this approach?”

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Will Ukraine crisis hasten decline of Russia's global image?
March 12th, 2014
04:35 PM ET

Will Ukraine crisis hasten decline of Russia's global image?

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.

The Ukraine story no doubt has many acts still to play out, and what started in Crimea may yet spread to eastern Ukraine. Although the ultimate response from the West remains unclear, it already seems likely there will be few if any winners from this sorry episode. And regardless of what happens in the coming days and weeks, it is already apparent that the crisis has taken its toll on some key players in the court of international opinion: Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Western solidarity and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Global publics were already divided in their view of Russia before the Ukrainian incursion – just 36 percent had a favorable view of Russia, while 39 percent saw it unfavorably in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey of 38 nations. In that poll, just 37 percent of Americans had a positive take on Moscow, while 43 percent saw it negatively. A subsequent, early February 2014 Gallup survey found that 60 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Russia.

Public judgment of Russia in much of neighboring Europe was even harsher: Almost two-thirds of French, 60 percent of Germans and just over half of the Poles surveyed gave Russia a thumbs down in 2013.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
How Pakistan moves against Taliban could complicate Afghan ties
March 7th, 2014
06:03 PM ET

How Pakistan moves against Taliban could complicate Afghan ties

By Frederic Grare, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Frederic Grare is a senior associate and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Pakistan’s military is set to launch a major military operation in North Waziristan, AP reported this week, after weeks of hesitation over its strategy of negotiating with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Yet although the expected operation follows the killing of 23 Pakistani soldiers last month by a Taliban faction, it seems likely to have been motivated by something more than a desire to retaliate and coerce the TTP into talks.

Whatever the motivation, it will have a significant impact on the country’s relationship with its weaker neighbor: Afghanistan.

In early 2012, Pakistan’s Foreign Office publicly declared a “strategic shift” in its thinking on Afghanistan, and began promoting its own version of an inclusive reconciliation process, as well as actively reaching out to elements of the Northern Alliance. Islamabad adopted this new policy after concluding that its strategy of supporting the Taliban alone was unlikely to produce a “friendly” Afghanistan (in other words, one under close Pakistani influence) because the Taliban is, for now at least, simply not capable of taking the reins of power on its own.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Pakistan • Taliban
Will Dalai Lama meeting hurt Sino-U.S. ties?
March 7th, 2014
04:53 PM ET

Will Dalai Lama meeting hurt Sino-U.S. ties?

By Aakanksha Tangri

GPS intern Aakanksha Tangri speaks with Robert Oxnam, President Emeritus of the Asia Society, about the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to the United States, and what it could mean for relations with China.

What are the likely short-term and long-term impacts on U.S.-China relations after President Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama?

It’s important to note that every U.S. president from Reagan onward has had meetings in the White House with the Dalai Lama.  Clinton had four meetings with His Holiness during his presidency.  Both Clinton and Bush have had post-presidency meetings as well.  Indeed the Dalai Lama recently said “I love George Bush.” So, in 2009, when President Obama did not meet with the Dalai Lama, he was breaking a well-established precedent; and thus his 2014 meeting simply reverted to an older pattern. It’s worth noting that Obama has now had three meetings with the Dalai Lama.

Of course, the Chinese always protest loudly on these occasions because they have a strong interest in asserting Chinese sovereignty over what they call the Tibetan Autonomous Region.  But since Obama explicitly said that neither the United States, nor even the Dalai Lama, wants full independence for Tibet, the sovereignty issue was sidestepped.

I think that Obama was quite correct in asserting his support for Tibetan human rights issues and also properly calling the Dalai Lama “an internationally respected religious and cultural leader.”  By contrast, the Chinese leadership calls His Holiness a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and head of the “Dalai Clique.”

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Topics: Asia • China • United States
Does Putin want a new Cold War?
March 5th, 2014
02:10 PM ET

Does Putin want a new Cold War?

By Olga Oliker, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Olga Oliker is associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. The views expressed are her own.

Russian troops appear in control of Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly said “the possibility still exists” that Russian forces could be sent deeper into Ukraine to defend the rights of protesting ethnic Russians. Russia’s much-voiced belief in principles of sovereignty, it seems, have been trumped by its long-held view that ethnic Russians must be protected, wherever they may live.

Two competing narratives are at work. In the narrative heard in the United States and Europe, democracy-seeking protesters forced Russia’s puppet president from office and are building a new government, which represents Ukraine’s Western values. In Russia’s narrative, a freely elected government was illegally deposed as a result of street violence encouraged by the United States and EU. Ukraine is in chaos, with ultra-nationalists threatening ethnic Russians throughout the country. Washington and Brussels saw Russia invade Ukraine. Looking from Moscow, Russian troops are trying to bring peace and stability to a neighboring state on the verge of civil war.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
How to understand Putin's Ukraine strategy
March 1st, 2014
08:57 PM ET

How to understand Putin's Ukraine strategy

By Leon Aron, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Leon Aron is resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.

To understand what motivates Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian crisis and how he will proceed, we have to recall two key things about his strategy and his tactics.

First, Russian foreign policy – whether under Brezhnev, Yeltsin, Putin or anyone after him – is informed by three imperatives: Russia as a nuclear superpower, Russia as the world’s great power, and Russia as the central power in the post-Soviet geopolitical space. And a power that is political, economic, cultural, diplomatic and most certainly military.

What differs from one Russian political regime to another is interpretation and implementation, that is, the policies that support these objectives.  Putin’s have been far more assertive and at times riskier than those of his predecessors. The nuclear “superpowership” has been translated into a vehement opposition to missile defense in Europe.  Russia as a great power has been defined largely in opposition to the U.S. and the West in general. And the centrality of Russia in the post-Soviet space has been re-interpreted as dominance and hegemony.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
Why transatlantic ties are so complicated
February 28th, 2014
12:53 PM ET

Why transatlantic ties are so complicated

By Gregory F. Treverton, Special to CNN

​Editor’s note: Gregory F. Treverton directs the RAND Corporation’s Center for Global Risk and Security.  He is a former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council and co-author of 'Beyond the Great Divide: Relevance and Uncertainty in National Intelligence and Science for Policy'. The views expressed are his own.

The uproar earlier this month over U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland’s profane remark about how the European Union is handling the Ukraine crisis shouldn’t distract from a simple fact – frustration with U.S. allies is often part and parcel of the job. Indeed, years ago, when I was a National Security Council staffer, we used to quip that the only thing worse than not consulting with Japan was…consulting with Japan. So it should be little surprise that frustration is bubbling to the surface now.

Nuland’s comments, for which she has apologized, were prompted by the slow European response to unfolding events in Ukraine. And while her words – secretly recorded as part of a conversation with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt – were less than diplomatic, they reflected the deepening reality that Europe does not always do exactly what the United States wants it to.

Of course, it never has. But the end of the Cold War, the expansion of the EU and Washington’s forced reliance on coalition building have made trans-Atlantic relations more of a two-way proposition.

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Topics: Europe • United States
Ukraine isn’t a West vs East Super Bowl
February 24th, 2014
01:36 PM ET

Ukraine isn’t a West vs East Super Bowl

By James F. Collins, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: James F. Collins, a senior associate and diplomat-in-residence at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was the U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation from 1997 to 2001. The views expressed are his own.

The issuance of an arrest warrant for deposed President Viktor Yanukovych at the weekend was just the latest twist in a dramatic few months in Ukraine. But if the country wants to achieve accountable government, economic recovery and preserve its sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, it is vital that all sides focus on reconciliation, a political way forward and most immediately an end to violence.

Of course, seeing, hearing and living Ukraine’s present agony, the impulse to do something is unavoidable. The images of a Maidan on fire, bloodied faces in helmets and headscarves, and flames engulfing the heart of Kiev moves anyone who cares to rage at the senseless brutality that has engulfed the heart of this new nation. But there is little more disheartening than the reversion of outside commentary to talk about Ukraine’s catastrophe as some kind of Super Bowl conflict between the U.S. and Russia or East and West – and an obsessive focus on who is winning and losing. It is quite clear that the real losers in this conflagration are Ukraine’s citizens, whose fate is in the balance and whose future is perilous.

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Topics: Protests • Ukraine
February 21st, 2014
12:14 PM ET

‘The Kennan Diaries’: Fascinating, sometimes disturbing

By Fareed Zakaria

“All conservatism begins with loss,” Andrew Sullivan writes. “If we never knew loss, we would never feel the need to conserve.” That’s why the first and still canonical conservative text is Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” a lamentation on the uprooting of that country’s monarchical order. And that’s why America, as an experiment in modernity, hasn’t had many genuine conservatives in its history.

The so-called conservative founding fathers, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, were in fact creators of a new and radical system of government. The 19th-century Whigs — Webster, Clay and Calhoun — sometimes seen as conservatives, were aggressive proponents of capitalist development. Even many Southerners who argued for slavery were advocating an economic system that kept them rich, enthusiastically embracing the trade and modern technology that made slavery so profitable. And contemporary conservatism — which began as a reaction to the progressive era and the New Deal — has always mixed dynamic capitalism with moralism.

Given this background, “The Kennan Diaries” is an illuminating, fascinating and sometimes disturbing book. George F. Kennan was the most celebrated ­diplomat-intellectual of the 20th century, the brilliant author of the strategy of containment that the United States adopted and that won the Cold War. For most of his life he was seen as a strategist and — because he was dovish on most foreign policy issues — a liberal. As these diaries make clear, he spent much of his life thinking about political philosophy. And his instincts and insights were deeply conservative, but in a way that doesn’t really fit into today’s left-right categories.

Read my full review in the New York Times

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Topics: United States
Zakaria: Very little the U.S. can do on Ukraine
February 20th, 2014
09:47 AM ET

Zakaria: Very little the U.S. can do on Ukraine

CNN speaks with Fareed about the unrest in Ukraine and what, if anything, the United States should do. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Earlier this month, a phone conversation was leaked between a high-ranking State Department official, Victoria Nuland, and the current U.S. ambassador in Ukraine. Nuland had some embarrassing comments about the E.U. on what is going on in Ukraine now. Is it your sense that this was leaked by the Russians or the pro-Russian Ukrainians to embarrass the United States?

My guess is it was leaked by the Russians because they do have the capacity to overhear that kind of conversation. The basic point Victoria Nuland was trying to make, I think, is that the European Union has been playing a kind of slow economic game here, whereas the Russians have been playing a fast geopolitical game.

By which I mean the European Union has been offering the Ukrainians a deal and association, but as long as they make certain kinds of structural economic reforms and get rid of subsidies on various industries. In other words, it's a kind of almost like a regular trade negotiation where they're trying to get the Ukrainian economy to become more market friendly.

The Russians, on the other hand, are playing a geopolitical game, and they first offered Ukraine essentially a $15 billion bribe, subsidized fuel and such, and then just recently, another $2 billion. So, Putin is basically saying here's cash, no conditions asked, you be part of my sphere of influence.

The Europeans, however, are playing this much longer-term game to try to turn Ukraine into a kind of middle class, you know, liberal democratic, capitalist society, and the two timetables are completely off. So, the Europeans have badly misplayed this hand. They should have, if they were going to step in there and try to wean Ukraine away from Russia, they needed to do something fast. They needed to do something that was overwhelming and that made it very difficult for the president to turn them down.

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Topics: Europe • Protests
The successful shortfalls of the Syrian peace talks
February 7th, 2014
09:58 AM ET

The successful shortfalls of the Syrian peace talks

By Tom Perriello, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tom Perriello is Center for American Progress Action president. He recently returned from the Turkish side of the Syria boarder, where he conducted interviews with Syrian leaders and refugees. The views expressed are his own.

Expectations were low for the Syrian peace talks that started in Geneva late last month. Indeed, during dozens of interviews with Syrian leaders before talks began, the two words I heard most in reference to the conference were “trap” and “fake.” And I was among the skeptics, concerned that the Geneva process reflected more of a desire by the international community to look like it cared than an actual strategy.

Yet while the initial talks produced no major breakthroughs, they have faltered in surprisingly constructive ways that clarify and advance the difficult choices the international community must face to address the crisis in Syria. And, with the announcement today that Syria will join a second round of peace talks next week, consideration of a course correction on U.S.-Syria policy could prove to be one of the outcomes.

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Topics: Syria
Iran sanctions threat ties U.S. hands
January 24th, 2014
11:00 AM ET

Iran sanctions threat ties U.S. hands

By Tyler Cullis and Jamal Abdi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jamal Abdi is policy director for the National Iranian American Council. Tyler Cullis is a recent graduate of the Boston University School of Law, where he specialized in international law and the U.S. sanctions targeting Iran. The views expressed are their own.

For all the problems with the new push for sanctions against Iran in the U.S. Senate, one is hardly new: the growing efforts to place limits on the president’s authority to lift sanctions.

Increasingly, Congress has circumscribed the executive’s negotiating leverage by providing only limited authorities for the president to waive sanctions, upping the political cost of doing so, and requiring Congress’s approval before any permanent sanctions relief is granted.

Some in Congress see this ploy as part of the good cop bad cop routine, arguing that President Obama will be able to strike a harder bargain if Iran's negotiators see what awaits the collapse of negotiations. But in this case, limiting the president’s authority to lift sanctions actually weakens the leverage of U.S. negotiators. It is a simple contract dilemma: if one party is perceived to have difficulties in holding up their end of the bargain, the other party can raise the cost of performance to cover that risk.

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Topics: Iran
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