January 29th, 2013
12:29 PM ET

Wanting Egypt to fail

By Steven A. Cook, CFR

Editor’s note: Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of From the Potomac to the Euphrates originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.

Egypt is a mess. Just two short years after the uprising that brought Hosni Mubarak’s long rule to an end, the country is paralyzed politically, protests have become increasingly violent, sectarian tensions are high, the public health system is in total disarray, and the economy is near collapse. Nothing has gone right in this country of 84 million people that has traditionally been the most influential in the region – for good or bad – and since the mid-1970s a pillar of U.S.-Middle East policy. It is not only the peace between Egypt and Israel, but also the U.S. Navy’s access to the Suez Canal, the many daily U.S. military over flights critical to the United States in confronting the Iranian threat, and Egypt’s logistical assistance for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and until not too long ago Iraq that are of paramount importance to Washington.

As a result, an objective observer might come to the reasonable conclusion that Egypt needs help and that the international community should do what it can to help pull Egyptians back from the brink.  That is certainly the view of most analysts from across the political spectrum, yet in one corner of the commentariat, they are actually hoping for Egypt to fail.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt
January 22nd, 2013
10:59 AM ET

China-South Korea ties set to warm?

Editor's Note: Scott A. Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared. The views expressed are his own.

By Scott A. Snyder, CFR

Following an early ambassadorial visit and a courtesy call on President-elect Park Geun-hye from China’s special envoy Vice Minister Zhang Zhijun, Park has decided to reciprocate by sending her first special envoys to Beijing during the transition. The exchange illustrates a mutual recognition that Sino-South Korean relations had deteriorated under Lee Myung-Bak and Hu Jintao and that Park and Xi have a chance to start out on the right foot this time.

This early exchange shows that both sides are acutely aware that political problems in the China-South Korea relationship do not serve either country, especially given a bilateral trade relationship that reached $220 billion in 2011. South Korea and China are natural economic partners, but North Korea continues to rear its head as a challenging sticking point between the two sides.

Xi had already reached out to Kim Jong-un in late November through a visit to Pyongyang by sending as an envoy Li Jianguo, the secretary general of the standing committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress. During Li’s meeting with Kim Jong Un (Kim’s second with Chinese visitors), he delivered a letter from Xi that pledged continuity of high-level exchanges and emphasized the importance of “strategic communication” between the two sides. However, it is not clear what sort of communication occurred regarding North Korea’s satellite launch plans, the announcement of which the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson greeted with concern only two days later. With South Korea now on the U.N. Security Council, the question of how to respond to North Korea’s defiance of Security Council resolutions could continue to be a major source of difference in Sino-South Korean relations.

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Topics: Asia • China • South Korea
January 21st, 2013
01:06 PM ET

The six best inaugural addresses

By James Lindsay, CFR

Editor’s note: James Lindsay is senior vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Water’s Edge was first published here. The views expressed are his own.

Today, Barack Obama got to do what only 16 presidents have done – give a second inaugural address. His first inaugural address was, like most inaugural addresses, unremarkable. Perhaps the problem was that expectations were too high given his well-earned reputation for being a great public speaker. His audience was expecting soaring oratory, and he delivered a solid tour of major issues facing the United States that even some of his supporters found to be a “hodgepodge.”

The Washington Post reported that Obama had been at work for weeks on his second inaugural address, “writing out draft after draft of the speech on yellow legal pads.” John Faverau, the chief White House speechwriter who pitched in on the first inaugural address, was helping to shape the second address as well. Obama’s goal was simple: craft a speech that creates fresh political momentum for his second term. That is no small ambition in today’s highly polarized America.

Here is my list of the six best inaugural addresses along with a famous passage from each:

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Topics: United States
December 5th, 2012
11:53 AM ET

Egypt's deeply flawed draft constitution

By Isobel Coleman, CFR

Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Democracy in Development originally appeared here. The views expressed are her own.

Egypt’s constitutional assembly pulled an all-nighter last week to hastily approve a controversial draft of a new constitution. However, the constitutional battle is far from over. Yesterday, protests rocked the country, and a crowd of some 100,000 people staged a so-called “last warning” demonstration near the presidential palace against President Morsy’s heavy-handed tactics. In addition, hundreds of journalists marched on Tahrir and at least a dozen of the country’s independent newspapers did not publish to protest against Morsy’s “dictatorship.”

The battle now moves to December 15, when Egyptians are slated to vote on the constitution in a national referendum. Liberal and secular opponents of Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the draft constitution are urging widespread civil disobedience to derail the vote; on the other hand, the Brotherhood and its allies are portraying a “yes” vote as crucial for restoring stability to the country and moving forward. Given Egyptians’ weariness of nearly two years of political paralysis and economic dislocation, the Brotherhood’s arguments for stability could easily carry the day.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt • Middle East
December 4th, 2012
01:24 PM ET

Cracking down on our wasteful subsidies

By Edward Alden, CFR

Editor's Note: Edward Alden is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Renewing America was originally published here. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Two decades ago, the United States demanded that other countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO) agree to significant restrictions on “trade distorting subsidies” of various sorts, such as government grants, tax breaks, or other benefits that would allow companies an unfair advantage against others in the international market. All well and good, but as the proverb has it: “Physician, heal thyself.”

According to a remarkable new database of state government subsidies to business compiled by the New York Times, the fifty state governments are currently offering more than $80 billion each year in incentives to persuade companies to locate or expand in their states. The subsidies take many forms, but the most common are special reductions in taxes to well below the rates that are paid by other companies in the state. While the existence of such location incentives is hardly a secret, the numbers are shockingly large. Texas tops the list, spending more than $19 billion per year on corporate subsidies, and some 48 companies, led by General Motors, have received more than $100 million in subsidies since 2007.

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Topics: Economy • United States
November 30th, 2012
10:49 AM ET

How closely should we follow U.N. climate talks?

By Michael Levi, CFR

Michael Levi is director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of  Energy, Security and Climate originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.

The annual United Nations climate talks are rarely a pretty sight. The typical script is fairly reliable. Negotiators generally arrive at each summit with mostly realistic goals. But diplomats and those who seek to influence them spend the first week or so ratcheting up demands and accusations, in part for leverage, but at least as much in order to make themselves look good and their adversaries appear villainous. Members of the media (if they’re paying attention) report that the talks appear set for disaster. Meanwhile, away from the spotlight, negotiators quietly hash through the substantive tasks at hand. Eventually, in the middle of the second week, higher level officials arrive. Occasionally, important differences prove impractical to resolve, and the summit collapses. Far more often, the parties cobble something modest together, apparently snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

This process looks – and perhaps more importantly feels – very different depending on how much attention you pay to what’s going on. If you start with the previews, ignore the roller coaster, and check back in at the end, you’ll often conclude that the summit has had modest impact but little more; the outcome will often be pretty close to what sober analysts were expecting before the talks began.

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Topics: Climate
November 28th, 2012
11:21 AM ET

Morsy’s overreach

By Isobel Coleman, Special to CNN

Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Democracy in Development originally appeared here. The views expressed are her own.

Well, at least President Mohamed Morsy knows when to retreat. Last week, basking in the glow of having helped broker a cease-fire in Gaza, Morsy issued a decree that in essence gave Egypt’s president power over the judiciary. But in the face of growing street protests, he now appears to be backpedaling away from that brazen push for broad new powers.

Morsy’s camp argued that this decree was just a stop-gap measure to allow the transition to proceed more smoothly and ensure that the constitution gets written. But history has few examples of leaders grabbing power in the course of a revolution only to hand it over to someone else “later.” Egyptians rightly took to the streets to protest against the coming of a new pharaoh. Some carried posters of Morsy’s face morphed with that of Mubarak.

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Topics: Egypt
The Israel-Hamas conflict’s unintended consequences
November 19th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

The Israel-Hamas conflict’s unintended consequences

By Robert Danin, CFR

Editor's note: Robert Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Middle East Matters originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.

By Israel’s accounting, Operation Pillar of Defense has achieved many if not most of its major objectives: assassinating Hamas’ long-sought after military mastermind Ahmed Ja’abari and other top officials, destroying much of Hamas’ long-range arsenal of imported Iranian-produced Fajr-5 missiles, and eliminating other significant high-value military targets. Despite this, however, a number of unintended consequences have already emerged, ranging from the boosting of Hamas’ prominence, undermining its isolation, further weakening the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas, and diverting regional attention from Syria.

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Topics: Israel • Middle East • Palestinian Authority
November 13th, 2012
12:46 PM ET

Women key to Latin America economic progress

By Stephanie Leutert, CFR

Editor's note: Stephanie Leutert is a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Latin America's Moment originally appeared here. The views expressed are her own.

Over the last decade, poverty, and inequality have fallen throughout Latin America. Behind these positive trends are external factors, such as high global commodity prices and substantial foreign direct investment flows. And there are also internal influences, such as Latin America’s growing middle class, increased consumption, and successful government-run conditional cash transfers (which offer money to low income families who keep their kids healthy and in school). But another, less talked, about factor moving the region toward greater economic development is the millions of Latin American women in the workforce.

According to an August 2012 World Bank report, Latin American women have been responsible for 30 percent of the region’s extreme poverty reduction over the past decade, as a result of their increased workforce participation and higher earnings. Women’s income has had an even greater effect on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, reducing the severity of poverty more than twice as effectively as men’s earnings. And, as in other places, the global economic downturn hit men’s incomes the hardest. In response, Latin American women picked up the slack, resulting in more than half of 2009’s poverty reduction.

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Topics: Latin America
November 12th, 2012
09:02 AM ET

How will White House respond to Washington, Colorado votes?

By Shannon K. O'Neil, CFR

Editor's Note: Shannon K. O'Neil is  senior fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Latin America's moment first appeared here. The views expressed are her own.

As Americans went to the polls to elect their president last week, voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize marijuana (by referendum). Not only does this create conflicting state and federal laws, but it also directly challenges the United States’ war on drugs.

These initiatives, Colorado’s Amendment 64 and Washington’s Initiative 502, directly conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug (along with heroin and LSD) – deemed to have “a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.” In 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would “vigorously enforce” federal laws if marijuana was legalized in California (it wasn’t). Although no official statement on Washington and Colorado has been released, the White House’s website maintains that “the Obama Administration has consistently reiterated its firm opposition to any form of drug legalization.”

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Topics: 2012 Election • Drugs
November 9th, 2012
10:21 AM ET

How to press for climate change progress

By Michael Levi, CFR

Michael Levi is director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of  Energy, Security and Climate originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.

The past week has been huge for people who want to see the United States go big on climate change. First Hurricane Sandy vaulted climate change back into the public debate. Now the reelection of Barack Obama means that there will be someone in the White House who cares strongly about the issue. The combination creates an opportunity to press for climate action.

That makes it all the more critical for people who care about climate change to get things right. If they remember one thing, it should be this: they will need to build coalitions if they want to go big.

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Topics: Climate • Environment
What Sandy says about government
October 31st, 2012
11:04 AM ET

What Sandy says about government

By Edward Alden, CFR

Editor's Note: Edward Alden is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Renewing America was originally published here. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader, is famously believed to have said that he has no wish to eliminate government, but only to “shrink it to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” Americans up and down the east coast can be grateful in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that he has not yet succeeded, or they might well have drowned in their own homes.

For those who wonder just what it is our tax dollars pay for, consider just a small list of government actions before and during the storm that made it far less catastrophic than it might have been:

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Topics: 2012 Election • Natural Disaster • United States
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