Tag Archives: foreign policy

Reconsidering US Intervention in Iraq

Ahmed Chalabi, who previously served as interim Minister of Oil and Deputy Prime Minister in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, died yesterday. Chalabi was a Shiite Iraqi who studied in the United States, ultimately becoming a key adviser for the neoconservative advisers who shaped President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy. He is perhaps most well-known for his role in pushing for US intervention to remove Hussein from power in 2003. Indeed, Chalabi was a key asset for the US intelligence agencies, asserting that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

A 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “false information” from Chalabi and other members of the Iraqi National Congress “was used to support key intelligence community assessments on Iraq and was widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war.” It found that the group “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to terrorists.”

What do you think? Knowing what we do now about Hussein’s regime in Iraq, was US intervention to remove Hussein warranted? Should the United States have invaded Iraq? Why?

A New Isolationism?

In an interview with CNN yesterday, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump made the controversial claim that the world would be “100 percent” better with Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi still ruling Iraq and Libya respectively. While stopping short of saying he should remain in power, Trump also spoke critically of efforts by the Obama Administration to oust Syrian President Bashir al-Assad by supporting rebel movements in Syria.

In evidence of his claim, Trump asserts that Iraq and Syria have become “the Harvard of terrorism,” a veritable training ground for the world’s leading terrorist groups. He also claims that the United States doesn’t really know which groups it is supporting in Syria, and that much of the money and equipment provided by the United States to Syrian rebels is actually making its way in to the hands of the Islamic State.

Trump’s call for a renewed focus on the domestic economy in the United States and a shift away from interventionist policies in the Middle East echoes historical calls for greater isolationism after World War I. It also draws on a growing sentiment among the American people that the United States should reduce its global footprint. A 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of respondents believed the United States “should mind its own business and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” This was up from about one-third of respondents 10 years ago.

What do you think? Was the world better off when Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi ruled Libya? Should the United States be supporting the opposition in Syria? Would you support a more isolationist foreign policy for the United States? And under what conditions, if any, should the United States become involved in other countries?

A New Cold War?

In testimony before the Senate’s Armed Services Committee last week, General Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s nominee to become the next Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the primary military adviser to the president, asserted that Russia poses an existential threat to the United States. Citing Russia’s close ties to Iran, General Dunford asserted that Russia continues to push for elimination of Western sanctions on Iran, a move that would permit the open sale of Iranian oil on international markets. Such a development could generate billions in revenue for the Iranian government, fueling acquisition of advanced Russian missile systems that could make potential airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities more challenging.

General Dunford testified in his confirmation hearing, “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia…And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to reject the General’s statement. According to US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner, Secretary Kerry,

“The secretary doesn’t agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China, quite frankly…You know, these are major powers with whom we engage and cooperate on a number of issues, despite any disagreements we may have with them. Certainly we have disagreements with Russia and its activities within the region, but we don’t view it as an existential threat.”

The conflicting statements highlight a divide inside the Obama White House as to the nature of US-Russian relations in the context of tensions in Ukraine, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere. While the United States and Russia clearly have competing foreign policy objectives, do you think that Russia poses an “existential threat” to the United States? What do you think are the primary security challenges facing the United States today? And what are the implications of apparent disagreements in the assessment of Russia (and potentially other national security challenges) inside the White House for US foreign policy?

The Politics of the Iranian Nuclear Talks

Ongoing talks between the six parties (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) and Iran were extended one day to provide time for the parties to reach agreement. The talks are intended to establish a framework for ongoing negotiations around Iran’s nuclear program. But domestic American politics have often interfered with the talks. Republican critics of the Obama administration have criticized the idea of talking with Iran at all, sending a letter to hardliners in the Iranian government suggesting the US Congress would not approve any deal  and inviting Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress without discussing the invitation with the White House.

Republican critics have suggested that the talks are another example of a feckless and misguided foreign policy of the Obama White House, and that the United States should take a more aggressive stance on Iran, intensifying sanctions and further isolating the Iranian regime if it is unwilling to offer wider concessions. The Obama administration counters that real progress is being made as a result of the talks.

What do you think? Should the United States continue to work under the six party framework to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran? Would such a deal be effective at limiting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? Or should the United States take a more aggressive stance with Iran? Which approach would be more effective in achieving the US goal of a nuclear-weapons free Iran? Why?

Implications of the Israeli Elections

Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party defined pre-election polls and won a resounding (and surprising) victory in yesterday’s election, capturing 23.2 percent of the popular vote (and 30 seats), finishing well ahead of Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, which garnered 18.7 percent of the vote (and 24 seats).

Polling data had suggested that Netanyahu’s party would lose control of the Knesset (parliament), causing Netanyahu to tack to the right in recent days. In campaign interviews over the past few days, Netanyahu declared his strong opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, effectively declaring there would be no two-state solution during his tenure. He also promised to expand Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem, the portion of the city viewed by Palestinians as the future capital of their country. Earlier, Netanyahu had also declared a hardline stance against Iran. On all three issues, Netanyahu broke with the United States. The results are also likely to catalyze pressure on the Palestinian Authority to move forward with a human rights lawsuit against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

What do you think? How will Netanyahu’s reelection affect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program?

A Declining “Special Relationship”?

The United States and the United Kingdom have long maintained close ties. Since World War II, the two countries have maintained a “Special Relationship” characterized by deeply rooted connections across politics, trade, arts and sciences, government and military operations.  But a decision by the British government to join the Chinese-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) appears to be straining that relationship.

The AIIB is envisioned by China as an alternative to the other multilateral development institutions, which China asserts are dominated by Western interests. And while China has actively recruited additional countries to join the AIIB, American pressure has led countries like Japan, Australia and South Korea to resist joining.

The United State criticized Britain’s decision, which the British government described as being “in-line” with British national interests. But the United States said the British move was made “without any consultation” with the United States, and decried Britain’s “constant accommodation” of Chinese interests.

What do you think? Does Britain’s latest move signal the declining importance of the special relationship? What strategy should middle powers like the United Kingdom employ in addressing growing tensions between the United States and China?

The Senate and the Politics of US Foreign Policy

An interesting exchange took place between Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today. Senator Rubio challenged Secretary Kerry on the question of Iran and how the US strategy in dealing with ISIS, and Secretary Kerry pushed back. The United States is currently engaged in negotiation with Iran in an effort to prevent it from securing a nuclear weapon. At the same time, the United States and Iran share a desire to weaken the position of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

US foreign policy on both questions were complicated earlier this week when 47 Republican Senators wrote an open letter to Iran’s hardline government warning them that any agreement with the United States would need to be approved by the Senate. Iran’s Foreign Minister dismissed the letter as a “propaganda ploy” while Vice President Joe Biden decried the letter as an attempt to “undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations” and “beneath the dignity [of the Senate].”

The most recent exchange between Secretary Kerry and Senator Rubio highlight the ongoing tensions between the Obama White House and the Republican-controlled Senate over US foreign policy, and suggest that foreign policy may be a central point of debate in the 2016 Presidential elections.

What do you think? Do recent efforts by Republican Senators to affect the outcome of US negotiations with Iran undermine the effectiveness of President Obama’s foreign policy initiatives? Has the Senate overstepped traditional boundaries in US foreign policy? Are the right to attempt to limit the White House’s autonomy in this area? And how would you address the situation if you were a Senator?

The Safety of Diplomatic Personnel

The US Ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant yesterday, suffering severe but non-life-threatening wounds and being rushed to hospital. The attacker was detained after the attack. He proclaimed his opposition to US military cooperation with South Korea and his desire for a unified Korean state.

The attack highlights the vulnerability of diplomatic personnel around the world, and the difficulty of protecting them as they undertake their day-to-day business.

What do you think? Should additional steps be taken to protect diplomatic personnel aboard? Would such steps undermine their ability to work effectively to achieve their goals? Why?

Is Netanyahu’s Visit “Destructive”?

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice yesterday described an upcoming visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “destructive.” Rice asserted that both the decision by Speaker of the House John Boehner to extend an invitation to Netanyahu, and Netanyahu’s decision to visit the United States less than two weeks ahead of his own reelection, as injected a degree of partisanship into the question that complicates ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iran and is “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the United States and Israel.

What do you think? Will Netanyahu’s visit undermine US-Israeli relations? Will it affect ongoing negotiations between Iran and the United States? Why?

The Next US Secretary of Defense

Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter.

Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter.

President Obama has formally nominated Ashton Carter to succeed Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense. While Carter still faces questioning and ultimately a confirmation vote by the Republican-controlled Senate, his nomination is widely seen as non-controversial. Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain has already issued a statement declaring that Carter’s nomination hearing “will provide a valuable opportunity to fully ventilate all issues around this Administration’s feckless foreign policy, and its grave consequences for the safety and security of our nation,” the same statement said that Carter “is not controversial.” Senator McCain had previously described Carter as “an honest, hard-working and committed public servant.”

Carter has already testified before Congress that the United States faces “very real dangers,” particularly from “malignant and savage terrorism” as well as security threats in Afghanistan, parts of Europe and Asia, and in cyberspace. He boasts an extensive record of civil service, including a stint as deputy defense secretary from 2011 to 2013, and as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under the Clinton Administration. And while he is seen as an effective manager, Carter lacks military service experience. If confirmed, we would be the first Secretary of Defense not to have served in the military or Congress since 1981.

What do you think? Will Ashton Carter make an effective Secretary of Defense? Should the Secretary of Defense have military experience? Why? Do you think that Carter will be more effective in addressing ISIS and the other security threats faced by the United States than Hegel was? Why?