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Posts Tagged ‘foreign policy’

The Peril of Credential Creep in Foreign Policy

October 3rd, 2013


In the late 10th century A.D., China’s Song dynasty expanded its civil service exams to select the best and the brightest to be the future bureaucrats of the expanding Chinese Empire. These examinations were rigorous and arcane, less concerned with management and more with Confucian metaphysics. Success catapulted a student into the ranks of the successful elite – but failure provoked an existential crisis, or even suicide. Contemporary observers were appalled by the fierce competition. “A healthy society cannot come about when people study not for the purpose of gaining wisdom and knowledge but for the purpose of becoming government officials,” a Song-era Chinese philosopher wrote.  Read the rest of this entry »

For Syrian Weapons, Quick-and-Dirty Beats Slow-and-Steady

September 20th, 2013


Now that Syria has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international community’s focus is shifting to how to destroy the country’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. The choice is simple: either the slow and methodical approach stipulated by the treaty that could take up to 10 years or more, as it has in the U.S., Russia and other countries; or a faster, cheaper approach that has been used in other countries such as Iraq after the Gulf War.

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How Much Will It Cost to Destroy Syria’s Chemical Weapons?

September 17th, 2013


Isolating and destroying Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons is, finally, within reach. But of course, any complex international endeavor involves price tags—monetary and otherwise.

Estimating the dollar cost of destroying the roughly 1,000 tons of Syrian chemical weapons in the middle of a civil war is challenging. But it’s possible to come up with a ballpark estimate.

First, let’s look at what the U.S. spent destroying its chemical weapons stockpile using incineration and neutralization processes, which both seasoned chemists and Breaking Bad fans should appreciate. The U.S. Army’s Chemical Materials Agency oversaw the destruction of just over 28,364 tons of chemical weapons—nearly 90 percent of the U.S. stockpile—for an estimated cost of $28 billion. That’s about $1 billion per 1,000 tons.

The remaining 10 percent of the stockpile—3,136 tons—will be eliminated by 2023. The U.S. Army’s Chemical Weapons Alternative program, which is managing the destruction, estimates it will cost $10.6 billion, or about $3 billion per thousand tons.

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Americans Tire of ‘World Police’ Role

September 9th, 2013


President Obama is trying to pull off a difficult political feat. He is asking Congress to defy public opinion. When Congress is heedless of public opinion, there is always a political price to be paid.

Case in point: the Senate vote to ratify the Panama Canal treaties in 1978. Many years later, President Jimmy Carter called it “the most courageous decision in the history of the U.S. Congress.” And what happened? The public rose up. The issue energized conservatives. Ronald Reagan made the canal his signature cause. His rallying cry: “We built it. We paid for it. It’s ours. And we’re going to keep it.”

The Senate ratified the treaties by a one-vote margin in 1978. And then? Here’s how former President Carter tells the story: “There were twenty senators who voted for the treaties up for re-election in 1978. Only seven of them came back to the Senate the next year.” Another twelve treaty supporters were defeated in 1980, including Democrats Frank Church of Idaho, Birch Bayh of Indiana and George McGovern of South Dakota. Not to mention President Carter himself.

On Syria, public opinion could not be clearer. Americans strongly–and loudly–oppose a military strike. Unfortunately for President Obama, the issue came up when Members of Congress were on their summer recess, most of them in their home districts. Constituents had access to their Representatives. And the Representatives got an earful. Rep. Tom Cole (R-S.C.) told the New York Times, “I literally cannot walk across the parking lot without being stopped to talk about this issue.”

“To say it’s 99 percent against would be overstating the support,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) told the Times. The Washington Post reported this message on the Facebook page of Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.): “The American people DO NOT WANT to get involved in Syria. Are you listening? We will not forget who votes for this garbage.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) warned his colleagues in a tweet, “If you’re voting ‘yes’ on military action in Syria, might as well start cleaning out your office. Unprecedented level of public opposition.”

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Obama Pilots Drone Policy Through Political Headwinds

May 28th, 2013


During the 2004 campaign, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, made this statement to the New York Times Magazine:

“We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they’re a nuisance. As a former law enforcement person, I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling. But we’re going to reduce it … to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day. It’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.”

Republicans instantly denounced Kerry’s statement as “a pre-9/11 view of the world.” President George W. Bush said at a campaign rally, “Senator Kerry talked of reducing terrorism to a, quote, ‘nuisance,’ and compared it to prostitution and illegal gambling. I couldn’t disagree more. Our goal is not to reduce terrorism to some acceptable level of nuisance. Our goal is to defeat terrorism by staying on the offensive.”

The Bush-Cheney campaign ran a television ad attacking Kerry for saying that defeating terrorism was “more about law enforcement than a strong military.” The ad concluded, “How can Kerry protect us when he doesn’t understand the threat?”

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Rethinking How We Value Global Trade

February 20th, 2013


This piece was originally published in U.S. News & World Report.

In his most recent State of the Union, President Obama touted the fact that American companies like Apple, Ford, and Intel are bringing manufacturing operations back to the United States. This key trend will support good American jobs—while strengthening the manufacturing and innovation ecosystem that’s a vital source of America’s global competitiveness.

Where things are “made” is crucial. But as America pursues important new trade deals in Asia and Europe, it’s also critical that we secure more “value” from our trade.

The iPhone in my pocket was “made” in China. When it was imported into the United States, it was treated by U.S. Customs as a 100 percent Chinese product, and it added somewhere around $230 to America’s $315 billion trade deficit with China.

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