Jess Chapman

Archive for the ‘World’ Category

How the U.S. can keep Egypt on its toes

In World on July 8, 2013 at 8:00 am

I’m noticing an uncomfortably high number of people fall into former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s trap: saying because he was democratically elected, the coup that ousted him from office represents even less democracy. Keep in mind that the military’s actions were exactly what a large number of citizens wanted, and they have seen the military make good on promises to the people before, albeit slowly. While we’re debating that, the U.S. is debating its own policy in Egypt. What is it, exactly?

Foreign aid is at the heart of that matter, and the two perspectives on it are represented by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who wants to withdraw it, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who does not. McCain says that while Morsi was a failure as president, the coup was no way to get rid of him, and the U.S. should respond by refusing to side with the military and cutting off aid set to flow to them. Menendez does not want to cut off the aid entirely, but would prefer to use it as leverage in order to ensure that they lead a faster transition to a true democracy.

McCain has long been a critic of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (new album drops August 1), so I don’t believe he’s ignorant of Morsi’s moves toward authoritarianism or has forgotten about them. To the average Egyptian democratic activist, those are enough cause to get rid of him, much more so than his failures on the economic front – although those certainly didn’t help when it comes to young unemployed Egyptians. After dealing with Mubarak, it’s understandable that they’d be in little mood to wait for the next election before they got the leader they envisioned. Don’t expect American standards.

The White House hasn’t expressed support for either the military or Morsi, which could be to their advantage, assuming they do the worthwhile thing and establish a plan for aid. Their mistake while he was in office was not to make Morsi fear that he could lose their support, political or financial – the same mistake, some argue, that they made when Hosni Mubarak was still president. It never had to be an aid-or-no-aid proposition, which is what McCain is perpetuating.

My idea is a much less obvious version of “the person who sets out to be more democratic in this span of time gets the money.” It starts with zero dollars, or at least a 50 percent-plus reduction of the current amount. If the military meets certain criteria, they get more money. If they miss deadlines, the amount stays the same. If they fuck it up completely, the government throws its support behind Morsi. And if and when he gets back into office after that, the entire process starts again.

Either way, the U.S. wins. They get a stable democratic partner in the Middle East, or they get to keep their money. And the contingency factor reduces the opportunity to call this imperialist. They’re not telling the country what to do – they’re just making it clear what they will and will not pay for.

Sad when you can only trust the military

In World on July 4, 2013 at 8:00 am

Well, here we go again. Just one year since Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt, they’ve decided they don’t want him after all. (This headline from the New York Post sums it up better than anyone else ever will.) I’ve seen multiple people on Twitter and elsewhere talk about how “inspiring” the protests have been; but, really, are they all that different from the protests that got rid of then-President Hosni Mubarak? Besides the fact that they were members of different parties, have their effects on Egypt been that distinct from one another?

The Egyptian army sent Morsi packing after he refused to a) leave or b) accede to protesters’ demands within 48 hours. They plan to install a temporary “technocratic” government, headed by the chief justice of its constitutional court, and would hold new elections early after that. (The army has a history of dragging its feet when it comes to reforms, so don’t expect them not to face protests of their own.) It’s worth noting that they’ve been meeting with Mohamed ElBaradei, the reformist opposition leader, for “emergency consultations.”

This round of protests was sparked by numerous factors: Morsi’s increasing authoritarianism, his blatant favoritism toward Muslim Brotherhood members, a weak economy, Islamism, the fuel crisis. But it all comes down to the feeling that not much has changed since he replaced Mubarak. Aside from the authoritarian bent, neither was particularly anti-Western or anti-Israel, nor was either as Islamist as your average Saudi Arabian or Iranian ruler. Although the increase of late in violence against Copts suggests religious pluralism is not a priority for Morsi.

As for the economy, that problem didn’t start with Morsi, nor has it ended with him. Political instability is antithetical to a resurgent economy, especially when tourism is as large a segment of it as it used to be in Egypt. To have staying power, any new leader would not only need to translate stated beliefs in democracy and inclusion into meaningful reforms, but make drastic changes to fuel subsidies, the public-sector job market and crony capitalism.

We don’t know much about the above-noted technocrat, Adly Mansour. But if Egyptians actually get a problem-solving technocrat and a subsequent democrat, this could turn out fairly well. My preference for the democrat is ElBaradei, if he ever gets the stones to want to be president. His experience as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gives him considerable international credibility (despite past disputes with the U.S. over Iran), which will be helpful when it comes to seeking economic assistance as long as they need it.

We’ll have to wait and see how all that pans out. But we don’t need to wait and see about Morsi’s legitimacy. Don’t listen when he says he has it, or that Egyptian democracy lives and dies with him. All that’s died so far is his career and 16 protesters.

No point in protectionism for food aid

In World on June 20, 2013 at 8:00 am

This is one of the “grayest” legislative disputes I’ve seen in a while. There are opposing arguments of relatively equal merit, and both sides, if we boil them down to just yes and no, have bipartisan support. More importantly, it has to do with helping combat world hunger. But whose food are we going to do it with? That might not seem like a very important question at first, but keep reading:

  • In an amendment to The Farm Bill (capitalization mine), Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) proposes allowing up to 45 percent of funds in the Food for Peace program to be spent on food that did not originate in the U.S.
  • Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) back him up, citing improved flexibility, faster delivery and lower costs of locally sourced food.
  • Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) disagrees: “There’s no better producer, no cheaper producer than the American farmer.”
  • Unspecified “others” point out that the amendment would be harmful to U.S. shipping interests.
  • And Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) says giving the recipient countries more discretion over what to do with the money could lead to more corruption.
  • The amendment is ultimately rejected.

The weakest of these arguments is the one referring to shipping, which is pretty low on the priority list when we’re talking about international food aid. And some environmentalists might take issue with Conaway’s contention that U.S. food commodities are the best, especially when you consider how often we wax poetic about local food in the West – although at least we’re not sending boxes of Tyson chicken nuggets. On their own, neither of these points stands up to the benefits of, simply put, more food sooner.

But Andrews’s point should really make you stop and think. While U.S. government and corporate interests aren’t exactly paragons of virtue, how many of us would want to send a blank check for food to countries facing constant political upheaval? Or countries where the political situation is stable, but rife with entrenched corruption? How about countries where terrorists enjoy too much influence? At least when the food is sourced from the U.S., we know for certain where the money hasn’t been going.

That’s not to say there’s no room to breathe at all. Allowing a percentage of the food to be sourced from U.S. allies wouldn’t necessarily solve all the delivery problems, but it would give the recipient nations some choices. Plus, the U.S. would be able to extract promises of reporting from said allies, just to the extent that they can all account for whatever the percentage of non-U.S. food ends up being. I wouldn’t be surprised if 45 percent got watered down, if Royce tries again.

He should. The Food for Peace program as it is has serious flaws. They can’t go unchecked just because the U.S. wants all the action.

It isn’t called a “terror list” for nothing

In World on April 29, 2013 at 8:00 am

Do you get the impression that U.S. lawmakers regularly branded as “Cuban-American” just loathe their hyphenations? If you don’t, you may after you read this: All seven Cuban-Americans in Congress insist that Cuba remain on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The department’s annual re-assessment of said list is on this week; while they “vehemently” deny that Cuba has been considered for removal, the “Cuban Caucus” (not an actual caucus, but there’s something similar) isn’t taking chances.

Here’s a sampling of their reasons for keeping Cuba on the terror list:

. . . the Justice Department has indicted a former U.S. Agency for International Development employee, Marta Rita Velazquez, for allegedly helping a convicted former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst spy for Cuba.

. . . U.S. lawmakers say the country is still running afoul of the law by serving as a safe haven for fugitives from U.S. law and keeping USAID contractor Alan Gross in prison on charges he sought to undermine the Cuban state by distributing communications equipment.

. . . recent incidents such as the death of Cuban activist Oswaldo Payá in a car crash. His driver has said he was driven off the road by a car with government license plates.

So we have espionage, fugitive protection and political imprisonment and murder. You know what we don’t have? Evidence of terrorism or material support for it. And the State Department requires a period of six months of terrorism-free activity, with assurances that it will continue, before they consider a delisting. It’s not just me pointing this out; it’s people such as Brig. Gen. (Ret.) John Adams, who was writing about this last March, and pointed out that even North Korea, Pakistan and Yemen haven’t made it onto the list yet. Ah, D.C. inefficiency.

Adams contends that removing Cuba from the terror list could open up the U.S. to more opportunities to engage with President Raúl Castro. That’s no guarantee, although given modest reforms on his watch, I dare say it’s more likely to happen with him than with other heads of state. But the Cuban Caucus hasn’t provided us with evidence that Cuba should still be considered a terrorism sponsor, when they haven’t done anything lately that China hasn’t. (Yeah, I went there.)

So why the desperation within the Cuban Caucus to be as unbending on the issue as possible? Bad memories of the homeland? Trying to avoid even the appearance of supporting the Castros? Whatever it is, it’s not helping. Put them on a “haters of democracy” list if necessary. But don’t tell me they need to be on the worst list of all without bringing up events of decades ago.

Oppan Kaesong style!

In World on April 15, 2013 at 8:00 am

OK, so North Korea isn’t completely isolated from other countries; for that to happen, one thing they’d have to do is lose the Kaesong industrial facility. They’re ready to do exactly that, at least until they get an apology from South Korea for accusing the North of needing the park. U.S. lawmakers are equally ready to lose it, and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is prepared to introduce legislation to that effect. The only country that isn’t ready to give up is South Korea.

Kaesong is located within the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the North and South, and is where 123 South Korean companies employ 53,000 North Korean workers to make household products. $90 million in annual wages, a considerable number, go directly to the North Korean regime. As retaliation, the North ordered the workers not to show up for work last week; a report that turned out to be false (but sent South Korean stocks downward) suggested they’d gone further and expelled the South Korean companies from the facility.

Royce says his legislation will take the form of “targeted, aggressive sanctions,” although I wonder if paying for new factories within the South wouldn’t be faster. Either way, the South Korean government doesn’t seem concerned about it, economically speaking, nor do the companies in operation at Kaesong. They have insurance in case of political tensions leading to work stoppages. (Only in South Korea, right?) Besides, any suggestion that the North depends on the revenue is completely true, no matter who says it. The “dignity” the North says was “hurt” by the South’s comments is illusory.

But, diplomatically speaking, the South thinks it has a reason to keep Kaesong running. It opened in 2004 as a continuation of then-President Kim Dae-jung’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning “Sunshine Policy,” encouraging normalization of relations with the North. Unfortunately, that policy has been characterized by direct payments to the North’s regime, Kaesong being an example. In short, despite this Kim’s intentions, it’s largely a system of entrenched bribery, with few, if any, positive effects for the South.

Current President Park Geun-hye ought to give up hope on this and shut Kaesong down herself. Even if North Korea stopped threatening the South, Japan and the U.S. tomorrow, it won’t mean they’re ready for normalization, and it never will until the North gets a leader who isn’t crazy. For them, Kaesong is a cash cow and a bargaining chip, neither of which the South should let it have. Kaesong’s workers will lose their (pathetically small) wages, but they’re not the South’s responsibility, however much the North has shirked it.

If Park really wanted to get ballsy, she’d also set up new factories in the South (with or without U.S. aid) and offer the Kaesong employees jobs, housing and cross-border transport. I’d do it just to see Kim Jong-un’s fat little face turn pink and twitchy.

And you thought Iran needed preconditions

In World on March 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

I was baffled upon learning that the U.S. and Japan did not have a formal free trade agreement with each other, considering how many Japanese goods flow into the U.S. But both countries are partly to blame for this. After all, as of last month, the U.S. was still unwilling to drop tariffs on Japanese vehicles, and Japanese farmers won’t let tariffs on foreign agricultural products disappear without a fight. Yet Japan is the country that doesn’t have a seat at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) table yet.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is one of several lawmakers and business lobbyists who are encouraging President Obama not to give Japan the green light to joining TPP discussions. Other participating countries, including Canada, Mexico and Singapore, have welcomed them; Australia and New Zealand, along with the U.S., have not. For his part, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and most of his citizens are open to the idea, even if farmers aren’t; for his, Obama has said Abe does not have to meet any preconditions before joining talks.

Despite his openness to the agreement in principle, Abe and his government are promising to fight for tariff exemptions for agricultural products, with the possibility that they may be lowered as a compromise. Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, might be open to dropping U.S. vehicle tariffs if Japan drops theirs first. As for the TPP at large, the agreement calls for all participating nations to drop all tariffs that affect each other’s exports. By the logic of these Democrats, the U.S. should also be left out of talks until they agree to eliminate their auto tariffs. It’s only fair, right?

It wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. has participated in a free trade agreement with exemptions. Despite its membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canada still imposes tariffs on foreign dairy, poultry, eggs and sugar, much to the chagrin of every Canadian who has felt the need to go over the border for cheaper groceries. It’s entirely possible that the TPP will agree to a few exemptions of their own for the good of otherwise free trade. But they can’t do that without all hands on deck.

I happen to believe the elimination of trade barriers does more economic good than harm, and it’s the responsibility of a country’s domestic producers to maintain domestic demand. But the TPP nations will benefit from a good agreement, even if they can’t reach a perfect agreement. The only way to determine which kind of agreement they will get is to allow every Asia-Pacific nation to get involved in talks. That ensures a pathway to change from both the U.S. and Japan.

Of course, if we were talking about human rights abuses or state sponsorship of terrorism or anything of the sort, then I’d accept serious preconditions, as should we all. But tariff exemptions are nothing new.

North Korea spits on your sanctions

In World on March 12, 2013 at 8:00 am

Sanctions will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to forcing other countries’ hands on their various forms of malfeasance, simply because each country has a different relationship with your own. Yesterday, in response to the announcement of a natural gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan, the State Department floated the possibility of sanctions against the latter, with which it still has fairly close military and diplomatic ties. For that reason, Pakistan might actually feel a pinch, regardless of whether or not you think it’s necessary in this case.

But North Korea? The most isolated country on Earth? The one that feels no qualms about the fact that its people literally starve while the regime swaggers about with its nuclear potential? The idea that new sanctions are an appropriate punishment for its most recent threats are, at best, laughable. Yet still they come, specifically against four current and former government officials and the Foreign Trade Bank, freezing their U.S. assets and blocking transactions between them and any Americans. Quote from the State Department’s statement:

North Korea will continue to face isolation if it refuses to take concrete steps to comply with its international obligations and address the concerns of the international community over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. . . . North Korea must demonstrate its seriousness of purpose and commitment to authentic and credible negotiations by taking meaningful steps to show it will abide by its denuclearization commitments and respect international law.

And here’s what North Korea said.

In response to this and North Korea’s move to nullify its armistice with South Korea, the latter and the U.S. are preparing military drills, with simulated exercises for a war in the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, analysts are dismissive of the threats, calling it “brinkmanship,” “bellicosity” and “bluster.” North Korea’s actual demands seem innocent enough – a formal peace treaty with the South, not just an armistice, plus recognition as a nuclear state and direct talks with Washington. But why give it to them when their demands come with threats?

North Korea hasn’t been all that successful with most of its missile tests, so a direct attack on the U.S. may be as laughable as those sanctions. But why try them? Why not take out or at least sabotage command-and-control now, instead of possibly sabotaging individual rockets? Unlike Iran, we know the weapons are there, and we know there’s a U.S. ally right next door on whom an attack would hurt both countries. Why are we wasting so much time?

Since we can’t expect North Korea to “denuclearize” by themselves, we might as well eliminate the possibility of a successful attack on either the U.S. or South Korea. And then we can talk about a formal treaty.

The Chavez doctrine: Shut up and take my money

In World on March 7, 2013 at 8:00 am

Had Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez been at war with the entire world when he died this week, only the yellowest of yellow press outlets would have any compliments to pay him. But we don’t call his type “divisive” for nothing. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, my final word on Chavez is as follows: He had good intentions, and he even made good on a few of them, in the short term, but that didn’t make him a competent leader or anyone’s role model.

First, some key indicators of how Venezuela has changed since he took office in 1999. Extreme poverty is down nearly 15 percentage points. Infant mortality is down by seven per 1,000 births. Unemployment has almost been cut in half. Oil exports have almost quintupled, and gross domestic product (GDP) has more than doubled. But homicide is up by 20 murders per 100,000; inflation is eight percentage points higher; and in various world rankings, Venezuela has come in 117th in press freedom, 174th in economic freedom, 124th in competitiveness, in the bottom 20th percentile for innovation and dead last in judicial independence and public-sector integrity.

I hate to break this to Chavez fans, but all of those things are excellent ways to help citizens arise from poverty, much more so than any amount of cash your government can throw at you. As even Canadian governments have learned, albeit to a much lesser extent, an economy that depends on high commodity prices is a fundamentally unstable economy. Oil revenue still accounts for half of Venezuela’s national budget. If you want to know how well that’s worked for Venezuelan basics: Food shortages! Housing crisis! Terrible hospitals!

Then there are those who praise Chavez for “speaking truth to power” – power, in this case, meaning former President George W. Bush. I just wanted noted that other countries (cough, Canada) were able to oppose his decision to go to war with Iraq without nearly isolating themselves diplomatically or calling anyone the Great Satan. If you consider that a positive precedent for international relations, I really hope you never go into business.

Chavez’s heart may have been in the right place, at least when it came to people who were too poor and devoid of influence to piss him off. But before you praise him for his refusal to succumb to U.S.-style neoliberalism, consider which circumstances you’d prefer for your own day-to-day life. Then consider which country has a better record on things you probably value, like an independent media and depoliticized courts. Is it worth it to lose either of those if it means a battery of new social programs?

Isn’t it ironic that North Americans who praise Chavez are usually the first to decry the influence of Big Oil at home? I guess it’s all good with enough programs.

Drink when someone says “leverage”

In World on February 4, 2013 at 8:00 am

Only Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) would be stubborn enough to build an entire bill around an amendment that already failed 79 to 19; and I thought we could take him seriously on making Congress more efficient. (Of course, that amendment was attached to an unrelated bill, despite his earlier call for one-topic bills. . . . OK, let’s not take him seriously at all.) Thankfully, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who generally doesn’t have a good reputation around here, improved upon Paul’s idea. Both of their bills have been introduced, but one may actually pass.

Paul’s bill would prohibit the sales of tanks, F-16s and “other advanced weapons” to Egypt. Inhofe’s bill would not prohibit those sales entirely, but

would suspend them unless President Obama certifies that Egypt is committed to pursuing peaceful relations with Israel, providing security to U.S. embassies and consulates and respecting minority parties’ rights.

As Inhofe pointed out, arms sales to Egypt are worth $2.2 billion to the defense industry, and provide the U.S. with leverage over Egypt. The frequency with which we must use “leverage” when discussing relations with Arab Spring nations rivals the entire Battlefield Earth screenplay, and for that I apologize, as I’m sure it’s rather annoying. But it’s completely true. Aid for things like food, medicine and infrastructure aren’t nearly as appealing to new regimes, especially ones in which the military plays such a powerful role.

Inhofe frames maintaining arms sales, albeit conditionally, as a way to maintain a good relationship with the Egyptian military. He put it quite bluntly: “Egypt’s military is our friend – [President Mohamed] Morsi is our enemy.” That’s going a little too far. But is he an enemy of the kind of stability, democracy and pluralism Egyptians sought after deposing former President Hosni Mubarak? So far, yes; during his brief presidency, Morsi has attempted to exert too much control to embrace any of those values.

Furthermore, Inhofe’s insistence on checking on Morsi’s approach to Israel may turn out to be unnecessary. His explanations for his comments on Jews have been about as coherent as a Chuck Hagel confirmation hearing; however, his history with Israel itself has actually been closer to U.S. interests than Muslim Brotherhood interests. That’s what Inhofe should have put into his bill: certifying that the Muslim Brotherhood and its agenda will have no role in Morsi’s administration, as he promised.

If Morsi and the Egyptian military continue to be at odds, his version of a post-Mubarak Egypt will come closer to status as a failed state. Supplying the latter with arms will ensure a U.S. hand in picking up the pieces. But Inhofe should consider the military’s domestic responsibilities as well, namely identifying and supporting a truly democratic and pro-Western leader.

The State Department is a hot mess

In World on January 24, 2013 at 8:00 am

Was anything made any clearer than before during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? In one of her final appearances in her current role, she answered questions from the committee’s Republicans about what she knew of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 of last year. As you can expect, she was able to remove herself from the entire timeline while still accepting full responsibility, because, after all, that’s just what Cabinet heads do.

The goal for the Republicans was twofold: 1. Prove that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was ordered to go on the Sunday talk shows to offer misleading information, intentionally, about the nature of the attack. 2. Prove that Clinton saw the pre-attack requests from the consulate to send more security and ignored them, or knew of their existence and chose not to read them. So far, those goals have gone unmet.

There’s a problem with the first question. Within the Obama administration, Rice’s position is Cabinet-level. (Its status changes under every president, but neither President Bush gave it that status.) That means Rice reports to President Obama, not Clinton. Asking her if she was the one to dispatch Rice may have been pointless; however, it’s bad form for her not to know or admit who did. Expect more testimonies on that one.

As for the other charges: I find it very hard to believe that America’s top diplomat would not have been informed about a request for additional security at an American diplomatic facility. Read Clinton’s response to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) about this. Take note of how many other involved federal bodies she mentions, and how many other concerns there were at the time. The intended takeaway is “the fog of war.” It didn’t convince the Senate Republicans then, and it didn’t yesterday.

At best, the communication breakdowns in the days immediately after the attack resulted from hopeless bureaucratic entanglements between the White House, the State Department, the CIA and whoever else. At worst, the administration did lie about the nature of the attack. They would have had something to gain from such a lie; it wouldn’t fit into their pre-Mali narrative of al-Qaeda being “decimated.” (The Benghazi attackers were part of an al-Qaeda affiliate.) But this testimony did not expose any lies.

If Senate Republicans have any hope of doing this, they’ll have to find some bureaucrats willing to supply evidence that their accusations are true, since the bureaucrats got the brunt of the blame from Clinton. In the meantime, she could have done a better job of demonstrating that State “learned from the mistakes” by outlining any recent efforts to streamline reporting processes. That could have helped her save a little more face than she managed to save yesterday. But the crying helped.


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