We know, all four of our readers have been very upset about our absence. So, in order to make amends here’s a quick summary of our feelings on a bunch of world events.

We promise to be more diligent…seriously.

Response to Obama’s Middle East Speech


Obama’s reference to the 1967 lines was overblown. See here.

Protesters in Bahrain do not need encouragement from the Islamic Republic to demonstrate against  a brutal dictatorship. That said, they may have it.

“Bahrain’s Shia have long been discriminated against in the country and they say their protests have nothing to do with Iran and everything with wanting to be accepted as full Bahraini citizens.”

Kudos to Obama for, ever so delicately, reminding us that democracy in the Middle East may not be conducive to our strategic goals in the region.

“Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short term interests do not align perfectly with our long term vision of the region.”

CFR’s Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow Charles Kupchan has a great article about this topic. See here.


I agree with Maddie that the reaction to Obama’s speech was overblown, and, it still boggles the mind as to why the 1967 borders were even mentioned. With the dire state of negotiations and the U.S. preoccupied by everything else that is going on in the Middle East, it was clear that there was nothing Obama could do to move the ball forward. So why give so much time to this issue and set yet another condition on Israel from which he will certainly backtrack (and already did)?

International Monetary Fund


I’m not going to address the psychology behind DSK’s sexual assault on a hotel maid.

However, it is clear that the European monopoly on the IMF, not to mention the U.S. hold on the World Bank, needs to end. Unfortunately for the BRICS, it is unlikely that the developing world will be able to get behind a single candidate. While I’m not categorically opposed to a European holding the position, I do find the argument that Christine Lagarde is the perfect candidate dubious. Yes, she has been intimately involved in the EU bailouts which are taking up 2/3 of the IMF’s capital. And this is exactly why she should not take charge of the organization. And we wouldn’t want the managing director of the IMF using their position as a launching point for further political ambitions in the EU (cough, cough).

President Obama needs to see the writing on the wall and throw his weight behind a more open process. Really, what do Europe or the U.S. have to lose by not holding on to top positions at the Bretton Woods institutions? This is a good chance to score some easy points with the BRICS and demonstrate that we understand the changing world order (even if Europe doesn’t).

Osama bin Laden’s Death


I am with Gates on this one. I cannot fathom that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad without the knowledge of Pakistani officials, but until we know who knew and to what extent he had support, it is in not in our best interest to take action.


Probably the best consequence from the killing of Osama bin Laden (other than his actual death) is the possibility that it will allow the White House to seriously reconsider our (misaligned) objectives and investment in Afghanistan.

The second best (and funniest) consequence was the schadenfreude of Pakistan’s archrival. “We told you so” never felt so good.

All laughs aside, I disagree with Maddie on the U.S. approach to Pakistan. This episode is yet another example of the need for the U.S. to fundamentally change the way it does business in Pakistan. The military leaders need to more clearly understand that we won’t deal with them without the politicians in the room (as inept and corrupt as they may be). Our policy of engaging with the military as a separate entity (which, in reality, they are) has only reinforced their autonomy from the government and increased the sense that they are indispensible to the U.S. and that no action, no matter how heinous, will be seriously sanctioned.



More basic than the constitutionality of  the intervention or the efficacy of NATO’s air campaign, the United States has no strategic interests in Libya. Obama’s defense that the United States is acting to carry out Security Council Resolution 173 does not muster any more enthusiasm for the operation. The only explanation that has been offered for France’s recent metamorphoses into a hawk, is Sarkozy’s upcoming reelection campaign. Likely Sarkozy and Cameron’s goading were the primary force driving Obama’s decision to throw his weight behind intervention. Multilateralism should not mean championing our allies’ misadventures.


And we thought U.S. misadventures in Arab autocracies were a thing of the past. How Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bob Gates were talked into this latest war of choice by the Brits and French (of all people!) is beyond me. Now that we’re in this mess, we’ve gone way passed what the UN authorized and are actively seeking regime change. Of course we have no understanding of the dynamics on the ground and no real preparation for the eventuality that Gaddafi will fall. Sound familiar? I cannot discern any vital U.S. interests in Libya’s civil war (neither can Secretaries Gates or Clinton) and this is likely going to be another pointless and costly Middle Eastern disaster with an American fingerprint.

And don’t give me the line about humanitarianism. If we really cared we’d be bombing dictators from Bahrain to Sudan.

P.S. The Center for Combating Terrorism found in 2007 that the second most important source of foreign fighters in Iraq (after our buddy Saudi Arabia) was Libya. I wonder where those rebels we’re now supporting learned all those useful skills in fighting larger, better equipped militaries…

China Wins the French Open


For those of you who aren’t interested in tennis (that’s Maddie included), the gentleman’s sport has recently taken on a more geopolitical color. On June 4, Li Na became the first Asian-born (man or woman) to win a Grand Slam singles title at the French Open. Li’s success is not only a huge personal victory for a 30 year old player but also a sign of Asia’s ascendance in what was once a Western only affair.  What’s even more interesting is that her victory was the product of a loosening of restrictions on athletes. While generals worry about Chinese military competition and economists whine about the trade deficit, Venus and Serena need to watch their back.


I’m more of a gymnastics kind of girl. Tennis is for the bourgeoisie.

Secretary General Amr Moussa at the World Economic Forum, January 2007.

Secretary General Amr Moussa at the World Economic Forum, January 2007.

Talking heads in Washington warned of a political vacuum in Egypt when Mubarak stepped down. But as things stand now, there’s a shoe-in for the next president. Ladies and Gentleman, Amr Moussa.

Some Background

Amr Moussa received his law degree from Cairo University in 1957 and went on to work for the United Nations. From the late 1970’s through his appointment as foreign minister in the National Democratic Party (NDP) under the recently ousted Hosni Mubark in 1990, Moussa served as director of the department of international organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt. In 2001 he was appointed as the secretary general of the Arab League.

The Populist

As things stand now, Moussa’s got Egypt locked down. A poll conducted by Middle East research firm YouGovSiraj, showed of the 1871 Egyptians polled 49% believe Moussa should lead the next government—the candidate coming closest in popularity was Nobel Prize winning chemist  Ahmad Zewei at just 13%.  Moussa’s popularity was  solidified through his his consistently scathing criticism of Israel’s foreign policy.  In 2005 Moussa said,  “We know the Israeli position is negative when it comes to peace, when it comes to initiatives of peace.” Moussa called the Gaza flotilla incident an “atrocity and assault.” Despite Mubarak’s photo ops with Israeli President Netanyahu, Moussa’s consistent censure of Israel appeals to many Egyptians.

The former prime minister received unanimous support for his appointment as secretary general of the Arab League. Time Magazine said Moussa is “perhaps the most adored public servant in the Arab World” and former Egyptian deputy foreign minister Abdallah al-Ashal went as far to call Moussa a “media star.” Two weeks ago, Moussa took the unprecedented initiative to strip Libya of its membership in the Arab League. The move further isolated Qaddafi and  was looked upon favorably by both the West and the broader Middle East. And while his popularity stems, in large part, from his scathing criticism of Israel, he quelled anxieties last week saying were he to take office, he would uphold the 1979 Peace Treaty between the two countries.

Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the NDP-Egypt’s two political strongmen- will stand in Moussa’s way. Moussa served as foreign minister with the NDP under Mubarak, and rumor has it he was moved to the Arab League when Mubarak felt he was becoming too popular. But having worked with the party before, he is a known entity. He can navigate the scene and work with the players.

The Muslim Brotherhood has backed former chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Laureate Mohamad El Baradei for the presidency and under Mubarak’s regime and Moussa’s former party, the Brotherhood was suppressed. But Moussa has said that the Muslim Brotherhood is “part and parcel” of the Egyptian political scene and would expect their full participation in elections. So while he may not be favored by the Brotherhood, if elected they will work with Moussa

The Barriers

As it stands there are two  obstacles standing in Moussa’s way. First, he hasn’t affiliated himself with a party. Although previously with the NDP,  running on their ticket could take a toll on his popularity. The narrative that he was removed from his seat as foreign minister because his popularity irked Mubarak won’t live on if he returns to the party. Being affiliated with the NDP, the party of Mubarak’s thirty year autocracy, isn’t going to do good things for Moussa.  But there is nothing stopping Moussa from running as an independent.

The other problem is Mr. Moussa came late to the party. Moussa came to Tahir Square to support the protesters on February 4– ten days after the movement took to the streets in full force. But Moussa has pushed for a full rewrite of the Egyptian constitution saying that the proposed amendments still leave far too much power to in office of the president. This compounded by Moussa’s announcement that he would only run for one term has made it very clear: Moussa is not Mubarak.

The Takeaway

Moussa is in good shape now, but the results of tomorrow’s referendum on the proposed amendments will give us some more intel. If the amendments pass, the scheduled August elections will stay on track and allow the already strong candidates to consolidate power. But if they are voted down and there continues to be demand for a constitutional re-write, elections could easily be postponed to late fall. In that case, we could see some more candidates coming out of the woodwork. Stay tuned…


Ready for another cheesy Charlie Sheen/Qaddafi joke?

Well I’m not giving it to you. However, what’s a hot mess that’s being ignored by the foreign policy establishment?

If your answer was Lindsay Lohan you aren’t completely wrong…but I was going for Cote D’Ivoire.

In all seriousness, Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war (yes, I do think we can call it that at this point), is an important foreign policy challenge that isn’t getting enough attention from policymakers.

How We Got Here

Since December, Laurent Gbagbo’s regime has conducted a campaign of mass intimidation, torture, and murder. The international community universally agreed that he lost November’s elections to Alassane Ouattara, elections which had already been delayed for five years. However, Cote D’Ivoire’s Constitutional Council, composed completely of Gbagbo’s men, overturned the ruling of the Independent Election Commission, declaring him the winner. Despite sanctions from the West and ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West Africa States), suspension from the West African franc, and admonitions by the UN Security Council and African Union, Gbagbo has refused to go. His opponent has been kept safe in a hotel protected by 800 UN soldiers. The same can’t be said for the nearly 400 people who have been killed by Gbagbo’s henchmen since the election.

The situation has already broken the cold peace between north and south established when Cote D’Ivoire’s last civil war officially ended. Troops from the north (nominally tied to Ouattara), have already begun moving south and west and have reportedly taken territory on the border with Liberia. The fighting may not have reached Abidjan and it may not yet be as intense as 2002-2007 but it certainly constitutes a civil war.

The Danger of Regional War

Despite what some sovereignty purists might have you believe, this crisis does present a clear threat to international peace and security. Civil wars in Sub-Saharan Africa have a tendency of quickly becoming international, devastating an entire region. In the 1990s, neighboring Liberia’s civil war instigated an equally brutal conflict in Sierra Leone. Today, it is Liberia who is under threat from a neighboring nation with over 75,000 Ivorian refugees already in the country and more pouring in every day, according to the UN. Some have reported that disaffected Liberian youth have crossed the border in the other direction hoping to find “work” as a part of a militia. Already, there have been disputes in Liberia’s border towns as residents, who experienced their own horror only a few years ago, become increasingly troubled by the diversion of scarce resources. Liberia, which ranks in the bottom 10 according to the Human Development Index, can scarcely afford more needy people or another bloody conflict.

The AU’s Test

Cote D’Ivoire is also a crucial challenge for the African Union which is currently divided on the issue. A recent summit proposed a unity government with Ouattara at its head and Gbagbo gone. This type of power sharing has “worked” in Kenya but has proven an utter failure in Zimbabwe. With the added element of two armed factions, it is easy to see why the AU went for the option meant to establish peace as quickly as possible, even at the expense of upholding the people’s will. But is the AU sending the wrong message to dictators? This is now the third instance when a strong-man has held an election, lost, decided to ignore the results, and been rewarded with power (in this case the strong-man’s party would still be rewarded). Is it not time for the regional body, and particularly some of its strongest members (we’re looking at you South Africa) to make a stronger case for democracy?

Even more importantly, this crisis may be a dress rehearsal for what many predict could be a disaster in Nigeria. Similarly divided between north and south along religious and ethnic lines, a disputed election result could unleash untold suffering.  As a frame of reference, the occasional bout of sectarian violence in Nigeria has ended in the deaths of 400 people in a week or two…that’s the total estimated death toll for the 3 months of crisis in Cote D’Ivoire. If the AU flubs this crisis, there is little hope that it will be of any use in the event of an electoral dispute in Africa’s most populous nation.

What Next?

A recent International Crisis Group report details the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the crisis does not break out into [a worse] war. We can start with African leadership, particularly Jacob Zuma, taking a much more prominent stance against Gbagbo. What would be even more helpful would be Zuma pressuring his friends in Angola to stop funding the current regime. The U.S. has been right to offer assistance to aid agencies working in both Cote D’Ivoire and Liberia, but it and the broader donor community need to offer more. China, which seeks to demonstrate itself as a good actor in Africa should be a little freer handing out those “unconditional” dollars in cases like this. The UN also needs to strengthen the mandate of its missions in both Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire so that peacekeepers are given the freedom to actually keep the peace.

We’ve already failed at preventing another civil war in Cote D’Ivoire. What policymakers need to focus on now is how to make it shorter and less brutal than the last one.


The Rules

Posted: March 8, 2011 in Theory

Foreign Policy Fight Club noun:  Venue for two IR geeks to debate and muse on international affairs.

But first, The Rules.

1. We’re all rational actors.

People will use the information they have on hand to make decisions that they believe will benefit them. You may not agree with the way they define their own best interests, but it does not make them irrational (that even goes for the more outlandish folks in the foreign policy scene).

2. The U.S. isn’t going anywhere…

Don’t buy the hype. We’ve got this.

3. …but the BRICs (and others) matter

China now has the world’s second largest economy. India’s demographic change is going to lead to the type of economic boom China experienced over the past twenty years. America is going to be the biggest and most important player for the foreseeable future, but a greater distribution of resources will mean that getting what it wants won’t always be so easy.

4. Paper Beats Rock.

Economics underpin all forms of power.

5. Power is Power.

Power isn’t soft, hard, or smart. As we all learned in international relations 101, power is simply the ability of actor A to get actor B to do what they would not otherwise do. That’s true whether you get there through force, diplomacy, or a “smart” combination of the two.