Thursday, May 19, 2011

Second Guessing Obama's Middle East Strategy

It was pretty interesting to read this piece by Aaron David Miller on Syria after the White House announced a new set of sanctions targeting strongman President Bashar al-Assad and other senior officials in Damascus.

It's been equally riveting to witness the whole carnival-like media coverage surrounding what is being billed as a landmark speech on the Middle East that the president is slated to give later this morning. The sheer number of pre-buttals -- of what Obama may say, what he should say, why he shouldn't say anything at all -- would be nothing short of stunning, except that this is D.C. and it's all we have to live for.

If I had more time on my hands, it would be an illuminating exercise to go back and re-read all the news coverage and opining from the past few days post-speech.

Instead, I'll likely be chasing down reaction and fall-out to the president's proposals -- the specifics of which have already been made public to a certain degree. A story I wrote last week scoped out the lay of the land ($$) on the Hill when it comes to aid for nascent democratic movements in the Middle East and North Africa. The White House is working with key senators on ways to channel economic assistance to Egypt and Tunisia, as well as the rebels in Libya, but, as I wrote at the time, "those efforts will face resistance in both chambers."

A round-up of other reporting I've done in the past week on the view from the Hill on the "Arab Spring":

- Weapons Sales to Arab Nations Need Fresh Scrutiny, Lawmakers Tell Officials ($$), 5/12

War Powers Deadline Approaches on Libya ($$), 5/13

- Senators Ready Sanctions Bill Against Iran as Obama Gets Tough on Syria ($$), 5/18

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

While You Were Sleeping

... I was on MSNBC Saturday morning. Here is the (belated) YouTube clip of me talking about Guantanamo detainees possibly getting visitors. Gitmo is not my usual bag, but it's definitely a subject that continues to generate a great deal of interest on Capitol Hill.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Oh Canada, Where Art Thou?

The average American gives very, very little thought to our neighbor on our Northern border. Even folks who follow politics and foreign affairs pay little heed to the Canadians affairs. As Jonathan Kay writes in a piece posted last week on
It is a credit to Canada that that few outsiders pay much attention to what goes on there.
Because its had "Canada" in the headline I'm assuming most Foreign Affairs readers Stateside skipped right over Kay's piece. Is so, they're missing out on a pretty compelling argument for why Canada's recent election is worthy of the attention American political junkies and the general public, alike.

For the former, there is the transformative power shift the election ushered, which could "set the stage for the emergence of a conventional two-party system," Kay writes, thus entirely reshaping Canada's political system. It's the sort of real life case study of electoral systems and political realignment that makes any good political scientist's heart go pitter-patter.

Then there are the practical implications for what Canada's newly empowered center-right government means for the United States:
Canada will align more closely with the United States on a broad range of foreign policies, including border protection, the war against terrorism, and support for Israel.
The Canadian government is also poised, Kay writes, to:
More aggressively develop it's oil and gas exports, and as the Middle East lurches from crisis to crisis, will be able to supply a greater percentage of the United States' energy needs.
They may not be aware of it, but Americans panicked by the rising cost of fueling their cars could soon have a lot of reasons to cheer this particular evolution in Canadian politics.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The U.S. & Pakistan: The More Things Change ....

So much has changed, yet so much remains the same in the week since President Obama interrupted a drowsy Sunday night with his stunning announcement that American forces had found and killed Osama bin Laden. That holds especially true for the U.S. relationship with Pakistan. For the last several decades, the bilateral relationship has been one of our most intractable foreign policy dilemmas. Before Sunday it didn't seem possible for the relationship to get more complicated, but with the outing of Bin Laden's hideaway deep in Pakistan, it most certainly did.

The fall-out is still TBD. The Hill turned its attention to Pakistan's role in the whole Bin Laden affair almost immediately. But, as I wrote in a feature for this week's magazine, the reaction has been surprisingly restrained. The majority of senior lawmakers have resisted the urge to pitch Islamabad overboard immediately, despite the fact that, as I wrote, "no one seems to believe that the whole Pakistani power structure could have been ignorant of bin Laden’s whereabouts all these years."

But that's not to say lawmakers are not going to be looking to use the incident to hammer away at specific segments of our Pakistan aid program they have long disliked. There is also going to be an overwhelming impetus to try and leverage the aid dollars we do continue to deliver. Though as international development experts have warned for years, that practice is largely counterproductive, reinforcing the sense in Islamabad that the U.S. is trying to buy them off.

The folks at the Center for Global Development, in particular, have written some thoughtful analysis of late on perception vs reality when it comes to Pakistan aid.

The next few months are likely to  see a continuing drip-drip-drip of news about Bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, and what Pakistani officials knew. Lawmakers' reaction will be an important indicator for how much our relationship with Pakistan has evolved over the last decade beyond its purely transactional roots ... or not.