The Illusion of Change in the Former Soviet Union

Yesterday the Pew Global Attitudes Project, one of a great many interesting projects brought to us by the Pew Research Center, released a report detailing continuing downward shifts in confidence about democracy and capitalism in former Soviet territories. The report is filled with rich and interesting detail and is very much worth the reader’s time, but I’m particularly interested in one small fraction of the public opinion polling Pew conducted to come to its conclusions:

Two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russians, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians are unhappy with the direction of their countries and disillusioned with the state of their politics. Enthusiasm for democracy and capitalism has waned considerably over the past 20 years, and most believe the changes that have taken place since 1991 have had a negative impact on public morality, law and order, and standards of living.

Alright, this seems pretty straightforward: democracy bad, communism good. What is tangential but interesting is that the central reason listed for dissatisfaction with economic and political systems in the region sounds an awful like the dissatisfaction felt here at home:

Large majorities in all three nations believe that elites have prospered over the last two decades, while average citizens have not. In Ukraine, for instance, 95% think politicians have benefited a great deal or a fair amount from the changes since 1991, and 76% say this about business owners. However, just 11% believe ordinary people have benefited. The fall 2009 survey further highlighted the extent to which these publics are disillusioned with their political leadership. Few believed politicians listened to them or that politicians governed with the interests of the people in mind.

While Americans seem to share the sentiment of those living in Ukraine or Lithuania, they come to a very different conclusion. There is not shortage of talk about the failure of our system, but very little discussion of changing the fundamental rules and principles governing it (by the way I don’t this is a bad thing – I think individual actors are causing our problems, not institutions).

Perhaps most interestingly, while democracy gets a bad rap, the underlying principles and the institutions they produce do not. Most citizens of former Soviet republics still place tremendous value on, among other things, freedom of speech and religion, an independent judiciary, and honest elections. The Pew report does not explore the explanations for such a gap between affinity for the institutions and affinity for the system; this would be a very interesting question to explore in the future.


A Question of Questions

It isn’t every day that I agree with Peggy Noonan. In fact, I don’t agree with Peggy Noonan on most days. That said, in the spirit of bipartisanship that has been sweeping our country lately, I’ll admit it: today, I agree with Peggy Noonan. Ms. Noonan, a former special assistant to President Reagan and the architect of some of his most famous public remarks, penned a piece in the pages of the Wall Street Journal – where she is a regular columnist – about the dangers of cavalier attitudes towards national security policy. Her central question is ideal one for class studying national security in the “digital media age:” does the media’s treatment of national security issues in the Republican primary debate actually degrade the seriousness of our discussions and threaten our ability to conduct diplomacy in the future? In Ms. Noonan’s own words:

The videos each cable outfit now makes to introduce each debate have taken on a weird, hyperventilating tone. Tuesday’s theme-setter included bombs dropping, jets roaring, presidents sweating, machine guns, screaming dictators, explosions and street demonstrators. Then, in urgent and dramatic tones: “The Republican National Security Debate begins—now.” Guys, get a grip. Republican National Committee, start asking to OK the videos beforehand. This is a major-party nomination for the presidency, not a trailer for “Homeland.”

Though I haven’t been able to find a clip of CNN’s introduction to the national security debate on November 22nd, I’m willing to take Ms. Noonan’s word for it. Two points in her criticism of the kind of “urgent and dramatic tones” she saw in the debates a few weeks ago stand out, namely the impact this kind of gung-ho rhetoric has on our image abroad and the effect phrases like “covert action in Syria” have on policymakers’ ability to conduct foreign policy.

Searches in scholarly databases and using Google did not yield an abundance of research on the impact of the media’s “weird, hyperventilating tone” in presenting national security issues at presidential primary debates. However, I think we can draw several conclusions from watching such debates and listening to the answers of candidates. As Ms. Noonan puts it:

Here are just a few phrases and sentences that were lobbed about for two hours. “Protect ourselves from those who, if they could, would not just kill us individually but would take out entire cities,” “expanded drone campaign,” “they can’t be trusted,” “strong special forces presence,” “hot pursuit,” “slapped new sanctions,” “no-fly zone over Syria,” “nuclear weapon in one American city,” “break the Iranian regime,” “sabotaging the oil refinery,” “crippling sanctions,” “centrifuges spinning,” “covert actions within Syria to get regime change,” there is an “imminent threat” in Latin America, “we have been attacked,” “doctrine of appeasement.” It was all pretty revved up and dramatic.

The language is profoundly disturbing. One point that Ms. Noonan does not make, and that I wonder about it, is how the use of language and imagery by the moderators constrains the answers politicans feel comfortable giving. If CNN’s chosen graphics for a national security debate are all derived from war and warmaking institutions, that would seem to send a strong message to candidates and viewers about the role of the Department of State, for instance, in national security. A strong, minimizing message. A skim of the highlights from the debate seems to reinforce that assertion; by my ears, candidates responded to most questions about how to contend with conflict in other nations by explaining the tenets of their military strategy. The emphasis was clear: Department of Defense good, Department of State bad.

The internal impact – the impact on candidates and their messages – seems clear, but what about external impact? How might China react to Mitt Romney’s declaration of war on their currency at the CBS debate weeks ago? It’s hard to know for certain, but I think their reaction would be negative. That has an obvious and immediate effect on our diplomacy today; China would not be out of bounds in asking Ambassador Locke to explain how the Obama administration differs with one of its most promiment public citizens on the issue, and that conversation would likely be an awkward one. The long-term effect is equally disturbing, though. Imagine that Mr. Romney wins the election – god forbid – and takes his first trip to China, with trade and debt issues on the table for discussion. You have to wonder about the length of Hu Jintao’s memory in predicting his willingness to work with the man who called him a “currency manipulator.” I have to think it would be long.

We’re left with a question of questions. Should moderators and journalists really ask candidates such specific questions about national security strategy, knowing that in the 21st century, the entire world is watching?

Wael Ghonim: ” This revolution started on Facebook “

   Named by TIMES magazine as one of the top 100 Most Influential People in the World , Wael Ghonim embodies the importance of  social media. Ghonim was believed to have opened the first facebook page that organized the January 25th protests .

Ghonim told CNN that Facebook and the Internet were responsible for the uprising in Egypt. From the interview:

“I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him […] I’m talking on behalf of Egypt. […] This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started […] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I’ve always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet. ”




The “Zero Base” Republican Field

November 22nd’s GOP foreign policy debate presented a shocking (or not so shocking) display of ignorance and lack of foresight in regard to U.S. international aid. The candidates, except Jon Huntsman, all called for a “base zero” approach to foreign aid, a policy that would require foreign nations to make their case to the United States in return for economic and military aid. Such a proposition is myopic and inflammatory, and unsuitable for a presidential candidate.

Governor Huntsman was right when he said that Rick Perry’s zero base aid idea is “sound bite campaigning.” How can the GOP candidates actually believe that starting all countries at zero aid is a good idea? Does this not harm our standing internationally? Do they not realize that we must build our global alliances, not break them?

According to the candidates, this is how it would work: the U.S. takes all foreign aid and cuts it to zero. Then, the federal government hears appeals from other nations and, on a case by case basis, determines how much aid should be allocated. Republicans did not stipulate who would be making the allocation decisions, or by what standards the decisions would be made. Herman Cain spoke for the entire GOP field when he said he didn’t know enough about the subject to give a solid answer.

There is a plethora of problems with a zero base approach to international aid. Starting at zero and forcing nations to make a case before the U.S. sends a signal that America is willing to exhibit conditional leadership on a global level. By stripping assistance to other countries, we are saying, “Sure we might be willing to stop your genocide, feed your hungry children, or educate your population, but let’s see what you can offer us first. Prove to us you REALLY need our help.” Since when did the United States become so callous on an international scale? Are we really going to make Sudan plead for the $1.2 billion we give in economic aid to help its suffering citizens? I heard Zimbabwe is doing really well these days — let’s make them beg for the $286 million we give them each year.*

Trust me, I completely understand the argument against foreign aid. We have enough debt in our country as it is, and we shouldn’t be squandering funds abroad. Let’s bring that money back to the states and invest it in the economy. There is some merit to that position, but it is important to acknowledge America’s role as a global leader when taking a position on international aid. Not every country is able to give a substantial return to the U.S., and we cannot base our aid on how much a country matters to us as a country. Some nations just need help.

In the increasingly globalized world in which we live — a world that thrives on complex international networking — the United States cannot afford to sever important global alliances and friendships. By cutting funding to all nations and making them present their case we are coming across as close minded, weak and irresponsible. Zeroing aid displays a blatant disregard for humanity and cooperation, and puts key relationships at risk. Rick Perry conceded that even Israel would have to be content with no funding — how can we expect to maintain a stable rapport with Israel while cutting its aid to nothing at the same time?

The international aid distributed by the United States serves many functions. It acts as a life buoy for states floundering on the edge of destruction; it helps foster burgeoning democracies in previously autocratic nations; and it works to maintain stability in shaken regions such as the Middle East and North Africa. Rescinding U.S.  foreign aid does nothing but upset the balance of peace and power in the world, while at the same time painting the United States as dispassionate and unsympathetic. The Republican candidates often portray President Obama as an individual devoid of leadership skills; they say that they have the leadership mentality necessary to bring the U.S. back to superpower status. But what kind of leader cuts ties to allies and threatens essential relationships by zeroing out all foreign aid and determining it instead on a case by case basis?

It is necessary for the GOP (sans Jon Huntsman; he knows the importance of foreign aid) to reevaluate their assessment of the American narrative. If it does not include assistance to allies, aid to suffering countries, the spread of democracy, or global leadership, then they should all just drop out now.


*Funding statistics courtesy of the U.S. Census:

Okay, I’ll bite… Here’s What Bush Did Wrong

This post is a belated response to two articles by my colleagues Mr. Farneth and Mr. de Bourmont.  Back in September, Austin and Martin wrote two very good articles here and here that passionately argued against issues I raised about military tribunals.  Though it is two full months later, I am going to take the time to argue my point in more detail.  Because I get the feeling that my colleagues at the Carlisle Policy Forum think that I am in favor of every policy decision made by the Bush administration, I want to take a few moments to say what I think they got wrong on this specific topic.

Firstly, I want to clarify some of the things that I said in our discussion or online.

It is my opinion that if there is proof of war crimes committed by an unlawful combatant, they should be prosecuted in military commissions, not Article III courts.  This is first a policy consideration because Article III courts would be an inefficient use of resources.  But also, Article III courts are not warranted because those being tried are alien, unlawful combatants or unprivileged belligerents who are being detained offshore and they do not have a right to the same protections and the same process that a citizen of the United States holds.

I will admit that there were deficiencies in the beginning, as Austin has asserted.  The original commissions used in the War on Terror were made in the way they were because there were certain political appointees that decided to create the commissions from whole cloth, so to speak, instead of taking the Manual for Courts Martial and the Uniform Code of Military Justice and analyzing them to see how much could be brought over to commissions (which are in fact similar to courts martial).  I will concede that we did not get it right in 2001 and the few years thereafter.

Both Martin and Austin will be happy that I want to stress the mistakes that the previous administration made, of which I will mention only three.

1.  There was a complete failure of public education and public policy.  The previous administration simply failed to explain to the American people why they chose to do things the way they did.  Are we at war?  President Bush said we were at war in 2001.  Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, and the Supreme Court implicitly has stated that we are at war (O’Connor in Rasul).  The United Nations activated the defense clause, as did NATO.  This reinforces the view that we are at war, and the war convention thus applies.  The Bush Administration, however, did not articulate that point.  Under the war convention, we have the right to detain people captured on the battlefield (let’s ignore people captured in Bosnia or in the Gulf of Aden, they are not a subset of battlefield capture).

The law of war is a contract.  It originated in the 19th century when, instead of executing soldiers on the battlefield, the First Geneva Convention said not to execute them and to treat them with respect.  This was to the advantage to both parties because if soldiers think you will kill them, they will fight harder and to the very last man, which in turn leads to greater casualties for both sides.  The advantage of capture is that you can keep soldiers until the war is over.  That is the essence of the war convention and not once did the Bush Administration articulate that to the American public.

2.  The decision was made not to conduct Article 5 tribunals in Afghanistan.  There is not a single uniformed lawyer that is opposed to military tribunals.  The Third Geneva convention stipulates that when there is doubt as to the status of someone captured on the field, you must conduct an Article 5 tribunal.  The decision was made to neglect to do so because the Bush Administration did not care about the Geneva Conventions or the international community.

If the status is very clear that the person captured is a member of al-Qaida, then they are clearly an unlawful combatant.  In the case of the Taliban, it is more difficult because they were the Army of Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is a signatory nation to the Geneva Conventions.  This is where Article 5 tribunals should have been of greatest importance because they provide a systemic control measure.  We would have known what happened at the point of capture in terms of whether they were abused or if there were proper translators.

3.  The previous administration used a Presidential Order from 1942 that was upheld 8-0 by the Supreme Court and rewrote it to use in the War on Terror.  The only problem is that Roosevelt’s order was based on the 1920 Articles of War, which was superseded by the 1948 Articles of War, which was superseded by the 1950 Uniform Code of Military Justice, which was amended in 1968 and then amended again in 1983.  The administration ignored 60 years of military jurisprudence, case law, and practice.


I am happy to argue detention policy at a later date, because that is what I suspect Austin and Martin are taking most issue with.  I only caution that detention policy not be conflated with military commissions because they are totally unrelated.  They have nothing to do with each other, and that is why I have not argued about detention here.

Cross-Posting from History 382, Diplomatic History of the United States

In my diplomatic history class with Professor Matt Pinsker, we recently completed an assignment that asked us to map – using Google Maps – an event in 19th century diplomatic history. I focused on Maine’s border conflicts during the first half of the century, conflicts that represent some of the earliest instances of American foreign policy and diplomacy. Below is the first paragraph the post I wrote to accompany the map. Check out the entire assignment here.


Upon his arrival at Vancouver International Airport in the fall of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson remarked, “no nation in the world has had greater fortune than mine in sharing a continent with the people and the nation of Canada.” In an address to the Canadian parliament more than a decade earlier, President Dwight Eisenhower described a Canadian-American border that “grows stronger every year, defended only by friendship.” Eloquent as such sentiment may be, that friendship-fortified dividing line was not always uncomplicated. In fact, after the Revolutionary War, Americans grew accustomed to many complications with their northern neighbors, particularly regarding issues of boundaries and borders. It was the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, authored in 1842 by Secretary of State Daniel Webster, that cultivated the enduring friendship between Canada and the United States that Johnson and Eisenhower could proudly proclaim more than a century later. The more than half-century between the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and the signing of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842 offers a rich and relatively-unknown example of America’s earliest diplomacy.

The Complications of the US pulling funding from UNESCO

The issue of the United States pulling the funding from UNESCO because they granted membership to Palestine can be seen as a step backward in the peace process. If the United States is truly committed to peace in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, the two-state system seems to be the best way for that to be achieved. It can be understood that this request for recognition by UNESCO could be seen as going behind the back of the United States, but it is still a positive movement toward a two-state peace.

It is most clearly the objective of the United Nations to protect human rights throughout the world, and working towards a two-state peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, it was appropriate for UNESCO to accept Palestine as full members. For the United States to pull its funding, while yes it may have been following a law, does not show ultimate support in this peace process, and may be the source of future tensions while the Israelis and Palestinians work through the next set of challenges they face. It is going to take cooperation from both sides for any sort of semblance of peace to be reached, and that starts with Israel not rejecting the decisions of large governing bodies such as the UN

Everyone’s a loser!

No one wins when the United States begins defunding United Nations organizations. As the US defunded UNESCO because it recognized Palestine as a sovereign state, the world collectively sighed as it became obvious that the United States will continue to distrust Palestine and back Israel, even as it claims it supports a two state solution. What is going to happen now? Is Palestine going to go door to door enlisting UN organizations to recognize it as a nation, while the US goes down a list and checks off the organizations it plans to defund? I think that at the end of the process, however many years down the road that may be, the United States is going to look stupid as it crawls back to the UN with its tail between its legs, cash in hand.

The US needs to reach out to both Palestine and Israel and almost force them to get together and engage in peace talks. Punishing the UN, as Tess said, will not get the US anywhere.

Word is now coming through that Israel may have blown up an Iranian missile base, in order to try and prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability. This is going to be a huge setback to any peace talks that might have occurred, as all it does is decrease trust in the region.

Currently there are no winners in the region and until the US or another power has massive amounts of leverage over Palestine and Israel and can force them to reach an agreement, it’s not going to happen.

Palestine 1 – USA 0

The US decision to cut off funding for UNESCO is a loss for everyone, except maybe Palestine, for now. The US policy that required these cuts will trigger again if Palestine gains recognition at any other UN organization. These cuts are not in America’s interest. Enforcing this policy could potentially harm many of our aid efforts that are directed through these UN organizations and will continue to derail US efforts to have a positive influence in the Arab world.

For Palestinians, the UNESCO decision may be a strategic win. It gained recognition at a prominent UN affiliate, and it has successfully made the US vulnerable by forcing it to cut funding from a popular and respected organization. For Americans, however, enforcing this policy is largely a non-issue. Americans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel, and frequently consider the UN a waste of time and money. Ironically, the Palestinian push for recognition at these organizations may prove just how important they are. Many of these organizations promote US interests. The World Intellectual Property Organization, for example, attempts to limit the amount of intellectual property theft that damages US companies. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has already criticized the UNESCO vote, highlighting the negative impact Palestinian membership could have on these other UN branches.

When an organization is not properly functioning because of a lack of resources, you have to think about the millions and millions of people who are being impacted and affected

On the other hand, this could be a good strategy for Palestine to leverage the US, and Israel to make big concessions. Palestinian statehood is consistently one of the most important issues in the Arab world. If the US continues to come to Israel’s defense, it will reinforce the perception that the US does not support a two-state solution, or democracy in the Middle East. For decades Arabs have viewed the US with suspicion and even contempt. The US decision to cut funds from UNESCO is a loss for everyone. What remains to be seen is how far Palestine is willing to push, and how resilient the US will be when the time comes to cut more funding.

Israel, Palestine and the U.S

I agree with Alex’s argument that Palestine’s decision to seek recognition by UNESCO despite the disapproval of the United States and Israel did more harm than good. The use of underhanded tactics can only lead to the further stalling of direct negotiations. Besides, the subsequent defunding of UNESCO will have harmful repercussions all over the world, in places including the Middle East. Much of the news coverage concerning the situation has focused on the increasing isolation of the United States as a result of its decision to defund UNESCO. But is it impossible to imagine a scenario in which the defunding of U.N organizations would attract the ire of international leaders against Palestine? After all, while it is true that an organization like UNESCO upholds U.S national interests, they also promote global development on multiple levels. In Afghanistan and Iraq, UNESCO has provided a great deal of support to help“governments and communities prepare for life after the withdrawal of U.S. military forces,” promotes journalistic freedom and integrity around the world and has played a key role in the establishment of tsunami early-warning systems in the Caribbean and the Pacific ( As the United States defunds more U.N organizations, international leaders and people across the globe may begin to see Palestine’s actions as counterproductive and irresponsible.

Palestinians will also need to use peaceful tools like nonviolent protest to promote their message. Earlier this month, Palestinians fired rockets into Israel ( Attacks like these will only cause more violence in the region and will do nothing to facilitate negotiations with the Israel or the United States.

Israel will also need to make changes and compromises. Like Palestine, Israel has done much to aggravate the conflict. After cutting its share of funding to UNESCO, Israel announced its decision to allow the construction of 2,000 settlements in the occupied territories (  Additionally, Israel froze millions of dollars in payments owed to the Palestinian Authority for customs duties levied on goods sold in Palestinian markets (  Recently, the Israeli navy intercepted and detained peace activists aboard a flotilla known as “Freedom Waves to Gaza”, whose purpose it was to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip ( Such actions can only undermine Israel’s long-term security. Of course it is true that violent acts on the part of Palestinians — ranging from suicide bombings and rocket attacks on both  civilians and soldiers — have only fanned the flames of violence. Yet we must remember that this violence is also a consequence of 44 years of occupation, oppression and exclusion at the hands of the Israeli government and military. Furthermore, the continuation of Israeli occupation in places like the West Bank and the Golan Heights alienate Israel’s Arab neighbors and increases the Muslim world’s resentment of Israel. Continuing and expanding the occupation will allow violent, anti-Semitic extremist groups to recruit more people to carry out heinous crimes throughout the Middle East.

As for the United States, the Obama administration should promote direct talks. Hosting and moderating these negotiations is of the utmost necessity for the United States. America needs to demonstrate its active support of a two state solution in order to ameliorate negative perceptions of the U.S in the Middle East and throughout the world –as evidenced by the international outcry (especially in the Middle East) over the defunding of UNESCO (  and maintain its relationship with Israel –a nation that has stood the test of time as our most important strategic ally in the Middle East. Still, as Alex points out below, there is little the United States can do to induce talks; imposing sanctions on either side would damage America’s national interests. On one hand Assad has stated that he would be willing to forgo U.S aid to Palestine to reconcile with Hamas, while on the other, it is well known that any decision to end U.S aid to Israel is politically unfeasible (

Alex also pointed out that the facilitation of the negotiation process will depend on America’s ability to dissuade Israel from launching a preemptive strike on Iran. From the looks of the situation, it does not seem to be the case that Israel would carry out any sort of attack on Iran without the consent of the United States. Any Israeli attack would require “intelligence help, prior warning, military equipment and diplomatic support from the United States” ( America is the only country with the capability or will to aid Israel in this kind of endeavor and “uncoordinated Israeli action would justifiably arouse U.S. anger, since it would endanger America’s vital interests in the region” (  

There is no immediate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For now, the United States will need to play the role of a host and moderator for direct negotiations between the Israel and Palestine.  But any solution will depend on compromises made within the region, for peace can only arise when both parties are willing to engage in direct talks without resorting to counterproductive tactics to advance their individual aims.