Thursday, May 18, 2006

 

Getting Our Money's Worth from Egypt

After reading about the second protest broken up with brutal police tactics is less than a week, I decided to take some time and consider the United States relationship with Egypt. I did a brief survey of some recent testimony before the US Senate Committee on International Relations to see exactly where we are at with Egypt.

In similarity to basically every other government in the Middle East, the United States relationship with Egypt can be characterized as complicated and far from perfect, yet essential to any prospects for lasting stability and political change in the region. Like a couple that has been married for 50 years the US and Egypt seem to realize they need each other, but both come to the mutual conclusion that it doesn’t mean they have to like it. Egypt wants to be treated like a serious power, a major player in a vital part of the world, and accorded the respect a great and ancient civilization deserves. The US for its parts want to see some more “bang” for its foreign assistance “buck” in terms of firm commitments on domestic and regional political reform. Neither side seems completely enamored with the relationship, but a strategic “divorce” would be counter-productive to both countries interests.

Dr Michele Dunne from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace conceded in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “looking at the balance sheet of Egyptian politics in 2005, there were more positive than negative developments overall”. After looking at the issues that contributed to Ms Dunne’s conclusion I would have to agree. My reservation would be there is little evidence to suggest Egypt has committed a systemic policy of embracing democratization. The evolution towards democratic governance in Egypt seems to be characterized by a series of “two steps forward, one and a half steps back” in terms of progress. Independently minded political and judiciary leaders are still subject to widespread oppression and imprisonment. It seems evident Egypt will only allow a pace a democratization that does not threaten the stability of the current governing regime.

All told, it is my assessment, President Mubarak has actually only dealt with one internal threat to his government, other secular minded, albeit opposition political groups. The threat to the regime posed by Islamic militancy seems to be thriving. The secular minded Mubarak has used the perpetual State of Emergency and extensively centralized executive authority to disperse any credible political opposition and Islamist movements. While these tools have been regrettably effective in suppressing the formation of a credible opposition political base, the President’s tactics have only exacerbated what was once probably a manageable threat from Islamic extremists. The end result of his policies has been the weakening of secular minded civic leadership and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate entity capable of challenging Egypt’s secular political establishment.

The very system of governance the ruling regime wishes to perpetuate is the greatest threat to Egypt realizing its aspirations of remaining a major and influential player in the Middle East.

However, President Mubarak does seem to be doing a good job is rallying domestic support on nationalist lines in opposition to US pressure to reform the government. As is the case in a country such as Iran, in Egypt, while the population may not be content with the current political leadership, they find the idea of foreign sponsored (especially American sponsored) intervention in their domestic politics even less palatable. That is mostly likely why any US influence on improving governance in Egypt will need to be sustained, nuanced and effectively “under the radar”.

I would stress sustained because there seems to be a growing sentiment in the greater Middle East that the United States will eventually tire of its campaign to bring democratic governance to the Middle East. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others have made some tangible recent strides towards improving their quality of governance but those improvements are at risk of becoming arrested due to US distraction in Iraq and Iran. While overtly tying to promise of continued aid to substantial political reform is an unrealistic policy objective for a variety of reasons, for the US to simply let its post 9/11 recommitment to democratic governance drift away would be a significant misstep in the execution of its foreign policy.

Ah, but there in lies the biggest challenge to the US policy of spreading democratic governance in the Middle East. Whether we like it or not, we need some of these corrupt, authoritarian regimes to help us with the problems of the here and now. Whether its securing assistance with securing Palestinian militant cooperation with Israel, or helping with counter-terrorism, as much as the US has many tools at its disposal to influence behavior, those governments also has some leverage of their own!

I’m beginning to tire of m babbling, but you know what that’s probably a good analogy for a discussion of Egyptian and American relations. It is not prefect. It is very complex. Nobody is especially thrilled with the arrangement. But nobody would dream of ever abandoning it. In a lot of ways that parallels my writing.

Ms Dunne had it right when she conceded, “there are more positive developments than negative” in Egypt. If the US and Egypt are really serious about realizing their objectives then this relationship will have to continue.

But that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

 

Darfur, the US, and China

So while the US Deputy Secretary of State pushes for a peace deal between rebel forces and the Sudanese government in Darfur, I was wondering what the Chinese government was doing in order to facilitate an end to the genocide there. According to http://www.mosnews.com/, both China and Russia blocked a UN Security Council resolution put forth by the UK and USA to impose economic sanctions on four individuals assessed to be interfering with peace efforts in Darfur.

Why would China and Russia want to undercut efforts to bring peace to Darfur by opposing these sanctions? The US and UK are trying to engage in active diplomacy that offers both carrots and sticks in order to end the genocide in Darfur. Did China or Russia send any high level diplomatic personnel to Abuja to take part in peace negotiations? Is China or Russia prepared to take any sort of punitive action to punish those who commit atrocities against humanity?

What is China doing to improve the situation in Sudan? From here it doesn't look like much.

If I'm wrong, I want someone to show me...Seriously.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

 

What is China Doing?

What is China’s publicly stated foreign policy goals for North Korea, Sudan and Iran? What sort of environment does the current government in Beijing wish to see characterize the international system in the21st century. As the United States bears the brunt of most of the negative world opinion, I am constantly asking myself, what is China doing to improve the security situation in three of the world’s most complex developments. China seems to have more leverage than the US in all three of these countries. What steps is Beijing taking to resolve those situations?

Why is China against sanctions against an Iranian government that continually refuses to cooperate with the IAEA and the UN in accordance with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

How come China opposes sending a UN peacekeeping force to help end the genocide in Darfur? The UNSC could vote on the idea of sending some tangible support to the under-staffed, under supplied African Union force currently in Darfur, but China would veto it. Why?

If China really is against North Korea having nuclear weapons, why aren't they putting any pressure on Pyongyang to abandon their nuclear program? True China is not interested in triggering a flood of North Korean refugees into their country, but what is more dstabilizingng for North Korea as a country than its pursuit of nuclear weapons? Just think of the stabilizingng impact all the international relief, investment and good will that would come to a regime in Pynongyang that willingly abandoned its nuclear weapons prgram. What is keeping North Korea from being some sort of hybrid of its two exponentially more successufl neighbors South Korea and China?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

 

Let Hamas Fail on Its Own

I read a newswire piece on Reuters this morning detailing Israeli government efforts to isolate Hamas diplomatically and economically in the hopes of forcing its collapse. I am absolutely stunned at the lack of foresight the Israelis are showing by pursuing this strategy. Nearly every Middle Eastern government relishes the opportunity to blame the United States and Israel for the present state of affairs in their own countries. They love to distract their populations from their own ineptitude as leaders and brain wash their people into believing that the reason their quality of life is less than ideal is because of something the Americans and the Israelis are doing. It is a sound propaganda strategy that has successfully served the more corrupt governments in the Middle East.
If Israel pursues this strategy (at least publicly pursues it) they will actually be providing Hamas with a shield, protecting it from any consequences of any potential failures they experience as a governing body. If Hamas fails to achieve a workable relationship with the Israelis and improve the quality of life for the Palestinian people, they will have a ready-made excuse for their failures. They will be able to point the finger squarely at the Israelis and say to the Palestinian people, “we could have made a better life for you, but the Israelis made it impossible. They used their contacts and lobbyists to choke off the funds and diplomatic relations making it impossible to govern”. And unlike most other times when blaming the Israelis is completely ridiculous they would actually have a good point this time.
I don’t like Hamas. It is a terrorist group and it is dedicated to the destruction of one of the United States’ most stalwart allies. But they were elected in some of the most well run, free and fair elections the region has ever seen. They won on a platform not of Israeli destruction but of anti-corruption, anti-Fatah, and social welfare extension. I have serious reservations about their ability to deliver to the Palestinian people now that they are in control of the Palestinian Legislative Council. But the United States and Israel has to allow for Hamas to fail on its own. Any efforts to facilitate that failure will only reinforce the perception that the US and Israel don’t rally have any interest in Middle Eastern democracy. Efforts made to hasten the failure of Hamas will only make them stronger.
Yasser Arafat was a fraud, but he made a living out of distracting the Palestinian people and blaming Israel for his failure to improve their quality of life, even though it was his corruption and ineffective leadership style that mostly impacted the state of affairs in Palestine. But he died a revered figure!!!! Lets not give Hamas a safety shield. Let Hamas fail on its own.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

 

Expect More of This

You know there is a deficit of good governance and sound leadership in the Middle East when the world reports with despair that the Fatah Movement was defeated in open, free and fair elections in the Palestinian territories. Don’t get me wrong, I am not pleased with the election of Hamas to a position of real authority within the Palestinian government, but Hamas is who the Palestinian people chose to represent them, so at the very minimum, the United States and the rest of the western world has to take a step back and appreciate that point before any course of action is pursued.

If the European Union and the United States overplay their respective hands in this situation they put the development of democratic governance at risk in the Middle East. The elections were free, fair and conducted with little reported irregularities (something that can’t be said for the much heralded elections in Iraq and Afghanistan). If the Western world turns its back and scorns the popularly elected representative government of Palestine simply because it does not like the ideologies that government represents, what does that say about the level of respect the Western world has for the Palestinian electorate?

Ironically, if the West successfully isolates the new Palestinian government, it will play right into the hands of the despotic leaders of the regimes in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Through their remarkably effective propaganda machines these governments will continue to poison their population’s minds with notions the West (especially the United States) only supports democracy in the Middle East if pro-Western, pro-Israeli, secular governments are elected. This thought process does not do the United States and its policy of spreading democracy throughout the parts of the world with a good government deficit any favors.

Do I like Hamas, of course not? They are responsible for supplying a majority of the firepower and suicide bombers during this latest intifada against Israel. But the elections that brought Hamas to power were arguably not about battling the Israelis; they were about removing a political establishment that for decades has squandered every opportunity to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. In addition to the suicide bombers and the dangerous rhetoric, Hamas also supplies schools, hospitals, and other social programs aimed at improving the quality of life for the Palestinian people. Fatah for decades has led the Palestinians nowhere due to their inability to govern and their culture of corruption.

Does Hamas need to dramatically change its policies towards terrorism and Israel, of course they do? But now is the time for both tact and pressure. Palestine just conducted free and fair elections that clearly demonstrate just how much of a sham the elections in Egypt and Saudi Arabia really were. However, Hamas has to understand, that now is the time to perform, now is the time to show the world and the Palestinian people that their party has the vision, the will, and the technical ability to improve the quality of life for the Palestinian people. They also have to accept the fact that they are now in the “big leagues” and when you are operating at this level, you are going to have to perform and play within the acceptable rules and norms of statecraft is you are going to earn the respect of the world.

Finally, lets be clear, after several generations of despotic rule, the only parties and opposition groups with any real credibility and clout in the Middle East are the Islamic parties. There is going to be more elections like this in the near term and the Western world is just going to have to get use to it. But as long as those elections aren’t a one man, one vote, one time situation, I think it’s a development the free world can and needs to live with. ama

Monday, December 19, 2005

 

Leverage Through Innovation: Energy Security Policy

Its probably because of terrorism or the recent gas price spikes as a result of the horrible hurricane season on the Gulf Coast on the United States, but in this past year I have become increasing interested in alternative fuels and energy security. I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of the subject; I can’t throw around impressive sounding theories or statistics when I talk about it with friends. I just have the base line idea that the competition for reliable sources of energy is one of the most serious issues confronting the United States in the early 21st century. It has environmental, economic, and security implications all and it represents an issue that will pit our vital/realist interest against our national ideological conscience. How do we achieve our vital national interest of achieving energy security without compromising our national ideals?

It seems as if the United States forced itself into bed with some of least desirable governments in the world for the sake of energy security for the 20th century. Regardless of the internal behavior of those governments the United States continued to do business with them on the basis of securing energy supplies. While we may have secured access to vital supplies of energy, the US did not pursue this goal with adequate attention to the internal behavior of the governments supplying these energy products. Like most things in life, there were consequences for this strategic decision. Despite some of these negative consequences, I have absolutely no problem with the execution of that strategy in the 20th century. But this is a new century with a whole new set of threats and a whole new strategic context, therefore it only makes sense the US develop an alternative energy security strategy that reflects the new dynamics in the international system.

The first component of that strategy should be the devotion of equal amounts of energy into finding alternate suppliers of crude oil outside of the Middle East. Already the United States government and business community is pursuing oil industry opportunities in alternative markets such as Central Asia and West Africa. This development is positive, as the US is looking to diversity its sources of crude oil beyond the turbulent deserts of the Middle East. The bad news is, Central Asia and West Africa are not world renowned for their stability. Unfortunately these areas are not models for their strict adherence to the rule of law, civil institutions, and good governance either.

The often-contradictory relationship between increased oil revenues and decreased civil liberties in underdeveloped oil states is well documented. This is why the US needs to move intelligently with expansion of oil ties with these countries. Isolation is not the way; I’m not saying the US should cut itself off from these states economically or diplomatically because their governments do not represent the best practices. I think brutally honest engagement is required to positively influence the internal behavior of the governments of some of these suddenly popular petrol states. A dynamic public diplomacy strategy needs to be implemented to engage political leadership and their populations. A common critique of the United States throughout the Middle East is that in our pursuit for reliable crude oil supplies we turn a blind eye to the living conditions of the people in these countries. In essence, that the US cares only about their oil not their liberty. I think this reputation is based much upon a misconception often perpetuated by false propaganda dispersed by some of these governments in an effort to divert attention from their own dismal performance as leaders. If the United States is going to make sustainable in-grounds in these new oil markets, a significant public diplomatic effort needs to be undertaken to combat the negative misconception of American policies so prevalent throughout the Middle East. The lessons learned from US energy policy in the Middle East must be applied to our energy policy in West Africa and Central Asia for there to be any hopes of a long term, relatively consequence free energy relationship in these regions.

The difficult problem with that policy is the United States needs the oil no matter what. From a realist or vital interest perspective, the US is going to be forced to pursue those relationships regardless of the internal behavior of the governments in the region because we need the oil…period. Our crude oil needs alone make this a reality. But another factor influencing US policy in these regions is the involvement of Iran, China, India, and Russia in some of those same markets. With the possible exception of India, none of those states make the internal behavior of state governments or their human rights and human dignity records a serious issue. Due to their own less than stellar records on these same issues, things like human rights and individual liberty just do not get in the way in negotiations for access to oil fields. This ultimately puts the United States at a disadvantage as it pursues the expansion of oil markets in other parts of the world. Especially if it makes the internal behavior of state governments a condition of doing business. China, Russia, and Iran simply aren’t as demanding as the United States when it comes to the internal behavior of state governments. So countries like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia don’t have to undertake the economic and political reforms necessary to improve the lives of their people because most of their oil customers won’t demand those changes a condition of doing business. Essentially the market place is not demanding these reforms be made so there is no incentive to make them. If you were Kazakhstan whom would you do business with? Would you choose the country making demands regarding how you treat your people as a pre-condition of doing business? Or would you choose the country that stream lines the process and doesn’t really care how you do what you do as long as access to oilfields is secure?

As an American I can see the gaping holes in the strategy of pursuing oil security at any price. It can contribute to negative popular opinion among the local populace. As I said before, I believe most of those bad feelings are based upon misconceived notions and false propaganda, but I’d be ignorant not to realize at least part of it is true. Strategically the US needed a secure, reliable, stable source of oil. I believe US polices assured that, but there was indeed a consequence to those policies. The perception, true or false, the US only cares about itself and oil and that it doesn’t care at all about the people in those petrol states. But the point is, the US might in fact lose in the battle to gain access to new oil markets if it attempts to apply its lessons learned from energy policies in the Middle East. How can the US protect its flank and assure its vital interest or securing a reliable and stable energy supply if its not willing to budge on its demands for improved internal behavior for state governments?

This is why the second component of US energy security strategy has to include an equal investment in time, effort, and money into the pursuit of alternative energy sources and technology beyond conventional petroleum products. Former US Secretary of State, George Shultz along with the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, James Woosley recently published a paper titled Oil and Security. http://www.fightingterror.org/ This paper explicitly outlines the risks of inaction and with the pursuit of a predominantly petroleum based energy policy. Issues such as the political volatility of supplier states, environmental concerns, susceptibility of oil pipelines to terrorist attack, and trade deficits are all potential threats to US national and economic security when we have a predominantly oil based energy policy. After outlining the risks, the two former US officials identified some potential solutions for decreasing our dependence on foreign oil supplies and gaining more consequence free energy security. The steps identified were:

1. Encourage improved vehicle mileage using technology now in production
a) Diesels
b) Hybrid gasoline-electric
c) Light weight carbon composite construction

2. Encourage commercialization of alternative transportation fuels that can be available soon, are compatible with existing infrastructure, and can be derived from waste or otherwise produced cheaply.
a)Biomass (cellulosic) ethanol
b)Bio-diesel and renewable diesel

3. Plug in hybrids and battery improvements


The steps suggested are as practical as they are fascinating and deserve further discussion in a future blog entry. The point I wish to highlight is that in pursuit of these solutions, the United States can not only improve its overall energy security, it can also regain its leverage in influencing oil supplier states to improve and reform their systems of governance. It is the best way for the United States to pursue its realist interests while not turning its back on its ideological conscience. The US can afford to be unbiased advocates for greater reform in he countries with plenty of oil but deficits in freedom because we will have achieved our own energy security through innovation, technological advancement, and ingenuity. And the best part is we will have achieved this energy security due our hard work not at the expense of those people who are oppressed by the petrol revenues gained by their corrupt governments. Innovation, respect for human rights, economic and technological security….What more could you ask for from an energy policy?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

 

African Oil and African Freedom

Much has been written about the potential negative impact sudden natural resource richness can have on the expansion of civil liberties, especially in the developing world. The discovery of valuable natural resources in countries without transparent and accountable governments can actually inhibit the expansion of their civil liberties for state populations. Corrupt leaders immune from removal from office due to the absence of elections or balance of power are able to maintain their positions through bribery, coercion, and abuse of national resources. The United States is working on diversifying its international oil providers network in an effort to reduce its vulnerability and exposure from more volatile suppliers in the Middle East. While I would applaud greater political and financial investment in alternative energy sources, I understand the immediate need to address American oil supply. How the United States goes about gaining access to different oil suppliers and the impact it has on the standard of living for the population’s of those supplier countries is a critically important issue.

Africa is receiving increased attention from the United States (and other energy hungry countries) in the effort to diversity oil suppliers. Among others in Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Chad, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe, have largely proven though under developed crude oil deposits. Most major international oil corporations maintain a presence in the oil rich states in Africa and are taking advantage of the international onus to increase and diversify oil supply. Industry giants such as Chevron, Total, Exxon Mobil, are all expanding their operations on the continent trying to get in on the ground floor of much expected oil boom in Africa.

As the United States works to expand relationships with oil producing states in Africa, government and business leaders should take a moment of pause and analyze the approach they are taking with the oil industry in Africa. There is potential for great success and equal potential for overwhelming damage in developing the oil export industry in Africa. If the United States and other countries pursuing energy ties to Africa do not take a careful approach to the expansion of the oil industry there is a chance the standard of living and quality of life for the people of Africa could be even worse than it is today. Market forces can be powerful mechanisms of change. African states with vast oil deposits require access to foreign expertise, markets, and investment. States looking to secure supplies of African oil should use their overwhelming leverage to promote economic and government reforms in order to ensure access to oil does not come at the expense of the personal freedoms of the local population.

In my last “blog Entry” I discussed an article written by an international affairs observer who said the United States needs to balance its realist objectives with its ideological conscience. I can think of no better opportunity to experiment with this philosophy than in African oil industry. Clearly the United States has a realist objective in obtaining oil from more sources. Expanding the oil industry in Africa can help fulfill this objective. However, many of the governments in these oil rich countries do not practices the tenets of good governance. So while obtaining the necessary oil may fulfill a realist objective or vital interest, it could also result in a development that is contrary to US national ideals. Providing poorly governed states with extra revenues could work to perpetuate the survival of their regime and further restrict the civil liberties and quality of life for their civilians. Corrupt leaders have shown the tendency to concentrate revenues for regime survival rather than social investment and improvement. Securing regional stability and access to oil supplies remains important for the United States. But if these conditions are met at the expense of expansion of civil liberties and democratic values, there will be a price to be paid in the future. Stability at the price of freedom is an volatile formula.

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