Critical Point in Energy Reform

October 13, 2014

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s October 2014 newsletter.

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I’ve been following Mexico’s energy reform closely—from the lead-up to the constitutional reform through the passing of the secondary legislation. Almost one year in, what Mexico has accomplished is nothing short of historic. The reform went far beyond what many believed possible and international energy companies are already busy announcing their investment plans and partnerships with Pemex.

But this doesn’t mean that the work is done. And in fact, for many companies the game is just beginning. Though not grabbing the headlines, today’s process of designing contracts and bidding rounds, will be, in many respects, far more critical.

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Arab Spring or Arab Winter? A Lack of Leadership

October 6, 2014

Donald Blinken (Ambassador to Hungary, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Blinken’s August 6, 2014 special to to The Huffington Post.

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The final months of 2014 mark two of the most transformational events of our time — the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the fourth year of the Arab Spring. With the exception of Vladimir Putin, the world will celebrate the 1989 casting off of Soviet domination. But we are deeply disappointed in the failure of the Arab world to constructively seize its moment. A recent day’s headlines — “Five Bombs Explode in Baghdad,” “U.S. Drone Kills Militants in Pakistan,” “Hamas Fighters Slip through Tunnels” and “Attack Kills at least 21 Egyptian Soldiers in Western Desert” — all too clearly demonstrate that seventh century attitudes married to 21st-century weapons are a lethal combination.

Having served as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary during the 1990s, when a legitimate Hungarian government replaced its Soviet oppressors, I had a front row view of how leadership contributed to the liberation and democratization of former Warsaw Pact nations. Romania aside, Soviet domination in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany evaporated peacefully. Shortly after the Arab Spring, I wrote, “The opening of the border between Hungary and Austria in 1989 resulted in Gorbachev’s recognizing that, short of employing overwhelming force, the pre-Soviet Warsaw Pact nations could no longer be held captive. This transformation was peaceful, in large part due to the presence of world class leaders like Lech Walesa in Poland, VáclavHavel in Czechoslovakia, ÁrpádGonz in Hungary, and Kurt Masur in East Germany. The respect they enjoyed and their ability to forge broad consensus in their respective countries paralleled the statesmanship of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. As a result, each of these newly liberated countries enjoyed populations which rallied around their admired leaders.”

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Ryan Crocker on Iraq’s Role in the Long War Against ISIL

October 3, 2014

Ryan Crocker, Ambassador to Afghanistan (2011-2012), Iraq (2007-2009), Pakistan (2004-2007), Syria (1998-2001), Kuwait (1994-1997) and Lebanon (1990-1993)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Crocker’s September 28, 2014 interview in Defense One.

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Ryan C. Crocker, a veteran of U.S. Middle East diplomacy, welcomes the start of United States-led air strikes against ISIS forces in Syria but stresses Washington must remain committed to a long-term campaign against the group. “This is not going to be a campaign of weeks or months,” he says. “It’s going to be one of years. And we need to make it clear to allies, to adversaries, and to our own people that we’re going to be in it with whatever it takes.” Despite the expansion of action to Syria, Crocker recommends that U.S. operations focus on Iraq, which is more familiar ground and where political and military reforms underway—following the collapse of the Iraqi army—have the potential to create a solid ally against ISIS.

Gathering from what you’ve written, you must be very pleased by the early Tuesday attacks on Raqqa, which is the headquarters of the Islamic State in Syria, and also against the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate in eastern Syria, outside of Aleppo.

It’s a good start. I am pleased that we made that start with a fairly extensive air campaign that also involved five other Arab states—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates—flying and fighting with us.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. And the impression we made in Syria is a whole lot greater than the two 500-pound bombs we dropped in Iraq when we started that campaign.

Should the United States keep this going for a while? What’s your feeling?

President Obama set the goal fairly clearly, and it’s the right one: to degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State. We’ve begun the process of degradation. We need to see what the effect of Tuesday’s bombings was.

But again, as the president said, this is not going to be a campaign of weeks or months. It’s going to be one of years. And we need to make it clear to allies, to adversaries, and to our own people that we’re going to be in it with whatever it takes, however long it takes.

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It’s time for Muslim Nations to take the Lead

October 2, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s October 2, 2014 blog post.

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On Tuesday September 30, 2014 I appeared on a segment of Bloomberg TV’s Bottom Line with Mark Crumpton, focusing on the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates. Mark asked what the U.S. should have known when our troops left Iraq 2011. I noted that it opened the door to al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate. but did not elaborate on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which has undertaken numerous attacks against the Iraqi military and civilians.

In 2003 after the U.S.-led incursion into Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi founded a small militia group that subsequently morphed into the larger Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Al-Baghdadi was held at Camp Bucca, a U.S.-Iraqi detention center from 2005 to 2009, and released since he was not considered an enemy combatant. Al-Baghdadi resumed leadership of ISI in 2010, undertaking numerous attacks including a mosque in Baghdad, and killing a Sunni lawmaker. After Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 he retaliated with an attack south of Baghdad in which twenty-four policemen were killed. In 2012 he orchestrated a series of suicide attacks, car bombings and roadside bombings killing and wounding hundreds of people throughout Iraq.

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Ambassador Gabriel on Countering ISIL

September 29, 2014

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)

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One year ago this month, I wrote in these pages about the need for US leadership and bold American action in Syria. This appears even more important now in order to stop groups that seek to harm American interests and citizens. Perhaps it took the barbaric acts of ISIL to change the minds of the President and the American public, but this has now created an opportunity for the President to recalibrate US policy options regarding Syria as well as radical extremists in the region.

As I noted then, America already has experienced a significant deterioration in our strategic interests in this conflict. “If Iran, Syria and Hezbollah further tip the balance in their favor, this will result in a strengthened axis of resistance against US interests, stretching from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This will represent an unstable, long term situation for the US, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and our allies in the Gulf.”

I wrote then that a key task for the President is to convince the Qataris and Saudis– who are supplying arms and money to unvetted groups– as well as a broad coalition of partners to get behind this common mission, and to stop supplying arms and money to radical rebel factions.

This is now the US strategy that President Obama enunciated this month, and one that American policy makers and the public should strongly support. Only American leadership can both organize and sustain a strong coalition, including moderate rebel groups and countries, to put boots on the ground and provide the arms and resources to create the anvil necessary, between allied forces on the ground and US and allied strikes from the sky.

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Why Modi visit crucial for U.S., India, world

September 29, 2014

Madeleine Albright (Ambassador to the United Nations, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Secretary Albright’s September 27, 2014 special to to CNN Opinion.

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From the moment I stepped onto the tarmac in New Delhi two weeks ago, I was struck yet again by the sheer breadth of India’s diversity — ethnic, religious, cultural, geographic. It is what makes India a remarkable country, home to the world’s largest democracy. Earlier this year, some 550 million citizens went to the polls to cast their vote, in the largest election the world has ever seen.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Washington, D.C., for the first time as the leader of India, he will bring with him the aspirations and concerns of 1.2 billion people. The task before him and President Obama will be to reaffirm the strategic partnership between our two nations — a partnership that relies not only on government ties but also on steadily expanding relations between our business communities, civil society groups and cultural institutions.

The U.S. and India form what President Obama has called the “defining partnership of the 21st century.” But this partnership can only reach its full potential if it is given the kind of attention and commitment it deserves.

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U.S. at War: Airstrikes have begun in Syria

September 25, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005) Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s September 25, 2014 blog post. _____ Fighting between tribal and religious factions is not new. Rulers and dictators have come and gone through history. In the 12th century Sultan Saladin’s Muslim forces defeated the Crusaders, and created a caliphate in the Middle East and North Africa. The mantle was passed on to the Ottoman Empire rulers who controlled much of the Middle East and Eastern Europe until 1915. Islamists today want to establish another caliphate in the same region. In the early 1700’s the Muslim preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab formed a political pact with Muhammad bin Saud to engage in armed jihad against the other tribes in the region. The al-Saud dynasty by 1932 had become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, controlling a vast region in the Middle East. The Wahhabi sect has since spread throughout the Middle East, Africa and Southern Asia, and adopted armed jihad as part of the Islamic doctrine. Read the rest of this entry »

Ambassador Gabriel: In Africa, Solidarity Will Lead to Stability

September 2, 2014

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)

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In early August, the heads of state of nearly fifty African countries gathered in Washington, DC for the first-ever US-Africa Leaders Summit. Over the course of several days, attendees participated in a myriad of forums, roundtable discussions, meetings, and other events to address issues of mutual concern, like economic development and investment, security and counterterrorism, women’s rights, and youth engagement. Individual business deals were signed and joint statements were issued. From a big-picture perspective, the Summit can be boiled down to two goals: promoting development and securing stability on the continent.

As any development or security expert will tell you, the two are intertwined, and you cannot have one without the other. The real question then becomes HOW to achieve these goals. If the Summit provided an answer, it was that of continental integration—in other words, solidarity. And for good reason.

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Timbuktu ‘Festival of the Desert’ may be Catalyst for Peace

August 13, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s August 13, 2014 blog post.

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Last year I met Malian musician Mamadou Diabate, the 2009 Grammy Award winner of the “Best Traditional World Music” for his album ‘Douga Mansa’. Mamadou had also composed the song ‘Bogna’ meaning “Respect is the healing medicine of peace. Peace is the healing medicine of love. Love is the healing medicine of life. Life is the healing medicine of hope”. Mamadou came from a family of musicians in Mali that have used music to preserve the Manika language and people’s consciousness of the past dating back to the 13th century, when Timbuktu was considered the intellectual capital of the Muslim world. He came from Kita, a town long known as a center for art and culture, where he learned to play the ‘kora’ (the 21-string harp) at an early age.

In mid-2012 Islamist extremists took control of a large area of northern Mali, and muzzled its long standing history of music culture. Musicians were attacked and many instruments were destroyed. Hundreds of musicians fled fearing the wrath of these radical hard-liners. The music tradition of story-telling has served to record history and unite cultures–a language that transcends time. Today Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) and other Islamist affiliates still have a presence in the Sahel, even though French and UN troops drove the Islamists from northern Mali in 2013. They continue to move throughout the region including, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, and Libya. The vast Sahara desert provides a safe-haven for these insurgents. The BBC News reported on August 10, that French forces bombed Islamist militants embedded in the Esssakane region west of Timbuktu. Earlier in July there was a report of an Islamist rocket attack at the Timbuktu airport.

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Mexico’s energy reform to attract international interest

August 11, 2014

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s August 7, 2014 special to the Houston Chronicle.

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With final Congressional approvals now in place, Mexico and President Enrique Peña Nieto can begin celebrating the passage of the secondary legislation necessary to codify last year’s constitutional amendments that opened the energy sector to private investment. The confetti will have barely hit the floor when the focus must necessarily turn to the crucial implementation period when the institutional and market architecture must go from blueprints to the hard work of build out.

The December 2013 constitutional reform ended the monopoly of the state-owned energy company Pemex and introduced private investment into every segment of Mexico’s hydrocarbon sector. It also gave regulatory authority to a new set of autonomous, independently funded entities that will oversee licensing, safety and environmental protection. Additionally, the reform required that Pemex be transformed into a “state productive enterprise” and established the Mexican Petroleum Fund, under the purview of the Central Bank, to manage contract payments and oil revenue.

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