Lebanon at a Crossroads, More Than any Other Time

July 11, 2018

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Edward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001)

Cross posted from The Hill

A group of Americans of Lebanese descent, prominent in the fields of business, finance and policymaking, recently held more than two dozen meetings in Lebanon, including extensive discussions with the government, business, civil society and United Nations agencies. Their conclusion: Lebanon is in a dire situation.

The usual response that the Lebanese are resilient and will get through it no longer is realistic. They are in the midst of a severe economic crisis, and the more than 1 million Syrian refugees in the country, who are pressuring Lebanon’s economy and services, have only made it worse. The economic problem can be addressed if the Lebanese government undertakes needed reforms. But the refugee situation cannot be solved by the Lebanese alone, and the upcoming summit between Presidents Trump and Putin could provide a framework for addressing this issue.

Economically, Lebanon has a slow growth rate and is dependent on foreign remittances and transfers. A perceived lack of security hurts the real estate market and tourism. The government acknowledges the problems of corruption, a lack of transparency and a bloated government that will bankrupt the country if not corrected. Badly needed infrastructure development is nonexistent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Timor-Leste on the Road to Democracy. Next Stop, Asean?

July 6, 2018

Curtis S. Chin (Asian Development Bank, 2007-2010)

Cross posted from The Nation

As Cambodia and Thailand apparently move forward with their own versions of democracy, the small nation of Timor-Leste has once again set an example for the regional grouping that it deserves to join – Asean.

The recent certification of Timor-Leste’s parliamentary election brings months of political deadlock to a close in this young democracy that shares an island with Indonesia just northwest of Australia. On June 22, one-time independence fighter Taur Matan Ruak was appointed as prime minister of this Southeast Asian nation and would-be-member of Asean. Tour Matan Ruak, which means “two sharp eyes”, is the nom-de-guerre of Jose Maria de Vasconcelos.

The relatively undramatic second attempt to form a working government in less than a year through elections has confirmed the tiny island nation’s status as one of the most stable democracies in the region – an achievement that was almost unthinkable less than 20 years ago. Timor-Leste President Francisco Guterres had dissolved Parliament in January after then-Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri’s minority government faced a legislative stalemate. Read the rest of this entry »

Advice to Trump on New Mexico President: Don’t Push Him

July 5, 2018

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Bill Richardson (United Nations, 1997-1998)

Bill Richardson is a former governor of New Mexico and OAS envoy for Latin America between 2011 and 2015.

Cross posted from CNN.

Like President Donald Trump, the new President-elect of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is adding his name to a growing list of elected leaders worldwide who have been swept into office on a trend of populist disaffection with the global political establishment. López Obrador’s decisive win is rattling international investors, Mexican business leaders, and many Americans who are alarmed that a leftist Evo Morales-type leader has suddenly appeared right on our doorstep.

The US-Mexico relationship is at its lowest and most dangerous level in years. Recent US policies advocating a security wall and separation of families at the border, along with NAFTA negotiations on the verge of collapse, have left this once very special relationship in tatters even before the Mexico election. Given these political realities, what should the United States’ position be towards the new Mexican leader, who comes to office with an electoral mandate? Read the rest of this entry »

Mexico: About Sunday Night…

July 3, 2018

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Antonio Garza (Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

Amid persistent chants of “presidente” from his supporters, Andrés Manuel López Obrador took the stage Sunday night to give his acceptance speech and make history as the country’s first president who was not part of the country’s two major political parties. After leading in the polls since well before the campaigns officially began on March 30, López Obrador swept the country in a landslide victory, clenching first place with 31 point lead over his closest rival, PAN candidate Ricardo Anaya. In a remarkable and impressive series of events, within an hour of the polls closing—and before the preliminary count was announced—all major contenders had conceded defeat, acknowledging López Obrador as the victor.

Jubilant supporters flocked to Mexico’s central plaza—the Zocalo—with a crowd of more than 100,000 gathering to watch history unfold and join in the festivities. Yet, celebrations were also taking place far outside of the capital. Morena gained four of the potential eight governorships–including in the states of Morelos, Tabasco, Veracruz, and Chiapas—and emerged victorious in the Mexico City mayoral race. Perhaps most critically for the new party’s ability to govern, Morena candidates and those from their allied political parties won sizable majorities in Mexico’s Congress, shaking up Mexican politics once more. By contrast, the historically powerful PRI party-machine couldn’t get out the vote, falling now to sixth in party strength in Mexico’s lower house, with the PAN faring only slightly better. So, how did a third-time presidential contender who ran a single-issue race against corruption emerge not only victorious, but with the clearest political mandate to lead Mexico in decades? Read the rest of this entry »

Urban Bhutan? Embrace the Old in Building the New

July 2, 2018

Curtis S. Chin (Asian Development Bank, 2007-2010)

Phuentsholing – Here on the Bhutan-India border, a new urban center may well arise one day should a Druk Holding & Investments plan, assisted in part by the Asian Development Bank, succeed.

One of the last major projects in 2010 that I had supported on behalf of the United States while serving as the US Ambassador to and member of the Board of Directors of the ADB was a loan and grant package totaling $53 million to promote growth in and around Phuentsholing by developing a township area adjoining the city protected by new defenses against floods and riverbank erosion.

The Amochhu Land Development and Township Project has evolved since then. This major development initiative now envisions a new, more modern urban center emerging on some 160 hectares of riparian land adjacent to the Amocchu River. It is an impressive site and vision, and the need for urban expansion is clear to me during my visit here to Bhutan’s largest commercial, industrial, trading and transit hub. Read the rest of this entry »

Singapore Summit – A Glimmer of Hope

June 29, 2018

Singapore Summit - A Glimmer of Hope

Thomas Stephenson (Portugal, 2007-2009)

In the aftermath of the Singapore Summit between President Trump and DPRK Leader Kim Jong Un (KJU) there has been much commentary regarding who came out on top. Many, if not most, pundits and commentators suggest that KJU was the clear winner in terms of just having a face to face meeting with the

U.S. president and generally regarded leader of the free world. Neither KJU’s father nor his grandfather were ever able to achieve such a state of legitimacy, and those promoting this perspective add to their case that KJU gave up essentially nothing to achieve this new status on the world stage. Those believing that KJU was the clear winner go on to point out that canceling the next scheduled U.S./ROK joint military exercises and the implied granting of security assurances for DPRK/KJU in their discussions were a clear win for KJU and a major concession for the U.S. and ROK. Read the rest of this entry »

Withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is an Untimely Backward Step

June 25, 2018

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Donald T. Bliss (International Civil Aviation Organization, 2006-2009)

The withdrawal of the United States from the UN Human Rights Council is another abdication of US global leadership, following withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords and the Trans Pacific Partnership, among other “go it alone” initiatives of the Trump Administration. It is most unfortunate that this comes during the 70th anniversary of the Universal  Declaration of Human Rights, by which the world’s nations unanimously adopted the aspirational values to which our nation’s founding documents aspire.

One stated reason for the withdrawal is that the 47-member Council includes some “bad actors” with poor human rights records like China, Venezuela, and Cuba; however, the US withdrawal empowers these countries to shape the global human rights agenda. Another “bad actor,” Russia, lost its election to the Council during the Obama Administration.

Another reason given for the withdrawal is the Council’s longstanding bias against Israel. It is true that Israel is the only country that has a stand-alone item on the Council’s mandate, No. 7, providing for special sessions. During the first three and a half years under Bush ‘44, when the United States had no ambassador, there were six special sessions on Israel. President Obama nominated Keith Harper, to serve as Ambassador to the Council, and during the following seven years of the US representation on the Council, there was only one special session on Israel.

Read the rest of this entry »

Be it Singapore or Wakanda, the World’s Best Cities Embrace and Build on Their Past

June 25, 2018

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Curtis S. Chin (Asian Development Bank, 2007-2010)

Jose B. Collazo (South-East Asia Analyst at RiverPeak Group)

Cross posted from TODAY Online

By many measures, Singapore is a showcase of what future cities can be, and the city state’s dazzling skyline and infrastructure were well on display during the recent summit of United States and North Korean leaders.

Yet, even in Singapore as well as across Asia, there could well be a lesson to be taken to heart from a Hollywood film that has taken Asia by storm.

Black Panther, Marvel’s blockbuster 2018 entry in its cinematic universe, has grossed more than US$1.3 billion (S$1.76 billion) since its release, including more than US$105 million in China, and some US$50 million in South-east Asia. Those box office numbers make Black Panther the highest ever grossing film based on a single superhero.

But more than setting a new standard for comic-book inspired projects, the film, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has caught the attention of urbanists in its presentation of city life. Read the rest of this entry »

4 Things President Trump Could Learn from Jimmy Carter

June 22, 2018

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Stuart Eizenstat (European Union, 1993-1996)

Cross posted from The European Sting

As President Donald Trump completes a turbulent period, in which he ruffled the feathers of America’s G7 allies and attended a historic summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, it is worth comparing his approach with that of one of his predecessors in the Oval Office, President Jimmy Carter.

Carter believed that he strengthened America by also strengthening its allies, working with them rather than criticizing them. His example serves as a counterbalance to the current “America First” policy, which places the US in isolation.

When it comes to G7 summits, independent experts view the 1978 economic summit at Bonn as the high-water mark for success. With the leadership of President Carter, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and French President Giscard d’Estaing, economic, energy and trade policies were harmonized. This contrasts sharply with the divisive actions of President Trump in Canada at this year’s meeting, withdrawing from the joint G7 Communique only hours after his administration had agreed to it, and making unprecedented personal attacks against the prime minister of Canada, our neighbour and close ally. Read the rest of this entry »

GOP Must Find Courage to Stand Up to Trump’s Ruinous Trade Tactics

June 19, 2018

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C. Donald Johnson (Office of the United States Trade Representative, 1998-2000)

Cross posted from The Hill

As President Trump rebuffed and insulted our closest allies before, during and after the recent Group of Seven debacle in Quebec, his craven apologists have attempted to rationalize this blatant attempt to undermine our postwar economic and strategic alliances and to dismantle the rules-based world trade system that has prevented trade wars from becoming shooting wars ever since the devastation of the World War II and the Great Depression.

It’s dangerous nonsense, and they know better. Yet, congressional leadership is largely silent, though many know that something is badly wrong here. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), now in the twilight of his career in public service and perhaps his patriotic life, was right to try to reassure our allies that “Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t.” Read the rest of this entry »