Syria’s “Surrogates R Us”

August 31, 2016

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s August 30, 2016 worldpost piece in the Huffington Post.

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Sur-ro-gate: a substitute or deputy for a person in a specific role.

The crumbling, decrepit remnants of the Syrian state are overrun by the pestilence of so many mini-conflicts it is impossible to know who is fighting what at any hour of any given day, or which devastated rubble of a city or town is under control of what Sunni Islamist of Shiite faction or proxy of Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia or the United States. Syria is a veritable cauldron of killing field upon killing field. One day a surrogate force is on one side, the next day, on the other — depending on the highest bidder and the gravest threat to their proxy hosts.

Syria’s butcher-in-chief — Bashar al-Assad — courtesy of Russia’s Putin, Iran’s Khamenei, and the terrorist group known as Hezbollah, has clung to power by controlling a sliver of territory around the capital, Damascus, while his beleaguered forces barrel-bomb and deploy poison gas (yes, poison gas) to subdue a civilian population not under his regime’s direct control into starvation and submission. That is what is taking place in Syria’s largest city of Aleppo.

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Be proud of state, nation: Register and vote

August 31, 2016

George Bruno (Ambassador to Belize, 1994-1997)

Cross-posted from the August 21, 2016 opinion column as published in the Shelbyville Times-Gazette

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Being a guest columnist, so far editor Sadie Fowler allows me to select my own topics. The rub comes when I must select a single topic and then energize my creative juices to produce the column.

I had settled on my next subject before Sunday morning when I read the T-G front page article about our state having the worst voter turnout at elections. Our registration of eligible voters isn’t much better. Thank you, John Carney, for selecting my topic.

The decisions our Founding Fathers made over 200 years ago regarding the form of government for our new nation were truly revolutionary in world history. (In Ancient Greece, democracy appeared in cities rather than in national government but was unable to survive.)

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Summer Doldrums. Not Quite.

August 3, 2016

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s August 2016 newsletter.

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It should be the summer doldrums, but the news out of Mexico hasn’t quite slowed down.

One of Mexico’s biggest stories was the debate, passage, veto, and then re-passage of the country’s anti-corruption package. These seven bills were designed to put legislative meat on the bones of the 2015 anti-corruption reform, and will greatly assist in coordinating corruption fighting across government institutions. The final package stopped short of embracing every part of the civil society written and backed Ley 3de3 (which would have forced government officials to publicly declare their assets, conflicts of interest, and tax records), but it did create what has been called “the most encompassing system to identify and sanction corruption that the country has ever had.”

In more welcome anti-corruption news, the Peña Nieto administration filed legal challenges this month against the governments of Veracruz, Quintana Roo, and Chihuahua for reforms that would have shielded outgoing governors from corruption investigations. These states are facing federal inquiries over financial irregularities under the governors’ tenures. And in the case of Veracruz, for at least twenty-six phantom companies that received some US$1 billion in unaccounted funds. Read the rest of this entry »

Elie Wiesel Was the World’s Moral Compass

July 6, 2016

Ronald S. Lauder (Ambassador to Austria, 1986-1987)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Lauder’s July 5, 2016 special to Fortune.

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Thirty years ago, I traveled to Auschwitz with Elie Wiesel. I had been to the camp before. I had seen the barbed wire, the barracks, the guard towers. I had stood in the gas chambers where a generation of Jewish children perished as the hands of evil. But to experience Auschwitz through Elie’s eyes, through the eyes of the man who taught the world about the horrors of the Holocaust, changed everything for me. It changed the way I think, and it lit a flame in me that burns to this day.

Elie once observed that the survivors of the Shoah “had the right to give up on humanity.” But Elie refused to give up. When I joined him at Auschwitz, I found a man not filled with hate, but with sadness and determination. Sadness over all those who were lost, and determination to honor their memory with action and impact.

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More Uncertainty but Message Clear: “Fix It”

July 5, 2016

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s July 2016 newsletter.

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This past January, I wrote that the coming year would be one characterized by our “Living with Uncertainty”. Looking back, while it was clear that this year would be tumultuous, I certainly misunderestimated what was to come.

It’s hard not to start with Brexit, when 52 percent of the United Kingdom’s voters chose to break with the European Union.  The vote marks the first departure from the grand European project, tacking an uncharted course for the United Kingdom and for the continent. But the contentious vote was really the easy part. The next two years will be filled with the tougher steps—sitting through painful negotiations, designing a brand new state framework, and calming jittery markets that are concerned with the future of both the United Kingdom and a strong and peaceful Europe.

The anger is not just a United Kingdom and United States phenomenon; voters around the world are frustrated. And Mexico is no exception.

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Brexit Hangover: A Field Guide for Americans

June 24, 2016

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s June 24, 2016 special to the Huffington Post.

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The political and financial impact of yesterday’s “Brexit” vote will have long-lasting and profound implications for the U.S. presidential campaign, for U.S. – European relations, and for Europe itself. Once the Brexit proponents finish downing their champagne, the hangovers will settle in, for certain. They know not what they doneth.

Shockingly, the Brexit tally vote defied the sure money touted by London’s bookies. They were long and wrong on the odds, but the sure loser was Prime Minister Cameron; his bet was fatal – both to his political career and to a united United Kingdom. After all, the Brexit referendum was Cameron’s political miscalculation, who in a desperate moment of political lunacy succumbed to demands to appease rebellious Tory Euro-skeptic back-benchers and agreed to hold this ill-conceived referendum. Before his nation in front of 10 Downing Street, Cameron, his lips quivering, emotionally threw in the towel and spitefully resigned his office. Why? No one knows. Was his resignation really necessary in the heat of the moment?

As a result of the vote, the grave consequences to Britain’s political system and economy will reverberate for years – all in the name of abiding anti-immigrant sentiment in England and throttling the pesky, red-tape laden Brussels bureaucrats in the European Union’s redoubt. Revelers are rejoicing over the hopeful return of British sovereignty, but the end of 40 years of EU membership do not come without a price – and not just for the Brits.

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Mexico: It’s not (just) a PR problem, It’s the corruption

June 2, 2016

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s May 26, 2016 newsletter.

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It’s been nearly a year since President Enrique Peña Nieto pushed through a series of anti-corruption focused constitutional amendments.

These well-received reforms established a National Anti-Corruption System (to coordinate national, state, and local efforts), gave teeth to the Superior Auditing Office, and made the Federal Tribunal of Administrative Justice an independent court. However, passing these reforms was merely the first step. Members of Congress gave themselves twelve months (until this upcoming May 28th) to write and approve the necessary secondary legislation. Yet with the deadline rapidly approaching, the completed bills are still nowhere in sight.

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How did Trump learn to love ‘the bomb’?

May 5, 2016

Thomas A. Loftus (Ambassador to Norway, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Loftus’ May 4, 2016 op-ed in the Cap Times.

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In the film “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” there is a scene near the end as bombs have been launched and Armageddon is looming where U.S. President Merkin Muffley, in a meeting with Russian Ambassador de Sadesky, learns that Russia has been building a “doomsday machine.”

The Russian ambassador says: “Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we’ve been spending on defense in a single year. … We learned that your country was working along similar lines and were afraid of a doomsday gap.” The U.S. president incredulously responds: “This is preposterous. I’ve never approved anything like that.” Ambassador de Sadesky says: “Our source was The New York Times.”

In an interview on foreign policy with the NYT in March, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that in order for the U.S. to save money on defense, perhaps Japan and South Korea should become nuclear powers and defend themselves.

In his recent foreign policy speech Trump elaborated: “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense — and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

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Obama Flies to Riyadh: Are U.S.—Saudi Ties Too Big to Fail?

April 22, 2016

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s April 19, 2016 special to the Huffington Post.

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President Obama leaves Washington today for his third and final presidential “hajj” to Saudi Arabia for tense meetings with newly installed Saudi King Salman. By any measure, the once “enduring” U.S. – Saudi alliance is on a collision course, triggered by a fateful election year reckoning long overdue of the costs and benefits to a “friendship” that strains the credibility of that word. No amount of diplomatic doublespeak from Mr. Obama or his press secretary can camouflage the President’s ire at the Saudis, who were shocked at Mr. Obama’s unprecedented public rebuke last month of their unhelpful conduct in the Middle East.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Obama told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that the Saudis are not only among “free rider” allies that ask the United States to fight their battles for them and “exploit” American muscle for their own narrow, sectarian end, but are also responsible for encouraging anti-American militancy (his sanitized expression of spreading radical Islamic jihadi ideology).

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Alex, Sascha and the Toll of Islamist Terror

April 18, 2016

James Cain (Ambassador to Denmark, 2005-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Cain’s April 10, 2016 special to the Wall Street Journal.

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Two Saturdays ago, just outside Maastricht, the Netherlands, I visited the 65-acre American Cemetery in Margraten. A sea of marble white crosses and Stars of David is arrayed in a gentle arc marking the final resting place of 8,301 American soldiers who fell nearby while ensuring the liberty and security of a Europe brutalized by World War II.

My wife, Helen, our daughters Cameron and Laura, and a few friends and I were there to view the magnificent array of flowers brought to the cemetery the day before. The flowers came from the funerals of Alexander and Sascha Pinczowski, Dutch siblings who lived in New York and were murdered on March 22 in the Brussels airport by Islamist terrorists Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui.

Alex was married to our daughter Cameron.

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