We Can End the Illegal Sex Trade

May 15, 2015

Swanee Hunt (Ambassador to Austria, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Hunt’s May 14, 2015 special to Politico. The article was coauthored by President Jimmy Carter.


Too often, when we think of sex trafficking in America, we imagine women smuggled here from Asia or Latin America, when in fact we should be picturing everyday girls and women from our own neighborhoods, exploited by pimps and brothel owners in our own cities and towns.

We should think of women like one in Boston, who was abused by her addicted mother’s boyfriend, ran away over and over from foster homes and was recruited when only 13 by her first pimp, who promised to care for her. It took her years to break free.

Fortunately for our society, Washington is waking up. The Senate’s recent unanimous passage of the Joint Victims of Trafficking Act is one expression of this promising turn. Alongside the Congressional action, the White House, Department of Defense, Department of State and Department of Justice are issuing strict rules. And more mayors and governors are recognizing that the best response to a problem afflicting every city and state is to close brothels and persuade buyers to stop.

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North America: King of the road

May 5, 2015

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s May 2015 newsletter.


When Americans think about Mexico’s economic ties with the United States, popular exports like tomatoes, avocados, and Mexican soccer may come to mind. But these products make up barely a drop in the export bucket. Instead the big dollars come from the back and forth in car parts and brand new cars.

Over the past weeks, global automotive giants Toyota, Ford, and Volkswagen all announced new factories or expansions in Mexico to the tune of a combined $4.5 billion. They add to the billions in foreign investments already scattered across eleven Mexican states, which have fostered a booming car industry south of the border. Just last year, the U.S. and Mexican trade in cars and their parts totaled $131 billion—that’s pretty much equal to the entire economies of Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Bolivia, combined.

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The Moral Imperatives of Food Security

May 4, 2015

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

Cross-posted from Secretary Albright’s special to the May/June 2015 issue of the Aspen Journal of Ideas.


It is peculiar to live in a world where hunger is an endemic problem for half the planet while diet books are best-sellers in the other half. This point is often lost in the broader bundle of jargon that now defines the conversation on food security in the twenty-first century, but it should not be.

A food security expert today will tell you that in order to feed the world’s population, projected to reach over 9 billion people by 2050, we must adopt a sophisticated strategy of “streamlining market efficiencies,” “scaling best practices,” and “leveraging disruptive technologies” to put food in the mouths of the poor and the hungry. True. But there is more to this story.

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Problem Solvers and the Czech Republic

May 1, 2015

Stuart W. Holliday (Ambassador for Special Political Affairs at the United Nations, 2003-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Holliday’s April 29, 2015 post to The Hill.


It began with U.S. senators having lunch across the aisle, and now, problem solvers are having breakfast across the Atlantic.  Indeed, it seems the urgency to solve problems is truly universal.

The last few weeks have shown encouraging signs on Capitol Hill of teamwork between political parties.  A new but fragile trend seems to have taken hold, and our government has been bucking partisan politics in favor of collaboration, creating substantial gains through compromise and partnership.

Last week, the No Labels Problem Solvers were joined by its newest member: Andrej Babis, a prominent and innovative political leader in the Czech Republic.  At a breakfast with Problem Solvers in D.C., Babis took an interest in the new tone in Washington.  Perhaps that’s because he’s also motivated to the need for change and cooperation.  In addition to serving as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to the Czech Republic, Babis is credited with creating a fast-growing and widely received political movement in Czech politics.

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Excerpt from Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis’ new book, Madam Ambassador

April 30, 2015

Excerpt from Madam Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest. Full details can be found at http://thenewpress.com/books/madam-ambassador.


On January 1, 2011, Hungary celebrated a historic milestone: it assumed the presidency of the European Union. Hungary was one of ten countries that had joined the union in 2004, in the EU’s largest single expansion, along with a number of other former Soviet satellites, including the Czech Republic and Poland. With its twenty-seven members, the EU included a broad swath of Europe by 2011. The presidency of the EU rotates among member countries, with each one holding the position for six months. Although the EU’s capital is in Brussels, the organization’s many committee meetings take place in the country that holds the presidency, and that country gets an extra say in setting the agenda, so it can highlight issues that it considers particularly critical. As Hungary wouldn’t have another shot at the presidency for at least thirteen-and-a-half years, this was an important opportunity.

I may have had my reservations about Viktor Orbán, but many highly capable and internationally respected people served in his government. This was particularly true of the men and women at the Foreign Ministry charged with managing the EU presidency. Many of them had worked through the complex process of Hungary’s EU accession. They knew the players in Brussels, and they understood the way the union operated. In the fall of 2010, embassy staff and I went repeatedly to the Foreign Ministry to ask and explore two basic questions: what would Hungary’s priorities be during its EU presidency, and how would Hungarians advance those priorities?

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The Road Ahead for Afghanistan

April 9, 2015

Karl W. Eikenberry (Ambassador to Afghanistan, 2009-2011)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Eikenberry’s and Erik Jensen’s April 8, 2015 interview with In Asia.


On the eve of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s March 22–25 visit to the United States, the Stanford University Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule Law, the United States Institute for Peace, and Chatham House convened a two-day conference in Washington on lessons learned for strengthening the state in Afghanistan. The conference brought together some fifty U.S., Afghan, and other international policy experts with extensive experience in state-building efforts in Afghanistan since 2002. The Asia Foundation’s Karl Eikenberry, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, who commanded the NATO coalition forces there, and Erik Jensen, director of Stanford’s Rule of Law Program, helped organize the event, and they sat down with In Asia for a conversation about the road ahead for Afghanistan.

In the policy note that you prepared for the conference, you observe that a narrative of failure has drowned out some of the successes in Afghanistan. Can you say more?

First, as participants at the conference noted, the ultimate measure of success in Afghanistan was peace. Peace was not realized, and, in fact, the security situation declined from 2006 onward. 2014 was the bloodiest year in the post-Taliban era.

Second, perceptions of failure were magnified by the multiple objectives of the mission: counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and the subordinate task of state-building. For example, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams deployed in Afghanistan were engaged in state-building as an instrument of counterinsurgency. Indeed, promoting good local governance, rooting out corruption, and reforming the justice sector were at the heart of the counterinsurgency strategy to fight the Taliban. But when state-building goals conflicted with counterinsurgency and counterterrorism goals, the latter always trumped the former.

Third, the metrics for success in development assistance were too short-term and wholly unrealistic. They reflected political pressure from the capitals of Western donors rather than a professional assessment of the actual time it would take to build institutions. And while slow progress in the development of institutions did occur, efforts to sync development progress in Afghanistan with the political cycles in Western donor countries were bound to fail. After 2006, the influx of funding was too great to be effectively absorbed by development programs on the ground. The growth of funding spurred a vicious cycle of increased political scrutiny that shortened the already unrealistic timeline to meet development objectives; which in turn led to a mind-numbing proliferation of metrics seeking to demonstrate progress; which, ironically, fueled corruption and undermined the state. Meanwhile, the larger narrative of a bloody and ongoing civil war always attracted more media coverage than the more modest, but nevertheless significant, development successes.

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Mexico’s Biggest Challenge: Rule of Law

March 31, 2015

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s March 2015 newsletter.


Over the past 18 months, I’ve written about the extraordinary changes taking place across Mexico, including its impressive reform agenda, growing high-tech sector, dynamic supply chains, and deepening regional integration. Yet to achieve Mexico’s and North America’s full potential will require moving forward on a number of key challenges, the most pressing of which is rule of law.

There are many reasons why Mexico’s leadership should care about rule of law, but most important is simply that it is one of the top concerns of Mexicans across the country. Last year, over 50 percent of Mexicans reported feeling unfavorably about the country’s court system, and these effects spill over in damaging ways. One visible sign is the low number of crimes that are even reported, with government estimates suggesting that each year over 90 percent of crimes never make it onto the official books. Of those that do, only 15 percent are ever investigated.

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What I Learned From Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

March 25, 2015

Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. (Ambassador to Singapore, 1992-1993; Ambassador to China, 2009-2011)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Huntsman’s March 23, 2015 op-ed in Politico.


The statesman and nation-builder Lee Kuan Yew died this week. I had the great privilege of getting to know him during my time as ambassador to Singapore 25 years ago. Since that time, I consulted him regularly across my service as Governor of Utah, trade ambassador, and as ambassador to China. Along with generations of other American policy-makers, I always benefited from his keen insight—insight which the world has now lost.

Among the consistent themes I will remember most were these three core lessons: Read the rest of this entry »

Cuba and the Question of Legacy

March 24, 2015

Richard N. Holwill (Ambassador to Ecuador, 1988-1989)


Some say that President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba is designed to bolster his legacy. Indeed, the current debate centers on his actions and on US policy. This focus, however, misses the more interesting dynamic: the debate within Cuba over the next steps in the pas de deux with the United States and the question of Raúl Castro’s legacy.

At issue is the nearly absolute power that the Cuban government has over its people. That power is an outgrowth of the government’s monopoly on all aspects of the economy. During periods of food shortage, the government would allocate food in ways that favored loyalists. With jobs scarce, the government has allocated the best jobs to party faithful. So too with fuel, seed, fertilizer, and the other essential elements of growth. While universal education and basic health care are free to all, only a favored few have guaranteed access to university admissions and advanced health care for cancer and other potentially terminal diseases.

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Picture It. I Dare You.

March 10, 2015

Nancy Brinker (Ambassador to Hungary, 2001-2003; Chief of Protocol, 2007-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Brinker’s March 9, 2015 post on The Huffington Post.


On March 8, International Women’s Day, the hue and cry for gender equity and a better life for girls and women galvanizes around the theme, “Empowering Women –Empowering Humanity: Picture It!” with the United Nations aiming to “mobilize all people to do their part.” When it comes to mobilizing for change, no one moves more nimbly and purposefully than the American nonprofits that first pictured today’s global breast cancer awareness movement.

I stepped into this charitable world more than 30 years ago with a promise to my dying sister to end breast cancer. I had no idea how even to begin to create such a change. Over the years, by listening to other women’s stories and connecting their power and passion with the larger community, we built Susan G. Komen into the world’s largest nonprofit source of funding in the fight against breast cancer. As we grew, the nonprofit sector as a whole became an extraordinary force for transformation. Democratization of good ignited a passionate civic evolution. Now is not the time to let that evolution slow.

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