Wanted: Bold Steps and Rule of Law in Mexico

July 23, 2015

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

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

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Less than two months after the PRI gained a marginal victory in Mexico’s midterm elections, the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been hit by two stinging setbacks.
First was the humiliating escape of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, the head of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, and soon after was the energy reform’s less than stellar first bidding round. All is not lost on either front, but moving forward will require a dramatic change of tone and direction on security measures, and serious recalibration on the energy side.

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The Ambassador’s Tale: Lessons I learned about Success and Scandal

July 20, 2015

Howard Gutman (Ambassador to Belgium, 2009-2013)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Gutman’s July 16, 2015 special to the Washington Post.

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I first thought Dickens had characterized my time in Belgium succinctly: “It was the best of times” (four years), “it was the worst of times” (two months). I then considered Howard Beale’s “I am as mad as hell” and Raymond Donovan’s “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” But in hindsight President Obama may have said it best: “Just watch ESPN.

Most Americans might imagine the biggest challenge facing the U.S. ambassador to Belgium as fighting through the chocolate, beer and waffles. But during the Bush tenure, Belgium had been at the European forefront in its opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq and its cynicism about America. Before I arrived, Belgium had sought to close the port of Antwerp to U.S. ships, ban American planes from Belgian airspace, and apply its law of universal jurisdiction to indict senior U.S. Defense Department officials, including then-Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The Gallup poll of foreigners’ views of America, taken in 2007 (less than two years before the Obama administration and my arrival in 2009 in Belgium), revealed that 65 percent of Belgians held an unfavorable view of U.S. leadership.

The U.S. Embassy and I understood that, to achieve our policy goals, we needed to change public opinion about America.

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The Iran Deal and the Prague Agenda

July 13, 2015

Norman L. Eisen (Ambassador to the Czech Republic, 2011-2014)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Eisen’s July 12, 2015 op-ed in the Huffington Post.

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As we near what may be the endgame of the current negotiations with Iran, I am reminded of the place where President Obama announced the overarching strategy that helped produce this moment: Prague. After stating his readiness to speak to Iran in a Democratic primary debate in 2007, and following that up postelection in 2009 with a series of initial statements directed to the Iranians, the President chose the Czech capital to lay out his vision of dealing with the dangers of nuclear weapons in April 2009. That included emphasizing that Iran would not be permitted to obtain a nuclear weapon on his watch: “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons.”

As a result of that 2009 speech, the President’s nuclear strategy became known as the Prague Agenda. I had the privilege to travel with President Obama back to Prague in April 2010 to witness the signing of a major accomplishment in another area under the Prague Agenda, namely the New START treaty. By the following year, April 2011, I was in Prague as U.S. Ambassador. That year, and in the each year that followed, we held an annual Prague Agenda conference to assess the steps that had been taken and the challenges that lay ahead.

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20 years after Srebrenica massacre, women are the healers

July 6, 2015

Swanee Hunt (Ambassador to Austria, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Hunt’s July 6, 2015 special to the Boston Globe.

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As US ambassador to Austria, I took part in a ceremony in May 1995 marking the half-century anniversary of the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp by American forces. One after another, envoys stood at the wreath-laying and declared: “Never again.”

Yet within a few hundred miles, in a genocidal land grab, Serbian nationalists were conducting a campaign of terror that cost more than 200,000 Yugoslav lives, left 60 percent of Bosnian homes destroyed, and planted millions of landmines in fields. With no international resistance, the horrors peaked in the worst atrocity in Europe since 1945: On July 11, Serb forces began to slaughter 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica. That carnage became a tripwire for US-led intervention to end the atrocities.

On the 20th anniversary of the massacre, the women of the Balkans are finding strength in their calls for justice and their work for reconciliation. Some have defied trauma and moved back to Serb-dominated Srebrenica, managing to put aside memories of rape and torture to breathe life into a place of death. Even as they’ve planted crops in soil where their husbands and sons lie in mass graves, their sisters have built organizations bridging ethnic divides. Together, they have catalyzed a global movement to change the way we halt and heal the wounds of war.

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Defeating ISIL Requires US Leadership Now!

June 30, 2015

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

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I have written here before on Syria and radicalism in the Levant—once in September of 2013, and again in September of 2014. Nearly a year later, I am disheartened to see that US leadership continues to be timid in its struggle with ISIL and Syria, in spite of our warnings and prediction that if the US didn’t define and lead the effort in this fight, radical elements would take over against our interests. This didn’t have to be the case and doesn’t have to be in the future. However, the problem cannot be simply wished away and we can’t wait two long years for a new Administration to take action.

When the popular uprising in Syria began in 2011, the US had to confront just one threat: President Assad. Today, we have at least three others: ISIL threatening not only Syria, but Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with terrorist activities; a refugee problem that could overwhelm our friends in those countries; and finally, the Iranian arc of resistance which, stretching from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and to Lebanon, is gaining ground as it firms up support in its fight against ISIL and its support for Syria.

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Mexico’s Midterm and Washington’s Gridlock

June 24, 2015

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

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

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Just over a week ago, Mexican voters headed to the polls to cast their votes for federal, state, and municipal officials in the country’s midterm election. With roughly 48 percent of the eligible population making it to the polls, it was a higher than expected showing for an electorate weary of the traditional parties. In the short term, the results signal a continuation of the status quo. But take a longer view and they also reveal dramatic shifts in Mexico’s political landscape.

Most notably, the election ushered in a wave of new faces. For the first time in eighty years, voters in Nuevo Leon elected an independent candidate, Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez Calderón, as their state governor. Similarly, the MORENA party, a PRD spin-off led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, grabbed five out of the possible sixteen delegations across Mexico City. And in Jalisco, a candidate from the small Ciudadano Movimiento party snagged Guadalajara’s mayorship.

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War lessons from a replica French frigate

June 22, 2015

Jim Rosapepe (Ambassador to Romania, 1998-2001)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Rosapepe’s June 18, 2015 op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.

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This week, the replica of the Hermione, the French tall ship which brought the Marquis de Lafeyette and French soldiers in 1780 to help Americans defeat the British at Yorktown, is visiting Baltimore. It’s also the week that Congress is debating whether to expand or contract U.S. aid to anti-Assad rebels in Syria’s civil war.

What do they have in common? They are both cases of big powers intervening in other people’s civil wars.

Given the moral ambiguity and unsatisfactory results of the U.S. interventions in Vietnam and elsewhere, many Americans understandably question even the concept of foreign intervention in civil wars. Can they serve America’s interests and our values? The Hermione’s visit to Baltimore, commemorating France’s military intervention in the American Revolution (a civil war between British subjects), reminds us of at least one time when such intervention served both. In fact, it may well have been decisive in creating our country and the modern era of democracy.

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Why Change in Nigeria Matters to the World

May 29, 2015

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

Cross-posted from Secretary Albright’s May 28, 2015 special to Time Magazine. The article was co-authored by former Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson.

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This week, something unprecedented is happening in Africa’s most populous country, where groundbreaking political change is underway. Nigeria’s incumbent president will step down and a new president from another political party, Muhammadu Buhari, will be sworn in.

The March election that brought Mr. Buhari to office was a political triumph for Nigeria and a positive step for the future of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Few expected that the election would be peaceful or credible, but the Nigerian people demanded nothing less.

As one of us witnessed first-hand while serving on a National Democratic Institute election observer delegation, people across Nigeria waited in lines that stretched for hours simply to have their voices heard through the ballot box. Thousands were willing to risk the threat of election violence to volunteer as citizen observers, and the outcome was seen as legitimate thanks in large measure to the work of the Independent National Electoral Commission, which oversaw the rapid release of election results. A coalition of 400 civic organizations conducted a parallel vote tabulation that protected the integrity of the process and promoted confidence in the official results; other groups conducted a large-scale, and effective anti-violence campaign.

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U.S. and EU Brainstorm Ways to Support Innovative, High-Growth Firms

May 28, 2015

Anthony Luzzatto Gardner (Ambassador to the European Union, 2014-present)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Gardner’s May 21, 2015 post on the US Mission to the EU Blog.

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On May 5, I had the pleasure of hosting a U.S.-Europe Dialogue on Making Ventures Grow together with Candace Johnson, the President of EBAN, the European Business Angel Network. The event brought together public policy and private sector experts to discuss ways to expand and accelerate financing of high-growth ventures as a mechanism to spur entrepreneurship, economic growth, and job creation in Europe.

Bruegel Senior Fellow Karen Wilson opened the dialogue, followed by two interactive discussion sessions moderated by Peter Spiegel of The Financial Times and Stephen Fidler of The Wall Street Journal.

The first discussion session on “Broadening Europe’s Capital Markets & Stimulating Alternative Financing” focused on what can be done at the EU level and by U.S. and European investors to broaden the financial instruments available to innovative, high-growth firms, facilitate the development of Europe’s debt and equity capital markets, and stimulate other forms of alternative financing. The second discussion session on “Facilitating the Growth of Ventures in Europe” centered on what can be done to support the scaling up of startups and innovative young firms, the further development of venture capital and angel investment, the role of U.S. and European corporations in facilitating the creation and scaling of startups, and what can be done to boost the flow of institutional investment into venture capital.

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Ambassador Bleich on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

May 26, 2015

Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich (Ambassador to Australia, 2009-2013)

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Why is passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) important for the United States? How would passing these trade agreements affect the country in which you served as Ambassador?

I will leave it to others to explain the many direct economic benefits of TPP and TTIP for opening markets to U.S. goods, expanding jobs for American workers, and leveling the playing field for American industries to compete. Instead, I’ll focus on a single – but vital – aspect of TPP: it will make us more secure.

The Asia-Pacific is rapidly becoming the center of economic gravity in the world. Of the 3 billion people who may be added to the middle class in the next 20 years, 2.5 billion of them live in the Asia-Pacific region. That is where our new consumers will live, where new income sources will be generated, where our business people will travel, and where we will compete economically. Today, however, the markets of that region lack a coherent economic order, and rule of law varies dramatically among the nations. Instead, protectionism, exploitation of land and laborers, corruption, and information barriers, all threaten to produce a race to the bottom that hurts U.S. industry and threatens to destabilize markets.

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