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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Mexico in transition

February 18, 2015

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s interview with Grapevine Magazine.


With lower oil prices now around $50 a barrel, what effects do you foresee for Mexico and for Round One bidding?

The low global oil prices have absolutely changed the energy landscape for countries across the world and Mexico is no exception. For Mexico, an oil producing and exporting country, the most immediate effect is the fiscal one, as less revenue flows back into Pemex or is channeled into the federal budget, which has been receiving roughly one third of its funding from these energy revenues.

The Mexican government has actually been preparing for this type of drop, by employing an extensive annual hedging scheme that, along with gasoline taxes, will somewhat soften the blow this year. But if prices don’t start rebounding, and it doesn’t look like they will anytime soon, then they’ll need to make up for the lost revenues. One way the government could do this would be to raise taxes, and since they recently promised not to do this, their options will largely be constrained to cutting spending, taking on more debt, or doing a little of both. In fact, we’ve already seen them slash planned government spending by over $8 billion in response to oil prices. And with roughly half of that earmarked for Pemex, it’s not hard to imagine the types of effects that this will have for Mexico’s energy sector, not to mention the country’s economic growth more broadly.

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Give George Washington his due

February 17, 2015

John L. Loeb, Jr. (Ambassador to Denmark, 1981-1983)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Loeb’s February 16, 2015 special to the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Let’s give his birthday back to George Washington. Is there some timely reason? Yes.

Since 1879, Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 22, has been celebrated as a federal holiday – although, in 1968, as part of a grand plan to create three-day “holiday weekends,” it was pegged to the third Monday of the month. Officially, it is still “George Washington’s Birthday,” but for most people, it has become an amorphous “Presidents’ Day.” More of that in a moment.
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Noncommunicable Disease – An Emerging Global Health Crisis

February 9, 2015

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Brinker’s February 4, 2015 post on The Huffington Post.


Over the course of the last 30 years, I have watched women’s cancers go from being a disease that only affects affluent countries to being a global problem. If there was ever any truth to the notion that cancer is mostly a rich country’s problem, the facts no longer support it. The numbers of deaths each year from breast cancer are now equally split between developed and developing countries.

All of us involved in the work of global health, and women’s health in particular, need to better understand what we are up against. And a 2014 report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) does exactly that.

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A Field Guide to Jordan’s Struggle Against ISIS

February 6, 2015

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s February 5, 2015 special to the Huffington Post.


There are few nations in the Middle East, perhaps aside from Morocco (a bit of prejudice here), that is as blessed with such decent people and respected leadership as Jordan. It is a vulnerable, but stable desert kingdom constantly defying the forces arrayed against it. Jordan’s boundless generosity has provided a safe haven for the human tide of refugees that have been thrust upon it from war ravaged Syria and Iraq. A nation poor in natural resources – Jordan nevertheless is an oasis of dependability in a Levantine desert seeming devoid of anything but.

King Hussein of Jordan – one of the truly great leaders of the modern Arab world and father of the current monarch, King Abdullah, described his nation this way:

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Ambassador McCormack Discusses Careers, Ethics and Public Policy

January 29, 2015

Richard T. McCormack (U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, 1985-1989)

This speech was originally presented at Yale Law School on November 3, 2014.


When Greg Fleming, my highly respected friend and former boss at Bank of America/ML, asked me to say a few words to you about careers and ethics, I felt deeply honored. All of us are relay runners, and some of you in this room will soon be asked to pick up the baton from my generation and carry on the race.

Greg asked me to say a few words about some of the lessons of my own career that may be relevant to you, offer some thoughts about ethics and the powerful value of good mentors, and finally outline some of the many public policy problems that you may face when you leave this school and begin your careers.


When I graduated from Georgetown, I passed the foreign service exam, with the intention of a career in the State Department. But that summer, I decided to spend a year or two abroad to develop some language skills and enrolled in the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where the classes were multilingual. A senior professor encouraged me to enter the PhD program, which I did, and graduated three years later.

When I returned to the U.S., I applied for a job in Congress to learn how our Congress works. I was asked by the House Republican Conference to help run the summer intern program and work on several public policy issues, including Vietnam. We also helped fix Washington’s poorly organized Project Headstart. These efforts drew the attention of the senior people in the Republican leadership, and I was advised to consider a career in the political system rather than the career service. A senior Ambassador reinforced this advice.

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