Archive for the ‘Europe and Eurasia’ Category

U.S./Mexico: Improving Tone, But Nothing’s Final

April 20, 2017

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

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

These past few weeks have presented the Trump administration with its first real foreign policy tests. Syria’s use of chemical weapons, the United States’ retaliatory airstrikes, the nuclear standoff with North Korea, and China and Russia’s constant maneuvering in this ever-moving foreign policy chess board. Yet in these globally-focused days and weeks, Mexico—once seemingly the administration’s top focus—has skirted below the radar.

Today’s U.S.-Mexico relationship is marked by a relatively thoughtful tone, which I for one interpret as good news. As the economic tensions have eased slightly, the continental conversation has begun to center more on fair trade, each countries’ interests, and job creation, a healthier tone for beginning NAFTA negotiations than the protectionist talk that dominated economic discussions just a few months ago.

On bilateral security cooperation, the discussion has also become more focused. Throughout the change in U.S. administrations, law enforcement on both sides of the border have continued to work together with little interruption. And at the highest level, DHS Secretary John Kelly has continuously heralded the United States’ cooperation with Mexico as both positive and critically important.

Yet while bilateral relations may be on more stable ground, Mexico continues to face its own range of domestic drama. In the ongoing saga of fugitive governors, there has been some recent success. Interpol and Guatemalan officials captured Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte in Guatemala and Italian officials nabbed former Governor of Tamaulipas Tomas Yarrington, with both now facing charges of corruption and collusion with organized crime. Yet, there are still governors on the run, with former Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte missing and possibly hiding out in El Paso.

The stories of corruption and ongoing violence will continue to play out as we move ever closer to Mexico’s presidential elections in July 2018. To get a sense of what Mexico’s population is feeling in the election’s lead-up, be sure to watch the State of Mexico’s election this coming June. President Peña Nieto’s PRI party has governed the state for almost a century, but the three opposition candidates are making it a close run. Also tellingly, insecurity has been a big theme of the campaigns with both the PRI and the PAN releasing TV spots that focus on the state’s security conditions.

However, one cautionary note before we fall back into a more predictable and comfortable bilateral relationship or get swept away in Mexico’s electoral intrigue. While the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship is on better footing, now is not the time for complacency. Ensuring cooperative economic and security relations requires consistent and tireless effort to protect what works and continually improve those areas where things could be better. This may always be true, but amid shifting policies, it’s critical.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong When Dealing with the Russians?

February 22, 2017

Thomas A. Loftus (Norway, 1993-1998)

Cross-posted from The Cap Times of Madison, Wisconsin

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A look at history should give President Donald Trump pause if he and his administration think they understand the workings of Russian minds. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provides a lesson in how the Soviet Union and the U.S. miscommunicated and misunderstood each other — with long-lasting, dire results.

On Sept. 21, 1995, as Norwegian ambassador I hosted a private lunch for Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and Admiral Stansfield Turner. Vodka was served.

Dobrynin had been the Soviet Union’s ambassador to the United States from 1962 to 1986, from JFK through Ronald Reagan. His book “In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to Six Cold War Presidents” is a must-read. Stansfield Turner was the head of the CIA for Jimmy Carter.

It was a sunny day in Oslo and the three of us chatted like old friends, as we had come to know each other over three days at a closed-door conference hosted by the Nobel Prize Institute recounting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The conference can best be described as “What didn’t we know, and when didn’t we know it?”

All of the actors making decisions during the 1979 invasion were at the conference, including the head of the KGB and the head of the White House National Security Council. It was to be an oral history of those in the Soviet Union involved in the fateful decision to invade Afghanistan and those in the Carter administration who decided how to respond.

The 1979 invasion was the end of “detente” — the thaw in the Cold War that began in 1969 as the new policy of President Nixon and that produced the SALT 1 treaty reducing nuclear weapons.

A direct telephone link between Washington and Moscow — “the red telephone” — was installed at that time so the leaders of the two world powers could talk and avoid a crisis that could escalate into war.

That phone must have been off the hook in December 1979 because it became clear from the conference — my memory helped by reading the now-available transcript — that neither side knew what the other was doing or thinking despite being sure they did.

The Soviets thought that the U.S. would understand that this action was directed at keeping a Muslim country on their southern border from falling apart. The inept government the Soviets had been propping up was about to be overthrown.

The Carter White House thought the invasion was part of a grand plan to expand the Soviet Empire and that the Soviets were creating an “Arc of Crisis.”

The Soviets’ reading of Washington was that this local matter in their “near abroad” would be criticized but would not harm the U.S. relationship under detente.

Dobrynin: “I am trying to tell you how we really thought. There was no discussion in the Kremlin of any Grand Design. There was no discussion in the press — well, the press did not matter — nor in the Politburo, or the Foreign Ministry. I spoke privately with Brezhnev at the time and there was never a single word about it. … In one of the meetings Brezhnev even asked me, “Anatoly, where is the ‘Arc of Crisis?'”

As a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was a Western embargo and sanctions on the Soviet Union, and President Carter pulled the United States out of the Moscow summer Olympics in 1980.

The war lasted nine years, over a million civilians were killed and millions more fled as refugees to Pakistan and Iran. The CIA started a not-so-covert action to harass the Soviets: “Charlie Wilson’s War.” The fighters against the Soviets became radicalized and when President Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the Soviet 40th Army to return home, what was left in Afghanistan was a mess that turned eventually into the Taliban and al-Qaida.

If President Trump deals with the Russians thinking he knows how they think, there will be disappointment — not deals. And, if President Putin, a man too clever by half, thinks the new administration gives him license in his “near abroad,” tragedy will result.

‘Mr. Apprentice’ Can Look To Switzerland For A Model To Help Close U.S. Youth Skills Gap

January 27, 2017

Faith Whittlesey (Switzerland, 1981-1983 and 1985-1988)

Patrick Gleason (Director of State Affairs at Americans for Tax Reform)

Cross-posted from the January 26, 2017 issue of Forbes

Chief among the problems facing Donald Trump as he takes presidential office is the youth skills gap between what the U.S. education system currently produces and what employers actually need to compete nationally and globally in the 21st century.

Around 2008, German carmaker Porsche invested about $2.12 million in its Leipzig apprenticeship training center.

It’s no secret it has become all too easy to get a college degree today without having learned much of marketable value, which helps explain unacceptably high levels of both youth unemployment (above 10%) and youth underemployment (estimated at 40% for recent college graduates).

The President might look to Switzerland, with youth unemployment at 3% and its global gold standard apprentice system, as a possible model for the U.S. in closing the skills gap. The good news is that Trump already has. As we recently learned, Switzerland’s apprentice system was very much a subject of discussion of a Dec. 21 phone call between Trump, who praised the Swiss education system, and Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann, who called to offer congratulations to the President-elect.

Nancy Hoffman—who co-leads the Pathways to Prosperity Network program involving Harvard Graduate School of Education and a number of states working to ensure more young people complete high school and attain a postsecondary credential—explains how the Swiss apprentice program works:

“Seventy percent of teenagers [16 and older] in Switzerland spend their week moving between a workplace, a sector organization [such as the machine tools industry], and school. … They do everything an entry-level employee would do, albeit under the wings of credentialed teachers within the company. They are paid a monthly starting wage of around $800, rising to around $1,000 by the time they are in their third year.”

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Appropriate U.S. Response to Russia

November 1, 2016

Thomas F. Stephenson (Ambassador to Portugal, 2007-2009)

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Post World War II history suggests convincingly that the best way to deal with Russian aggression is by demonstrating the strength and will to respond in a forceful fashion. Obvious examples are the strong manner in which President Kennedy dealt with Premier Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the way President Reagan interacted with Mr. Gorbachev at Reykjavik and in its aftermath as he laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War and critical arms reduction agreements. Interacting with Mr. Putin, however, may well be even more challenging than dealing with either Khrushchev or Gorbachev as Putin gives all the indications of being the consummate bully. The only thing he understands or respects is strength and force, and little so far in the conduct of this Administration demonstrates the will power to take strong action. In fact time and again, the approach of “leading from behind” and “too little too late” has undermined whatever credibility we had with Mr. Putin at the beginning of 2009. Let’s review how we got to where we are currently in Ukraine and Syria.

To be fair to the current Administration, the preceding Administration had not provided a strong precedent, as it did little to prevent Russia under Medvedev from carving out South Ossetia and Abkhazia from the sovereign country of Georgia. But as Mr. Putin reclaimed the presidency of Russia in 2012, he had already observed 1) the absence of any supportive response from the Obama Administration to the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009, 2) the cancellation, under pressure from Russia, of a promised missile defense system in Poland, 3) very modest support for the French led actions surrounding the overthrow of Gadhafi in Libya in 2011, and 4) the total failure to enforce the red line drawn in Syria regarding the use by Assad of chemical weapons in 2012. Why wouldn’t Mr. Putin doubt our resolve and have no compunction or concern about taking the actions that he has in Ukraine and Syria?

Clear commitment to and demonstration of strength with only very judicious actual use of force are critical to convince the bullies of this world like Mr. Putin that the United States has the resolve and the ability to turn back inappropriate and irresponsible acts of aggression. I’ve had the privilege of listening many times to former Secretary of State George Shultz talk about how he and President Reagan chose to deal with such acts of unwanted aggression during the Reagan Administration. They, of course, took steps to restore our military strength, but they used very limited force only three times following the tragic bombing of our marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. We used a very modest amount of military force in Grenada very shortly after the Beirut bombing to rescue 300 Americans being held hostage there, we executed a surgical strike against Gadhafi in retaliation for an attack on our forces in Berlin in 1986, and in a very crisp response to mining activities by Iran in the Persian Gulf in 1987 we sank an Iranian ship that was deploying illegal mines after removing and immediately freeing all Iranian sailors on board. In all three instances a clear message was delivered. An attack on the United States and its allies will receive a proportionate response quickly and decisively.

Unfortunately, little that we have done so far with regard to Russian aggression in Ukraine or Syria has been either timely or appropriately proportionate. In Syria there was a point in time when one could discern the good guys from the bad guys and provide equipment, training, and support sufficient perhaps to enable the opposition to overthrow Assad. Creation of a “no fly zone” was an option recommended by a number of foreign policy experts, including former Secretary Clinton, but was never acted upon by the Administration. By the time we’d fiddled around for months and allowed the Russians to play the key role in negotiating the removal, supposedly, of all chemical weapons from Syria, we’d lost most of the leverage we might have had or been able to obtain, and Russia was in the driver’s seat in terms of protecting their friend Assad. ISIL/Islamic State has obviously complicated enormously the situation in Syria and clearly in Aleppo, but Russia has a very strong presence in Syria today and will be very hard to dislodge, largely because of “too little, too late” on our part. There is still some possibility, however, that it’s not too late to change the current course of events in Syria. A ‘no fly zone” and some sort of “safe-haven” enforcement could still improve the situation in Syria, but it will take resolve on our part and create risk of escalation that we have been unwilling to assume to date.

The situation in Ukraine is clearly very different. Putin’s aggressive actions to carve up and usurp as much of Ukraine as he can is all part of his longer range aspiration to recreate substantial parts of the Soviet Union or at least reestablish Russian influence, if not total dominance, in these neighboring countries. Our pathetically weak response to these actions in Ukraine have or will only encourage this type of aggression in the Baltic States initially and prospectively in other parts of Eastern Europe. Once again the impact of “too little, too late” is clearly being demonstrated. While our diplomats continue to participate in agonizingly unproductive discussions, Mr. Putin is shoring up his military positions in this greater theatre and will no doubt continue to use the excuse of protecting native Russians as he pursues his goals of territorial reclamation. As the remaining areas of Ukraine not yet under Russian control observe the lack of serious U.S. assistance in their plight, it must appear as though it is only a matter of time before they too are annexed by Russia.

Diplomacy and negotiation have been only very modestly successful at best to date with Russia relating to the terribly troubling developments in both Syria and the Ukraine. What incentive does Mr. Putin have to negotiate with us and our allies, when we demonstrate little evidence that we will back up our periodic threats with force. Recent shoring up and redeployment of NATO forces in the Baltics and Poland is a positive step, but we need to return to the Reagan-Shultz approach of saying what we mean in our interactions with Mr. Putin and being prepared to show that we mean what we say with decisive use of measured and proportionate force.

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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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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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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War Crime Trials Are Necessary for Humanity’s Future

March 26, 2016

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

Cross-posted from Secretary Albright’s March 25, 2016 special to Time Magazine.

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The war crimes conviction of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was a victory for the rule of law and a triumph for international justice. And in an eerie coincidence for me personally, it came almost 20 years to the day of a visit I made to bear witness to the horrific atrocities he directed.

I will never forget traveling to Serb-controlled northeastern Bosnia in March 1996 as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. On the edge of a field at a place called Branjevo farm, I saw a long expanse of freshly plowed dirt littered with human bones and pieces of clothing—all evidence of the mass grave lurking beneath the surface, where an estimated 1,000 Bosnian Muslims were buried. The sight was horrifying, and those accountable—including Karadzic—were nowhere to be found.

I said at the time that “the only way peace will come to the area is if there is a reconciliation, and reconciliation can come only when collective guilt is expunged, and individual guilt is assigned.”

It was this belief which had led me to strongly support the establishment, several years earlier, of the international war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia. It was one of the earliest votes I took as U.N. ambassador, and remains one of my proudest.

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From Hungary, an Oscar-winning tale that must be told

March 11, 2016

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

Cross-posted from Ambassador Brinker’s March 4, 2016 post on Fox News.

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“Son of Saul,” which depicts the horrors of the Nazi Genocide and tells the story behind the sonderkommando – the Jewish prisoners who were forced to dispose of the bodies of the dead at the Auschwitz concentration camp – won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film Sunday night.

The honor was all the greater because director Laszlo Nemes’ film almost did not get made. When the traditional sources of financing said no to the project, the people of Hungary said yes – and they said it so strongly that the Hungarian National Film Fund stepped in to finance it.

The people of Hungary are why “Son of Saul” became a hit at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes. And now that it has won an Oscar, they are why it will be seen around the world. In fact, even before the Oscars, it had been sold to more than 80 countries.

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