A Scorcher’s a Coming…

June 13, 2018

Antonio Garza (Mexico, 2002-2009)

We are only a few weeks into what is shaping up to be a long hot summer, with increasing turmoil around the world: U.S.-North Korea Summit, the G7 Summit, protests in Nicaragua, Brazil’s upcoming elections, and the ongoing economic and political collapse in Venezuela. Within regional relations, it hasn’t been much calmer. The highest profile spat was Donald Trump’s twitter attacks on Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau post the G7 meetings, followed by negative comments from other U.S. administration figures including Trade Representative Peter Navarro (although he later apologized). Yet in general, it’s hard to remember a time in recent history when North America’s integrated future has looked so challenging.

On trade, the NAFTA negotiations are decelerating, and the recent regional disputes surely won’t help speed things along. As suspected, the self-imposed May 17 deadline for bringing NAFTA to a vote in the U.S. Congress by the end of 2018 came and went with no final deal. In the void of an agreement, the United States imposed steel and aluminum tariffs, which went into effect on June 4th and marked this administration’s first policies to directly affect trade with the United States’ neighbors. Both Mexico and Canada immediately responded with tariffs of their own, with Canada imposing tariffs on a range of items from whiskey to dishwashing detergent, and Mexico applying its tariffs on products such as steel, pork, cheese, and cranberries that were targeted toward states and electoral districts with strong support for Donald Trump. Read the rest of this entry »

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Trump’s latest actions effectively declare a global trade war

June 7, 2018

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C. Donald Johnson (Office of the United States Trade Representative, 1998-2000)

Cross posted from The Hill

Last week’s decision by the erratic Trump trade team to raise steel and aluminum tariffs amounts to declaring a trade war on effectively every major trading partner in the world market.

It presents an enormous economic threat to domestic industries that use steel and aluminum — that will have to raise prices, no doubt — and to sectors that will suffer from trade retaliation, such as agriculture and other political targets. But these losses are not the only damages that may result from these wars.

The Trump administration claims that these tariff increases are justified under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which permits an exception to trade rules to protect national security and are recognized under World Trade Organization rules.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross issued a finding in January that steel and aluminum were being imported into the United States in such quantities as to weaken “our internal economy” and threaten the national security of the United States.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lebanese Elections: Good or Bad for the U.S.?

May 18, 2018

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Edward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001)

United States policymakers should carefully examine the facts before reacting to the results of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, as there are many different reactions emerging among policymakers. Some reports claim that the Hezbollah faction, with its allies, not only won a large enough number to block major legislation, it may have gained an outright majority in the parliament. Others claim the biggest winners to be the anti-Hezbollah faction, with the Lebanese Forces party almost doubling its numbers.  Nabeel Khoury, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council states, “The internal balance of power has been jostled and shaken a bit but not basically altered”. He notes that any tally of potential winners “Does not take into account the labyrinths of alliances that were struck during the election campaign.”

Most agree that regardless of so called winners and losers, not much has really changed.  Sami Atallah, head of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, suggested in a recent forum that “The real results will come with the formation of the new government and how blocs prevail in gaining key ministries.”  So the pundits and analysts are now observing the political maneuvering to form a new government.

For American policymakers it would be a great mistake to simplify the results into a “Hezbollah won, or Hezbollah lost” assessment.  Unfortunately, some policy makers are already suggesting that the elections show that Hezbollah is taking control of Lebanon and so the US should stop our military and development aid to the country.  With that response, Hezbollah wins for sure, as this would only strengthen their position in the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Educational and Cultural Exchanges: America’s Best Investment

May 8, 2018

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Edward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001)

Cross posted from Morocco on the Move

The announcement of Marie Royce, a highly qualified Washington insider, as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Exchange, presents an opportunity to ramp up one of the most cost effective and impactful US foreign policy tools. Today, educational and cultural exchanges in the Middle East and North Africa are often perceived as a sometimes frivolous and wasteful sideshow by some policymakers who, instead, prefer short term policy tools that have more immediate impact on bilateral interests and underscore bilateral support for allies, such as military and counterterrorism cooperation, and support for political, trade and aid policies.

Since the Woodrow Wilson administration, policymakers have debated the proper balance between American democratic values and our national interests.  As important as it is for US leadership to show a balance between the two, time and again the latter precedes the former when push comes to shove; whether its Gulf States’ oil versus human rights, democratic elections in Egypt, or the impact of Syrian refugees on neighboring countries and the West.

This makes for budget competition between soft power programs such as USAID, Peace Corps, and educational and cultural exchange programs, versus short term, hard-power programs and policies. Read the rest of this entry »

Morocco Should Implement Its Long Awaited Autonomy Plan

May 3, 2018

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Edward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001)

Cross posted from Morocco on the Move

Last month, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita visited Washington to discuss the Western Sahara question and, importantly, the status of US-Morocco relations, and was reported to seriously question whether the US still considers its relationship with Morocco of strategic importance.  Also, on April 26th, the UN Security Council renewed the MINURSO mandate for the Western Sahara, to maintain the peacekeeping mission to police the 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Algerian backed rebel group known as the Polisario.  While stronger in its wording in favor of Morocco, the resolution continues to show no willpower by the US and UN to live up to past agreements with Morocco.

This raises the question of how much longer can Morocco wait before it unilaterally implements its proposal to offer autonomy for the people living in the Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty.  The US has been a close ally of Morocco on issues of common concern, and admires and supports it on its security efforts and its push to enact democratic and economic reforms, but the US has not been a consistent or reliable partner on the Sahara question for the past two decades.

It was the US that, in 1999, first proposed to Morocco that it set aside a failing UN attempt to conduct a referendum in the Sahara, and offer a political compromise based on internationally recognized autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.  This was a difficult time in the Kingdom, as King Hassan II had just passed away at the end of July, and Secretary Albright was visiting in September to propose the compromise solution to the new king, Mohammed VI. It would be a major shift that would reverse the position held by Morocco for nearly two decades on a referendum. Read the rest of this entry »

Tom Loftus: We have a chance to finally end the Korean War

April 25, 2018

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Thomas A. Loftus (Norway, 1993-1997)

Cross posted from Madison.Com

Wisconsinites Stanley Christianson, Melvin Handrich, Einar Ingman, Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. and Jerome Sudet received the Medal of Honor for their service in the Korean War, where fighting lasted from the summer of 1950 until an armistice was signed in the summer of 1953.

It is time to finally end that war. Now there is a chance.

Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, has met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un to prepare for a summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Trump.

On April 27, Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in will meet, and they are expected to issue a joint statement on what may be the subject of future meetings, including the issue of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

President Trump has now said that if the two leaders decide to “discuss the end of the Korean War” it is OK with him. This is significant because it has a clarity that the yet-to-be-defined goal of “denuclearization” does not.

Also important is that for the third time Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is meeting with Trump. Read the rest of this entry »

Hopeful Signs for Religious Reform in the Arab World

April 10, 2018

trumpsalmansaudi_052017gettyEdward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001)

Cross posted from The Hill

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s visit to the United States has generated much press and excitement about the future monarch, a leader who appears to be committed to religious, socio-economic and political reforms.

New York Times writer Thomas Friedman commented, “MbS. is definitely bold … no one else in the ruling family would have put in place the profound social, religious and economic reforms that he’s dared to do — and all at once.” The U.S. press has expressed a lot of excitement about the potential changes that could occur in Saudi Arabia, the country that is the custodian of the two holiest mosques in Islam.

This will come as a welcome sign to Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia, who have been grappling with significant change and reform for the better part of two decades. The first and most impressive effort concerning religious reform, however, is that led by King Mohammed VI of Morocco, who has initiated significant projects with the objective of teaching moderate religious values based on the Maliki rite of Islam, and focused on tolerance and openness to counter extremism and radical religious interpretation. Read the rest of this entry »

Trade Tensions Reflect U.S.-China Battle for 21st Century World Order

April 6, 2018

us_china_trade_1Stuart Eizenstat (European Union, 1993-1996)

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Anne Pence (International Policy Adviser to the State Department, 1992-2005)

Cross posted from The Hill

The arms race was a defining element of the Cold War between the U.S., its allies and the Soviet Union. President Trump’s recent proposal for $60 billion in unilateral actions against China presages a pitched 21st-century battle over technological supremacy, with fateful consequences for the world order.

The Trump administration rightly sees that China’s aggressive efforts for economic domination hurt the competitiveness of U.S. industries — and that of our allies. But its unilateralist response is unlikely to change China’s approach and could damage U.S. interests. A more comprehensive, coordinated and strategic U.S. approach is necessary. Read the rest of this entry »

Can Fintech Bridge Asia’s Digital Divide?

April 6, 2018

Curtis S. Chin (Asian Development Bank, 2007-2010)

Jose B. Collazo (Southeast Asia analyst)

Cross posted from The Nation Thailand Portal

For policymakers and entrepreneurs, the benefits of addressing the digital divide and of harnessing the power of fintech should be clear-cut. Taken together, both steps can increase the level of access to capital and financial inclusion. 

That’s certainly a view that will be explored here in Thailand as the Milken Institute co-hosts a “Future of Finance” roundtable with the Bank of Thailand tomorrow and at the 21st annual Milken Institute Global Conference next month in Los Angeles.

In the new landscape of finance – with “fintech” serving as shorthand for the technologies that are delivering innovations as well as new challenges and opportunities to the once staid banking sector – up for debate are future business models, regulatory frameworks and how to align fintech practitioners, investors and beneficiaries.

From blockchain to crypto-currencies including Bitcoin and Ethereum, as well as Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) that allocate “tokens” as a new means of crowdfunding capital, the language and disruptions buffeting the mainstream banking and financial services industry can seem overwhelming.  

 

Read the rest of this entry »

The Crisis in U.S.-Turkish Relations

April 2, 2018

J. William Middendorf II (Netherlands, 1969-1973; European Communities, 1985)

Dan Negrea (Managing Partner, MTN Capital Partners LLC)

Cross posted from The Washington Times

Few U.S. allies have a more important strategic position than Turkey. None has a more troubled relationship with the U.S. Both countries must use prudence, patience and perseverance to repair their alliance.

Turkey is the size of Texas, has a population of 80 million, and an economy that ranks 17th in the world. Its military is the second largest in NATO, with more personnel than Germany, the U.K. and France combined.

Its strategic location is exceptional. On land it neighbors the Balkans, the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq and Syria. To its north, across the Black Sea, is Russia. Turkey’s Bosporus and Dardanelles straits control Russian naval transit from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. To its south, across the Mediterranean Sea, are Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and the Suez Canal.

Modern Turkey emerged in the 1920s from the wreckage of the Ottoman empire through the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He replaced Islamic law with legal codes from European countries. He introduced economic and educational reforms. And he established a parliamentary democracy with the armed forces as the guardian of secularism.

Read the rest of this entry »