As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq, “finish the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban,” shut down Gitmo and break through the impasse with Iran. But as president, Obama is learning that conducting U.S. foreign policy is far more difficult than simply critiquing it. As a consequence, on the central foreign policy and national security issue of the day — the global struggle against Islamic terrorists and their patrons and partners — there is far more common ground between Obama and former President George W. Bush than Obama’s supporters expected, and less change than his opponents feared. […]

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Use of the death penalty is on the decline globally, with the majority of sentences handed down and carried out by a handful of hardcore holdout countries, Amnesty International said in a report (.pdf) released Tuesday. According to the report, “Death Sentences and Executions 2009,” countries that carried out the most sentences include China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States. In some places like China and Sudan, executions are applied extensively as a means to intimidate government opponents. China remains the world leader in carrying out death penalty sentences, executing more individuals that the rest of the world […]

TAWAU, Malaysia — The killing of regional terrorist Dulmatin on March 9 has provided Indonesia with another victory in its campaign against Jemaah Islamiya (JI), while also proving timely: Dulmatin was shot dead just as Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono arrived in Australia, where Dulmatin is widely despised for his involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings that left more than 200 dead, among them 88 Australians. Yudhoyono announced Dulmatin’s death during a conveniently arranged press conference in Canberra. But he is also likely to raise it as a subject of conversation during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Indonesia in […]

CHOWKAY VALLEY, Afghanistan — When U.S. Army Capt. Joe Snowden first asked the elders in this remote valley in eastern Afghanistan to stop growing poppies, they laughed. The poppies, once processed into heroin, fuel the drug trade that provides much of the financing for the Taliban and other fighters in the area, explained Snowden, who is deployed here from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy. Although the elders assured Snowden that they understood this, his request still bordered on the absurd. So did Snowden’s request for the name of the leader of the local insurgent cell, which made the […]

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NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff talks to Ali Jalali, Afghanistan’s former interior minister, and Clare Lockhart, a former United Nations adviser to Afghanistan, about corruption in Afghanistan. In light of President Barack Obama’s surprise visit to that country last week, Jalali and Lockhart discuss whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai is now taking up the anti-corruption cause in earnest. Having trouble viewing this video? Click here to watch.

President Barack Obama had multiple audiences in mind during his lightning 6-hour visit to Afghanistan this weekend. In both his meetings and his speech delivered to U.S. soldiers and broadcast worldwide, Obama wanted to catalyze improved Afghan government performance, reassure Afghan citizens, bolster U.S. troop morale, and make his commitment to winning the Afghan war clear to global audiences. For security reasons, Obama departed unannounced from Washington on Saturday night, arriving at Bagram airfield, on the outskirts of Kabul, early Sunday evening. He then flew by helicopter to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Afterwards, Obama returned to Bagram to address […]

The dust has far from settled following Google’s decision last week to stop censoring its Google.cn search portal and shift all its Chinese search traffic to its Hong Kong operation, Google.com.hk. But already, the company’s latest move has been portrayed as everything from na├»ve and idealistic to economically foolhardy. Nevertheless, the decision is clearly a bold one, and by using a potentially enormous fissure in the politics of contemporary China to take a stand on the question of information openness, it may also prove to be shrewd. At the very least, Google is playing at a much deeper political game […]

The recent conclusion of a new bilateral strategic arms treaty between the United States and Russia is important for both countries’ security. Yet seen through the prism of nuclear disarmament, it is but a baby step. More substantial progress toward the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons will only come to fruition if a key group of non-nuclear-weapon states help defuse tensions between the nuclear haves and the have-nots. The prime candidates for this job are the states often referred to as middle powers, including Ireland, New Zealand, Germany and Sweden. These nations have a history of activist […]

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The New America Foundation hosts Major General Gordon Messenger, the lead spokesman on British operations in Afghanistan and former Commander of the UK Task Force Helmand. Messenger says resources and a strong learning curve have contributed to an uptick in on the ground successes in Afghanistan. In a Q&A with attendees, Messenger answers questions about the withdrawal timeline, Afghan security forces and civilians working alongside military operations.

Visits by Indian heads of government to Saudi Arabia are rare. In fact, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Riyadh on Feb. 27 for a three-day visit, it was the first time an Indian premier had been to the kingdom in 28 years. However, this is one bilateral relationship where substance has clearly preceded style. Not only has Saudi Arabia emerged as India’s largest supplier of crude oil, the desert kingdom is also looking to increase its commercial ties with a rising India as a way to diversify its economy. The visit culminated in a joint declaration (.pdf) that […]

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I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts about why I felt so underwhelmed by Friday’s announcement that the U.S. and Russia had agreed to terms on the START follow-on treaty. Certainly, the optics work well for both sides. President Barack Obama gets a foreign policy feather to go along with health care reform in his victory cap. And Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gets to show what the good cop in Moscow’s good cop/bad cop routine looks like. And arriving at the upcoming NPT conference with the treaty in hand certainly helps Obama avoid a major embarrassment. But I’m not convinced […]

The ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement (AIFTA), which came into force earlier this year, is undoubtedly a milestone in the burgeoning relationship between India and Southeast Asia. Yet the future of ASEAN-Indian relations is unlikely to be comprised solely of mutually beneficial policies. In order to reap the full benefits of bilateral cooperation, both sides will have to navigate formidable challenges, think strategically about how to expand the relationship, and display courage and vision in their foreign policies. Southeast Asia and India are by no means strangers. Their civilizational and cultural links date back thousands of years and are still visible […]

NEW DELHI — Recently, both China and India increased their official defense budgets for fiscal year 2010, to $78 billion and $32 billion, respectively (although according to Western observers, China’s actual military spending is up to three times the official figures). In doing so, Beijing raised its defense allocation by 7.5 percent, and New Delhi by just under 4 percent. Besides the differences in absolute budget and percentage growth, the two countries also demonstrate contrasting approaches to achieving their overall military objectives. For China, defense spending is a means toward achieving long-term power ambitions and military supremacy, while India is […]

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Before U.S. President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Indonesia this week was postponed, expectations in both Washington and Jakarta were running at a fever pitch, especially in anticipation of the possible signing of a “Comprehensive Partnership” between the two countries. On one side, Washington is eager to strengthen relations with Southeast Asia’s largest democracy in the face of growing Chinese influence. The fact that Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population also plays into the Obama administration’s efforts to further reach out to the Muslim world and improve its global standing. Finally, Indonesia’s geostrategic location […]

Some foreign policy analysts believe that President Barack Obama’s legislative victory on health care reform this week will have a positive impact on his ability to make progress in the foreign policy realm as well. Clearly, Obama’s credibility in the eyes of foreign governments would have been severely — perhaps even irreparably — damaged had he failed to pass the flagship legislation of his domestic agenda, despite overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. But the White House is not out of the woods just yet. For the president to build on the momentum he gained from the health […]

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If you’re familiar with the conventional wisdoms of the Indian national security community, you’ll know that it is characterized by a heightened sensitivity to anything remotely resembling U.S. support — let alone favoritism — shown to Pakistan. And not surprisingly, the same holds for Pakistani national security thinkers regarding elements of the U.S.-India strategic relationship — in particular, the U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement. So what you end up with is that the Pakistanis put a request for the same kind of agreement on the agenda of the first U.S.-Pakistan strategic partnership dialogue. And because U.S. Secretary of State Hillary […]

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