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 […]

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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I had the pleasure of participating last Friday in France 24’s panel discussion week-in-review program, The World This Week. The other participants were Matthew Saltmarsh of the International Herald Tribune, Paul Taylor of Reuters, and Esther Leneman of the French radio station, Europe 1. You’ll have to sit through a patch at the beginning where we all struggle to find something intelligent to say about the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal. (Saltmarsh got called on first since, uh, well . . . Let’s just say that Judah and Esther are giveaways, and Paul apparently is of the Tribe as […]

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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,briefed the members of the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, particularly in Gaza. He said that the situation in there is dire and strongly urged Israeli officials to make more land available to Palestinians for crucial sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture.

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What’s wrong with this picture? Eight years after the U.S.-led invasion, with the phased American military withdrawal already underway and following elections this month that the Obama administration hopes will mark the closing chapter of U.S. involvement in Iraq, there are still more Iraqi refugees leaving their country than returning to it. According to the latest report from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, released last week, 24,000 Iraqi refugees sought asylum in the industrialized nations in 2009. But that’s not counting those who crossed into Syria or Jordan, who have in the past tended to be more numerous but […]

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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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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NewsHour’s Margaret Warner reports on the counter-terrorism effort in Yemen. With funding from the United States and Britain, Yemen has begun to bolster their indigenous counterterrorism efforts, with a particular focus on keeping international boots off the ground. Having trouble viewing this video? Click here to watch.

As the first day of spring swept across the northern half of the globe, Iranians at home and abroad celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The ancient holiday’s traditions date back centuries, but new customs have started taking hold in more recent times. This year, amid profound internal divisions and growing international tensions, the Official Nowruz Greeting became a new vehicle for mobilization and an occasion to outline strikingly different visions of the past, the present, and the future of Iran. The Nowruz messages offered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country’s two top opposition leaders, and U.S. President Barack […]

Despite genuine efforts at engaging Tehran, such as the Nowruz greetings issued by President Barack Obama this past Saturday and a similar Internet video released the previous year, the Obama administration has proven unable to resolve U.S. differences with the Iranian government over Iran’s nuclear program, regional security issues, or other disputes. Developments thus far do not portend any greater success this year. The decades of hostility and mistrust between Washington and Tehran made any bilateral reconciliation effort inevitably problematic. The unanticipated advent of a powerful mass movement in Iran seeking to change the regime’s policies — and, perhaps, the […]

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President Barack Obama addresses the Islamic Republic of Iran in a Nowruz message as he did one year ago. In his address, Obama asks Tehran to tell the international community not what they are against, but rather “what they are for.” This message comes during an impasse in talks between Iran and the international community regarding its nuclear development. Obama says that he is not against nuclear development in Iran, he just wants the process to meet international standards.

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Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton discusses U.S.-Russia relations on a trip to Moscow. Clinton said there has been significant progress on a post START treaty and expects a new agreement to be forthcoming. She also said that the U.S. and Russia have been collaborating on various issues of international import such as a diplomatic solution to Iran and Middle East peace talks.

For close to a decade now I’ve been roaming the world, delivering in Johnny Appleseed fashion a message that I refined just after 9/11 for the secretary of defense’s Office of Force Transformation: The world’s core powers must develop a systemic approach to postwar and post-disaster coalition interventions inside what I call the “Non-Integrated Gap,” by which I mean those countries and regions least connected to globalization. This vision encompasses the so-called “whole of government” approach, but extends it vigorously to also include the private sector, based on the knowledge that jobs are the only exit strategy. In short, when […]

One of the most troubling features of the environment in Washington these days is the inability to make tough strategic choices. This is particularly apparent when foreign policy objectives conflict with domestic political priorities: Because the two policy areas are usually compartmentalized, our diplomats don’t have much leverage to negotiate and bargain with other governments. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to Brazil, where she unsuccessfully sought to enlist support on the question of Iran sanctions, is a case in point. There are a number of issues currently causing friction in the bilateral U.S.-Brazil relationship. One is our continued […]

Does President Barack Obama harbor anti-Israel sentiments? The question has gnawed at supporters of Israel in and out of the Jewish state ever since then-Sen. Obama became a credible presidential candidate. The fears were exploited during the campaign by Obama’s political opponents, who unleashed an e-mail barrage of rumors falsely claiming that Obama was a secret Muslim. Those rumors have been snuffed out, but concerns about Obama’s true feelings towards Israel persist. The questions have gained currency in the midst of the crisis sparked by Israel’s announcement of new housing construction in a disputed part of Jerusalem, made during last […]

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Good stuff, as usual, from Yigal Schleifer on Turkey’s struggle to find a workable post-Kemalist/post-Ottoman identity, one that balances the past century of Western-oriented secularism with the emerging “central power”/republican Islamist trend represented by the AKP. It made me think of Japan, too, as another country involved in a deep examination of how well its post-War identity fits into the shifting landscape of today’s Asia. France is another one that comes to mind, and there are probably a handful of other examples, too. For me, that raises the obvious question of whether a similar process is taking place today in […]

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