As the Obama administration grapples with what to do next in Egypt, it may be instructive to review the U.S. efforts of the past decade to bring about fundamental political and economic change in Egypt and the other countries of the greater Middle East. The events of 9/11 were a deadly wake-up call to Washington that the status quo in the region—the perpetuation of sclerotic autocracies that provided no meaningful outlet for the economic and political aspirations of the populace—was not sustainable. Indeed, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was later to note—in June 2005, speaking in Cairo, no less—that “For […]

The most remarkable trait of Washington’s policy toward Egypt has been its lack of clarity. That’s part of the reason why each side in the battle over Egypt’s future blames America for supporting the other. Now President Barack Obama has to decide whether or not to continue providing more than $1.5 billion in aid annually. He will be tempted to make another hazy, ambiguous decision, one that allows him to stand on all sides of the issue. Instead, he should take the opportunity to clarify America’s position. According to some reports, the Obama administration has secretly suspended aid, which manages […]

American presidential elections often provide a forum to air differences on military strength between the opposing candidates and their parties. This was particularly true after Vietnam, when a clear distinction between the Republican and Democratic approaches to defense took shape. The GOP favored robust military spending, took a hard line toward the Soviet Union, was skeptical of international organizations and placed less stress on treaties to promote American security. Democrats, by contrast, emphasized international organizations, diplomacy and the promotion of collective and humanitarian interests. By the 1980s, the Republican notion clearly resonated more deeply with the American public: Ronald Reagan […]

The Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy, November 2008, Washington, D.C. (White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian).

One notable feature of the global economy over the half-decade since the collapse of Lehman Brothers has been the fluctuating fortunes of international economic cooperation in general and of the G-20 in particular. The G-20’s public reputation has taken a roller-coaster ride from hero to zero. The story of this rise and fall is also the story of the changing balance of (economic) power in the post-crisis global economy, and of the implications that this shift has had for how the world economy works—and how it doesn’t. This story began when the onset of the financial crisis prompted the elevation […]

Believers in international cooperation need to be optimists. It takes faith and patience to endure the endless conferences, committees and communiques that make up multilateral diplomacy. But even upbeat advocates of global governance are liable to feel gloomy about the prospects for two major meetings scheduled for next month. The first is the annual G-20 summit, to be hosted by Russia in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5-6. The second is the gathering of world leaders for the opening of the new session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York beginning Sept. 24. Both events are more likely to highlight […]

Russia has been sending some confusing signals on Iran in recent weeks. Rumors began to circulate that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be heading to Tehran to meet with newly inaugurated President Hasan Rouhani—with some even predicting that Putin would “drop in” on Iran this week after completing his visit to Azerbaijan to confer with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. Stories were also released that Russia was reconsidering its unilaterally imposed boycott on selling advanced S-300 air defense systems to Tehran, or at least replacing them with another variant, the Antei-2500 system, as a way to get Iran to drop its […]

President Barack Obama’s statement this morning on Egypt aimed to send a message of moral condemnation to Egypt’s military government, which only yesterday conducted a bloody crackdown against its political opponents. Yet the president’s moral messaging was compromised by the linguistic dance that accompanied it. Beyond the cancellation of annual military exercises, the only significant policy outcome was Obama’s continued resistance to the use of the word “coup” to describe the overthrow of a democratically elected government—for good or ill—by the Egyptian military. Obama’s maneuvering harkens back to the Rwandan genocide, when the Clinton administration famously refused to use the […]

Revolutions are difficult to gauge in their early stages. They are born out of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a growing feeling that deep change is needed. Most of the time such dissatisfaction ends with modest reform. But in rare instances, it can turn into true revolution and alter the course of history. Because revolutions are driven by thousands, even millions, of individual human decisions, predicting their outcome is difficult. Even the revolutionaries who start them are often surprised by the result. Today a revolution may be brewing in American security policy. More and more Americans are dissatisfied with […]

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Seven years ago, the dominant Democratic narrative explaining the decline in America’s standing in the world was due largely to Republican incompetence in foreign policy matters, with the Iraq War presented as Exhibit A. If Democrats returned to power, it was intimated, the United States would regain its international position. American allies, starting with the Europeans, would fall in line to support U.S. security initiatives; multilateral institutions would work because Democrats would demonstrate their superior negotiating techniques; and when it came to dealing with “difficult” regimes like China or Russia, Democrats would show the “cowboys” in the George W. Bush […]

Joe Biden’s recent visit to New Delhi and Mumbai—the first trip by an American vice president to India in 30 years—occasioned no shortage of handwringing over the state of the U.S.-India relationship. Commentators on both sides point to stalled economic reforms and slowing growth in India combined with uncertainty over how India fits into Washington’s vaunted “rebalance” to Asia. And from one perspective, the glass can indeed appear half empty. Yet the U.S.-India relationship enjoys bipartisan support in both countries, and the underlying strategic logic remains sound. Building on this foundation will require able stewardship in both Washington and New […]

Last week, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi visited the White House for talks with U.S. President Barack Obama regarding counterterrorism and Yemen’s democratic transition. In an email interview, Danya Greenfield, deputy director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and head of the Yemen Policy Initiative at the Atlantic Council, explained the recent history and current state of the U.S.-Yemen relationship. WPR: How does the U.S. relationship with President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi compare with its relationship with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh? Danya Greenfield: The United States’ working relationship with Hadi is far more positive, transparent […]

This is the second in a two-part series on the U.S.-South Africa bilateral relationship. Part I examined the state of economic ties. Part II examines the state of political ties. U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent visit to South Africa was positive in tone and strong in symbolism, but there was a tangible sense that both sides were going through the motions. If the trip was a rather subdued affair in terms of policy outcomes, it is in part because the U.S.-South Africa political relationship is actually quite fractious, and even the traditional trappings of summitry could not conceal a range […]

U.S.-Russia relations can’t catch a break. No sooner is one set of difficulties navigated than another wave of troubles appears on the horizon. Earlier this year, differences over Syria appeared to be the rock upon which the bilateral relationship would founder, as America’s insistence on supporting the opposition seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad—and Moscow’s absolute refusal to abandon the regime in Damascus—seemed to put both countries on a collision course. Then the flight of NSA contractor Edward Snowden from the long hand of U.S. justice to a limbo in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport threatened relations, […]

This is the first in a two-part series on the U.S.-South Africa bilateral relationship. Part I examines the state of economic ties. Part II will examine the state of political ties. Although it was inevitably overshadowed by the serious decline in Nelson Mandela’s health, U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to South Africa at the end of June provided the opportunity for a comprehensive re-evaluation of the bilateral relationship. Though both sides talked about expanding cooperation and strengthening ties, the backdrop to the visit was a checkered and uneven relationship since the birth of the new South Africa in 1994. By […]