An Inward- or Outward-Looking Constitution?

Noah Feldman’s cover article in this past Sunday’s New York Times is a must read. Feldman provides useful background on how the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court are increasingly affecting foreign policy. His framing of the debate surrounding the intersection of constitutional law and international law is also quite useful. He describes the two sides of the debate as “conservative and inward-looking” vs. “liberal and outward-focused,” and illustrates how in two recent decisions — Boumediene v. Bush and Medellín v. Texas — the liberal and conservative view, respectively, each notched a victory. Feldman writes: The Boumediene decision saw the […]

Missile Defense Moves Forward

These are heady and crucial days for the burgeoning international missile defense system (IMD), which the United States is building in cooperation with its closest allies. Indeed, every week seems to bring with it another validation of IMD’s necessity, viability or practicality. The past several weeks are no exception. On the capabilities front, just this month, the Airborne Laser (ABL) was successfully tested aboard its demonstrator aircraft (though not yet in the air; that comes next year). “We have now demonstrated all of the technical steps needed to shoot down a boosting missile in flight,” explained Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, […]

Editor’s Note: Beginning with the next installment on Oct. 6, Rights & Wrongs will appear every other Monday.U.S. RELEASES ANNUAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT — In the latest edition of its annual report on religious freedom, released Sept. 19, the U.S. State Department named North Korea, Eritrea and Iran the worst abusers of religious rights. State Department Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford spoke first of conditions in North Korea at the report’s launch, noting the country “remains among the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom. The cult of personality surrounding the ruling family remains an important ideological underpinning […]

UNITED NATIONS — In his farewell speech to the United Nations this week, U.S. President George W. Bush assessed the utility of the world body in a way that represents a significant departure from his administration’s earlier policy. Bush, now entrenched in nation-building both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, told members of the U.N. General Assembly, “a clear lesson has emerged: The United Nations and other multilateral organizations are needed more urgently than ever.” His Sept. 23 speech came after almost eight years of rocky relations between the United Nations and the Bush administration. It also fueled speculation about the […]

The South American Leadership Vacuum

For various reasons, including the lack of a credible capacity, Russian naval posturing in the Atlantic and Caribbean doesn’t pose a serious threat to the U.S. It does, however, disturb South America’s emerging balance of power, specifically by reinforcing the threat that Venezuela poses to Brazil’s regional influence. (See Marcelo Ballvé’s WPR piece.) So it’s not really a surprise that Brazil would seek to shore up its naval deterrent capacity by adding five submarines — four diesel-powered and one nuclear-powered — to its already existing fleet. It is, though, surprising that it would turn to France to partner in the […]

Zapatero or Subcomandante Marcos?

To piggyback on Hampton’s postabout McCain’s Zapatero “gaffe,” I’d bet dollars to donuts that betweenthe interviewer’s strong accent and the fact that she’d beenquestioning him about Latin American leftist leaders, he thought shehad made a reference to the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. The factthat immediately afterwards he referred to Mexican President FelipeCalderon seems like a pretty strong tell. And as Hampton says, afterthat, there was a lot of cross talk that could explain why he neverheard the references to Spain. That was my first reaction when I sawthe story, and afterwards I noticed that Joshua Keating over at FP Passport […]

McCain on Meeting with Zapatero: Misunderstanding or Gaffe?

The liberal blogosphere is making a lot of hay with John McCain’s recent interview with Radio Caracol Miami in which he appears to dodge a question about meeting with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Below is the audio, via TPM. The relevant passage starts around 2:58. Contrary to the assertions of most bloggers, it’s perfectly clear to me that McCain’s dodging of the question is a result of his not understanding the interviewer rather than his not knowing who Zapatero is (though the latter remains a possibility). He clearly doesn’t hear the translator say “Spain” in her first […]

U.S.-Nicaraguan Relations Chill as Ortega Faces Domestic Tests

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — U.S. relations with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Cold War foe, have become icier after the former Sandinista rebel leader recognized the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions. While the international community condemned Russia for sending troops last month to support the two rebel enclaves South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nicaragua quickly became the first country other than Russia to recognize the two provinces’ as independent nations. Five days later, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez canceled a planned trip to Nicaragua, with U.S. Ambassador in Managua Robert Callahan saying, “It isn’t the appropriate moment for the […]

A deft diplomatic intervention to shore up Bolivia’s beleaguered government demonstrated Brazil’s newfound willingness to exert strong political leadership in South America, filling the vacuum created by America’s disengagement with the region’s leftist presidents. Bolivia’s domestic turmoil led South American leaders to convene a heads-of-state summit for members of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a body created only four months before. The Sept. 15 summit, held in Chile, was in many ways UNASUR’s trial by fire, and by all accounts it was a Brazilian show, with President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva leading the negotiations. “With the United […]

The Strategic Danger of Knowing Where History’s Going

“For those like President Bush who profess certainty as to history’s purpose, using any means necessary to hurry history along to its predetermined destination offers a nearly irresistible temptation. When that conviction is accompanied by a further certainty that on the far side of victory permanent peace awaits, the resort to force becomes almost obligatory. The greater the sense of conviction the easier it becomes to justify any mayhem committed on behalf of big ideas.” –Andrew Bacevich, in a review of “The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth ofWarfare as We Know It,” by David A. Bell, in […]

On Sept. 8, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the most concrete U.S. punishment of Russia for Moscow’s military intervention in Georgia. In a brief press release, she related that President Bush was rescinding the proposed U.S.-Russia Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation. She expressed regret at the decision, but described it as inevitable since, “given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement.” Although Vice President Richard Cheney has denounced “Russia’s actions [as] an affront to civilized standards” and said they are “completely unacceptable,” the Bush administration had until this decision not penalized Russia so directly […]

Read Part I and Part II of this series. As European cocaine use has increased, heightened sea interdiction by the U.S. and the EU has pushed more traditional transatlantic cocaine trafficking routes — and their profits — further south in the Americas, making Venezuela and Brazil, via West Africa, Europe’s main suppliers of cocaine. While it is unknown exactly how much of the estimated 250 metric tons of cocaine that enters the EU by sea or air each year arrives from Africa, it is believed that the cocaine smuggled across the continent’s fragile Western region has a street value of […]

The Coke Coast: Organized Crime and Extremism in West Africa

Read Part 1 of this series. Late last year, four French tourists were gunned down in Mauritania where they were picnicking by a roadside on Christmas Eve, prompting the cancellation of the 2008 Lisbon-Dakar Rally. Identified as an al-Qaida “sleeper cell” by local officials, the two shooters were later picked up in Guinea-Bissau, where it was revealed that one of the men had lived there for two years and spoke the local Creole language. The two men, along with three suspected accomplices, all Mauritanian nationals, were later deported to their home country. But the inability of law enforcement to function […]

NEW YORK — Both candidates for President of the United States agree that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology is a serious threat to national security, but neither has presented a serious strategy for dealing with the problem on the campaign trail. One seems to think he can talk Iran out of its nuclear program without specifying what he’d say to change the equation. The other summed up his strategy by inserting a few bombs into an old Beach Boys song. Campaign rhetoric rarely becomes policy, especially in foreign affairs, and the Iranian question is no exception. Certainly Barack Obama will […]

TORRÉON, Mexico — Fernando Martí, the 14-year-old son of a Mexican sporting goods magnate, was kidnapped in June, strangled within a few days of his abduction, and found in the trunk of a car in the nation’s capital in August. His ordeal — along with stratospheric levels of drug violence and the recent designation of Mexico as the country that leads the world in kidnappings — has provoked a groundswell of outrage across Mexican society. Politicians, civil groups, newspaper commentators, the business community — virtually everyone drawing breath from Tijuana to Cancun agrees that Mexico’s rampant criminality must be addressed. […]

Rights & Wrongs: Argentina, Cuba, Yemen and More

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS PRESS IOC ON FUTURE GAMES — Human rights groups are calling on the International Olympic Committee to promise that human rights guarantees will be part of the process for awarding future Olympic Games. Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, Students for a Free Tibet, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are among the more than a dozen groups calling for more IOC attention to human rights as a criteria for selecting host nations. The success of the Beijing Games was tempered by Chinese authorities’ ongoing human rights abuses, and many worry that the games sent the wrong message […]

September 11: A Jewish Holiday?

As reported by the German wire service the Deutsche-Presse-Agentur (DPA) last week, the American Embassy in Berlin has announced that it will be holding a commemorative service on September 11 for the victims of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. This is hardly unusual. What is unusual, however, is that the service is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community of Berlin (an umbrella group of Jewish congregations) and will be held at the Centrum Judaicum at Berlin’s historic “New” Synagogue. Malte Lehming of the Berlin daily Die Tagesspiegel rightly asks: “Why?” The 9/11 attacks were, after all, attacks on America and Americans, […]