Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ self-described “man bites dog” speech this week may be the most important national security legacy speech by any member of the Bush administration. Advocating greater funding and development of U.S. soft power capabilities, Gates was not in fact breaking new ground for a Department of Defense official; but his articulation of the need for such capabilities in a broader, 21st century context gave his remarks a refreshing relevance beyond the political and into the realm of the strategic. Escaping the morass of “long war” rhetoric, Secretary Gates may have written the first chapter in the […]

U.S. officials established several key objectives for Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ week-long visit to East Asia earlier this month. It now appears that, at least with respect to China, the trip failed to achieve its key goals. During his Nov. 4-6 stay in Beijing, Gates held a 90-minute conference with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan, a shorter meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and additional sessions with other Chinese officials and journalists. Although Gates had visited China before, this was his first official trip since becoming Secretary of Defense last November. One of Gates’ major objectives was to induce the […]

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — As the United Nations Security Council and secretary general deliberate about whether Somalia is too dangerous for authorizing a larger peacekeeping force, United Nations officials on the ground say the country is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa. In the last two months, the security situation in the capital city of Mogadishu has steadily deteriorated, forcing over 600,000 refugees to flee the city. One million have been displaced in a country of 7 million, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Camps along the road connecting the market town of Afgooye with Mogadishu alone have […]

Public unrest in Tbilisi earlier this month has disturbed the friends of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Since Saakashvili’s ascent to power during the peaceful Rose Revolution in November 2003, Western nations have touted his government as a beacon of democracy in the South Caucasus. Indeed, over the last four years, Saakashvili’s cabinet has reined in corruption, improved tax collection and reportedly increased tax revenue six-fold. Undemocratic Actions Yet, these breakthroughs notwithstanding, Saakashvili’s popularity is on decline. Public discontent with his governing practices erupted after the Sept. 27 arrest and alleged torture of the former defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili. Saakashsvili dismissed […]

Six members of the French charitable association L’Arche de Zoé — “Zoë’s Ark” — are presently being held prisoner in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. They are charged by Chadian authorities with kidnapping. The six were arrested on Oct. 25 while preparing to “evacuate” from the country some 103 children who had allegedly been made orphans by the conflict in neighboring Darfur. As it turns out, however, the vast majority of the children were neither orphans nor from Darfur. Could a well-meaning humanitarian initiative have thus degenerated into simple crime? Rony Brauman, former president of the French NGO Médecins sans […]

The quick one-day visit between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in Washington Nov. 16 was by all accounts a successful “meet and greet.” However, it fell far short of the substantive policy agreements and memorable photo-ops that characterized such meetings during the era of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Bush and Fukuda had open discussions on issues ranging from North Korea to global warming to beef. However, the lack of substantive agreements that resulted highlights alarming trends in the U.S.-Japan alliance. If not properly managed, the new rifts in the alliance — in large part attributable to […]

MITROVICA, Kosovo — At first glance, Mitrovica looks like an unremarkable post-industrial mining town. A cloud of smoke hovers over a sprawl of dusty roads dotted with Yugoslav-era apartment blocks and an unattractive monument to local zinc miners, both Serb and Albanian, who battled against the Nazis during World War II. Today, the city is divided by a river and a bridge, symbols of the ethnic strife that exploded in violence in 1999 and again in 2004, driving Mitrovica’s Albanians to the south, and Serbs to the north, of the Ibar River. The final scheduled talks between Kosovo and Serbia […]

ANNAPOLIS I: THE NOT-SO-SECRET SERVICE — The Annapolis Conference on the Middle East started with something as mundane as an early morning bus ride. At 8 a.m., foreign ministers and senior diplomats from 46 countries were bussed from the State Department to the U.S. Naval Academy for better security, and to avoid clogging rush hour traffic on the beltway with individual motorcades, it was said. In reality, however, the buses were meant to make sure that everyone showed up at the conference. Security was mainly shared between the local police and the oddly named Uniformed Secret Service, a Treasury Department […]

WASHINGTON — Some 40 foreign ministers and other senior officials are being bussed to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Tuesday for a day’s discussion on the conflict that has dominated events in the Middle East since 1948. Each speaker will initially have five minutes (President Bush will have a few more) to spell out his or her proposals for establishing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Rome isn’t the only place that wasn’t built in a day. Neither will a peaceful Middle East, with Israel and Palestine existing side by side. But the United States, organizer of […]

This week, the United States is hosting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Annapolis, Md., in hopes of jumpstarting the stalled Middle East peace process. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made several trips to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in an effort to bring the two parties closer to negotiations. Rice has been working on the Middle East peace process from the early days of the Bush Administration. Bringing a just and comprehensive peace to the Middle East is a top priority for President Bush, especially in light of the negative aftermath of […]

At long last the invitations have gone out. The Annapolis meeting will take place after all, and it will happen this Tuesday. I suspect Miss Manners might have objected to sending invitations just a few days before the event, especially considering most of the guests will have to travel many thousands of miles to get to the bash. But then, Miss Manners never had to set the table for a gathering of Arab and Israeli adversaries. Of all the questions surrounding this much-maligned non-conference, the most critical is: Will it disappoint? Will it disappoint Palestinians so much that they turn […]

The German parliament recently renewed the “mandates” authorizing the German Bundeswehr to continue military operations in Afghanistan. On Oct. 12, the legislators voted to approve Germany’s continued military participation in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF). On Nov. 15, the Bundestag extended by one-year the authorization permitting Germany’s elite special forces unit, the Kommando Spezialkräfte, to participate in the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan, which also involves German naval patrols off the Horn of Africa. The OEF deployment, which focuses on counterterrorism, has proven more controversial among Germans than supporting the ISAF, which is often […]

Editor’s Note: The following is the final installment of Kurt Pelda’s diary of his recent trip to Darfur. To read the diary from the beginning, start here. The JEM and an Illiterate ColonelThe Last Wadi We get up at three in the morning, since we have a long voyage ahead of us today. The rebels are shivering and coughing. We wrap our turbans around necks, noses and mouths to protect us against the morning cold and the wind in our faces as we drive, leaving only a narrow slit for our eyes. The rebels push the truck to get it […]

A new Russian epic film that tells the story of the emergence of the Romanov czarist dynasty is widely seen as the latest move in the campaign to keep President Vladimir Putin in power after his second and final allowable term ends in May 2008. “1612,” which is said to have been produced by a friend of Putin, recounts how the Russians “drafted” Mikhail Romanov to save the country during a dark period of its history, thus paving the way for imperial Russia. The film’s director is quite open about its contemporary message. “I’m convinced . . . that Russians […]

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Somalia’s embattled transitional President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was slated on Wednesday to nominate a successor to interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, who quit last month during a spike in insurgent violence in the capital of Mogadishu that claimed hundreds of lives. The new prime minister faces a daunting task — holding together a fragile and unpopular government (based for security reasons in the northern town of Baidoa) while organizing security forces to fight alongside Ethiopian troops that have occupied Mogadishu since routing the hard line Islamic Courts regime last December. Local press reports indicate that former […]

THE EU TESTS ITS LEVERAGE — Piero Fassino, the European Union’s new special envoy for Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma, is likely to have an uphill battle to persuade that country’s neighbors to go along with new EU sanctions against the Burmese regime. Last week, the European Union drew up a list of sanctions specifically targeting Burma’s ruling junta, including blocking their exports of Burmese gems — a key source of revenue for the leadership — plus a Europe-wide travel ban, and curtailment of other trade. The aim is to pressure the junta to improve on the so far modest concessions made […]

Some might say it was just oil and business deals worth billions that prompted President Bush earlier this year to do what it takes: get over his acute dislike for hosting formal state dinners and invite the Saudi King Abdullah as the guest of honor for a lavish White House gala. But oil and big business deals are only the most obvious reasons to court the Saudi king. Given the president’s many predicaments in the Middle East, the Saudis are a power well positioned to help a friend in need. However, if the invitation was intended to acknowledge the importance […]

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