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. […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

In the last half-decade, blogs have gone from a quirky personal sideline activity to a mainstream, almost de rigeur professional activity — following the previous trajectory of Web sites and, before them, e-mail itself. To many, this democratization of the flow of information is a distinct blessing, to others it is the epitome of data deluge. As someone who has now posted blog entries every day for six years and recently passed the 10,000-unit mark (fulfilling Malcolm Gladwell’s quota for expert practice), I wanted to take stock of what this has meant to me as a writer and thinker. First, […]

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 […]

It’s no secret that the increasing complexity of the international system — and in particular, its growing interconnectedness, integration, and interdependence — is eroding the fundamental business models of an ever-growing range of industries. Nowhere is this more evident than in the information industries, such as journalism, broadcasting, publishing, music and film, among others. More than a few entities have been swept to the brink of, or in some cases over, the precipice of irrelevance. And every information industry, it seems, is in some peril. The U.S. intelligence community’s traditional model is similarly threatened by these transformations, but like so […]

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 […]

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The news cycle from Africa is usually predictable, with isolated sparks of individual and community hope amid a heavy dose of despair caused by socio-economic depravity, political squabbles and violence. Last week’s coverage would not have been any different, had it not been for the announcement that the African Union had imposed sanctions on Madagascar’s rulers. The sanctions mark the first time the regional organization has ever invoked such an instrument, despite a plethora of more-brutal regimes on the continent deserving such punishment. The AU’s Peace and Security Council was not necessarily wrong to impose targeted sanctions on Madagascan President […]

The State Department is close to winding up the initial phase of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Mandated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the QDDR aims at creating a more robust civilian capacity for U.S. global engagement. As part of that effort, the review’s fourth working group addresses the task of “building and deploying an effective civilian capacity to address crises, conflicts, and countries in transition.” The review provides a historic opportunity to strengthen the expeditionary capacity of civilian agencies to deal with overseas conflicts. In 2005, after bungling stabilization and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush […]

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The two Russian-made helicopters swooped low over the village of Mahageer, pushing a stinging swirl of dust over the vineyards and pastures. The Mi-17 transports from the Afghan National Army Air Corps’ Kabul Wing touched down in close formation, their rotors just yards apart. Squads of Afghan National Army commandos leaped from the choppers and fanned out, aiming their M-16 rifles. With the perimeter secure, the commandos pulled cardboard boxes from the helicopters. When their holds were empty, the Mi-17s lifted off, blasting the fields with a fresh wave of grit. Last week’s Afghan air assault had […]

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