NDN Blog

INVITE: Sept. 13 - Secretary Clinton's Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society

Please join NDN for a luncheon event on Thursday, September 13th titled "Secretary Clinton's Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society: A New Model for 21st Century Diplomacy." Recognizing that 21st Century diplomacy involves active engagement with diverse stakeholders both domestically and abroad, Secretary Clinton last year launched the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. This innovative strategy has been executed by a federally chartered Advisory Committee Chaired by Dr. Tomicah Tillemann. Please join Dr. Tillemann as he discusses the vision, impact, and process by which these partnerships are transforming 21st century foreign policy. Space is limited so please RSVP today to bbosserman@ndn.org

Dr. Tomicah Tillemann serves as Secretary Clinton's Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies.

Lunch will be served at 12noon and the program will begin at 12:15. Space is limited, so please RSVP today.

Date: Thursday, September 13, 2012 

Time: 12Noon-1:30pm Location: 729 15th St. NW. Washington DC 20005 

RSVP: bbosserman@ndn.org

Brad Bosserman Discusses Iran on HuffPostLive

Brad Bosserman appeared today on Marc Hill’s show, broadcast on the recently-launched HuffPostLive network. He was discussing U.S. sanctions and aid policy in light of the recent earthquake in Iran. Watch the full video here.

What the Ryan Budget Really Says About Romney's Priorities

By choosing Paul Ryan to be his running mate, Mitt Romney has made a bold statement about his values and the policies he intends to promote if elected. As much as the former Governor would like to continue dodging specifics for the next four months, he has now officially yoked himself to the Ryan Budget, which while very flawed, is a much more specific proposal than anything his campaign has released. I analyzed the impact of the Ryan Plan last year when it was adopted by the House, and it is worth revisting its implications now that it has become the unofficial Romney Plan.

The media has already taken to calling it “bold” and “courageous” which seems to be establishing a pretty low bar as I’ve never considered it particularly brave to tax rich people less while cutting services to poor people. I’m not going to go through all of things that are wrong with the GOP budget, instead I simply want to make a couple of points about what it actually does, as opposed to what Republicans and Fox News will say that it does.

The budget does, in fact, dramatically cut government spending and reduce the long-term debt burden. It does this by cutting funding to social programs and shifting a huge percentage of the future cost of healthcare onto individuals. And these cuts are much larger than they need to be because Ryan also includes a massive tax cut for the wealthy. The non-partisan CBO analysis explained the cuts inherent in their plan to privatize Medicare:

Under the proposal, most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system. For a typical 65-year-old with average health spending enrolled in a plan with benefits similar to those currently provided by Medicare, CBO estimated the beneficiary’s spending on premiums and out-of-pocket expenditures as a share of a benchmark:…By 2030, the beneficiary’s spending would be 68 percent of that benchmark under the proposal, 25 percent under the extended-baseline scenario.

So seniors will see their out-of-pocket healthcare costs increase over 40%. Anyone who says this doesn’t happen is lying. It’s important to note that the Republican plan makes no attempt to limit the increasing costs of healthcare, they simply shift more and more of those costs onto individuals. The same goes for Medicaid, which is primarily a program for the low-income disabled and elderly. CBO reports:

Federal payments for Medicaid under the proposal would be substantially smaller than currently projected amounts…Even with additional flexibility, however, the large projected reduction in payments would probably require states to decrease payments to Medicaid providers, reduce eligibility for Medicaid, provide less extensive coverage to beneficiaries, or pay more themselves than would be the case under current law.

I want to point out that much of the savings the GOP plan purports to generate is very long-term, while the social program cuts and upper income tax breaks occur now. This is a trick that politicians use, knowing full well that long-term cuts never materialize. It’s the classic “my diet starts tomorrow” problem. So in the short and medium term, the GOP budget actually adds to the debt. That’s right, it’s less fiscally responsible within the actual 10-year budget window. The CBO analysis is below:


I’ve highlighted the debt levels with the red arrows, but I’ve also used the blue box to show the levels of spending in the GOP plan as a percentage of GDP. You may recall that every Republican senator recently voted to amend the constitution, forbidding Congress from spending more than 18% of GDP. You’ll notice that by that standard, the GOP budget is actually unconstitutional for at least the next 30 years.

The last thing I want to note about the budget is that a lot of the numbers and predictions fall somewhere between extremely optimistic and complete fantasy land. I won’t go through them all, but as an example, they cite a Heritage Foundation analysis predicting that this plan will unleash the market’s animal spirits and spur massive economic growth. Specifically, the Heritage report predicts that it will bring unemployment down to 2.8 percent. That’s so outrageously impossible that it should give you insight into the veracity of the analysis they’re using. Below is a graph of unemployment, for a bit of context. The last time it was at 2.8 percent was August of 1953.

Bradley Bosserman in The Hill: Signs of Progress in the Middle East

The article below was published in The Hill and argues that despite the set-backs, there are some legitimate non-political signs of progress with the critical transition countries in North Africa. While many political and economic challenges remain, it is important to understand the full picture of the opportunities and the advances being made in the wake of the Arab Spring.


Visa-free travel points to progress toward a more open Middle East

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's selection of a rather staid and technocratic Cabinet has overshadowed an important development in the region's democratic process. The three flagship transition countries in North Africa recently came together in support of a proposal for visa-free travel between Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. This so-called "Cairo Declaration" not only has the potential to substantively boost regional economic growth, but also represents a strikingly positive move toward openness and liberalization of a sort that would have been inconceivable just two years ago.

As critics highlight setbacks in the region, it is important for policymakers to maintain perspective and build on economic and non-political reforms that will lay the foundation for liberal, free and prosperous societies in the long term. The question that Americans need to be asking is how to best support these countries and integrate them more fully into the global system. Fortunately, this playbook has been around for ages: build civil society, boost trade, incentivize innovation and reform and forge long-term partnerships.

Eliminating cross-border visa entry has long been a staple of regional integration and has been deployed throughout Europe as an important tool to increase economic opportunity, investment, cultural exchange and tourism exports. While unemployment remains frustratingly high throughout the Middle East - especially among the young and educated - eliminating travel barriers can play a big role in consolidating the hard-fought political gains that were won in the streets of Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli. 

Chuck Dittrich, executive director of the U.S.-Libya Business Association, explains that "in addition to the benefits that will accrue to local business leaders, visa-free travel among the three countries will spur U.S. and other international investors to take notice ... which could spur the creation of regional supply chains and unleash the economic rewards of regional cooperation." This is in addition to the psychological benefits of families and friends being able to easily visit each other across borders after decades of confinement by autocratic regimes. This freedom of movement is a fundamental component of democratic life.

Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who served as an election observer on the ground in Cairo, recognizes the need to build on this trend toward integration, and has called for the negotiation of a U.S.-Egypt Free Trade Agreement. He argues, correctly, that cries to distance ourselves from moderate Islamist governments are short-sighted. 

"[T]he Brotherhood has at least taken some of the responsibility of righting the economy and providing opportunity for 85 million Egyptians," Dreier said on the House floor last week, "[and] it will face enormous pressure to pursue a reform agenda, engage appropriately with the West, and eschew regional conflict."

As important as political and electoral reforms are, it is nearly impossible to conceive of a path toward a democratic Middle East that does not include much more robust economic growth and a regional integration strategy for the region. The International Labor Organization reports that youth unemployment in North Africa has spiked since the Arab Spring to nearly 30 percent. ILO Executive Director José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs observes that this crisis "can be beaten but only if job creation for young people becomes a key priority in policymaking and private sector investment picks up significantly." These are the types of gains that history tells us are most effectively achieved by increased trade, integration and liberalization. That is why this latest push for visa-free travel and deeper regional and international cooperation is so important.

Speaking in Africa this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that "[s]ome people back home say we shouldn't bother. That we should just focus on America's immediate economic or security interests and not worry so much about the slow, hard work of building democracy elsewhere." But this is clearly not a strategic or forward-looking approach to the U.S. relationship with the region and the world, Clinton said. She concluded: "It's also in our interest to have strong and stable partners in the world. And democracies are by far the strongest and most stable partners. So this isn't altruism. This is a strategic commitment to shared prosperity, to common security." 

While it is certainly prudent to pressure these nascent governments to pursue a broad agenda of political and social liberalization, it is essential for policymakers to also recognize the important non-political advances being made, and build stronger partnerships around them.

Will the Romney Tour Help Mitt Find an Actual Foreign Policy Strategy?

Mitt Romney is now plunging himself into the foreign policy debate by giving a high profile speech at a Veterans of Foreign Wars conference before setting off on an international tour to meet with foreign leaders. His campaign claims that during his trip to Europe and Israel, Romney will "learn and listen," a task which is long overdue. He recently proclaimed that those aspiring to be commander-in-chief  "must offer their answers to the challenges we face," yet he has failed to do so, despite having countless opportunities. Instead of strategic vision he offers platitudes. Instead of explaining priorities and trade-offs, he offers clichés. And while he is quick to heap scorn upon the president - a president who consistently outpolls Romney on national security - the former governor appears either incapable or unwilling to explain any substantive differences in the way he would handle the critical foreign policy challenges of our time. A man who believes that foreign policy is as simple as standing "like a watchman in the night" in order to "lead the free world" clearly is either not taking the responsibility seriously or has nothing to contribute to this debate.

In condemning the defense budget cuts that were approved by Congress, Romney asserts that we must instead spend much, much more. His rationale for this is supposedly based on the threats America faces, namely, "The regime in Tehran is drawing closer to developing a nuclear weapon. The threat of radical Islamic terrorism persists. The threat of weapons of mass destruction proliferation is ever-present." Yet these are threats which are decidedly noteffectively addressed by large conventional military capabilities. Is Romney suggesting that his administration would contain Iran by invasion? If not, then how would billions more for the Pentagon improve upon the Obama strategy? A strategy that has delayed the development of their nuclear program, organized the most restrictive sanctions regime in history, and brought Tehran to the negotiating table. While Islamic terrorism remains a threat, the Obama administration - through the use of intelligence, drones, and special forces -  has done more to dismantle al Qaeda in three years than George W. Bush did in eight. And effectively countering WMD proliferation requires robust multilateral regimes and principled negotiations, not more troops and aircraft carriers.

Nowhere is the Romney foreign policy rhetoric more hollow and vacuous, though, than when he speaks about the transitions in the Middle East and North Africa. In the brief moments he spends discussing the region, Romney claims to desire an Arab world animated by freedom and modernity. "As president," he says, "I will not only direct the billions in assistance we give to Egypt toward that goal, but I will also work with partner nations to place conditions on their assistance as well." But what does this actually mean? The Arab Spring has ushered in remarkable opportunities for fresh engagement with the populations throughout the Middle East. As an entire generation of Arabs fundamentally re-orients their relationship to their governments, their economies, and the West, America has the unique ability to step in as a partner helping to develop civil society, economic infrastructure, and political liberalization.

But these are not objectives that can be achieved with rhetoric and business-as-usual. The details matter and Romney must be pressed on the specifics. Would he seek to re-balance that aid to Egypt away from military sales in favor of development funding? Would he work with freely-elected Islamist governments to advance common priorities? Does he believe, like 35 House Republicans, that aid should be withdrawn based on innuendo and suspicion? Or would he join GOP Senator Lindsey Graham in supporting innovative tools like the Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund? Despite the House voting to eliminate this important tool, Graham vocally supported $1 billion in funding, noting the importance of giving "the State Department the ability to go in to places like Tunisia and Libya that are at a crossroads and come up with some financial assistance to stabilize those countries." Where does Romney stand?

As the governor sets out on his international tour he should focus on formulating real policy proscriptions instead of shallow applause lines. He is running against a president who has a striking track record of foreign policy accomplishments, and if he seeks to critique this administration's strategy with any credibility, he will need to bring to the table far more than vague quips and patriotic chest-thumping. Romney is right when he suggests that a real leader must provide answers to the challenges we face. But he has yet to provide any.

This essay originally appeared in PolicyMic. Read more at www.menaprogram.org

INVITE: Today, Sept. 11 – Can We Do More? The U.S. And The Arab Spring

On the anniversary of 9-11, NDN's MENA Initiative is convening a panel to examine U.S. strategy in the region beyond the traditional lens of counter-terrorism and military conflict. Experts will reflect upon the U.S. response to the Arab Spring, analyze the implications of recent events, and answer the critical question: can and should the U.S. be doing more to support democratic transitions? RSVP Today.

Featured Speakers

Ambassador William B. Taylor

Special Coordinator of Middle East Transitions, U.S. Department of State

Dr. Nathan Brown

Professor of Political Science & International Affairs at George Washington University and Senior Associate with the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Michael "Mickey" Bergman

Executive Director of Aspen Partnerships, The Aspen Institute

Bradley Bosserman

Director of The MENA Initiative, NDN and the New Policy Institute

When: 12:00PM - 1:30PM Tuesday, Sept. 11

Where: NDN Event Space. 729 15th St. NW. Washington, DC 20005

Lunch will be served at noon and the event will begin at 12:15

Space will be limited so please RSVP today. Please address questions to bbosserman@ndn.org

GOP Calls To Defund Egypt Are Short-Sighted and Dangerous

I was very disappointed to read the letter sent to House leadership by Rep. Joe Walsh and 34 other Republican Congressmen encouraging the withdrawal of financial support from the nascent democracy in Egypt. While it is prudent to rebalance American aid in favor of development rather than arms, this rush to abandon an entire people because of the historical affiliation of their freely elected president is exactly the type of reactionary, short-sighted policy that the U.S. needs to avoid. Millions of people throughout the Middle East and North Africa have been inspired to finally throw off the shackles of authoritarianism, and American policymakers need to step up as partners and judge these new leaders by their actions instead of vague statements and innuendo.

Withdrawing funding would have very real, negative effects on U.S. relations with these young governments, and these Congressional critics seem inclined to pull that plug based not on any actual policy decisions that Morsi has made, but merely on some hypothetical scenario.

If Rep. Walsh and his colleagues believe in the democratic system, they have to trust that empowering individuals through the democratic process — along with taking steps to promote the development of civil society and economic growth — is the only path that will lead to a stable and prosperous Middle East.

Rep. Walsh correctly identified the stakes, even while coming to the wrong conclusion. He suggests that the newly-elected President Morsi “favors normalizing relations with Iran, including expanding areas of political and economic cooperation in order to create a balance of pressure in the region.” The question is, would the withdrawal of American support and partnership make it more or less likely that the Egyptian government would be driven to embrace Iran? The Arab Spring has created a powerful window of opportunity for America as new governments and young Arabs are reassessing their relationships to the West, but if Congress chooses to close their door and leave them out in the cold — governments like Iran, Russia, and China will be more than happy to welcome them in. If this group of Congressmen truly believes in promoting American interests in the region, the policy they are advocating is exactly backwards.


Save The Date: Sept. 11 Panel Discussion with Amb. Bill Taylor

On the Anniversary of the September 11 attacks, NDN's MENA Initiative will host a panel discussion on American strategy in the Middle East, taking stock of our response to the Arab Spring and identifying key challenges and opportunities for our future policy in the region.

This discussion will feature Ambassador William Taylor who currently serves as the Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions at the U.S. Department of State. There are very few people with more first hand experience with America's Middle East policy than Amb. Taylor. In addition to his current position, he has previosly Directed The Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, Coordinated U.S. assitance to Afghanistan, and served as the U.S. representative to the Middle East Quartett. The full invite will be made available at the website of the MENA Initiative in the coming weeks. 

Event Recap: U/S Hormats Speaks To NDN's MENA Initiative

NDN's new MENA Initiative hosted Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats on June 26th. U/S Hormats overseas all Economic, Energy, and Environmental policy at the State Department and has been at the very center of formulating and implementing the American economic response to the Arab Spring.  In his remarks, he highlighted the important - if under reported - efforts undertaken by the State Department to support economic growth throughout the region. He also emphasized the importance of projects like NDN's MENA Initiative for building stronger support for a more expansive economic growth strategy in these transition countries.

Ultimately, a stable, prosperous, and democratic region is in all of our interests.  The region requires stability and patience is needed by its own people and by us because some changes take a considerable amount of time.  We have to support them as new democracies.  Contrary to what some have said, the Arab Spring has not turned into an Arab Winter.  Much progress has been made. And there are many many opportunities for us to play a constructive role.  We have to work with the people and understand their desires - and have specific and constructive measures to put on the table.  Rhetoric will not suffice; concrete support is needed on financing, trade, and support for SMEs.

Despite progress in key areas- growth in the region has not been inclusive.

Quite simply, many people in the region have not had the opportunity to participate productively in their economies or their societies.  This is a challenge that we, and the new governments, have to address. Providing more people with the opportunity to participate productively in their economies and benefit from them will lead to greater and more broadly based prosperity but also to a sounder base for political and social reforms.

The full transcript of U/S Hormats' remarks is available here. 

In The Hill: "An Economic Growth Strategy For A New Middle East"

I published an article this morning in The Hill entitled "An Economic Growth Strategy for a New Middle East." I conclude that:

Aid and elections are not enough. We must act now to support a robust program of engagement that increases trade, builds the central pillars of civil society, gives our experts the tools they need to support moderates and express a real commitment to partnership. 

We should vocally advocate for American values, but also demonstrate patience with these young democracies and be prepared for their governments to reflect their diverse societies and cultures. If we desire to see the Arab Spring lead to long-term democratization and liberalization, we must fully commit to implementing the economic policies that will make that possible.

The full article is available here.

This is the philosophy behind NDN's new MENA Initiative. Stay up to date on the website www.menaprogram.org where you can subscribe to the RSS feed and find an invite to next week's lunch with Under Secretary of State Bob Hormats as well as video from a discussion I had yesterday with producers at Huffington Post and some Egyptian activists. 


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