NDN Blog

Foreign Policy Chat - Events In Egypt Threaten Democratic Transition

The Presidential elections in Egypt were held over the weekend, but a last-minute constitutional decree by the interim military leadership cast serious doubt on fate of a peaceful transfer of power. The military-run SCAF had long-promised to hand over power to a civilian government once a President was elected, but the Egyptian defense establishment had become worried in recent weeks that a Muslim Brotherhood controlled parliament and Presidency would force them into obsolescence. A pair of rulings by the Supreme Court late last week resulted in the dissolution of the Brotherhood-dominated, though popularly elected, parliament. This set the stage for the newly elected President to take the reins of a government with no permanent constitution and no elected legislature, placing near total control in their hands. The Military council would have been able to stomach this situation had former Mubarak-era Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik won the Presidency. Once it appeared, however, that the tide was turning in favor of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, the military acted decisively to issue a permanent constitution, seizing nearly all of the powers they had promised to relinquish to the elected government.

The Brotherhood has vowed to fight the illegitimate constitutional coup issued by the SCAF, and the ultimate fate of all of these political, legal, and institutional issues remains uncertain. Egyptian journalist Issandr El Amrani offered the following assesment:

So to recap, you have a possible fight on the result of the presidential election, an almost certain fight on the fate of parliament and the constitutional declaration, and a longer-term fight on the drafting of the future constitution. If you're not worried already, start worrying now.

With many analysts and observers drafting their obituaries for the Egyptian revolution, the outcome of these battles will determine whether Egypt continues down its rocky path toward transition or gets sucked into more autocracy. If U.S. policymakers hope to aid in the former and avert the later, they need to redouble their level of engagement with the people and democratic institutions in Egypt. The SCAF has revealed that they are bad actors and recent events - along with the broader lessons of the Arab Spring - should teach Americans that a relationship based primarily on military aid and support for top-down governance will breed nothing but instability throughout the region. Rather than simply selling arms, policymakers need to invest in growing these economies and supporting their democratic institutions, regardless of the candidates and politicians they produce. In the long run, the only path to stability in the Middle East and North Africa is in building economies and societies that provide real opportunities for their populations, and political and civil society institutions that allow them to express themselves. Creating this environment is not easy. It isn't quick. And it isn't without complications and set-backs. But a dedication to creating the long-run partnerships necessary to bring these realities about is the only way to realize the aspirations of the Arab Spring. 

Invite: 6/26 - U/S Bob Hormats on US Economic Strategy for N. Africa, Middle East

Please join us for a luncheon with Robert Hormats, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs. In light of recent political turmoil in Egypt and Syria, Under Secretary Hormats -- who has just returned from the region -- will speak about the Administration's economic support strategy for the Middle East and North Africa. Please RSVP here.

This will also be an opportunity to learn about NDN’s new MENA Initiative. Lunch will be held on Tuesday, June 26th at the NDN/NPI offices at 729 15th Street, NW and begin at 12 NOON.  Stay up to date on developments via Twitter by following @NDN_NPI and #ndnMENA

When: Tuesday, June 26th. 12:00PM-1:30PM
Lunch will be served from Noon to 12:15 with the program beginning afterward
Where: NDN. 729 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005
RSVP: Seating will be extremely limited, so please RSVP here

Foreign Policy Chat - Putin Cracks Down On Activists As Trade Status Hangs In The Balance

The story of the day is Russia's shameless and ongoing authoritarian crackdown. A reported 18,000 protestors marched through the streets of Moscow yesterday, speaking out against censorship and repression by the regime and calling for Putin to step down. In recent days, the Kremlin has responded by ordering the state police to arrest, harass, jail, and rob leading dissidents and pro-democracy activists. Even in a country where the exercise of arbitrary policy power is routine, these latest actions have gone beyond anything seen in the twelve years since Putin originally took office. Dissidents previously thought to be largely untouchable have now been targeted. Kseniya Sobchak, a socialite turned activist, had been using her high profile, wealth, and political connections (her father was the former mayor of St. Petersburg) to insulate her from Putin's backlash. Yesterday, however, "investigators" raided her home, seized countless personal correspondence, and stole over 1 million dollars of cash out of her safe. Other so-called investigative teams fanned out across the country taking aim at other journalists and activists who had spoken out against the government.

This wave of anti-democratic repression coincides with Russia's impending vote to join the World Trade Organization and an effort to normalize trade relations with the United States. The Administration and pro-trade members of the House and Senate have been shepherding legislation that would grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), giving U.S. and Russian corporations and investors unfettered access to each other's markets.  While there is a compelling trade liberalization case for removing the Jackson-Vanick Amendment - the current impediment to normal trade relations--and opening the Russian market, there's no way to construe that move in a way that it isn't a win for Putin-and an implicit statement that he has a free pass to act as undemocratically as he wants.

Even worse, Putin's problematic behavior is not limited to his domestic policy. The Russians have been selling attack helicopters to the Assad regime and blocking international humanitarian action in Syria. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is right that lifting trade restrictions is critical to ensuring that "American businesses have the full advantages" of Russia's WTO membership, but doing so within this context would only encourage Putin to escalate his brutality and send a message that the international community will look on with indifference as long as American corporations can profit. A group of legislators concerned about Russia's behavior have authored legislation seeking to tie human rights performance to the lifting of the Jackson-Vanick restrictions. The House Foreign Relations Committee approved this language last week and the Senate is expected to take it up in the coming days. As Congress determines how to proceed, Members need to keep in mind that the worst case scenario would be to embolden Putin, creating years or decade's worth of problems for Americans and Russians alike. 

Foreign Policy Chat - New Leadership In France & Syria And A Great New Policy Resource

French Elections, Version 2.0:

France returned to the voting booth this past weekend for the first round of legislative elections. Initial results released Sunday night reiterate what French voters told the government during the presidential election last month: new president François Holland's center-left Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) is in, former president Nicholas Sarkozy's center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is out.

Although most candidates will not be chosen until after next week's second round, initial predictions suggest that the Socialist Party could win between 270 and 300 seats, with UMP obtaining between 210 and 240 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. All together, left-wing and green parties won more than 46 percent of the vote, compared to UMP's 34 percent. While it is unlikely that the Socialists will grab as many seats as they had hoped, a clear win for Hollande and his allies on the left should give him the majority needed to push through his reform agenda, including anti-austerity measures and tax increases on the wealthy, intended  to revive the slowing economy.

Candidates winning more than 12.5 percent but less than 50 percent of the vote will proceed to next week's second round, when the National Assembly's rearrangement will become clear. A colorful, interactive map on Le Monde's website breaks down the vote by department and party.

New Syrian Opposition Leader:

The Syrian National Council, which is the main opposition group-currently based in Turkey, elected a new head on Saturday. Abdulbaset Sieda is a scholar and Syrian expat who has been working and living in Sweden for over a decade. Most observers characterize Sieda as a compromise, someone who is generally respected by nearly all factions within the opposition tent. He may lack the hard-nosed political skills, though, to address the real challenges facing the SNC; namely, bringing the opposition's diverse sects together into a workable and coherent coalition, and demonstrating real value to the fighters on the ground-who remain skeptical of the SNC due to their inability to facilitate the substantive international support they desire. It is significant that Sieda is Kurdish, as the delicate balancing act between the Sunni-Muslim majority and the collection of minority groups remain a major stumbling block. Kurds, Christians, Durze, Alawites, and Ismailis collectively make up nearly 40% of the population, but fears of a post-Assad Syria being dominated by Sunni control has kept many members of these minority groups on the sidelines of the revolutionary fighting. The SNC hopes that a Kurdish leader can coax support out of those communities and make them more invested in actively supporting the opposition. With only a three-month term, however, Sieda has no time to waste as he seeks to build bridges.

Scholars Strategy Network:

While not exclusively (or even primarily) a Foreign Policy resource, I wanted to use my soapbox to promote the Scholars Strategy Network. This project is much more exciting than its rather banal name implies. SSN is a community of scholars and social scientists dedicated to bringing their findings out of the cloistered confines of academia and directly into the press and policy-making process. In a political and media environment far too reliant on baseless assertions and vacuous talking points, SSN "members prepare short, vividly written briefs highlighting research findings, presenting basic facts on timely topics, and offering policy options about many issues." Their website is searchable by topic or by author, with many leading scholars writing hyper-accessible briefs on their cutting-edge research. This should be required reading for anyone writing about policy and an essential tool for journalists, policymakers, and interested observers who seek a real understanding of the dynamics that shape our policies and our politics. I literally can't recommend this highly enough. 

Millennials' Lack of Faith in Government is Leading to a Grayer Congress

recent survey conducted by Harvard University revealed that while 69 percent of 18-29 year olds believed community service was an honorable thing to do, only 35 percent felt that way about running for office. This has real ramifications for the make-up of our legislatures. A recent article in Salon explained that Congress is getting older not because incumbent members are sticking around longer, but because the age of incoming members is rising.

It is worth considering the impact of having telecommunications and Internet policy drafted by politicians who are still "learning to get online" and leaving foreign policy decisions to people whose views were shaped and developed during the Cold War. Stephen Marche made the case earlier this year that these trends have also led to "thirty years of economic and social policy that has been rigged to serve the comfort and largesse of the old at the expense of the young." So where are the Millennials who should be beating down the doors to the Capitol?

Some have suggested that the absence of young people in elected office is all about economics. Older Americans have gone from out-earning their younger counterparts by 10 times in the mid-'80s to nearly 50 times in 2008. This migration of wealth from young to old has occurred alongside a dramatic growth in the cost of running a successful campaign, with political spending in House and Senate races increasing eight-fold between 1970 and 2000.

This alone does not seem to explain the systemic aging of our legislatures, however. The technology booms of the '90s and aughts also produced a record number of young millionaires and billionaires. Yet they have chosen to stay out of elected office in far greater numbers than wealthy members of previous generations. Why?

I have a theory. The Millennial generation has come of age in an America influenced by a conservative ideology that changed our views about the role of public and private civil society. Heather McGhee, the Washington Director of Demos, has observed, "[T]he most pernicious effect of the Reagan revolution was to take the horizon of public policy solutions off the table entirely. We know that there are problems, but we no longer imagine that there are public policy solutions to them." This is a profoundly different vision of American government than that which animated the New Deal and Great Society.

The modern Republican Party's commitment to shrinking the size and scope of the public sector has led them to shake our confidence in key government institutions. The GOP has been able to convince the public that the government is corrupt and ineffective, in part by making the government corrupt and ineffective. This campaign has disproportionately affected the generation of young people who have been forging their views about politics over the last 15 years. Gallup reports that cynicism and negativity toward the government has been building for over a decade, recently culminating in "record or near-record criticism of Congress, elected officials, government handling of domestic problems, the scope of government power, and government waste of tax dollars."

This phenomenon parallels another recent trend: the rise of the independent voter. Research has long shown that despite the conventional wisdom, self-identified independents actually behave much more like weak partisans than they do like hyper-informed mavericks. The ranks of these "independents" have grown dramatically over the last 20 years, and much of that growth has been concentrated among young Americans. In 2009, Gallup found "more than one-third of the youngest Americans identify as independents, a percentage that drops steadily as the population ages, reaching a low of around 20% among those 80 years of age and older."

This is not entirely bad news. Even as they have lost faith in our political parties, young Americans have flocked to other forms of civic engagement. The Corporation for National and Community Service reports that volunteer rates for 16- to 24-year-olds has nearly doubled over the last 20 years. In many ways, volunteerism has become second nature to the Millennial generation, taking the place of more traditional political involvement.

But the challenge remains for those who want to see young Americans in Congress. To reverse these trends, we must actively promote the belief that public policy and institutions of government have a powerful and positive role to play in American life. The graying of the House and Senate shows that allowing conservatives to demean public service, institutionalize gridlock, and breed public cynicism will drive away the young and idealistic. This vacuum hands power over to increasingly older politicians with entrenched views and distinct generational interests that do not represent the largest generation in American history.

This essay originally appeared in Next New Deal, a project of the Roosevelt Institute.

Learn More About NDN's New MENA Initiative

Today NDN and NPI are excited to launch the new MENA Initiative. Since the Arab Spring began in early 2011, NDN has recognized that this unique convergence of globalization and democratic transition provided a real opportunity for the U.S. to form new and powerful relationships with the 300 million people throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), helping them develop their economies, institutions, and human capital in ways that can empower them to move toward more open, prosperous, and egalitarian societies. We believe that aiding this region requires a sustained commitment on the part of the U.S. government, corporations, non-profits, and civil society to develop robust economic and diplomatic ties. The purpose of the MENA Initiative is to support that vital work. Stay abreast of this project by bookmarking www.menaprogram.org There you'll find recent NDN news, upcoming events, and ongoing work involving the MENA Incentive Fund, which was fully funded by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.

Foreign Policy Chat - The Beating Of War Drums On Syria And Obama's Personal 'Kill List'

Syria Takes a Turn for the Worse

The civil war in Syria took a tragic turn over the weekend as the Assad forces disregarded the negotiated cease-fire and led attacks that resulted in the death of nearly 100 Syrians. The United States and other Western states responded with a coordinated dismissal of Syrian diplomats, but the move was decried by some as merely a symbolic gesture in the face of what has been described as a massacre. General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went on Fox News and made a calculated statement about the Administration's possible response, making clear that "there is always a military option." To be sure, General Dempsey qualified that statement by noting that "You'll always find military leaders to be somewhat cautious about the use of force, because we're never entirely sure what comes out on the other side." But the tide appears to be turning in favor of the war hawks, many of whom have been calling for some type of military intervention for months.

Before the Washington consensus falls in line behind the notion that we should either "arm the opposition" or lead some kind of Libya-like military intervention, it's important to understand the limitations of military action in Syria and have an honest conversation about what goals we think we could actually accomplish without making the situation worse. Anyone advocating stronger U.S. action needs to read and engage with the analysis of Marc Lynch, who testified last month before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, laying bare the unique complications with the action being advocated by military hawks:

It is not enough to demonstrate that the cause of intervention is just. The available military options do not have a reasonable chance of improving the situation at an acceptable cost, and could easily make matters worse. Syria is not Libya, where the United States acted with a clear mandate from the UN Security Council and could use air power in support of a well-organized opposition which controlled territory. Syria's demographics, geography, divided population, strategic location; military capabilities and international alliances pose a far more daunting target. We should not rely on overly optimistic assumptions about the efficacy of an intervention, the response of the Syrian regime and its international allies, or our ability to manage the conflict. There are vanishingly few historical examples of entrenched regimes embroiled in a civil war suddenly collapsing after a symbolic show of force from outside. Most likely, limited military intervention would alter but not end the dynamics of a long conflict, embroiling the United States directly in a protracted and bloody insurgency and civil war.

There are at least four different, and potentially conflicting, objectives for military action against Syria which have been articulated: civilian protection; regime change; weakening Iran; and political credibility. These goals are not necessarily mutually compatible. Arming the Free Syrian Army, for instance, would likely lead to a dramatic increase in lost civilian lives and have only dubious hopes of speeding regime change, but increase the chances of embroiling Syria in a long crisis which would harm Iran. Those hoping primarily to change the regime in Syria oppose diplomatic efforts which might reduce civilian deaths.

The arguments Dr. Lynch makes in his testimony were first put forth in a report released earlier this year. Since its publication, proponents of military intervention have yet to address the central questions that it posses: What would an intervention actually look like, what could it realistically achieve, and at what cost? There are a number of key distinctions between Libya and Syria in terms of the political, geographic, and tactical challenges -- to say nothing of the much more diverse and non-cohesive composition of the rebel forces and the geo-strategic issues involving Russia. Before we fuel up the F-16s and jump into yet another Middle Eastern war with guns blazing, we must have an honest discussion about these issues in a realistic, strategic, and fact-based way. That discussion has yet to occur.

Obama's Kill List

This morning, nearly all of the national security press is discussing this New York Times article describing the behind-the-scenes process that President Obama employs to create and act on the so-called "kill list." This new system of targeted killings was defended publically in March by Attorney General Holder, and you can read my analysis of those remarks for more background on the implications of the policy. While it's heartening that the President appears to take very seriously the responsibility of signing off on the targets, approving all of them personally and individually, it begs the question of what this would look like with a President who is somewhat less judicious. 

Foreign Policy Chat - Egyptians Go To The Polls And Iran Talks Set For Round Three

Iran Negotiations: To Be Continued

The Baghdad nuclear talks between Iran, the U.S. and the rest of the P5+1 have concluded without an agreement, but with an appointment to come back to the negotiating table next month. In the run-up to this latest round, Iran was on the brink of reaching a new agreement with the IAEA that would set the stage for some type of resumed nuclear inspection regime. That framework likely got swept up into larger negotiations with the U.S. and its allies, and the agreement remains unsigned. While a new framework or agreement has not yet been reached, the White House characterized the recent developments as a "step forward," an assessment that is shared by most analysts. The type of firm and principled diplomacy on display has been a hallmark of the Obama Administration. They have so far managed to contain the Iranian regime by ramping up sanctions, keeping Israel at bay, and bringing Iran to the negotiating table. The U.S. has clearly developed and maintained the upper hand as they plan for continued talks in June.

Egypt Votes and Prepares for a Run-Off

Two days of voting in Egypt's historic presidential election appears to have culled the 13 person field down to a pair of candidates who will stand in a run-off scheduled for the middle of next month. Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, took an early lead and will be competing against a Ahmed Shafik, a dark horse who is best known as a former Air Force general and former Prime Minister under the Mubarak regime. Many liberals were left wanting as the stage appears set to pit the two traditional power centers in the country against each other; the Islamist (though pragmatic) Brotherhood versus the secular military establishment. Middle East expert Andrew Exum observed that "If you add up the votes for Abulfotoh, Moussa, and Sabbahi, that's a huge Egyptian center that will be very dissatisfied with is new choice." That may well be the case, but in a nascent democratic transition it is vital to build the institutions and processes of democratic governance. Popular election results have to be honored if the country stands a chance at becoming more liberal and open over time. 

Foreign Policy Chat - Elections In Egypt, A Major Treaty, And Money For The Middle East

Historic Elections In Egypt

Egyptians go to the polls today in their very first free election. The next two-days of voting mark a truly historic occasion for the nascent democracy and for the entire region. Many names will appear on the ballot, but the top two contenders for the Presidency are Abdel Aboul Fotouh, a moderate Islamist, and Amr Moussa who is the a former Secretary General of the Arab League. Those two men debated two weeks ago - a first for the Arab world - and the New York Times did a nice job summarizing the event. While the word waits for the results, it's worth taking a moment to look over this powerful slideshow that Foreign Policy assembled. Regardless of who wins, it is incredibly inspiring to see the pictures of these candidates campaigning freely in a country so recently liberated from decades of autocracy.

 A Battle Over Law of the Sea

The Administration began the week making a big push for the Senate to ratify the Law of the Sea treaty. Senator John Kerry took to the pages of Politico, penning a lengthy defense of the convention and making the case for quick action on the treaty which has previously had support from a broad range of conservative policymakers and organizations.

It is designed to give our oil and gas companies the certainty they need to make crucial investments to secure our energy future. It puts our telecommunications companies on equal footing with foreign competitors. And it will help secure access to rare earth minerals, which we need for computers, cellphones and weapons systems that allow us to live and work day in and day out.

Republican Senator Jim DeMint, however, rounded up two dozen signatures for a letter threatening to oppose ratification. Unable to keep the GOP Senators from politicizing the issue, Sen. Kerry announced that he "would like to see this treaty stay out of the hurly-burly of presidential politics," and would be postponing a floor vote until after the elections in November.

MENA-IF Makes the Cut in the Senate

Earlier this week, we highlighted the importance of the Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund. The MENA-IF is one of the President's flagship responses to the historic transitions now underway throughout the region, and will provide the State Department the resources and flexibility it needs to fully support these young governments and empower moderates across the Middle East. This initiative was in danger after the House GOP shortsightedly chose to abandon it in their version of the Foreign Operations bill, but we were extremely glad to see the Senate Appropriations Committee take a much more responsible course yesterday by fully funding the account. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham came out strongly in support of the $1 billion for the MENA-IF, and his voice will be important in the negotiations with the GOP-controlled House. When Congress meets in conference to ultimately decide the fate of the MENA-IF, they should keep in mind how very important it is for America to support this program as part of a long-term effort to build our wider economic ties.

Foreign Policy Chat - Senate To Decide On Vital Middle East Funding

The Senate Appropriations committee will meet this afternoon to mark-up the State /Foreign Operations bill. This legislation determines the annual funding for not only the State Department, but the vast majority of non-defense foreign policy funding. One of the most important issues they take up will be the fate of the Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund, or MENA-IF. This $770 million program was requested in the State Department's budget and designed to provide a flexible, region-wide tool for the U.S. to empower moderates and support the nascent democratic transitions throughout the region. This type of effort will be essential for any new American Middle East strategy that seeks to promote long-term growth and stability. House Republicans, in their version of the legislation, chose not to include the program. They offered no substitute model for economic engagement with these countries, deciding instead to simply take their ball and go home.  The GOP has spent the last decade leading the U.S. into wars that resulted in trillions of dollars being spent and thousands of lives being lost. Now, as the Obama Administration draws down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and historic democratic movements have developed organically, those same war-hawks are crying foul over any attempt to pivot to a constructive strategy designed to support this new Middle East.

Simon Rosenberg released a statement yesterday calling for the Senate to fully fund the MENA-IF:

At a time when the people of North Africa and the Middle East are struggling with such dignity to improve their societies, it is essential the government of the United States make a clear statement of support for their efforts by funding this initiative.  If Republicans leaders are unhappy with the current MENA-IF, they should propose amendments or an alternative approach rather than rejecting the entire initiative.  Simply refusing to support the Fund will send a terrible signal to the people of this region working to bring about the next stage of these historic transitions already underway.

As Senate appropriators meet to determine whether or not to fund, modify, or walk away from this program, they should be well aware that the world is watching. Will they support the U.S. diplomats on the ground seeking to build moderate civil society in this new Middle East, or will they abandon them and give America's enemies a chance to fill the void? 

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