Who Makes Policy Campaign 2016 Edition

21st century powder keg

I feel like India and Pakistan have been on the brink of war my entire life. It has long been referred to as one of the world’s most dangerous conflicts, something like a modern day Balkan powder keg. Tensions between the two countries is compounded by the fact that each nation has nuclear weapons.

The conflict has escalated in recent days with India claiming it carried out a surgical strike against terrorists in Pakistan. And now, India is threatening to “review” a decades old treaty regarding water rights in the Indus basin. Pakistan has stated that if India were to revoke the 56 year old Indus Water Treaty, they would consider it an act of war. Foreign Policy published this great piece analyzing the situation and why this recent escalation is so dangerous.

The Way They Do the Things They Do



There is no comparison between Trump’s ethical challenges and that of the Clintons. The Clintons have a lifetime of public service and their Foundation–unlike Trump’s–has done an enormous amount of good in the world. But it is important to remind ourselves why so many Americans say they mistrust Secretary Clinton. Here’s my review from last weekend’s Washington Post of Joe Conason’s book on Bill Clinton’s post-POTUS adventures. While Conason is a serial enabler of Clinton-world, his attempts to justify their more dubious actions tell you a lot about why they keep tripping themselves up.

Is the Pursuit of the TPP Agreement and other FTAs in Asia Urgent?

President Obama has made it clear that the that time to strengthen our economic and strategic ties to Asian Pacific nations is now. It believes that expanding its current free trade agreements (FTAs) around the globe is an essential non-military strategy to building and solidifying strategic international alliances. That is why the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has become the centerpiece of his “Pivot to East Asia.”  As the administration and its allies lobby Congress, state governors, and key city mayors for the passage of the TPP agreement; it not only touts the positive impact of the TPP on the U.S economy,but it also paints an ominous landscape in which an ascendant China beats us to the punch and writes the trade rules for the region for decades to come should the agreement fail to be ratified. How much of what the administration is scare tactics vs. prudent concern?

Back on March 18, 2008 the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission held a hearing on “China’s Expanding Global Influence: Foreign Policy Goals, Practices, and Tools.” As a result of that hearing the commission concluded that:

Chinese foreign policy has changed in ways that have significant effects on U.S. national interests and foreign relations strategy. China has increased its engagement rapidly in regions abroad, and it is seeking to expand its economic, military, and political influence—in some cases at the expense of the United States…the United States needs to have a more comprehensive diplomatic approach and defined policy towards China, continue engagement on multiple levels, and also hedge against the decline of American influence and international prestige.

This was just before the Obama administration took office. Since taking office China has carried out an ambitious expansion of its economic ties around the world and carried out dangerously aggressive military policies in its own region.

China is currently pursuing its own FTA in the region. One of those agreements is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This agreement includes all of the ASEAN member nations along with six other nations: China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and India. The Obama administration believes that if America delays creating FTAs in the region, China will pursue a policy that will allow it to set the free trade rules in the region. China’s military ambitions are also increasingly aggressive. Through a serious of man made islands it created in the South China Sea, China has laid claim to previously designated international waters; setting it up for conflict with various of its neighbors.

In the last year, China has made moves to build up its strategic alliances at the expense of the United States’ interest. In September of this year North Korea tested a nuclear device. As a result, the U.S. announced that it intended to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea. This has upset some China, North Korea, and China. This has pushed these countries closer together in an informal alliance. This new loose alliance can be seen in what is playing out in the Philippines. The new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has taken an aggressive stance against the United States. He has been upset about American criticism regarding his murderous war on drugs. As a result he announced that this year would be the last time the Philippines would participate in war games with the U.S.. He has also considered asking American troops to leave his country. He also announced in a press interview that China and Russia had both offered support in place of an American alliance. He said that “he had received support from Russia and China when he complained to them about the United States.” As a result, the President Duarte announced that his country would seek out military equipment and closer ties to both China and Russia.

It’s hard to say at this early stage if the U.S. has the time sit on the TPP. And since the other TPP nations already made it clear they would not renegotiate the TPP, the U.S. would have to begin from scratch in order to produce another agreement. The last one took the the U.S. and the other nations seven years to finalize. You be the judge, but remember, China is already making its own pivot the Asia.

ISIL’s days are numbered

It’s no secret that ISIL’s caliphate is shrinking. Months of airstrikes targeting their oil reserves and leaders have devastated their cashflow and morale. Additionally, a series of losses on the battlefield and the upcoming assaults on Mosul and Raqqa have left the group as vulnerable as ever.

Foreign Affairs highlighted another reason ISIL needs to be concerned – foreign fighters. Once touted as their biggest asset, foreign fighters have turned into a liability for the terrorist organization. ISIL had a rigid organizational structure based on ethnicity. Arabs hold either the highest or lowest positions while foreigners handle technical and mechanical positions. This structure has frustrated many foreign fighters and has led to deadly confrontations with their ISIL comrades.

It’s only a matter of time before the group is defeated. I’ve posted about this before but leaders need to start planning for a post-ISIL middle east. One last thing to look out for, administration officials are concerned that ISIL may get more and more desperate with each loss. They are planning for a more erratic group that is more likely to carry out terrorist attacks.



US to Russia: no more talks on Syria

The US has suspended talks with Russia regarding Syria. This is hardly surprising, but if bilateral talks are over, if Russia is supporting the Asad regime, and if the US wants Asad gone does this mean that hostilities between Russia and the US will increase? Given that Russia has stopped adhering to a bilateral nuclear disarmament deal (see previous post) it seems that we have our answer.


Russia suspends weapons grade plutonium deal with US!

Russia decided that due to “tensions” between the US that it was no longer “possible” to adhere to deal to reduce weapons-grade plutonium.

Admittedly, the US has failed to reduce its weapons-grade plutonium noting that its facility to convert this material has been delayed and over budget. During this time Russia has been unilaterally adhering to the deal so it is not surprise that given the state of affairs between the US and Russia that it would stop adhering to a bilateral deal that the US was not adhering to in the first place.




A message from the president

Jimmy Carter wrote an op-ed in the Times last month advocating for an end to the Syrian civil war. He offers a detailed analysis of the situation while providing us with a strategy for ending the war. This piece is much less strategy as it is a plea for help. “When talks resume in Geneva later this month, the primary focus should be stopping the killing. Discussions about the core questions of governance — when President Bashar al-Assad should step down, or what mechanisms might be used to replace him, for example — should be deferred.”

Mr. Carter writes that we need to drop our demand that Assad leave power, the most contentious point in negotiations between Russia and the U.S., and instead focus on an agreement that will stop the fighting. The former president goes through all the stats; nearly half a million killed, half the country displaced, millions in need of humanitarian aid, and says that we must put the Syrian people first. Assad would never agree to anything that leads to a him out of power. The longer we go without a viable ceasefire agreement the longer the Syrian people will suffer. American diplomats would be wise to heed the former president’s advice – stop the killing.

Trump–Here Today Gone Tomorrow? (Fingers Crossed)



An intriguing piece in the New Yorker argues that we may be overstating the lasting impact of Trump or the persistence of the sociological forces behind his campaign. Worth a read and a hope.

But there is another explanation for the limitations of the Trump phenomenon: that it was shaped by the specific circumstances of the Presidency—as the first black President leaves office and the prospect of the first female President draws nearer—as much as by a more general malaise.

“Darkness and fear in Aleppo”

I’ve blogged in the past about the atrocities in Aleppo but the past week has been the most devastating to date. Assad is preparing for a final assault with 10,000 troops, 338 civilians including 100 children have been killed sine the ceasefire ended (WHO), and 80% of convoys have been blocked from getting into the city.

I went to a Foreign Relations Committee hearing this week on Syria and, unfortunately, government officials believe we will be seeing reports like this for the foreseeable future. Check out this Washington Post report for a vivid account of the grim situation in Aleppo.