30 March 2008

Obama's Foreign Policy Team: Dignity v. Democracy

After nineteen years of North Atlantic efforts to promote “centrist” notions of democracy, i.e. economic liberty and multi-party elections, Joshua Kurlantzick of the Boston Globe reports the results:

The modern record of state-controlled business, by contrast, was chiefly one of failure. When the fascist and communist governments of the 20th century seized the reins of domestic industries, they ended up undermining development and bringing misery to millions of their own citizens. As private enterprise flourished in the West, the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union were widely seen as a repudiation of the idea that governments could successfully control the business sector.

But the wake of the Cold War also sowed the seeds of a new discontent with free-market private enterprise. Many emerging nations were stung by ill-planned privatization strategies in the 1990s. In Latin America, a decade of privatization proved so unpopular that, in a regionwide poll taken in 2001, a majority of people across 17 countries viewed privatization unfavorably. Across Africa, this era, known as the "lost decade," resulted in rising poverty, and even longing for some nations' authoritarian past.
Across Latin America and Central Asia, governments like Bolivia, Venezuela, and Kazakhstan also have reasserted state control over their oil and gas resources. Already, many of these national companies dwarf any rivals. State-owned oil companies around the world now control nearly five times the reserves of their private rivals; Saudi Aramco, the Saudi government's oil company, can pump roughly three times as much oil as any other firm, and has launched a massive $50 billion expansion program that will make it even more powerful. Corporate behemoths such as ExxonMobil and Shell may be among the largest private corporations in the world, but they are no longer the biggest players in their own industry.
In aviation, an industry that requires vast amounts of capital, state-linked airlines now dominate private firms. From virtually nothing two decades ago, Dubai has built Emirates airlines, backed by the state, into a world leader and the second-most profitable airline in the world. The most profitable, Singapore Airlines, also enjoys state support - Singapore's state-owned fund owns nearly half the airline, as well as six of the country's other largest corporations.

Nations are entering global business in another way as well. Besides building companies, states are using their cash reserves to create their own investment funds, and have rapidly become major players in global finance.
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The rising price of oil has put a gusher of cash in the hands of authoritarian petrostates like Saudi Arabia and Russia, all of which now want to invest their cash hoards. With their pile of reserves, oil producers like the United Arab Emirates and Asian exporters have developed massive state-controlled funds that can buy into companies around the globe. Abu Dhabi's fund alone controls nearly $900 billion, while China's controls $200 billion and Kuwait's $250 billion.

Overall, state-controlled funds control as much as $7 trillion, according to several estimates, more than the entire hedge-fund industry. And they are growing.

"The [funds] will become absolutely massive in size in the not-too-distant future, and will have powerful implications for the financial markets," notes Morgan Stanley's Stephen Jen, an expert on state funds.
The state capitalists also are gaining influence through their power in global finance. As firms like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup have found out, state funds provide a vital new source of investment across a world in need of capital. The funds are increasingly bailing out American banks, giving them significant leverage over the US financial sector.

And with that, I should think that we can all agree that our efforts to promote democracy have failed.

And then Obama said something about the Iraq War that wasn't incremental at all. "I don't want to just end the war," he said, "but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place."
The minds on the horizon:

Scott Gration, a retired general who helped run the air war during the invasion of Iraq.

Sarah Sewall, who helped write the Army’s and Marine Corps’ much-lauded counterinsurency field manual.

Tony Lake and Susan Rice, veterans of the Clinton administration’s left flank.
On Scott Gration:

Gen. Scott Gration, a retired Air Force jet pilot, says hello to me over the phone in Swahili. He learned about the crushing misery of the world's poor by growing up in Congo, where his parents were missionaries. After the violence following Congolese independence in 1960, Gration had an experience few Americans ever will: He became a refugee. "We lost everything we owned, and what we took with us, they confiscated," he remembers.
On Sarah Sewall:

Sarah Sewall, a Harvard professor and another of Obama's closest advisers, also knows about stepping outside of her comfort zone. A longtime human-rights advocate with the disarmament organization, the Council for a Livable World, Sewall found herself in 2005 and 2006 with an unlikely partner: Gen. David Petraeus. He and two colleagues were rewriting the Army and Marine field manual for counterinsurgency and wanted Sewall's input on how to create a more just, humane, and successful doctrine. For agreeing to help, she was attacked by some on the left. "Should a human-rights center at the nation's most prestigious university be collaborating with the top U.S. general in Iraq in designing the counterinsurgency doctrine behind the current military surge?" Tom Hayden wrote online in The Huffington Post.

Sewall's involvement may have lost her some influence within the academic left, but she has become a hero to the military's growing circle of counterinsurgency theorist-practitioners. "Her impact on the thinking about the war and the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been significant and not without cost," says Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, one of the counterinsurgency community's luminaries. "She has shown, in my eyes, great moral courage. I think Senator Obama is listening to someone who has thought long and hard about the use of force and who understands the kinds of wars we're fighting today."
Quoting Samantha Power, the theorist :

This ability to see the world from different perspectives informs what the Obama team hopes will replace the Iraq War mind-set: something they call dignity promotion. "I don't think anyone in the foreign-policy community has as much an appreciation of the value of dignity as Obama does," says Samantha Power, a former key aide and author of the groundbreaking study of U.S. foreign policy and genocide, A Problem From Hell. "Dignity is a way to unite a lot of different strands [of foreign-policy thinking]," she says. "If you start with that, it explains why it's not enough to spend $3 billion on refugee camps in Darfur, because the way those people are living is not the way they want to live. It's not a human way to live. It's graceless -- an affront to your sense of dignity."

How would a US foreign policy promoting the dignity of Cubans be different from the current one?

While it may be impossible to say how ‘dignity promotion’ would play-out anywhere, I can suggest one action for Cuba that would not be inconsistent: Vacate and Abandon Guantanamo, lock, stock, and barrel.

10 March 2008

U.S. Assistant Secretary Shannon on Consolidating the Hemisphere

Of the twenty-five hundred words comprising Assistant Secretary Shannon's written testimony, only six of them are rooted in the word 'cuba.'

All six of those words, specifically 'cuba' and 'cuban,' appear in only one of its thirty paragraphs.

And the word 'Castro' does not appear at all.

In other words, to a Congressional committee hearing evidence on "Cuba's Future," the highest ranking administration official to appear has next to nothing to say about the Cuba?

Why the diplomatic denial of Cuba's existence, both linguistic and actual?

Looking to the text for clues, the document emphasizes multilateral actions (and institutions) and, of course, American aid money, like billions.

So, first of all, what audience is predisposed to the USG when it works multilaterally and gives away a lot of money? Europeans, mos def! (as Omar from The Wire would say). The rest of the world, mas o menos. But certainly not the to-hell-with-the-UN Americans, including CANF and company.

And yet, we know that CANF fully backs this administration, so from the start one must be skeptical of Dr. Shannon's testimony.

The phrase Dr. Shannon and the Administration now use to describe their thinking on Cuba is 'consolidating democracies':

The focus of our policy is fourfold:

First, to consolidate democracy and the democratic gains of the past. This includes broadening participation in the democratic system to assure that ordinary citizens have a role in the political process;

Since when does one broaden a thing to consolidate it? Let's come back to that.

Second, to promote prosperity and economic opportunity in the region;

Third, to invest in people, because we recognize that economic opportunity without individual capacity to take advantage of that opportunity is meaningless to the vast numbers of the poor and vulnerable in Latin America and the Caribbean;

One must admit that it is little pathetic to see an American, a Republican, to boot, bury the word 'individual' with Social Democrat-like concerns. I guess it is no longer sufficient to assert the intrinsic virtue of economic liberty.

Finally, to protect the security of democratic states.
Yea, what isn't a security issue these days?

Now for the numbers:

Since 2001, we have spent over $7.5 billion in development programs, including alternative development funded out of ACI (now ACP), and about $4.5 billion in security programs, including remaining ACI programs. If our FY 2009 request is approved, development programs since 2001 will top $8.5 billion and security programs will reach approximately $6.7 billion, including $1.1 billion for Merida, for a total of over $14 billion

$14 billion? For a little perspective, recall that six years ago Secretary Powell was trying to buy Turkey's vote in the UN on Iraq with a 15 billion dollar loan. I can't say I'm impressed with the USG's efforts to rid our precious hemisphere of its squalor.

Okay, so what is Dr. Shannon saying that the Administration does with the 45 Million we give them to deal with the Cuba problem?:
Consolidating Democracy

The United States is committed to fostering democratic governance and protecting fundamental rights and liberties in the Americas. Working multilaterally through the Organization of American States (OAS) and other institutions in the Inter-American System, we are helping our partners in the Americas respond to poverty, inequality, and marginalization. With our support and funding, the OAS is working to strengthen its capacity to help the Americas` elected governments respond to the challenges of democratic governance and honor the region`s shared commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter. We are supporting the work of those building broader based political parties that incorporate communities which have traditionally been marginalized. We also continue our support to OAS` Electoral Observation Missions and our efforts to deepen inter-regional pro- democracy cooperation between the OAS and the African Union.

Working bilaterally, we support all sectors to strengthen Haiti`s democracy and promote long-term development. The United States remains Haiti`s largest bilateral donor, with a foreign assistance request of more than $245 million in FY 2009. Programmed in close coordination with the Government of Haiti and other international donors, our aid focuses on governance and the rule of law, elections, security, economic growth, and critical humanitarian needs. With reduced inflation, increased GDP, and a shift from peace building to peace keeping, it is clear that the benefits of democracy are taking hold.

Our FY 2009 foreign assistance request of $20 million for <Cuba> is consistent with recommendations in the second Commission for Assistance to a Free <Cuba> (CAFC) report. Since the formation of CAFC, Economic Support Funds to <Cuba> jumped to over $21 million in FY 2004 and an estimated $45 million in FY 2008. This assistance is key to helping the democratic opposition and civil society promote the dialogue needed for a successful transition to democracy. The United States reaffirms the belief that the Cuban people have an inalienable right to participate in an open and comprehensive dialogue about their country`s future, free of fear and repression, and to choose their leaders in democratic elections. We reiterate Secretary Rice`s February 24, 2008 message regarding our support of the Cuban people in their efforts to obtain ``the fundamental rights and liberties expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.`` We continue to urge the Cuban Government to begin a peaceful transition to democracy and encourage international partners to help the Cuban people bring about positive change.
That statutorily defined word 'transition' is not defined here in terms of free enterprise, etc., but rather in terms of multiparty elections. Beyond what the administration believes, calls for, and urges, Dr. Shannon is not saying.

But with his prepared statement, we can see that by 'consolidating democracy,' the Administration means to purge the Americas of Cuba's one party state, thus consolidating the hemisphere into a set of governments holding multi-party elections.

Since he is not willing to tell us in an open forum the way in which they intend to achieve those ends, we have to assume (or hope) that the classified portion of the 2006 CAFC report answers the question. After all, Congress is not suppose write blank checks.

But the significance of Dr. Shannon's testimony is not meaningless: Cuba cannot take off the table the real possibility that the USG continues to subvert governance in Cuba, a policy that no doubt violates international law and good sense, not to mention gets a lot of Cubans thrown in jail.