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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:45 pm

Beyond November: Ruben E. Brigety

The Connect U.S. Fund has launched a new two-year initiative to help shape debate during the upcoming Presidential transition.  As part of this effort, they’ve asked leading thinkers and advocates to talk about what should be the top two or three foreign policy priorities for the next President.  They’ve also kindly allowed us to cross-post the responses here.

The series took a brief hiatus during the conventions, but it’s back and will continue from now until the election.  Today, we’ll hear from Rube E. Brigety.  Future posts in the series will appears every Thursday.  You can find the previous posts here.  Thanks again to Heather Hamilton and Eric Schwartz for making the cross-postings happen.

Regardless of who wins the Presidential election in November, America will face challenges around the world that are arguably unprecedented in their complexity and scope. The list of urgent issues is well known – two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the quest for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, resurgent powers in China and Russia, a weakened U.S. dollar, the need for energy independence, and the effects of climate change, just to name a few.

A common thread connecting all of these problems is that they cannot be solved with the approaches that have dominated U.S. foreign policy for the last eight years. For much of the last decade, particularly since 9/11, our government has resorted to unilateral methods to solve multilateral problems, and resorted to the use or threat of force to advance our interests abroad. Time and again, this has contributed to America’s declining popularity in the world even as it strains our military, marginalizes our alliances, and leaves crucial problems to fester. All of this can be traced to a zero-sum world view which does not tangibly link the security and prosperity of the United States with needs and aspirations of most of the world.

Our country needs more than new policies to confront the foreign policy challenges of the next decade. It needs a new worldview. It needs a framework for understanding the limits of unilateralism and military might, and the potential in cooperation and non-military methods of influence.

At the Center for American Progress, we have advanced an idea called “Sustainable Security.” An amalgamation of national security, collective security and human security, the Sustainable Security paradigm recognizes the importance of improving the lives of other people around the world as a critical security concerns for the United States. Rather than seeing foreign assistance as charity best relegated to the periphery of our statecraft, sustainable security emphasizes investing in social and economic development in countries around the world as a means of countering various threats – from the growth of radical extremism to the ravages of climate change. Furthermore, it posits that true “security” for the United States and other countries can only happen when development assistance is pursued in a cooperative manner with other countries and when it is closely coordinated with our other diplomatic and defense priorities. While there will always be a place for use of force, sustainable security argues that we have as much to gain from investing in the welfare of others as we do from investing in weapons systems to advance our nation’s security interests.

From this worldview, a few important foreign policy priorities follow. First, the United States should adopt a National Development Strategy. Despite the fact that we spend more on development assistance than any other country in the world, we do not have an articulated strategy to guide its distribution or to relate it to other aspects of American foreign policy. Promulgating a National Development Strategy from the White House that is applicable to every federal agency involved in delivering assistance would be a major statement of the important of foreign aid to our national security and provide crucial guidance for this important instrument of policy.

Second, we will have to reform the structures that deliver foreign assistance. The most important reforms should include the creation of a cabinet level development agency and a recapitalization our development infrastructure. Most of our allies that are major donors of development assistance have a cabinet agency to direct that activity. We are in the distinct minority in this regard. Elevating development assistance to a cabinet level status will not only show how important it is for us, but it will also ensure that development considerations are appropriately accounted for in our foreign policy. The next time we are forced to go to war with another country, we would be much more likely to take into account post-conflict considerations about economic reconstruction and rule of law if we have a powerful agency whose job it was to think about it and to perform the required tasks. Also, we cannot make development a major part of our foreign policy as long as there are more drummers in military bands than there are development professionals in the employ of our government. With less than one-thousand Foreign Service officers assigned to the U.S. Agency for International Development, our ability to do vital development projects, and to support our defense and diplomatic initiatives, is imperiled. This is a situation which must be reversed.

With great risk comes great opportunity, and this is particularly true for the next Presidential administration. Changing how we approach the problems of the world is vital to achieving durable solutions for ourselves and our allies. Let’s hope our next President take on the challenge.

Reuben E. Brigety, II is Director of the Sustainable Security Program at The Center for American Progress. Prior to joining CAP, he served as a Special Assistant in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Brigety is also an Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University. He is the author of Ethics, Technology and the American Way of War (Routledge, 2007) and a variety of other articles and book chapters. Before entering academia, Brigety was a researcher with the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. He served on HRW research missions in Afghanistan in March 2002 and in Iraq in April and May of 2003. He also served as HRW’s coordinator for crisis management during the Iraq war and as an HRW delegate to the Convention on Conventional Weapons negotiations in Geneva. Before joining HRW, Brigety was an active duty U.S. naval officer and held several staff positions in the Pentagon and in fleet support units.

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12 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:55 pm

Wonk’d: Why the UN Human Rights Council Blows

As I’ve noted in my two previous posts, I’m both a fan and a critic of the United Nations.  But if there’s one thing the United Nations does really really really badly, it’s human rights.

It wasn’t always this way.  Thanks in part to the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the early years of the United Nations adopted both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention.  Over the next several decades, a number of other important treaties followed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, among others.

Lately, however, not so much.  The UN Commission on Human Rights became so disreputable — by doing things like electing Libya as chair and failing to take action on Rwanda — that the UN decided to abolish it and replace it with a new body that would address many of its shortcomings.

During the 2005 UN Millennium Summit, the General Assembly agreed to the creation of a new Human Rights Council, supposedly putting into place safeguards that would prevent similar problems in the future.  Sadly, the United States chose not to play a central role in the negotiations over how the Council would be constituted or how it organizes itself.  Thank you, John Bolton, you self-righteous paleocon jerk.

(Full disclosure:  Steve Clemons, Scott Paul (both of the Washington Note), Don Kraus (my successor as CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions) and I organized the successful opposition to the Bolton nomination.)

(And for the UN wonks out there, yes I know I’m oversimplifying this timeline.  But please keep in mind that I’m not writing for you.)

So there we were, a new start, a new opportunity to do serious human rights work.



Today we have a body that in many ways is worse than its predecessor.  There are a lot of issues that the Council should be looking at these days — Darfur, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Pakistan, and Iraq, to name just a few.  Instead, the it has spent almost all of its time on one issue:  Israel.

The reasons for this have to do not with human rights in that country –- which, to be clear, should be looked at, as should human rights issues in every country.  Rather it’s the product of those who currently sit on the Council.  Dictatorships make up over half the Council’s membership. They have spotlighted Israel to deflect attention from the human rights abusers within their own ranks, as well as to stick it to the West (and, to be clear, Israel).

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration continues to refuse to engage the Council, deciding not to stand for election and even failing to send an Ambassador to Council meetings.  Of course that’s assuming it could even get elected to the Council, given its own human rights record.  Either way, its actions have only encouraged the misbehavior and discouraged those who would stand up to such nonsense.

And then, late last week, we have the latest outrage:

A former spokesman for Cuba’s foreign ministry was appointed this week to head the United Nations Human Rights Council’s advisory committee.  Radio Rebelde says Miguel Alfonso Martinez, is president of the Cuban Society of International Law, was appointed this Monday to head the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council.

Oy vey.  Oh wait — saying that might get me investigated by the Council.

This isn’t the first bad appointment either.  Richard Falk, a Princeton professor who has compared Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip to Nazi Germany, is the Council’s Special Rapporteur on. . . wait for it. . .Israel.  And Jean Ziegler, who once helped Muammar Qaddafi establish a peace prize named after the dictator and who has praised, among others, Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro, was elected to the Council’s Advisory Committee.

The Council has more than a bad joke.  It’s a black eye for the UN and and embarrassment to the entire world.  Furthermore, it has become a convenient whipping boy for the paleocons here in the United States.

It’s time to start over. . .again.

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, politics, world at home | 0 Comments

23 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:28 am

Obama Visits Yad Vashem

Here’s what he wrote in the holocaust memorial’s guest book:

Hat tip:  Passport

| posted in foreign policy, politics, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

23 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:00 am

Oy La La

As Barack Obama arrives in Israel, a new controversy has broken out there — one that has absolutely nothing to do with him, John McCain, or even the Middle East peace process.

It’s all about babes.  And lobsters. Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in globalization, pop culture, world at home | 0 Comments

22 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:00 pm

Obama Wins the Meme Wars

Three days into his much-ballyhooed trip (and with a huge assist from Nour al Maliki), it’s become clear that Obama has won the meme wars.  Take, for example, this photo, which ran all over the place:

Read the rest of this entry »

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19 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:34 pm

More on “The 300″ and Obama’s Experience

So I’ve gotten some interesting feedback, mainly via email, about last night’s post on The 300.  My good friend Steve Clemons at The Washington Note, agrees with me that the Times piece is a misfire. Not sure I agree with him, however, that Obama is “colonizing” the DC foreign policy community.  If he were, I doubt he would have only 300 folks in the network.  Or consciously exclude people like Richard Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski even if the former is Tony Lake’s rival and the latter has some outside-the-mainstream ideas on Middle East peace.

I know that to some of you, this may seem like little more than inside baseball.  Who really cares how many people are advising Obama?  Shouldn’t it matter more what kind of advice he’s getting?  To which I can only offer one response:


But the problem is that the mainstream media — and to a lesser degree some of my friends in the blogosphere — seem determined to portray Obama as “inexperienced” on foreign policy.  Just today, The Washington Post has a front page story with the following headline and sub-head:

Obama Going Abroad with World Watching
Foreign Policy Credentials Are At Stake

Huh?  Obama’s future credibility will be determined by what he does on a single week-long trip to Europe and the Middle East?  A trip that doesn’t include China, India, Japan, Latin America, Africa, or a whole bunch of other important places?  A trip that his opponent kept criticizing him for not taking until he started criticizing him for taking it?

Let’s acknowledge the reality here.  The trip is window-dressing.  Yes, it is designed to show Americans that Obama knows something about foreign policy.  But the only reason it’s getting this kind of coverage is that it’s late July and the media doesn’t have anything better to do than speculate on whether Obama’s entire candidacy will hinge on a few photo-ops.

The real story here is that the media continue to embrace a deeply corrosive — and oh yeah, completely wrong — meme that is, after all, little more than a a set of McCain campaign talking points.  “Obama is over his head.” “Obama doesn’t have the experience to be commander in chief.”  “Obama doesn’t know anything about foreign policy.”  “Obama is a rookie and we can’t have a rookie in charge right now.” “Obama is very very scaaaaary.”

What utter nonsense.  On issue after issue — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and more — Obama has taken positions that have proven to be far more sensible and realistic than those taken by either McCain or Bush.  He is more thoughtful, more realistic, more pragmatic, and perhaps most importantly, more often right than John McCain.  The only thing he isn’t is more experienced.

But if “experience” were the only prerequisite for the presidency, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney (ARGH! MY EYES!), Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson would be our candidates.

So instead of asking who is more experienced, maybe the media should ask who has the better ideas.  Maybe they should look at who has been more adaptive in responding to changing conditions on the ground.  And maybe they should stop mislabeling flexibility as flip-flops.

Nah.  That would require reporters to think.  Wouldn’t want that.  Making stuff up is a lot more fun.

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics | 2 Comments

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