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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

In a live address from the Oval Office last night President Barack Obama declared the end of the US combat mission in Iraq. The president thanked American military personnel for their dedicated service, while also restating his firm belief that the entering the conflict was a mistake. “We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home,” Mr. Obama said. Watch the president’s entire speech here.

Some of those sacrifices are chronicled in The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel. He will be speaking at the Council on Thursday, September 9 about the eight months he was embedded with the 2-16 infantry battalion deployed on the outskirts of Baghdad. Finkel, a reporter for The Washington Post, will also discuss the cognitive dissonance between the violent reality of the ground war and the abstract policy debates back in Washington. Register for the program here.  While another perspective of the war will be provided by Georgetown professor Derek Leebaert on Thursday, September 16. Examining the missteps of wartime foreign policy,  Leebaert argues that the cause of many of America’s foreign policy mistakes lies in “magical thinking” – the idea that the US can manage the world through well-intentioned force. Register for the program here.

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Americans have been donating in record numbers through new means—from phone texting to social media links—to provide relief to the victims of Haiti’s earthquake. The outpouring has been impressive, as revealed by the combination of on-line giving, the response to George Clooney’s global telethon (including iTunes sales) and the Council on Foundations’ list of its members’ grants.

Ultimately, Haiti’s recovery will be enabled by a similar mobilization of dollars and talent on behalf of Haiti’s long-term needs, for this is a country that has suffered from generations of mismanagement, endemic poverty, political instability, a weak civil society and autocratic governance. Its citizens deserve a better future. Perhaps new donors, inspired by this tragedy, will not only represent the “long tail” of philanthropy’s graph, but will have long memories as well and will be there ten years hence.

Our own country’s stance toward the small nation, which in 1804 produced the world’s first successful slave rebellion, has been wary and ineffectual, according to Mark Danner in a January 21 op-ed in The New York Times. A very different future for Haiti requires not only strategic philanthropy, but also sound U.S. policy, including the opening of our markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, and aid that translates into jobs for the Haitian people rather than patronage for its government.

Private philanthropy can complement good policy if the initial outpouring of support for relief efforts is matched by a longer-term commitment to sustainable development, a need most recently identified by Haiti’s Prime Minister. But re-imagining Haiti is more easily said than done. The U.S. is engaged in state-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each offers its own opportunities for public-private partnerships. And each offers is own best practices, and discouraging lessons. Philanthropists point to remarkable and courageous social entrepreneurs, especially among women, such as Afghanistan’s Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, who secretly taught girls throughout the Taliban’s rule. But the enterprise of poppy growing continues to outpace that of schooling young girls. Corruption not only precedes crises. It often follows as well.

How to pivot from immediate disaster relief to a long-term plan for what Secretary of State Clinton refers to as a Haiti that has come back “stronger and better” than before will be on the minds of “new philanthropists” as they gather for their ninth annual Global Philanthropy Forum from April 19-21 in Silicon Valley. This year’s focus on global health, food security and access to safe drinking water and sanitation seems especially apt in the wake of the earthquake’s shocks. Each represents a particularly crying need in Haiti. The philanthropists’ focus on results will likely make them sympathetic in the near-term to the argument made in a post to the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy blog, which called for support of organizations offering impact, rather than low overhead, as their metric for success. As for the medium-term, the recommendations in Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors’ Haiti Emergency Update, stressing the importance of the later stages of disaster recovery may resonate. And the Inter-American Development Bank’s President, Luis Alberto Moreno, will surely make the case for investing in Haiti’s water and sanitation infrastructure, education system, housing and building stock, access to healthcare and other needs identified by the Bank over the years. Former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour of the Crisis Group, will speak to the linkages between civil conflict on the one hand, and state failure on the other. Peter Gleick will shed light on the role that water management or mismanagement can play. Actor Jim Carrey will speak to breakthroughs in sustainable agriculture. David Aylward of mHealth Alliance will speak to new ways to deliver heath care in stressful conditions where infrastructure is lacking. And former Ghanaian President, John Kufuor, will speak to the responsibility of neighbors and regional organizations to strengthen societies before crises occur, so that those societies are able to prepare for or rebound from inevitable shocks.

As they consider the opportunities available to them, the gathering’s new philanthropists and political office holders will consider ways to partner with more recent entrants into the world of giving—the on-line donors, cell phone texters, twitter followers, iTunes purchasers—who are now part of the world of philanthropy. If those who represent the long tail of the giving graph also have long memories, then the tragic past of Haiti, and countries that are similarly weak, need not be their future for generations to come. Instead they can be among those societies that have the resilience to absorb and overcome the shocks that nature has to offer.

—Jane Wales

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In his new book, Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling with the Ghosts of History, Ambassador John Limbert examined four case studies of United States-Iran negotiations to see what can be learned from them. Limbert joined the Council last Monday to present his findings and explained that any negotiations entered into by the United States with Iran must deal with two realities: the need for realistic expectations and the need for high expectations. He cited former Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker‘s belief that negotiations will always be harder, take longer, and that, no matter how well they might seem to be going, someone will always come along and mess it up. Limbert said that if this is true in Iraq, “it is doubly true in Iran.” Limbert believes a primary goal should be to begin negotiations with Iran, whether we like its government or not, because there are countless issues to discuss. Referring to the subtitle of his book, “Wrestling with the Ghosts of History,” he said he hopes he can be a “ghost-buster” of sorts and clear away the ghosts of the past so we can move forward in the near future. A former hostage himself, held at the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Ambassador Limbert has recently been appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State.

The entire program can be heard on our online audio archive here.

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With a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador under President George W. Bush to the United Nations, Iraq and Afghanistan, joined the Council this past week for an in-depth discussion on the Middle East. At the outset, he humbly noted that during his time in public office, he “had the privilege of having to work in times of great change and challenge.” On Afghanistan, he discussed the challenges of setting up a government following the overthrow of the Taliban in a country that for the past 30 years had very few functioning institutions and very little existing infrastructure. On Iraq, he highlighted some of the early mistakes that took place following the invasion, including the dissolving of the Iraqi army, deep de-Baathification, and the way the new Iraqi security forces incorporated armed and violent militias. As a Muslim of Afghan descent, Ambassador Khalilzad emphasized that to succeed in the Middle East, one has to have a feel for the region, a feel for the culture, a feel for the customs. He noted that following 9/11 when there was a great demand for Arabic speakers and Middle East experts, too many people in the government had a background in Soviet and Russian affairs. More specifically, “during the post-9/11 world of policy, a lot of people around the president advising him were very smart people, most of them were my friends and are still my friends, but they were not trained [and] did not have significant experience in dealing with the broader Middle East, with the challenges of the Islamic world.”

Watch a highlight clip of the event:

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A post on The Daily Beast today highlights the decision made by Afghan officials to postpone elections for another four months to allow thousands of incoming US troops to improve security beforehand. The elections are now scheduled for August 20, 2009 – but could be pushed back even further, seeing as “the electoral commission is still far short of the $223 million required to hold the presidential and provincial council votes,” said Azizullah Lodin, the head of the Independent Election Commission cited by an article in the Associated Press.

Dexter Filkins, a Foreign Correspondent for the NY Times, has been covering the war in Afghanistan since the early 1990s, and published a new article just last week on the situation there. He spoke at the Council this fall on his widely acclaimed book, The Forever War, which tries to tell the stories of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from the perspective of the people on the ground, living the conflict day-to-day. Watch his talk, accompanied with stunning photographs, in the video below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Elections Postponed in Afghanistan“, posted with vodpod

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Today, the Council on Foreign Relations hosted the first session of the Center for Preventative Action Symposium on preventative priorities for the next administration. Madeleine K. Albright, Principal, The Albright Group and former U.S. Secretary of State, moderated the event with CFR President Richard N. Haass. Interestingly, panels throughout the day did not focus heavily on the global financial crisis, threats posed by Al-Qaeda, wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, Iranian or North Korean nuclear ambitions, climate change, or any other major threats that the news has focused on so heavily. Rather, the day focused on the importance of crisis prevention – of anticipating threats not even yet on the horizon, rather than on immediate issues. Madeleine Albright and other panelists make a thought-provoking case.

Watch the event here.

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“Who’s going to win?” It was the question on everyone’s mind Tuesday night at the Herbst Theatre, where World Affairs Council CEO & President Jane Wales spoke in conversation with “America’s Pollster General,” John Zogby, President & CEO of Zogby International. Jane posed the question to divine his insights on the upcoming Presidential election this November. Since 1966, John Zogby has been polling both domestically and abroad on the most pressing political issues of the day. He correctly predicted almost all of the 2006 U.S. Senate races and was also credited with most accurately calling the Iran election this past year.

In response to Ms. Wale’s opening question, Mr. Zogby painted a picture of the two candidates as he sees it. He described Senator Obama as the new face of America’s future, a true globalist representing a new generation of leadership – in other words, a Jack Kennedy. Zogby painted Senator McCain as a face from two generations past, a man who stands for sacrifice, patriotism, and country above all else, who knows the ins and outs of Washington, and is running against his own party – a Harry Truman figure. Zogby compared these traits to what Americans claim to be looking for in a president, data that he has from a recent poll where he asked Americans to list what they want most in a president – first on this list was a problem solver, followed by someone capable of managing the government, working across the aisle, and possessing strong personal values (not Christian values – which ranked last in the poll).

Wales probed Zogby on his findings of international opinions of the United States and its politics, and the implications for foreign policy. Zogby posited that the response to Hurricane Katrina will prove to be a more defining moment in U.S. history than 9/11 for it showed how deeply broken our system is – and he believes that our invasion of Iraq was that defining moment for the international community – revealing our broken and reckless system to the entire world. He described the invasion as a “screw-up of massive proportions” in terms of international opinion, and compared the surge to a “wonderful game of whack-a-mole” – regardless of official statements from Washington, the surge is not succeeding. Any reduction in violence has happened because the Sunni leadership outside of Baghdad has made their peace for purely personal reasons, unrelated to the surge. In a recent poll he conducted in the Middle East, Zogby found that Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and Palestine were the most significant outrages in opinion of the U.S., and that “betrayal” and “humiliation” are the two words that best describe the relationship between our two regions. Zogby concluded with a call for a deep commitment to broader public diplomacy – a commitment of money, time, visa programs, internships, exchanges – to make a real effort to present the best of this country to the rest of the world, while we still can. A sad and sobering note, and one that we all hope can be repaired with the next administration, whoever it may be. Even John Zogby, pollster general, can’t call this one.

Listen to the program here.

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