Foreign Affairs Feed

The Golan Heights

Yesterday one of my friends sent me a link when Donald Trump announced that the United States was recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  When I messaged back, "I probably agree with him on this point. Does that surprise you?" He responded "Yes. More than a bit...explain."

In December of 1993, I visited the Golan Heights as part of a university tour/class.  We were staying in a kibbutz on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee for a few days in order to tour sites around the lake and in the northern part of the country.  One day I drive took us along the eastern shore of the lake and up into the heights.  We stopped at what had once been Syrian artillery emplacements.  From this location you could see the Syrian border to the east and also Israeli military installations along the border, which we were cautioned not to photograph.

But it was standing in those artillery emplacements, which overlooked the entire region of the Galilee, that I realized Israel never would, nor could it, surrender the Golan Heights to an antagonistic Syria.

Of course I had hoped such a determination would be made as part of some regional peace treaty.  Both Jim Baker and Warren Christopher (gifted diplomats) spent incredible effort trying to negotiate with Hafez Assad, to no avail. And no peace treaty is within sight.

Finally, we do not recognize the current Syrian government as legitimate; they have abdicated their role, so it is the perfect time to, in essence, punish the Assad regime by providing support for the loss of their territory.


Manifesto on Europe

3o of Europe's top intellectuals, including philosophers and Nobel-prize-winner authors, have written a manifesto defending Europe against the rise of nationalist populism.  Read it here.  Some excerpts:

Europe is being attacked by false prophets who are drunk on resentment, and delirious at their opportunity to seize the limelight. It has been abandoned by the two great allies who in the previous century twice saved it from suicide; one across the Channel and the other across the Atlantic. The continent is vulnerable to the increasingly brazen meddling by the occupant of the Kremlin. Europe as an idea is falling apart before our eyes.

And

Our faith is in the great idea that we inherited, which we believe to have been the one force powerful enough to lift Europe’s peoples above themselves and their warring past. We believe it remains the one force today virtuous enough to ward off the new signs of totalitarianism that drag in their wake the old miseries of the dark ages. What is at stake forbids us from giving up.


American Exceptionalism

Jake Sullivan's revealing piece in the Atlantic on how we should advance American foreign policy going forward.  An excerpt:

This calls for rescuing the idea of American exceptionalism from both its chest-thumping proponents and its cynical critics, and renewing it for the present time. The idea is not that the United States is intrinsically better than other countries, but rather this: Despite its flaws, America possesses distinctive attributes that can be put to work to advance both the national interest and the larger common interest.


Brilliant interview with Arundhati Roy

The Boston Review has published a brilliant interview with author Arundhati Roy discussing her books, her politics, and the state of the world.  I encourage you to read it.  An excerpt:

While it is easy to take lofty moral positions, in truth, there is nothing simple about this problem. Because it is not a problem. It is a symptom of a great churning and a deep malaise. The assertion of ethnicity, race, caste, nationalism, sub-nationalism, patriarchy, and all kinds of identity, by exploiters as well as the exploited, has a lot—but of course not everything—to do with laying collective claim to resources (water, land, jobs, money) that are fast disappearing. There is nothing new here, except the scale at which its happening, the formations that keep changing, and the widening gap between what is said and what is meant. Few countries in the world stand to lose more from this way of thinking than India—a nation of minorities. The fires, once they start, could burn for a thousand years. If we go down this warren and choose to stay there, if we allow our imaginations to be trapped within this matrix, and come to believe there is no other way of seeing things, if we lose sight of the sky and the bigger picture, then we are bound to find ourselves in conflicts that spiral and spread and multiply and could very easily turn apocalyptic.


Kofi Annan's Legacy

A good article in Foreign Policy lists the key accomplishments of Kofi Annan:

  • He developed the doctrine that a state's sovereignty is conditional it’s fulfillment of fundamental obligations to its citizens.  Sovereignty=Responsibility
  • He reformed and improved peacekeeping efforts.
  • His focus on development goals led to the greatest reduction in global poverty in world history.

"Prudent Action"

George Packer's review of Ben Rhodes's memoir of time of his time as a foreign policy advisor to President Obama is a thoughtful discussion of the book and Obama's foreign policy strengths and weaknesses.  Here is the most important paragraph and the main reason to read the essay:

After Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the burden of proof is on anyone who would make the case for military action as a force for good. But Obama, proudly defying political convention and confident in the larger forces of progress, was reluctant to acknowledge that inaction, too, is an action. We don’t know what a missile strike against Assad in 2013 might have achieved, but we do know what followed Obama’s refusal to enforce his own red line: more Syrian government atrocities (including the repeated use of chemical weapons), millions more Syrian refugees, the shift of European politics to the populist right, an emboldened Russia intervening militarily in Syria. It turned out that prudent inaction didn’t necessarily further the cause of progress any more than a naïve confidence in overt action. When America sobered up under Obama, other powers saw not wisdom but a chance to fill the gap.

So, "Don't do stupid shit" may be preferable to the interventions of George W. Bush, but the practical outcomes in this particular case don't recommend that policy either.