Given the state of the economy and the situations in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere, why would President Obama appear in Ghana now? Perhaps he intends to build on the progress in a new America-sub-Saharan Africa relationship that George W. Bush started. Bush reset the relationship in the sense of beginning to rebuild trust and respect between America and the nations of Africa.
Where Clinton and others had acted with condescension and brazen disregard for sub-Saharan African opinions, Bush made serious efforts (one of the few bright spots in his foreign policy that most can agree on) to establish:
* lasting relationships (via pragmatic efforts like the MCA to reward governments which served their people well)
* to make enduring contributions to African peace and prosperity (through support for trade initiatives, mediation efforts in Kenya, Liberia and Sierra Leone and earnestly pushing and prodding the AU forces in Darfur to do more with US/NATO logistical support)
* to renew America’s commitment to improved health in sub-Saharan Africa via the greatest investment ever in anti-AIDS efforts and the eradication of malaria.
While destructive or regressive policies existed, often to great disaster (Somalia, Northern Uganda, Darfur), the positives outweigh the negatives by far.
Now Obama moves forward into the next stage, taking advantage of his unique attributes to prod sub-Saharan African leaders and elites into giving up the excuses of the past. As he currently enjoys immense popularity among the masses in many countries there, he has a bully pulpit unlike any other president in order to hold these leaders to a higher standard and impart new narratives about governance, responsibility and progress. Its entirely too early to know if he can build on Bush’s progress in this area in a lasting fashion, but messages like these surely cannot hurt:
But despite the progress that has been made — and there has been considerable progress in many parts of Africa — we also know that much of that promise has yet to be fulfilled. Countries like Kenya had a per capita economy larger than South Korea’s when I was born. They have badly been outpaced. Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the African continent.
In many places, the hope of my father’s generation gave way to cynicism, even despair. Now, it’s easy to point fingers and to pin the blame of these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense helped to breed conflict. The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many.
President Obama in Ghana, 10 July 2009.
The Obama Administration has decided that a total freeze on settlements in the conflagration zones of disputed Israeli living spaces on Palestinian land is in the interests of Middle East peace (whatever the hell that is).
Pres. Obama should be careful what he wishes for:
Israel’s prime minister on Monday rejected the U.S. demand for a settlement freeze as unreasonable, moving closer to a collision with the Obama administration, while mobs of Jewish settlers attacked Palestinian laborers and burned West Bank fields.
Six Palestinians were injured in the stone-throwing attacks, meant to protest the removal of several tiny settler squatter camps by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Monday’s events highlighted Netanyahu’s increasingly difficult balancing act. The hard-line leader is trying to keep his pro-settler ruling coalition together by rejecting President Barack Obama’s call for a halt to all settlement activity, at the risk of hurting Israel’s all-important relationship with the U.S.
Settlers have vowed to respond with attacks on Palestinians and their property to any attempt to remove even the tiniest enclave _ a tactic known as “price tag.”
“We will do everything we can to oppose this,” said Yehuda Shimon, a resident of the Havat Gilad outpost in the northern West Bank.
This blog and many others have noted in the past the extremist views of the modern settler movement in Israel. A substantial minority of them are not only virulently racist and law-breaking, but treasonous to boot, ready and willing to employ violence against their own Israeli soldiers and police, not to mention the innocent Palestinians who have the misfortune of living beside them.
If Obama pushes too hard against the Israeli government on the settlement issue, he risks not only emboldening the settlers and their supporters into an open confrontation that could expose fault lines within the Israel-US relationship, but toppling the likely best government Israel is going to have for the next few years. The Israeli moderates and leftists are weak and disorganized, and the responsible Israeli right has ceded power to its extremist fellow travelers. While Israeli democracy remains strong and commitment to Israeli democratic principles remains significant, the odds of an extremist Israeli government taking office are not as improbable as they once were.
Combine a weakened US-Israel relationship in the short term with strong paranoia over the Iranian nuclear threat and you have the ingredients for a terrible disaster unfolding late this year or next in the form of a strident Israeli attitude towards festering Palestinian problems (the incompetent restraint of the IDF in the Gaza campaign reverting back to a no-holds barred Operation Galilee attitude) and the safety of Iranian civilians in the cross hairs of IDF jets bombing nuclear targets.
Curzon of Coming Anarchy had a rather blistering post about Obama’s incompetence thus far in office on the foreign policy front. While I disagree with him (each president is usually handed a retched pile of policy mistakes and consequences by his predecessor) in many ways, I acknowledge that Curzon is right in one respect: Obama’s mismanagement (whether out of incompetence, ideology or good intentions) of key alliances could come back to haunt us in a significant way in the short to mid-term. How he aligns relationships with Brazil, India, Turkey, Indonesia and other key states will perhaps dull the negative impact of such mismanagement, but its likely they won’t be enough to help us now when we may need it on important initatives.
Could America really end the embargo against the Castro regime?
Nothing suggests a substantive shift in US policy under the Obama administration, though the opportunities created with such a move are promising, as the Economist helpfully points out.
“If the embargo goes and economic change is under way, everything else in Cuba might be up for debate in a way it has not been for the past half century.”
1. Cuba’s rulers, robbed of their primary excuse for continued economic failure, would either be forced to
a. consolidate their rule further (a dubious proposition given the removal of a central, unifying fear the American threat presented to the elites and cadres amongst the general populace alike) or
b. grow ever more pragmatic in their economic policies, actions that will increase Cuba’s connectivity to its neighbors both near (the US, Canada) and afar (Spain, China).
“Although the population is now mainly black or mulatto and young, its rulers form a mainly white gerontocracy.”
2. While once considered by most observers an admirably colorblind society after decades of Castro’s rule, there exists little chance a black Cuban could mirror Obama’s political and social achievements. The nakedly racial and cultural appeal of Obama to Cuba’s black and mixed population cannot be ignored and should be exploited to the hilt to maximize popular Cuban goodwill towards America over the next four years.
*The same applies with disenfranchised and maltreated native and mixed populations across Latin America, especially considering it could take four or more years for an actual Latin American policy to take hold (the region considerably down the list of policy priorities for a variety of misconstrued and often outright incorrect reasons) and begin to reverse the policy reasons America’s profile and goals have suffered.
“The rise in global commodity prices hit Cuba hard. The island imports 80% of its food, at a cost of $2.5 billion, and its huge trade deficit has soared this year by 70% to more than $11 billion, according to official figures out this week.”
3. The US economy (especially farmers) would benefit not only from trade with Cuba, but from access to developing a market share of Cuba’s oil and gas resources. American capital (especially flowing from Miami) could reinvigorate Cuba’s tourism, health and science industries.
“Nowadays the battle waged across the Florida Straits is largely a propaganda one for influence, especially in Latin America. In this, because of America’s embargo and its bullying, the Castros win far more than they deserve.”
4. Ending this legacy pissing match with a two-bit dictator (albeit with impressive survival instincts) would win the US significant short-term capital in Latin America and Europe, capital which could be spent on matters of far graver and more urgent importance such as steps taken to arrest the potential collapse of the Mexican state or crafting a stronger policy in response to increasingly desperate and deluded plots concocted by the flailing Chavez regime in Venezuela.
While doubtful in today’s risk-averse political regimen (though the young and middle-aged Cuban voters in S. Florida who came out for Obama in droves in part because of his promise to restore remittance options and remove travel restrictions back to Cuba may yet prove that a fading political constituency risk), such a move could pay off handsomely.