President Obama is doing well internationally in my view, including “resetting” attitudes among other peoples and governments towards America. With his speeches around the world before and since his election, he has sensibly combined apologies for past U.S. errors with commitments to do better.
To be sure, a major foreign policy rethink is long overdue and I agree with Jeffrey Sachs that there has been an unfortunate bi-partisan consensus in your country for too long that America is “the world’s colossus, the indisputable power, the new Rome, the twenty-first-century empire, the sole super power.”
Is Sachs not correct too that U.S. military spending today now probably exceeds the rest of the world combined? Your defense outlay of $522 billion in 2007 translated into about $1.6 billion daily, which means that in 24-hours the Pentagon might have provided, for example, anti-malarial bed net protection for every malarial region on earth. If only President Obama were in a financial position to do more about global poverty, the environment and climate change. If anything, the impetus today appears to be to do less and spend less money on everything.
Permit me, however, to focus on four foreign policy issues in the new political environment, beginning with one of President Obama’s perceived successes: Canada.
Making his first foreign trip as president to Canada warmed a winter day in our capital in 2009. His empathy left such an enduring impression that he might well have wished that Canadians could have voted in the mid-term elections
Canadians, however, need reassurance there will be no further obstacles created to crossing our common border based on myths about 9/11. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-supported Republican senate candidate in Nevada, clearly erred in saying “our northern border is where the terrorists came through.” Why is this nonsense so persistent? The economy has been one impetus to reduced cross-border tourism, but your new passport requirement for crossing the border has further reduced visits and probably some related jobs on both sides of the frontier. New rules and regulations, fees, inspections at the crossing continue to grow. The U.S.-Canada border appears now to be one of the least open between two industrialized countries. Can we not work together to improve the management of the planet’s largest bilateral trading relationship?
Canada is of major importance from the standpoint of U.S. national interests, including being your largest supplier of oil. We believe in the rule of law, sanctity of contract, multiparty democracy and dignity for all. Fair trade and open borders are proven means to jobs and mutually reinforcing prosperity. If you are to trade your way out of recession, is not your first step is to build on our deep, integrated supply chain dynamic and renew the economic partnership with your northern neighbour? Finally, there is a new worry in Ottawa that your administration is in effect freezing Canada out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. If so, I urge you to consider the negative effect this could have on Canadians.
One of the major obstacles to a sustained world economic recovery is China’s continued swamping of export markets with its heavily manipulated currency, which amounts to both an export subsidy and a tariff on imports.
China's central bank over the past decade has used export revenues to buy about $2.4 trillion in your treasury bills, no doubt partly as a means of keeping its own currency down. In recent days, your Federal Reserve is being accused by persons worried about inflation triggers for announcing that it will inject $600 billion into your economy—with almost 15 million now unemployed—declaredly to lower long-term interest rates, but probably also aimed at lowering your dollar and boosting your stock market. Your economist Gary Hufbauer was quoted yesterday predicting your dollar will fall another ten percent in the coming months.
Your Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman has predicted that Beijing's ongoing refusal to let its currency float will cause retaliation in a world struggling with overcapacity. He added that by displacing the output and jobs of other nations with its own low-wage goods, China is arguably the prime culprit in holding back a robust recovery in global economies.
Peter Navarro, a professor at the University of California, argues that consumer markets across the world have been "conquered" by China largely through cheating. These include export subsidies, widespread counterfeiting and piracy of products, and safety standards so weakly enforced that they have made China a hazardous place to work.
For all countries trading with China, Navarro has comprehensive proposals which are intended to ensure that commerce becomes fair. Specifically, he says all trading countries should:
- refrain from illegal export subsidies and abide by the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO);
- define currency manipulation as an illegal export subsidy and add it to other subsidies when calculating anti-dumping and countervail penalties;
- respect intellectual property; adopt and enforce health, safety and environmental regulations consistent with international norms;
- ban the use of forced labour and provide decent wages and working conditions for all;
- adopt “zero-tolerance” for anyone selling or distributing pirated or counterfeit goods;
- block defective and contaminated food and drugs by measures which make it easier to hold importers liable for selling foreign products that do harm; and
- add strong provisions for protection of the natural environment in all bilateral and multilateral trade agreements in order to reverse the ‘race to the environmental bottom' in China (www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/the-real-cost-of-china-rising/article1781483/) and elsewhere.
One question these points of Navarro raise is, does the part of your business community overinvested in China have no sense of responsibilty to American working families?
Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of your Council of Foreign Relations, observed about President Obama’s recent trip to Asia that it was: “as important to U.S. power in the world as (Nov 2’s) elections were to power in Washington… and with India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan could lay the ground for a new balance of power between China and the U.S…The best thing the U.S. has going for it in Asia is the widespread and growing fear of a dynamic and muscle-flexing China. Almost all Asian nations want America as the balancer and protector against an increasingly demanding Beijing. But they don’t want Obama to be too aggressive about it and inflame China.”
Gelb: “Obama must convince his Asian hosts that he will reduce America’s out-of-control deficits and produce an economic stimulus program that works. The White House can say as much as it wants about renewing American leadership in Asia, but that talk will ring hollow unless it’s backed up by a believable policy to restore the U.S. economy.” Can any of us disagree? The unfortunate reality is that taking the steps recommended by Gelb would require political strength that the Obama administration following the mid-term elections probably does not have: massive expenditure reductions plus tax increases.
As you know, the 2010 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Commission was released this morning. In the time I was able to study it this afternoon, the following caught my eye:
1-Your trade deficit in goods with China in the first eight months of this year was $173.4 billion, or 41.5 percent of your total trade deficit, with your total cumulative deficit in goods with China since it joined the WTO in 2001 now being over $1.76 trillion.
2-The government of China limits the ability of foreign companies to obtain government procurement contracts and to sell to its state-owned enterprises.
3-The yuan/RMB appreciated as of October this year only 2.3% against your dollar. The Commission accepts that the value for the yuan/RMB is between 20-40 percent lower than what it would otherwise be if it were allowed to respond to market forces.
4-The government of China continues to maintain a sophisticated Internet filtering system to restrict freedom of speech and outsources “much of its censorship activities to the private sector.” Are U.S. and Canadian companies still engaged in this censorship?
Secretary of State Clinton released your Annual Report on International Religious Freedom today this afternoon. The China section is accessible at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148863.htm, but permit me to quote here something your Secretary said on releasing the document, which I believe many around the world will support:
"... we believe that religious freedom is both a fundamental human right and an essential element to any stable, peaceful, thriving society...It is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and it is guaranteed by the laws and constitutions of many nations... Because we believe in religious freedom and because we are committed to the right of all people everywhere to live according to their beliefs without government interference and with government protection we are troubled by what we see happening in many, many places. Religious freedom is under threat from authoritarian regimes that abuse their own citizens. It is under threat from violent extremist groups that exploit and inflame sectarian tensions. It is under threat from the quiet but persistent harm caused by intolerance and mistrust which can leave minority religious groups vulnerable and marginalized."
Dr. Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan's former minister of women's affairs and a former presidential candidate, warned against peace with the Taliban during her visit to Ottawa last spring. She deplored that after 30 years of war the most recent efforts to end the conflict between the Karzai government and the Taliban are compromising hard-fought fundamental values that have only begun to take root. She says that the steps the Karzai government is taking to make peace with the Taliban risk killing a fragile Afghan democracy, equality and relative liberty for Afghan women.
Dr. Jalal and many other Afghans seem prepared to partner with the international community and struggle against extremism from inside Afghanistan. Even if Canadian soldiers either leave Kandahar next year or stay on in a training capacity only, Jalal thinks both our countries can still have an impact if they redirect even a fraction of the money spent on military might toward development assistance and aid.
Dr. V.P. Vaidik, an expert on Afghanistan in New Dehli, is quite optimistic about the future of the country. He promotes a fixed withdrawal date following a reinvigorated Afghan army. He adds that what Afghanistan needs today is large Western assistance. NATO members have spent more than $120 billion in the country during the past seven years. Barely ten per cent of this amount went into development. Vaidik says the emergence of a stable, safe, self-sufficient and democratic Afghanistan that will never again be a haven for terrorists or traffickers is well worth the effort.
Iran is a country with immense human, cultural and hydrocarbon resources, but its people continue to be severely repressed by a government headed by a clerical Supreme Leader and president, who practise state terrorism, flaunt genocidal rhetoric, and are seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran is pivotal to regional peace and world stability.
I stress immediately that those who judge that there are only two policy options available--continued appeasement of the regime in Tehran or bombing strikes against presumed nuclear weapon development sites--are both seriously mistaken. An attack on Iran--as deeply problematic as it would be from a human standpoint--is not going to address the questions of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, or the deplorable human rights violations of the Iranian regime. A much better and peaceful choice would be for the rule of law countries to begin working with all democratic opposition.
Iran’s regime is continuing its sprint towards nuclear weapons capability. Its rhetorical hostility to Israel is based on real policy objectives. Nothing successive U.S. administrations have done so far has succeeded in slowing the pace: sanctions, admonitions and hectoring. When he came into office, President Obama offered an open hand; the Iranian regime spat in it. Ostensible partners in stopping the Iranian nuclear program, including Russia, have largely ignored your pleas.
As co-chair of the NGO Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and as a member of the international pro-bono legal team for Camp Ashraf, I offer a brief word about an urgent need. Camp Ashraf in Iraq is home to about 1100 women and more than 2000 men, all of whom are long term refugees from Iran, and are members of the large opposition group MEK/PMOI (People's Mujahedeen of Iran). The MEK is still on the terrorist organization lists for both your government and my own. Our allies in the EU removed it from their lists last year, following seven court decisions in Europe clearly ruling that the MEK cannot be designated as a terrorist organization. We are on this issue badly out of touch with our allies.
It is bad security policy for our governments to continue to list as terrorist a major opposition to the foremost sponsor of terrorism in Tehran. It was done, as officials at the time confirmed, to curry favour with Tehran. In fact, the regime did change its behaviour, but it took a turn for the worst with Ahmadinejad. Shackling the main opposition in Iran significantly emboldened Tehran.
In 2003, your government pushed successfully for Ashraf residents to be declared “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. On July 1st this year, the US military presence at Ashraf ended, with your base, the FOB Grizzly, closing and Iraqi forces taking it over. Insisting it would continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the government of Iraq abided by its assurances and obligations to protect the residents, your government admitted that the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq , UNAMI, would relocate its observing mission from Ashraf to Baghdad following your base closure. If UNAMI considers its situation unsafe with your soldiers gone, the risk for Ashraf residents is clearly severe.
Nouri al-Maliki was recently asked by the Iraqi President to form the next government. His previous one was greatly influenced by Tehran, so his return to office could offer a green light for a second attack on Ashraf. The first occurred on July 28 and 29, 2009, when eleven of the residents, all of whom are unarmed civilians, were killed by Iraqi security forces. Many were injured and 36 were taken hostage for 72 days and kept under severe conditions.
Permit me to ask you all to invite the Obama administration to post an observer.company at Ashraf. It would be preferable politically to have an international force replace your soldiers at Ashraf, but American support would make such a proposal more likely to happen. Time is critical for either option.
What you have just heard are only my views on four matters, but I believe that many on both sides of the border have similar concerns.
In 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke about “the desire of both (our) countries to practice what they preach when they speak of the good neighbor”. He cautioned, “In the solution of the grave problems that face the world today, frank dealing, cooperation and a spirit of give and take between nations is more important than ever before.” Now, seventy-four years later, FDR’s advice still serves us well.