In case, you haven’t had a chance to watch this…


The Center for Strategic Studies (CSIS)’s Post Conflict Reconstruction Project has a put together a wiki that lists the latest writings on the need for US foreign assistance reform.  This is a good resource for graduate and undergraduate students looking into this topic.


As one of its 300 million+ landlords, I would like to take this opportunity to heartily welcome your family to the White House.  I know you are not moving in until January 2009, but after 8 years with the previous tenant, it needs a lot of work.  I can’t speak for all of the other landlords, but rest assured that most of us (including our neighbors) will welcome the changes you are planning.

Malia & Sasha, what kind of puppy are you going to get?

I love PBS’ Frontline (as my students will tell you) and was very much looking forward to its recently released two-hour documentary on global warming, entitled HEAT.  Sadly, the program fell far short of my expectations.

While the program delivered flashes of insight, it spent too much time finger pointing and not enough time thoughtfully evaluating potential solutions to reducing US carbon emissions.  (Though maybe I am just a climate change curmudgeon, since I made a similar complaint about Gore’s Inconvenient Truth here.)

More specifically, I was disappointed by:

  1. All the tear-jerking testimonials about how bad global warming is getting, without concrete suggestions on what to do about it. — Simply talking about the need to switch to alternative energy sources does not count as a concrete solution.
  2. Finger pointing at the “bad guys” in the auto, coal, and oil industry.  — Nothing new there.  Its time to move on in order to try to build consensus around realistic solutions to the problem.
  3. The video footage of CA Governor Schwarzenegger crushing the car. — More empty rhetoric.  I would have much preferred to have learned what CA gains by taking the lead on this issue.  What are the cost-benefit trade off’s (economic, social, environmental) that Schwarzenegger factored in when making these decisions?
  4. The program’s focus on the US’ oppositional stance towards a stronger UNFCCC treaty and its Kyoto protocol. — Again, nothing new.  Given the broad recognition about this treaty’s fundamental flaws, it would have been much more interesting to hear about the role the US could constructively play in a post-Kyoto world.
  5. The program’s “10 Year Deadline” Mantra — While the show drilled home that we only have 10 years to act if we are serious about staving off the catastrophic effects of climate change, I kept asking myself what specifically are we supposed to do?  Turn off more lights?  Buy an electric car?  Where is the plan for action?  What are the specific costs and consequences of not acting?  For the US, for this generation, for the next?  All these questions are left unanswered.

Its not that the program is not worth watching (I’ll likely assign it to this year’s Human Security students). HEAT did effectively illustrate the economic and political obstacles to to reducing US fossil fuel dependency and how both US Democratic and Republican leaders share the blame for this policy failure.  I just didn’t think that this program moved our understanding of the issue any further forward.

What I would like to see, perhaps in “HEAT: The Sequel”, is a thorough comparison of alternative road maps to an 80 % reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

  1. What will it take (technologically, economically, and in terms of “life style sacrifice”) for the US to reach this target?  What about China and India and the EU (because there is no point in any one country acting unilaterally on this issue)?  Are developed countries factoring in the amount of money they will have to spend to help the rest of the world?
  2. Assuming we can’t reach that target — which frankly speaking, is a fairly realistic assumption at this point — what major work is being done to deal with the consequences ?  What are the current plans and cost estimates for adaptation strategies (for example, building higher sea walls to address sea level rise)?  Is there a point where the world will need to shift its political and economic focus to adaptation instead of mitigation?

What topics would you like to see covered in a hard-hitting, compelling documentary on climate change policy?

UPDATE: The Boston Review has a good piece on on the need to focus on climate change adaptation efforts NOW.

Most of us are all too familiar with the tragic foreign policy misjudgments of the Bush administration. Yet, one of his positive legacies will undoubtedly be his administration’s leadership in the global battle against HIV/AIDS. This recent NY Times story outlines some of the major accomplishments of Bush’s five-year (2003-2008) $15-billion PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) initiative to combat the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. (For more background info., see the Global AIDS Alliance web page on Pepfar here.)

So far, roughly 1.4 million AIDS patients have received lifesaving medicine paid for with American dollars, up from 50,000 before the initiative. Even Mr. Bush’s most ardent foes, among them Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, his 2004 Democratic challenger, find it difficult to argue with the numbers…

In Haiti, about 13,000 patients are now receiving anti-retroviral drugs. That is only half the estimated 26,000 who need them, but far more than the 100 being treated five years ago…

In Uganda, a country already far along on its own AIDS initiative when Mr. Bush began his, 110,000 people are under treatment, and 2 million have H.I.V. tests each year, up from 10,000 treated and 400,000 tested before, according to Dr. Alex Coutinho, a top AIDS expert there. The money comes mostly from Pepfar, but also from a United Nations fund to which the United States contributes.

Dr. Coutinho said Ugandans were terrified that when Mr. Bush left office, “the Bush fund,” as they call it, would go with him. “When I’ve traveled in the U.S., I’m amazed at how little people know about what Pepfar stands for,” he said. “Just because it has been done under Bush, it is not something the country should not be proud of.”

Despite these accomplishments, there have been strong criticisms of the program’s ideological focus on abstinence as a preventive HIV/AIDS strategy (among many other criticisms, which include the need for less ambiguity, more local control, and to rely on WHO instead of USFDA standards for treatment approval). Yet, given the fact that these abstinence programs account for only about 7% of the total monies being spent and given the importance of this abstinence approach to Bush’s conservative religious base, which was in turn crucial to the wide bi-partisan support for this program, it seems that “abstinence” was a necessary compromise to get the program funded.

The Bush administration has already asked for US$ 30 billion to fund the next 5-year phase of the program. Few observers doubt that he will get this. Instead, the debates are centering around how to revamp the program (ex, dropping the ideological focus on abstinence in favor of evidence-based approaches towards prevention), and whether Democrats will be successful in asking for even more money (as much as US$50 billion). In the grand scheme of things, this is good news for the 33 million infected with HIV/AIDS around the world.

Support for a gas tax has always been described as political suicide for US politicians. Tom Friedman lays out the reasons why this should not be the case. Hillary and Barrack, why isn’t a gas tax on your political agendas?


Periodically my usually repressed frustration with the US role in the world today boils over. Today’s rant was spurred on by a Washington Post editorial written by distinguished members of the International Crisis Group (ICG) board on the need for the US to withdrawal military funding for Gen. Musharraf unless he agrees to restore democracy.

What would restoring democracy entail?

…revoking the declaration of martial law; restoring the constitution, the judiciary and fundamental freedoms; and the release of all political detainees. Musharraf must give up his post of army chief and abide by any Supreme Court decision on his eligibility for the presidency. A neutral caretaker government should be formed, in consultation with all opposition parties, to oversee the polls, and the Election Commission of Pakistan should be reconstituted. Free, fair and transparent elections can then be held — something that is impossible under martial law.

In other words, demanding a complete about face from Musharraf.

Why should the US take these steps? The authors argue that it is not in the US interest to support an unstable military dictatorship and that free elections in Pakistan would yield a “moderate, pro-Western, anti-extremist government.” Moreover, the authors see clear parallels between Musharraf’s Pakistan and Marcos’ Philippines. If the US took a stand for democracy in Pakistan as it did towards Marcos, isn’t it possible that the world could witness the same positive “people power” ending to the unrest in Pakistan?

While I have the utmost respect for the ICG’s work, I read these types of policy prescriptions as an American and feel frustrated. I realize that the ICG is trying to persuade this administration and this congress to work with the cards that have been dealt and do something constructive. Yet, even if it is for the right reasons, doesn’t this policy perpetuate the endless US foreign policy cycle of using military dollars to blackmail weaker countries?

Using US military dollars to blackmail a leader to “do the right thing,” while appealing as a quick fix to our national guilt at having funded such a repressive regime in the first place, holds out little hope for achieving a sustainable solution for what ails Pakistan (look at the state of the Philippines 20 years after Marcos…). Moreover, would the authors be as quick to support this policy of democratic blackmail if the polling data indicated that the majority of Pakistanis supported extremist candidates? If not, what does this say about the US commitment to the principles of democratic governance? If you argue that US foreign policy should not be guided by democratic principles, then what is the recommended road map? Narrowly defined national interests? Well, that is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Of course, there are no easy answers to how the US can play a constructive role that would serve the human security needs of the Pakistanis while still being consistent with US values and security interests. Foreign policy is always about trade-offs and tough choices. Given how deeply entwined the US has become with Musharraf’s regime, any policy short of this blunt blackmail attempt would be viewed as more coddling by the Bush administration towards its key ally in the war on terror and the time for coddling is over.

So, in this case, I hope the US Congress does step up to the plate and propose legislation along these ICG suggested lines in order to hold the President’s foreign policy towards Pakistan accountable. Yet, in doing so, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that these actions will enhance US foreign policy credibility in Pakistan or abroad. It will simply perpetrate the US image as global “puppetmaster,” an image that has been destructive to our international reputation and global security.

Can the US break this cycle? That will be the topic of another rant, another day. Clearly new leadership is crucial. Barrack Obama talks the talk, but can he walk the walk?