James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

The World Next Week:Thailand Votes While Venezuela Wonders

by James M. Lindsay Thursday, June 30, 2011

Supporters of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva hold his picture during the Democrat Party election campaign at Ratchaprason intersection at Bangkok's shopping district June 23, 2011. (Sukree Sukplang/courtesy Reuters)

The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed Thailand’s upcoming July 3rd election; the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s independence from Spain; and the final flight of NASA’s thirty-year Space Shuttle program.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The highlights: Read more »

Guest Post: State Department’s Human Trafficking Report

by James M. Lindsay Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Director of National Intelligence Gen. James Clapper attend a meeting of cabinet-level officials to discuss efforts against human trafficking, at the State Department in Washington, February 1, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/ courtesy Reuters)

This Monday, the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report was released. My colleague, Mark Lagon, adjunct senior fellow  for human rights at the Council on Foreign Relations, offers his assessment.

Despite some eschewing petulant partisanship in foreign policy, it is rampant. However, the June 27, 2011 release of the 11th annual U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report is a tribute to a bipartisan policy that works.

The report assesses efforts worldwide to combat human trafficking, which enslaves victims for labor or sexual exploitation. Sometimes victims are moved across borders (like guest workers in construction in the Persian Gulf, or undocumented agricultural workers in Washington State which I’ve discussed with State Attorney General Rob McKenna), and sometimes not (like the estimated 100,000 prostituted minors in the U.S., or the millions of Dalits in bonded labor in India).

Read more »

Friday File: Afghanistan and Argument by Epithet

by James M. Lindsay Friday, June 24, 2011
President Barack Obama speaks to soldiers from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division during his visit to Fort Drum in New York on June 23, 2011.

President Barack Obama speaks to soldiers from the tenth Mountain Division during his visit to Fort Drum in New York on June 23, 2011.

Above the Fold. The reactions this week by proponents of the Afghanistan surge to President Obama’s decision to withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops over the next year bring to mind the advice supposedly given to lawyers about to try a case: If the facts are with you, pound the facts. If the facts are against you, pound the table. There is a lot of table pounding going on in Washington these days. Supporters of the surge are invoking the specter of rising isolationism. It’s easy to see why they are making this charge. “Isolationism” is a losing label in American politics, much like “liberal” or “reactionary.” No one wants to get stuck with it. But is the charge true? No. The percentage of Americans who think the United States should mind its own business overseas is actually down three percentage points over the past two years, according to Pew Research Center polls. Among Republicans the number is up a scant two percentage points over the same two-year-period—in the context of a poll, that difference is background noise. The fact is that supporters of the surge are losing the argument on the merits. What is rising isn’t isolationism but an understandable skepticism after ten years of promises that our policy in Afghanistan will work and be worth it if it does. To suggest otherwise is to engage in what someone I greatly admire calls “argument by epithet.” That’s a high brow way to say “pound the table.”

CFR Event of the Week. Judith McHale, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the State Department, stopped by CFR this week to speak with James Rubin, executive editor of Bloomberg View, about the future of U.S. public diplomacy in light of the Arab Spring. McHale highlighted the importance of reaching out to the majority of people rather than only to political leaders. CFR.org has made the audio and video of the event available, or if you prefer the traditional approach you can read the transcript.

Read of the Week. Al Gore provides a nice primer in the pages of Rolling Stone Magazine on the evidence that suggests that human activity is changing the global climate. The news media and the blogosphere have jumped all over the article because Gore argues that President Obama “has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.” What gets lost in that framing of what Gore wrote is his broader analysis of how the strengths of our political system frustrate efforts to take the steps needed to avoid fundamentally altering the climate. Here’s something any economist or political scientist would be happy to explain: decisions that are rational for individuals to make can produce outcomes that are irrational for society as a whole.

Blog Post of the Week. David Rothkopf questions the assumption popular with many political candidates—and much of the American public—that presidents should take their lead on defense matters from “the generals.” (That formulation presumably includes admirals as well.) He rightly notes that “nothing teaches skepticism of the advice of military leaders like the experience of warfare. President Lincoln discovered it. Roosevelt did too. So did Truman, Kennedy and Johnson.”

Read more »

Friday File: Is NATO Headed for History’s Ash Heap?

by James M. Lindsay Friday, June 17, 2011
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates addresses a news conference at the end of a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels on June 9, 2011. (Thierry Roge/courtesy Reuters)

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates addresses a news conference at the end of a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels on June 9, 2011. (Thierry Roge/courtesy Reuters)

Above the Fold. Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave a valedictory speech to NATO members last week in Brussels. His message was pointed: NATO faces “the very real possibility of collective military irrelevance.” Gates has despaired about NATO’s future before, so last week’s frustrations are neither new nor surprising. Reactions in Europe to Gates’s remarks have been mixed. Some Europeans found it ungenerous given that they “honourably joined the US after 9/11 in its costly Afghan war on the ‘all-for-one’ principle, although no other state had then been attacked.” Other Europeans believe that Gates “was far too nice about NATO’s failings.” The question of NATO’s relevance isn’t going to go away. Europe’s fiscal problems and demographics make it likely that European defense spending will fall rather than rise. Meanwhile, sentiment on this side of the Atlantic continues to grow that the United States needs to rethink how it does business overseas and with whom. (Check out Richard Haass’s piece in the Washington Post’s Outlook section this Sunday on this score.) It’s still too early to perform NATO’s last rites. But the alliance is in its old age, and not everyone thinks it should search for a fountain of youth.

CFR Event of the Week. CFR hosted a symposium this week to discuss next steps in immigration reform. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told CFR President Richard Haass that the United States risks “national suicide” if it doesn’t change course on immigration. If Mayor Bloomberg wanted to turn heads on this important topic, he succeeded. You can watch the video, read the full transcript, or embrace another Bloomberg policy priority and throw the audio of his remarks on your MP3 player before you hit the gym. In the clip below, Bloomberg addresses the issue of high-skill visas.

Read more »