Barack Obama


Syria 911 | 


President Obama gave a very compelling, powerfully argued speech yesterday in which he made the case for a military strike against Syria and also the case for delaying military intervention while we see if the Syrian government adheres to Russia’s proposal that the Assad government give up its chemical weapons.

What a relief for the Syrians. I’m sure the hundreds of Syrians who get killed today by bullets, bombs or just disease spread by the conflict are glad they weren’t killed by chemicals. Much better.

Geopolitics is politics on a global scale, which increases the tendency we see in local or national political dialogue to even more dramatically divorce itself from common sense and reach a higher level of absurdity by several orders of magnitude.

How do we solve a problem like Syria? Military actions tend to kill people, so humanitarians tend to be against war in general. Warfare also seldom solves underlying political or social problems. And we often do war for the wrong reasons. Speaking of that:

Today is the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, a tragedy that immediately killed nearly 3,000 Americans – and later prompted a war that killed many more of our soldiers, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

But let’s compare 9-11 to Syria, where more than 3,000 men, women and children are being killed every month.

Weekly deaths in Syria

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Why is the red line at chemical weapons? | 

Red Line

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke passionately about the abhorrent act of Syrian forces deploying chemical weapons to kill hundreds of people last week.

“What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality,” said Kerry.

“Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.”

Analysts suggest that Kerry’s remarks represent the US taking yet another step closer to intervention in Syria’s civil war. Lawmakers like Senator John McCain are pushing hard for the Obama Administration to take a more active role. The president’s invocation of a red line on the issue of chemical weapons has been a source of debate and anger for those supporting US action in Syria.
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Not climate change or global warming: A call for new lingo | 


Calling all Humanospherians: We need new lingo for our slow crawl toward crisis.

Humanoclasm? Geocrash? Globapocalypso?

Exploding Metal Earth
Flickr, Oliver Erdmann

It’s a hot time in much of the Western United States, which means we will see more stories about global warming. President Barack Obama, last week, proposed a plan to reduce our nation’s industrial carbon emissions as part of an effort aimed at fighting climate change, aka global warming.

“The question is not whether we need to act,” Obama said last week. “The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.”

Eh, the problem here isn’t lack of courage. And this transient heat wave likely won’t do much more than other past heat waves have done to prompt popular urgency and action.

The problem is partly how we talk about this threat. Continue reading

Much Ado about Power and Rice | 

President Barack Obama, second from left, walks with with United Nations Ambassdor Susan Rice, third from left, his choice to be his next National Security Adviser, current National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, left, and Samantha Power, his nominee to be the next United Nations Ambassador, in the Rose Garden of the White House on Wednesday, June 5, 2013, in Washington. ()
Donilon, Obama, Rice and Power walk in the Rose Garden of the White House, yesterday.
Evan Vucci

If there were such a thing as a foreign policy earthquake, the magnitude of yesterday’s White House reshuffle would have measured quite high.

Twitter, blogs and media were abuzz with the news that the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice would take over as National Security Advisor and former journalist Samantha Power is to occupy Rice’s former seat at the UN.

You may remember Rice as the potential candidate for Secretary of State who’s comments following the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi became an attack point for Congressional Republicans and led to her withdrawal from consideration.

Power comes with her own baggage. The former journalist and academic was a strong critic of the lack of action by the United States during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. She is a strong advocate for the US taking an active role in genocide prevention and joined Rice in advocating for the US-led intervention into Libya in 2011.

Rice and Power represent a multitude of things to the humanitarian world. For some, Rice is a strong Africanist that will bring the continent to the forefront. Others will point to her failure on Rwanda and subsequent close relationship with President Kagame as problematic. Power is polarizing in her bend towards interventions. Supporters see her  as a strong voice on atrocity prevention and a ‘nod for the development community‘ while critics point at her neo-conservative tendency to elevate military action above diplomacy.

Obama Continues Path to AIDS-Free Generation in State of Union speech | 

Ten years ago, President Bush used the State of the Union to unveil the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The program is a lasting legacy of the administration that has won praise from both sides of the aisle.

An initiative of this scale and ambition — the largest effort to fight a single disease in history — was utterly unexpected. Bush’s strongest political supporters had not demanded it. His strongest critics, at least for a time, remained suspicious. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) existed entirely because of a willing leader, a creative policy team, a smattering of activists and a vast, bleeding need, wrote Michael Gerson in remembering the occasion.

Because of the success of PEPFAR, there have been expectations in development circles that President Obama may too seek to leave his mark in a similar manner. The ten year anniversary, to some, may have been the right moment to make a surprise announcement. What happened was a speech that leaned heavily on rebuilding the American economy, improving education, immigration reform, national security and passing  a gun bill.


The President did manage to squeeze in a few lines about international development. In them, he gave quick mention to existing programs and put his support to accomplishing an AIDS-free generation. Continue reading

Election 2012: Where do the Candidates Stand on Foreign Aid? | 

Paul Ryan’s addition to the Romney ticket catapults the election season forward. It also provides a bit more clarity on what a Romney presidency may look like.

While other reports will focus on Ryan’s affinity for Ayn Rand, P90X and the impact of his proposed budget on jobs and US economy, I am interested on what his arrival has to say about the Romney team’s plan for foreign aid.

I will try to take the information provided by statements and actions of each of the candidates to provide a comparison for the two on the foreign aid budget and programs.

Foreign Aid in Theory

In a Google+ Hangout that was done in conjunction with the State of the Union address this year, President Obama fielded a series of questions from people participating and via YouTube. One young man asked the President why the US should maintain its aid budget when there are people at home, such as returning veterans, who are struggling.

“We only spend about 1% of our budget on foreign aid, but it pays off in a lot of ways. If we are contributing to improving an economy in a country, if we are giving people an opportunity, if we are preventing a famine which results in a huge number of refugees, that potentially saves us from having to deal with some military crisis further down the road that could be more expensive.”

The Obama/Biden website makes no mention of aid or development.

We had the opportunity to hear Romney’s thoughts about foreign aid thanks to the fall Republican debates. He said in October:

Foreign aid has several elements. One of those elements is defense, is to make sure that we are able to have the defense resources we want in certain places of the world. That probably ought to fall under the Department of Defense budget rather than a foreign aid budget.

Part of it is humanitarian aid around the world. I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid. …

And finally there’s a portion of our foreign aid that allows us to carry out our activities in the world such as what’s happening in Pakistan where we’re taking – we’re supplying our troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan.

But let me tell you: We’re spending more on foreign aid than we ought to be spending. And Congressman Paul asked, is there a place we can cut the budget? Let me tell you where we cut the budget. Discretionary accounts you bring back to 2008 level. We … cut federal employment by at least 10 percent through attrition. And finally, we say to federal employees: You’re not going to make more money than the people in the private sector who are paying for you. We link their compensation.

Aid also does not make an appearance on the Romney website as well, but he does devote a sections on Africa and Latin America that emphasize trade.

Global demand for Africa’s natural resources will grow. Demographics indicate that by 2050, Africa’s population will double to two billion and one in four workers on the planet will be African. These trends, when coupled with robust economic growth, point to the emergence of stronger economic actors on the world stage and greater partnership opportunities for the United States. While Africa is changing, global competitors like China are taking advantage of these changes and are rapidly outmaneuvering the United States by making strategic inroads throughout the continent and gaining an economic and political advantage over the United States.

Bottom Line: Obama has made it clear that he supports foreign aid. Romney has made statements opposing aid, but generally chooses to focus on trade and defense. The lack of inclusion of aid/development on both candidate websites indicates that both do not consider it to be a priority issue.

The Aid Budget

Obama release his FY 2013 budget proposal that includes $51.6 billion in discretionary funding for the State Department and USAID. Representing a 1.6% increase from the FY2012 budget.

Romney has made no real proposal with what he would do about the budget, but his new running mate provides some insight into what may come. The Ryan Plan calls for $40.905 billion in discretionary spending for FY2013.

USAID would fold the Development Assistance program into the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Ryan writes, “America’s experience with having two development assistance programs has shown that MCC’s model better reflects this principle when compared to DA. MCC’s emphasis on outputs rather than inputs needs to be the foundation of all U.S. foreign assistance programs.”

Funding to ‘peripheral foreign affairs institutions’ such as the Inter-American Foundation, the African Development Foundation, the East-West Center, the Asia Foundation, and the Center for Middle Eastern-Western Dialogue are to be cut for being ‘redundant.’ Feed the Future would be cut and disaster assistance funding would see a significant reduction. (Read all his suggestions here starting a pg 53)

A visual representation of the two budgets pulled together by Devex.

Bottom Line: Obama wants to maintain aid spending with small growth. Ryan wants to make deep cuts and consolidate/eliminate what he considers to be unnecessary programs and expenditures. That is followed by a modest pace of growth that appears to reflect inflation.

Souce: Devex

Trade Not Aid

Obama’s strategy for Africa that he unveiled back in June places a significant emphasis on trade. The word ‘aid’ makes one appearance in the document and it is proceeded by the phrase “less reliance on.” The plan breaks down into what they call the four pillars of the US strategy towards Africa: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development.

Points two and three are heavily focused on the issue of economic growth/development and trade. The document focuses on areas such as improving regional integration, increasing access go global markets and increasing opportunities for women.

“It is in the interest of the United States to improve the region’s trade competitiveness, encourage the diversification of exports beyond natural resources, and ensure that the benefits from growth are broad-based. We will pursue the following actions as we seek to accelerate inclusive economic growth, including through trade and investment,” says the report.

This is reinforced by recent remarks from US Department of Commerce Under Secretary of  International Trade Franciso Sanchez. “The Obama administration is committed to encouraging trade and investment with Sub-Saharan Africa, which is a region rich with emerging opportunities for U.S. exporters,” Sánchez said. “The International Trade Administration is actively engaged in projects and initiatives that support the President’s strategy and provide new opportunities for American businesses to export their goods and services, thereby creating jobs in the United States and strengthening our economy.”

The Romney website, as seen earlier, makes it clear that trade sits at the forefront. It is most present in his plan for Latin America.

In his first 100 days in office, Mitt will launch a vigorous public diplomacy and trade promotion effort in the region — the Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America (CEOLA) — to extol the virtues of democracy and free trade and build on the benefits conferred by the free trade agreements reached with Panama and Colombia, as well as those already in force with Chile, Mexico, Peru, and the members of the Central American Free Trade Agreement…The campaign will also seek to involve both the U.S. and Latin American private sectors in efforts to expand trade throughout the region with initiatives that not only help American companies do business in Latin America, but also help Latin American companies invest and create jobs in the American market. The goal of CEOLA will be to set the stage for eventual membership in the Reagan Economic Zone for nations throughout Latin America and the creation of strong and mutually beneficial economic ties between the region and the United States.

Another signal is the recent addition of former World Bank president Robert Zoellick. For some it was a bit of a head scratcher, but it may be a stronger indication for how a Romney administration will deal with foreign aid than the Ryan plan. There are even some rumors that Zoellick could fit in quite well as Secretary of State given his previous experiences and connections.

“Bob Zoellick couldn’t be more conservative in the branch of the GOP he represents,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president at the American Enterprise Institute to Foreign Policy. “He’s pro-China to the point of mania, he’s an establishment guy, he’s a trade-first guy. He’s basically a George H.W. Bush, old-school Republican.” However, insiders are saying that Zoellick has little power over the policy decisions for the Romney campaign. That may mean that the Zoellick indicates little about the Romney platform

Bottom Line – Both sides support trade and make it clear that their aims are to find ways to transform developing economies. Romney seems to lean more heavily on the side of trade over aid, but the difference on this half of the equation seems to be very little.


The Obama administration is rather easy to judge in terms of foreign aid. Decisions like placing Clinton in charge of the State Department, the founding of GHI and Feed the Future and recent high level events like Frontiers for Development help fill out a picture that is generally supportive of foreign aid.

Romney is trickier. The most information comes from his running mate. While informative, it does not mean that Romney will take to heart every aspect of the Ryan plan. This might be an area where he will push harder than Ryan or soften further. The condemnation of aid came during the primary season when it is more of a pageant to look pretty for fellow conservatives.  Presidential debates will get a bit closer to the truth of what a Romney administration might do in regards to foreign aid.

There are also two other factors worth considering. First, it is congress who actually sets the budget. The president can make a budget request, but the gritty negotiations take place in the house and the senate. Races for seats in congress will be important as shifts in party numbers can make it easier or harder to cut into foreign aid. Finally, if no agreement is made on budget cuts, the sequestration will be triggered causing across the board cuts. It appears that such cuts are a likely reality given the wrangling in congress.

While it is not often considered one of the more important issues during the campaign, the foreign aid budget is yet another place where the two candidates do not appear to see eye to eye.

Guest post: Welcome to Seattle President Obama. Now, about those foreign aid cuts … | 

President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in the Seattle area tomorrow, as part of a West Coast campaign fund-raising push.

Given this city’s largely liberal and Democratic bent, Obama is likely to be warmly welcomed and celebrated. But our local humanitarian and aid community may not be so welcoming and friendly — given Obama’s proposed budget cutbacks to U.S. foreign aid, disaster relief and global health.

Here’s one such perspective from Joy Portella of Mercy Corps in Seattle:


Mercy Corps

Joy Portella

This week, President Obama submitted his 2013 budget request to Congress. This request included the international affairs budget, which among other things, provides aid for impoverished families around the world.

Foreign assistance amounts to less than 1 percent of the total budget. That may shock many Americans who think we spend 5 or 10 percent – or even more – on aid.

President Obama’s request for foreign assistance is a mixed bag. Overall, the President would like to increase the aid budget by 2 percent over what he proposed last year. On one level, that looks like a strong commitment to the world’s poor, but a closer look at the numbers reveals something different.

If the President’s proposed budget is accepted, the United States’ ability to help families grappling with poverty, famine or natural disaster would be seriously undermined – at the same time that needs are growing around the globe. Continue reading

Wordy word AIDS Day | 

Flickr, Pink Sherbet Photography

No, that’s not a typo.

I’ve decided to mark this 30th anniversary of the recognized beginning of the pandemic as Wordy AIDS Day rather than use its official name, World AIDS Day, because most of what the international community is doing is saying they want to continue the fight against AIDS even as they retreat.

As Sarah Boseley of The Guardian writes, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria is threatening to ‘collapse’ thanks to governments reneging on their promised donations. The bottom line here is that there is insufficient funding to meet the existing challenge while politicians like Sec. of State Hillary Clinton proclaim we are on the verge of an “AIDS-free generation.” Says Boseley:

If this were not so deadly serious it would be absurd. As Clinton declares the end of AIDS is nigh with one massive last push, the donor governments, mostly in Europe, sit on their wallets. HIV/AIDS has gone out of favour.

It needs to be said that there has been progress, with a remarkable scale-up in getting people on treatment (about 40 percent of those who need the drugs in Africa) and 20-25 percent reductions in mortality.

Recent scientific studies have shown that getting people on anti-HIV drugs prevents transmission of the virus so it is possible, in theory anyway, to halt the pandemic by getting everyone infected on treatment.

Yet even as we may be at a beneficial ‘tipping point’ in the fight against AIDS, the world community’s commitment to the fight is flagging. Funding for the global fight against HIV/AIDS dropped by 10 percent last year. IRIN called it a Deadly Funding Crisis.

Two old-time warriors in the fight ask, on CNN, if what we should be celebrating is Another 30 Years of AIDS?

One of the presumed bright spots in this gloomy landscape was celebrated today with President Barack Obama’s announcement that the U.S. plans to “win this fight’ and has increased its global commitment to get anti-HIV drugs to two million more people by 2013.

Obama’s announcement was webcast by the ONE Campaign with commentary from a slew of other bigwigs like Bono, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The Obama Administration’s new commitment to the global fight will be good news if it actually happens. Little noticed was the fine print that said this would be accomplished not by donating more money but by “increasing efficiency.” Only the domestic HIV/AIDS needs got actual new money, $50 million.

Here are some other worthy links for this day, Wordy AIDS Day:

Alanna Shaikh at UN Dispatch: The End of the Beginning of the End of AIDS?

ONE’s Erin Hohlfelder: Act V, The End of AIDS

George W Bush in Wall Street Journal: No Retreat in the Fight Against AIDS

NPR: What a lack of funding could mean for Africa

The Independent: Victory is in sight but cuts in funding could spoil it all

Simon Bland of Global Fund: Yes, we’re alive but progress in peril