Tag Archives: Brookings Institute

Interrogation of Saddam Hussein and U.S. policy in Iraq

On March 22, 2017, I attended the Brookings Institutions to go see the seminar of the Interrogation of Saddam Hussein and U.S. policy in Iraq from 10:00 to 11:30. The featured speaker was John Nixon, who is known as a Middle East expert who served as a CIA analyst and moderator, Bruce Riedel. Nixon worked briefly on Capitol Hill and was hired as a leadership analyst for the CIA in 1998. While at the CIA, he worked on Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and is thus one of the few analysts who worked on George W. Bush’s designated “Axis of Evil”. The meeting was held in a conference room where Nixon went over the findings and information on interrogating Hussein. “In order to able to interrogate Hussein, you have to live, breath, and known Saddam Hussein” (Nixon). When Nixon started working in Iran the only challenges he had was not knowing the languages and having to start building relationships and connections with the important people in the field due to the fact that everyone knew everyone. As the integration came to effect, Nixon finally got the chances to talk to Saddam Hussein. Nixon believes Hussein was willing to negotiate with the United States on its security concerns. Hussein persona was intriguing when he walked in a room; the whole vibe of the room changes. He would make jokes here and there, and try to create small talks towards the guards and Nixon. “It was almost like he was not the guest in this situation” (Nixon). He would often use this tactic to put two sides against each other instead of them focusing on the bigger picture which was Hussein. The guards would say “we’re here to ask the questions not you”. Certain topics that Nixon would bring up to Hussein made him less talkative and more secretive or he would even get mad at times. There were so many sides to him, Nixon and Hussein’s relationship was like cat and mouse basically. Hussain gave a lot of information as to why he “understand” his country a lot, Zionist concept, reasons, and invasions in his country. Nixon using make jocks here and there during the seminar, which I thought was cool, because of that fact that he did so many ruthless things due to his job, but it shows that he just like an average Joe. At the end of the seminar the moderator, Bruce Riedel introduces the questions and answers segment to the audience, where the audience asked many questions about the U.S. policy, weapons of mass destructions, Bush, and other topics. There was also a book signing with Nixon.

The American in the Arabian Pennisula

On September 17, 2015 The Brookings Insitutue hosted New York Times reporter Scott Shane who discussed the life and path that lead Anwar Al-Awlaki to become the most important english speaking recruiter and leader of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Scott discussed the history of Anwar’s life in the United States from his time as a college student at Colorado State University to his life as an Imam at a San Diego mosque which later produce two of the 9/11 hijackers. The narrative was not only about Anwar’s path to radicalization but also about the door that was opened by the United States when we decided to use a drone strike to kill him on September 30, 2011. Evidence was provided that he was the mastermind behind many terrorism plots aimed mainly against the United States. To help Scott along this journey down the at path of Anwar’s life here in the states and in Yemen was Brooking Institute Senior Fellow and Director of The Intelligence Project Bruce Riedel. While Scott had done extensive research on Anwar from the civilian side, even going as far as visiting his native village in Yemen to interview Anwar’s brothers, Bruce has been working in the counter terrorism field his whole career and provided a larger context to the story, as well as a more modern understanding of how Anwar’s extensive on-line recruitment campaign is, still today, allowing him to reach beyond the grave and radicalize fragile young minds all over the globe.

 

The New European Energy Debate

On May 6th The Brookings Institution hosted Denmark’s Foreign Minister, Martin Lidegaard. The subject of this event consisted of the Russian Ukraine conflict, climate change, and how these issues relate to one another. I was Impressed to hear the foreign minister discuss the various policies that the Danish government has implemented to combat climate change. Martin Lidegaard mentioned that Denmark, along with several other European countries, is rapidly phasing out fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energies like wind energy.  Denmark plans to completely phase out coal by the year 2050. Supporters of this energy plan convinced parliament by focusing on the economic, ecological and infrastructural benefits of renewables. Lidegaard stated that renewables are beginning to be able to compete with oil and coal companies as more economical and practical options.  Martin Lidegaard said that through an aggressive clean energy program, Dennmark was able to keep their fossil fuel consumption at the same level for 20 years, despite significant economic growth.

I learned that the use of fossil fuels not only threatens our Earth but also the security of people in every country. We can see Ukraine as an example of how fossil fuels can have a powerful grip on governments. The best possible solution is investing in domestic renewable energy in replacement of coal, gas and nuclear energy. I felt inspired by this event because the foreign minister echoed my belief that a solution to climate change  is possible. Not only is it possible but the global economy can  benefit from a second industrial revolution where we rapidly improve the technology behind renewables and implement them in society.

I feel that the answer to global warming is going to come through the competitive environment of capitalism where various scientists and businesses are racing to find revolutionary renewable products that can replace fossel fuels. I walked away hopeful that as man kind, we can overcome this hurtle of global warming through our uncanny ability to use innovation to improve our lives.

Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Cypriot Perspective

On Thursday, May 9, the Brookings Institution featured Ioannis Kasoulides as guest speaker. His presentation, “Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Cypriot Perspective,” highlighted the region’s strategic geographical position and dwelled on the issues the country faces. Mr. Kasoulides is the minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Cyprus – a position he assumed for a second term on March 1. Martin Indyk, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, introduced the featured speaker.

The Republic of Cyprus, the largest island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, serves as a crossing point between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. (For a general overview of the country, visit https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cy.html.) Its geographical position places the country amid the Middle East conflict and Israeli security issues.

It is the only member of the European Union in the region (having gained entry in 2004). Its relationship with the U.S. and EU has increased in recent years, in efforts to fight terrorism, human trafficking, and nuclear proliferation. Mr. Kasoulides emphasized his country’s shared values – democracy, rule of law, and human rights – with the U.S. He also noted a deep desire to be viewed as a trading partner of the U.S.

He proceeded to discuss the Arab Spring and its implications on Cyprus. Mr. Kasoulides appeared satisfied of the region’s desire to “democratically evolve” and consolidate democracy. He, however, did not abstain from expressing his views on the ongoing conflict in Syria. His concern with the innocent civilians who are indiscriminately killed was apparent. The use of chemical weapons has raised concerns in the diplomatic community, to which Mr. Kasoulides said, “It is not permissible for government to use chemical weapons against their own people.”

In regard to its neighboring countries, he said Cyprus is the “most predictable next door neighbor of Israel.” Upon its admittance to the EU, it brought “Europe to 35 minutes away from Tel Aviv, whereas before the distance was much bigger.” Both countries have good intentions towards one another, and he said that the energy issue was a “tangible area” that called for the cooperation from both countries. Cyprus has an adjacent border with the economic zone of Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel, whereas Israel has one common line of economic zone with Egypt; the “common denominator” in this paradigm is Cyprus. Mr. Kasoulides stated his country has a “great affinity” toward Lebanon. The Minister of Foreign Affairs shared with the audience that an upcoming visit is in session to Egypt, with whom Cyprus has a “cordial relationship.”

“Turkey acknowledges that the problem of Cyprus is an impediment to the growth of the EU,” Mr. Kasoulides said with respect to Turkey. It does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, due to historical conflicts that are still present today. He went on to say, “What an anachronism it is nowadays to occupy 37% of the territory of Cyprus, 57% of the coastline, a European country, therefore European soil.” If there is any hope of improving the relationship between theses two countries, Turkey needs to partake in negotiation talks. Despite Cyprus’ status as a member of the EU, it is the only member state that has no connection or participates in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The country may be “ready to apply,” but its admission depends on Turkey’s willingness to allow Cyprus at the negotiation tables. The urgency of the matter was stressed by using the energy issue: since the country is strategically situated near the entrance of the Suez Canal, it can export gas to markets around the region (especially Asia, a region that is still developing). He assured the audience that the country “will exploit [their] gas resources.” Furthermore, he said, “I don’t think humanity is permitted to wait until Cyprus settles its problems with Turkey in order to proceed exploiting this very important material.”

Negotiations for Cyprus are not easy, “they never have been,” opined Mr. Kasoulides. The election of Nicos Anastasiades on February 24 created “a window of opportunity.” He expressed optimism that the current center-right government will be able to improve its relations with Turkey.

A Q & A session followed Mr. Kasoulide’s presentation, during which he addressed the country’s economic crisis. He said that a very high deposit interest rate (“the highest in Europe,” he added) incentivized both foreigners and Cypriots to store their money in banks, which decreased investment and spending in the real economy. The banking system eventually collapsed overnight, and the euro zone had to issue a bail out. The crisis may have not allowed Cypriots to undo the events that led to the collapse, but he urged that the case be seen as an experiment of “what to do about banks too big to fail.” (To read more about the bailout, visit http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2013/03/cyprus-bail-out.)

As it was Europe Day, I found it fitting to attend an event that focused on a member state’s geopolitics and issues. A country’s geographic position can be advantageous in several ways, but it can also prove to have several disadvantages (case in point, Cyprus).

Scotland as a Good Global Citizen

On Tuesday, April 9th I ventured to the Brookings Institute to sit in on a conversation on Scotland’s hopeful independence featuring Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond. As the leader of the Scottish Parliament as well as the Scottish independence movement, Mr. Salmond provided a compelling argument as to why Scotland would make for a “Good Global Citizen” in its future as an independent nation. Some of the points that Mr. Salmond addressed in his argument included future relationships with the rest of the world, membership in international institutions, and priorities in foreign and diplomatic affairs.

Mr. Salmond opened his argument with remarks about the close ties between the U.S. and the Scotland region, referring to how many 20 million Americans claim Scottish heritage and emanate a spirit of Scottish pride. He added that he hoped that these close ties would lead to a strong international relationship between two independent nations if the referendum for Scottish independence churned out a “yes” vote next autumn. In fact, Mr. Salmond hopes to continue relationships with other nations, as well as membership in international institutions such as the UN, European Union, and NATO. His vision of an independent Scotland is one of little change, save for independent power in international affairs.

According to Mr. Salmond, it is only a matter of common sense that Scotland should become its own independent nation. Scotland is already active in supporting climate and energy programs, including adopting the toughest climate control program in the world. The region is becoming a role model for independent nations in terms of climate control and energy concerns. Mr. Salmond then proceeded to end his discussion by quoting a speech by John F. Kennedy made in 1963: “nationalism must embrace internationalism”. For a region that is already distinct in some international concerns such as climate control,  why shouldn’t it have the power to independently control international decisions- or its own defense and taxes in the welfare system either, for that matter?

Brookings – US/China Relations

For my DC event I attended a conference at the Brookings Institute regarding the China/US relationship as an issue in the 2012 election. The four panelists were Richard Bush, Kenneth Lieberthal, Joshua Metzer, and Jonathan Pollack. Although they all admitted that this has not been a huge issue in the presidential campaign they argued that this will be one of the most, if not the most important foreign policy areas for the foreseeable future.

All of the panelists mentioned that they thought that the difference between Obama and Romney on this issue is one of packaging rather than substance. While Romney may take a more hawkish tone on the campaign trail he and Obama have similar stances on issues from human rights to intellectual property issues. Lieberthal added that there has been a pattern in presidential elections where the challenger accuses the incumbent of being soft on China. If he is elected he will try to implement some of his promises but eventually reverts to the original policy. An example was Clinton’s promise to use sanctions in response to China’s human rights violations, which he eventually dropped.

Some of the panelists did remark that there is some risk that given China’s sensitive leadership transition some of the more nationalist campaign rhetoric could have a negative effect on mutual relations. If Xi Jinping or other new officials feel that they need to solidify up their base of support they may feel the need to push back more forcefully than expected. However, the general consensus was that the US/China relationship is going to remain relatively stable although there is some work to be done.