S. Frederick Starr

AFPC Defense Dossier, May 31, 2020

This Spring, the Trump administration formally released its official strategy for Central Asia. The occasion marks the first time in more than two decades that the United States has articulated a serious approach to a region where vast economic, geopolitical, and civilizational stakes are in play. Coming on the heels of repeated visits to the region by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the new strategy emphasizes American support for the sovereignty and independence of the Central Asian states, encourages the growth of regional cooperation among them, and acknowledges positive steps toward political and economic reform. Crucially, it also supports the expansion of relations between the Central Asian states and Afghanistan.

In releasing this strategy, the Trump administration has made clear that it views Central Asia as a world region where the United States has intrinsic economic and security interests. This represents a significant departure from the past practice of various U.S. administrations, who allowed the region to slip between the cracks of other national security and foreign policy concerns that were deemed more important.

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Svante E. Cornell

The American Interest, March 25, 2020

Svante E. Cornell

The American Interest, March 13, 2020

How should democracies deal with authoritarian states? This is a bipartisan problem that has confronted every American administration without exception. Answers vary widely, falling between two poles of a spectrum. Some believe it is America’s mission to promote freedom in the world in a principled manner; others claim that foreign policy should be about national interests alone, and that policymakers should deal with the world as it is, not as they wish it to be.

In reality, U.S. foreign policy has frequently tried to both advance freedom and protect the national interest. Foreign policy, after all, is largely driven by responses to events, where beggars can seldom be choosers. After 9/11, even the most principled democracy promoters realized the need to cooperate with authoritarian states to safeguard the American homeland. Conversely, President Donald Trump’s response to the Bashir al-Asad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria indicates that moral principles come into play even for the most dyed-in-the-wool realist. The George W. Bush Administration, for its part, tried to square the circle by claiming that the promotion of democracy would create a safer world for America. The results were not encouraging. Nor did President Obama’s approach—to “extend a hand” to avowed authoritarian rivals, while chiding allies for their democratic failings—improve the situation. Today, scholars and watchdog groups both point with alarm to a demonstrable backtracking of democracy around the world.

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Svante Cornell, Brenda Shaffer, and Jonathan Schanzer

RealClear World, March 4, 2020

Yesterday during remarks at the AIPAC annual conference, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the recent publication by the UN Human Rights Office of a database of companies that operate in the West Bank. Pompeo defined the report as “a real threat” that “only serves to facilitate the BDS movement and delegitimize Israel.” Pompeo declared that the United States will take actions on behalf of the “members of our business community that are being threatened by this release.” 

The UN Human Rights Office on Feb. 12  published a database of 112 companies that operate in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The vast majority of the listed companies provide basic goods and services to the people living in these disputed territories.

The database was originally slated to be released in March. However, it appears the United Nations released it early as part of its effort to counter the Trump administration’s new Middle East peace plan. The plan seeks to legalize Israel’s control over some of the territory it conquered in the 1967 Six Day War and has controlled ever since.

As Pompeo pointed out, the release of the database is also designed to do one more thing: to give a boost to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign that seeks to wage an economic war against Israel. The database is deliberately designed to assist their efforts to deter businesses from working with Israel. 

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The most important takeaway from the killing of Qassem Suleimani doesn’t just have to do with Iran.

Svante Cornell and Brenda Shaffer
Foreign Policy, Febuary 27, 2020

There has been no shortage of debate about the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani and its effects on U.S. foreign policy toward Iran and the broader Middle East. Not nearly enough has been said about whether it can broadly serve as a model for dealing with the problems posed by proxy forces elsewhere in the world.

By killing Suleimani, the United States indicated it would no longer tolerate Iran’s use of proxies to circumvent its responsibility for killing Americans and for other acts of terrorism and mass bloodshed. Washington decided to deal with the source of the terrorism, not its emissaries. The same principle should apply to the many proxy regimes established by various states—Russia most prominently—to circumvent responsibility for illegal military occupations.

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