Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Trader Joe

Vice President Joe Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations just now that, “No foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people.” There's a lesson every American President seems to forget.

Biden said it’s essential “to rebuild the bipartisan consensus on trade,” but that this can only be done if we accept that “free trade and globalization have not been an unalloyed success.” He added, “It’s not been great for a whole lot of people. It’s been applied unevenly, and has created apprehension and dislocation among many people.”

It’s good to hear somebody acknowledge in a balanced way both the benefits of trade as well as the pitfalls of poorly designed trade deals. While Biden and moderator and Council President Richard Haass correctly said that far more jobs have been lost to advances in technology than to trade, the Vice President nonetheless added, “If we want to re-establish this consensus (on trade), we have to respond to these legitimate concerns of the American people.”

The Vice President pointed to substantial, structural job loss in America that is occurring simultaneously with vast, new job openings. “We need 500,000 registered nurses and 1.2 million IT personnel right now, but we can’t find enough of them,” he said. Acknowledging no shortage of government worker-retraining programs, some of which are laudable and most of which leave something to be desired, Biden added that “we have such a short-term mentality; there’s virtually no long-term planning going on” in these areas.

Biden said, “We have to let people know there’s something out there for them” and help envision it for them, “but my Party doesn’t pay attention to this.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Renzi the Reformer?

We just heard from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the Council on Foreign Relations. Elected PM at age 39 and now 41 years old, Renzi is - or at least, has been - something of a rising star in Italian and European political circles.

Renzi has launched an aggressive and decidedly uphill effort to reform his nation’s public administration and justice system. After all, endemic corruption and gross inefficiency have held Rome back far too long. “There are many problems, but the biggest in Italy has been the lack of accountability,” he said, adding the obvious refrain that “it won’t be easy.” His remarks reminded me of the reform agenda outlined by Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto on the same stage two years ago, which is worrisome. Each leaders’ diagnosis and determination seem sound, but any mere mortal’s ability to achieve deep structural reform in these nations – or right here at home – is dubious. Still, one can only hope that some baseline progress can be realized before the usual suspects and vested interests impair, discredit and ultimately oust Renzi.

The Prime Minister called for reducing the number of politicians by restructuring the Senate and vastly cutting its size and clout. No shock there since the sclerotic Italian Senate has gummed up so much of what Renzi is trying to achieve. Sound familiar? Obviously, self-centered Senators are fighting him on this point with a tenacity and energy not otherwise seen in much of anything else they do.

He said he understands the huge challenges of illegal immigration and the “pains of a jobless society,” but he urged Europeans not to turn dark, inward and counterproductively defensive. He said, "Europe was built because of the failure of walls,” arguing instead that “huge investments” in education are needed to create economic opportunity, fight terrorism and build proverbial bridges and not walls. He called for matching every Euro invested in security with one invested in education, research and culture. “It’s not right against left,” he added, “it’s fear against courage.” Sounds good. As always, however, there’s no real plan, no chance of long-term change, without specifically identifying how such “huge investments” could ever be identified in the first place and then kept relatively free of corruption.

Renzi also has to deal with the comedian Beppo Grillo and his anti-establishment, government-is-the-enemy Five Star Movement. These tough-talking, self-styled outsiders have no political or public policy experience whatsoever, but managed to win the Rome mayoralty in June. The relatively new Mayor Virginia Raggi could be forced out, as she and key deputies (some of whom have already resigned) are dismissed by analysts and media as unfit to govern. Mayor Raggi is failing miserably in a stew of incompetence and mounds of sidewalk garbage that was not collected over the summer. Isn't this the obvious pitfall of putting somebody in charge of government who claims to despise government and has no experience running it.

(Image courtesy of

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Boston Herald: Aussies Require Voting. Right for U.S.?

The Boston Herald
Jessica McWade
Sunday, January 24, 2016  
It’s far too easy to take the U.S.-Australia partnership for granted, given decades of harmonious, productive relations between Canberra and Washington, D.C. When it comes to staunch, reliable U.S. allies, they hardly come any better than Australia.

Still there are substantial differences between our two nations — especially when it comes to voting. Americans tend to see voting in federal and state elections largely as a right whereas Australians believe going to the polls is a responsibility — officially. Australia is one of more than 20 nations (others include Argentina, Brazil and Singapore) in which voting is compulsory. It has been against the law not to vote in Australia for over 80 years. In fact, it’s illegal to not register to vote.

Critics abound on both sides of the compulsory-voting debate. On the one hand, Australia can point to a 90 percent participation rate in federal elections that puts to shame our persistent 50 percent to 60 percent turnout for presidential elections. On the other hand, some observers question the utility and even veracity of these reported participation rates. First not everyone registers to vote, despite the fact that they are required to do so. Plus, many people simply “mark” their ballots without actually voting for any specific candidate, complying technically with the law while registering their own kind of protest vote.

While supporters of compulsory voting speak about greater and better-informed engagement within the electorate, critics contend that forced voting by its very nature is undemocratic. In the United States, especially, detractors believe that compulsory voting denies citizens’ First Amendment rights. After all, they argue, the right to speech would seem to support the right not to speak, too.

Critics also point out that many of the nations with compulsory voting requirements do not actually enforce these laws, and those that do so offer only minimal penalties for failing to comply. Nonvoting Australians typically receive a letter with a token fine, which some people pay and others protest. Nonetheless, compulsory-voting advocates maintain that greater levels of engagement by larger numbers of voters can help prevent demagogues and other assorted madmen from snaring elections based on the turnout of a small but rabid few.
On balance, compulsory voting would not seem to make sense for the United States. It’s simply not part of our national character, and serious questions exist about its efficacy and even its constitutionality. That said, U.S. politics are broken. We would be well-served to engage in a vigorous national dialogue about rebalancing our rights and responsibilities as voters and citizens. In that light, Australia can teach us a few things.

Jessica C. McWade is former president of The World Affairs Council of Boston and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Now That's a Leader: Rich Wilson

Kangaroo Island, Australia

Rich Wilson is a truly inspiring individual. In an age marked by far too much braggadocio from armchair warriors and paper tigers, Rich demonstrates real courage. He completed the last (2009) Vendee Globe France-to-France solo, non-stop and around-the-world sailing challenge aboard his Great American III as the oldest competitor and only American. He’s now preparing for the next one this year. Far more people have climbed Mt. Everest or been shot into space than have completed this, perhaps, the most grueling athletic (intellectual and emotional, too) event on the planet.

I first became aware of this rare breed of intrepid solo circumnavigators when Dennis Williams and I had the honor of working with Sir Robin Knox Johnston on Navy duty in Norway many years ago. Sir Robin was the first person ever to sail single-handed, around the world, having done so in 1968-1969. He is also quite the character. Folks like Rich and Robin march to the beat of their own drummers and leave the rest of us to question what we are doing to be extraordinary.

More important, Rich is paying it forward. He is giving real meaning to his already remarkable accomplishments with his K-12 educational initiative. Sites Alive provides platforms and curricula for students to follow and interact with field research projects and adventure challenges such as the Vondee Globe and learn about science, math, leadership, teamwork and life.

I know Rich from our work with Sea Education Association (SEA), choosing to read his fine book on the 2009 Vondee Globe (Race France to France: Leave Antarctica to Starboard) while here facing the Southern Ocean, the fifth and most violent of the world’s oceans. Rich wrote of this mysterious and majestically deadly body of water that it is a “dreaded expanse of gales and cold, albatross, sleet, hail and icebergs, of massive seas unchecked by obstructing land, and all the while a mostly un-rescuable distance from any reasonable expectation of help.” As I sit here in the comfort of my own armchair, occasionally shifting to keep Antarctica to starboard, all I can say is, “Thank you, Rich.” The world is a better place for your vision and courage. 

Rich’s inscription in my copy of his book reads, “Dream your dreams and then go live them.” Well, what are we waiting for?

Thursday, December 17, 2015


It takes many things to build great organizations. Discipline is one of them. That's what makes the Buffalo Bills franchise so painful to watch, especially under Coach Rex Ryan. Just when they need mental toughness and personal accountability the most in game situations, they devolve to foolish, overly aggressive, pseudo-tough-guy penalties - time after time after time. It's so predictable that it's boring.
Physical toughness gets you to the NFL; mental toughness and emotional intelligence win championships. Coach Ryan and the Bills should not be so indifferent to sloppy, self-defeating penalties and the dubious characters who constantly commit them. The loyal, long-suffering Buffalo fans deserve better. As a Patriots' follower, however, I'm delighted that discipline, mental toughness and accountability do not seem to be priorities for the Bills.
Image courtesy of USA Today.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Keep Them Wanting More


Orson Welles was the big star of the Oliver Reed-directed film, The Third Man (1949), right? His Harry Lime character seemed to overwhelm the role of his long-time collaborator Joseph Cotten, who plays the perpetually perplexed Holly Martins. But, guess what? Welles appeared on screen for under 10 minutes. Ten minutes! And he didn't appear at all until half way through the film.

We spend the whole time anticipating Welles' appearance, eagerly awaiting his every word and deed. There's a lesson here for all of us in knowing how best to manage our presence; in achieving a substantive "less is more" approach that, well, keeps people wanting more. Too many folks in leadership positions talk too much - blah, blah, blah - and cheapen the value of what they're saying. Their discomfort with silence or rejection of other people's voices produce volumes of BS that drown out their legitimately important messages.

When it comes to leadership rhetoric, keep it lean and meaningful. Encourage people to listen to you by keeping them wanting more.

Image courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Now That's a Leader: Mohannad Sabry


"He saw things that could have saved Egypt from the ticking time bomb in the Sinai." That's what David Ignatius wrote about Egyptian freelance journalist Mohannad Sabry in the November 27th Washington Post.

At great risk to his life and livelihood, the Cairo-based Sabry, 32, has fought tenaciously to uncover the indifference, mismanagement and corruption that has produced lawlessness in the Sinai, created conditions for terrorists to thrive there and likely made possible the downing of that Russian airliner.
Sabry reported ominous "things," but nobody in a position to correct the Sinai's downward spiral  over recent years paid any attention. Except, of course, those who wanted to harm him for embarrassing them by speaking truth to power.
We live at a moment when shameless, little politicians are merchandising ignorance and invective the world over. Here in stark contrast is a brave, young man - a recent cancer survivor, too - who is leading with determination, reason, narrative and data to make our world a better, safer place.
Read the Carnegie Council's Joanne Myers December 1st interview with Sabry at
 Image courtesy of Carnegie Council.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Small Minds. Big Stakes.

Washington, DC

Turkey's downing of the Russian warplane was predictable and predicted. What makes it so dangerous is that both nations are "led" by insecure, little men who use politically motivated xenophobia and nationalism to secure their grip on things. Sound familiar? That is, of course, until the monsters they unleash devour them while, sadly, hurting or killing so many others in the process.

Photo courtesy of Raw Video.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Georgia: Not On Our Mind

Remember that brief Russo-Georgia War in 2008? Georgia President Giorgi Margvelashvili certainly doesn’t want us to forget those perilous weeks in August that year when Moscow occupied portions of his nation in the name of Russia-backed, self-proclaimed breakaway republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow’s move was as much a sham back then as a shameful precursor to Russia’s more recent invasion and occupation of Ukraine.

Margvelashvili, a Ph.D. educator, told us at the Council on Foreign Relations this afternoon that his nation has disappeared from U.S. and European radar screens since 2008. He urged the U.S. to use its bilateral relationship with Moscow to “make the Georgian case.” “Georgia should not be forgotten,” he exclaimed. His problem is an understandable one, but there are just too many mounting issues between Washington and Moscow these days that are, frankly, more important than Georgia. Still, you can understand the President’s frustration. “You’ll forget about Ukraine, too, when things die down there,” he said. He added that when there’s “bloodshed,” everyone is talking about it. But when there’s a ceasefire, everyone wants the problem to go away and that’s when “Russia takes advantage of the status quo.” Fair point.

Margvelashvili sees Georgia as unequivocally part of Europe. He said, “We contribute to the global and European picture” and “we bring specific solutions to European stability.” Too bad for him that Georgia’s per capita income is reportedly 50 percent of the EU’s poorest member, Bulgaria. There’s a long way to go before Tbilisi can argue convincingly that it belongs in Europe on a formal basis. Besides, and this is a point the President would vigorously oppose, every call to include Georgia (Ukraine, too) in the EU and NATO needlessly pokes Putin and Russia right in the eye. Not that I have a problem with the U.S. and Europe confronting little Vlad politically; we need to be as tough and strategically cagey as he has been in recent months and not be bullied by this world-class jerk. However, making the Georgian case and arguing to include Georgia in NATO are not the right issues for raising the stakes with Moscow. The risk-return ratio is just too highly unfavorable. And remember, had Georgia been a formal NATO ally in 2008, we would have been treaty-bound to enter that Russo-Georgia war, at least in some manner. Most European nations (at least our longstanding NATO partners) would have ducked that fight, so anybody out there really want our servicemen and women fighting in places like Tskhinvali, Gori or Poti. No thank you. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Afghanistan: Reason For Hope?

The situation in Afghanistan is neither helpless nor hopeless. It's possible that this nation is stabilizing. Perhaps there is reason for some extremely guarded hope for the future. This owes in some measure to the leadership of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the nation's chief executive. It's so easy to be cynical about the never-ending wars in Afghanistan over many centuries, endemic corruption and record opium production, let alone wicked warlords and police officials who rape little boys chained to their beds (see my September 22nd entry, "This Is Not Why We Fight"), but Abdullah may be what is needed there right now. He's certainly an improvement over former President Hamid Karzai.

Abdullah joined us this afternoon at the Council on Foreign Relations. He rightly took Pakistan to task for providing "sanctuaries" to various terrorist groups, such as the Haqqani Network that he named. He added that China can be a "positive influence on Pakistan, "convincing them to be more helpful in security matters" such as, I suppose, not harboring blood-thirsty terrorist groups. Interestingly, our host Robert Rubin interjected at that point, "Or at least (convincing Pakistan to be) less unhelpful." He read our minds.

Abdullah spoke repeatedly of achieving a "dignified peace" in Afghanistan, especially where the Taliban are involved. I'm not sure the words "dignified" and "Taliban" belong in the same sentence. That aside, there can be no dignity in Afghanistan or in the U.S. relationship with Kabul until Abdullah dares to take on the child pedophiles and rapists to be found among the warlords, military officials and police in his nation. Our allies? Recipients of our tax dollars?

Sure the subject matter is horrifying, and it may have seemed impolite to raise such a brutal question with  Chief Executive Abdullah in this setting, but I was disappointed that nobody broached the subject with him today. I always attend these heads of state and heads of government meetings every September, but chose not to deal with today' Papal traffic in Manhattan. I joined this particular session via phone. Maybe I wouldn't have asked the question in person, either, but it must have been difficult for attendees to see Abdullah at all with that elephant in the room.

Photo courtesy of The Hindu.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

This Is Not Why We Fight

Wars are sometimes just, but more often than not they are unjust and their justifications are untrue. Director Frank Capra's Why We Fight propaganda films explained our righteous cause during World War II while Eugene Jarecki's 2005 documentary by the same name reminded us of the folly of choosing to go to war, needlessly and recklessly.

Well, one thing is certainly clear. We did not fight in Afghanistan to provide safe harbor to armed tribal leaders and police officers there who are pedophiles, rapists and child-slave owners. Are you kidding me? Kudos to a few in the media this week who chose to refrain from wall-to-wall coverage of Donald Trump for five minutes to showcase some actual American heroes.

Here's the story. Lance Corporal Gregory Buckley, Jr. USMC was shot to death on his base in southern Afghanistan in 2012. The Stars and Stripes reported at the time that he was assassinated by a teenage aide to an Afghan commander. It seems that Buckley had reported to his superiors the sexual abuse of very young boys who were being held hostage, often chained to beds so their Afghan masters could engage in bacha bazi or "boy play." He told his dad he could hear the boys' cries for help during the night. His father, Gregory Buckley, Sr., told The New York Times that his son was ordered to mind his business and that this was part of "their" culture. Really? Buckley, Sr. has filed a lawsuit to get some answers.

So too, Special Forces Captain Daniel Quinn had enough of this torture. He thought to himself that these people were worse than the Taliban, which U.S. forces have bravely if only temporarily removed at great cost. Quinn beat up a militia goon for keeping a chained boy by his bedside and was then summarily relieved from his command. The Army is also trying to forcibly retire Sergeant First Class Charles Martland, another Special Forces professional who helped Quinn beat up the Afghan pedophile.

This matter raises serious questions about command authority. Ours is a non-intervention policy in such matters, at least for the moment. Still, is it ever right to disobey standing orders? I think history has told us that it is, on extremely rare occasions and this may be one of them. The Buckleys, Quinn and Martland are heroes who share the bravery and bad luck of being ahead of their time. And kudos, as well, to Congressman Duncan Hunter who is supporting Martland's case. I don't agree with Hunter on many things, but he speaks well and with authority on this issue as a Marine who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows firsthand that this is not Why We Fight. Better put, this is what we fight against.

Lance Corporal Buckley photo courtesy of The Daily Kos.