Archive for: Philip Hughes


How Should International Actors Respond to Venezuela’s Crisis?

This post originally appeared in the August 18 issue of the Latin American Advisor. 

Now that Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro has proceeded to unconstitutionally ‘elect’ an all-powerful constituent assembly to write democracy out of Venezuela’s future constitution, Team Trump should focus special attention on the handful of Caribbean states that obstructed efforts at the OAS General Assembly in June to head off this latest, tragic turn in Venezuela’s deepening crisis.



Diplomacy & Intelligence: Strange Bedfellows

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of the Intelligencer

Spies and diplomats; diplomats and spies. Funnily enough, each could use precisely Dorfman’s adage about the other.

Diplomacy – particularly effective diplomacy – depends on intelligence – particularly effective intelligence. For the purposes of this article, we use “diplomacy” to mean strategically purposeful official communication between and among governments intended to persuade other governments to cooperate with one’s own position or course of action, or to motivate collaboration on a collective solution to an international problem. Read


Will Mexico and Canada Be Willing to Reform NAFTA?

“President-elect Trump has been relentlessly critical of NAFTA from the beginning of his candidacy. After almost a quarter century, it is perfectly plausible that the tripartite NAFTA agreement could use a review—updating and improvement. President Trump will certainly have the power and authority to propose—and, if necessary, insist on—re-negotiating NAFTA with Mexico and Canada. It is hard to see how or why Congress would try to stop him. But if they don’t already know, USTR-designate Richard Lighthizer, and Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross will soon discover that Mexico and Canada will have their own lists of grievances, frustrations, demands and ambitions for a re-opened NAFTA negotiation. The result will be a product of give-and-take horse-trading—just as NAFTA is. Only better, the administration will explain. It would have to be. Where can you go but up from what Mr. Trump calls ‘the worst trade deal … in the history of the world’? Re-negotiating NAFTA, in whole or part, is plausible and probably do-able. Abrogating NAFTA is not. While the ability to ‘walk away’ is a hallmark of ‘The Art of the Deal,’ the new Trump trade team must know that, over the last two decades, the production base of most of the U.S. economy’s real sector has become quite thoroughly integrated across the Canadian and Mexican borders. Disrupting that would play havoc with supply chains, prices and employment on a continental scale—probably not a sure-fi re vote-getting strategy.”

This post originally appeared in the Latin America Advisor, a publication by the Inter-American Dialogue.


What Will Medina’s Second Term Bring the DR?

“The old adage ‘Results speak for themselves,’ applies particularly to the Dominican Republic under the PLD (Partido de la Liberación Domini- cana) and President Danilo Medina. After weathering recent years’ blistering criticism of the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court ruling denying the citizenship of undocu- mented Haitians and their descendants in the country, Medina just won a record-break- ing first-round victory for re-election, now permitted after a constitutional amendment last year. With a 20-year average economic growth north of 5 percent—around 7 percent for 2014 and 2015—Medina has presided over one of the fastest growing economies of the region. Growth was accompanied by low inflation, strong job creation and sharply declining poverty rates in the last two years, after a decade of high and sticky poverty rates following the DR’s 2003 financial crisis. What’s not to like?

Add in the fact that Medina faced a fractured field of seven opponents, in which the candidate of the DR’s PRM (Partido Revoluciónario Moderno—rough successor to its tradition- al, major opposition party, the PRD), Luis Abinader received only about 57 percent of Medina’s total, and the reasons for Medina’s re-election become pretty obvious. Based on the PLD’s record of economic management during its time in office, it seems likely that Medina’s second term team will be able to master its macroeconomic challenges ahead. Without being close to developments on the much-needed power sector pact, if one considers the depth of the Dominican Republic’s entrenched parallel market for back-up power—due to its chronically unre- liable electricity—I’m not holding my breath. Medina’s greatest challenges will be to guard against the corruption and arrogance of power that usually accompanies long- term political dominance and to ensure that an authentically competitive party system survives in the Dominican Republic.”

This post originally appeared in the Latin America Advisor, a publication by the Inter-American Dialogue.


Should the U.S. Impose Sanctions on Venezuelan Officials?

“Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken’s statement in his confirmation hearings to become deputy secretary of state that the Obama administration would not oppose sanctions against Venezuela, prompted by the Maduro regime’s repression of democratic protests earlier this year, makes it a virtual certainty that the new Republican Congress will move to impose sanctions next year. This would, I think, have happened in any case. The issue is an irresistible opportunity to show up the Obama administration’s laconic and feeble approach to dealing with Latin America’s miscreants—exemplified by its feckless failure to prevent Venezuela from securing a seat on the U.N. Security Council earlier this year. An oppositionCongress inevitably tries to contrast its approach with that of the administration.

This can serve to pressure the administration to change course—in this case, to stiffen its spine. Blinken’s signal strikes me as wise, turning an inevitability that could have become a stratagem to embarrass the Obama administration into an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation. How promptly the cognizant House and Senate subcommittees turn to this is anyone’s guess. The 114th Congress will surely face more urgent priorities, and some subcommittee chairmanships aren’t yet announced. But if Rep. Matt Salmon retains the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee chairmanship and if Sen. Marco Rubio—a sanctions advocate—becomes chairman of the counterpart Senate subcommittee, sanctions legislation seems only a matter of time. And, coming against the background of Maduro’s mounting economic problems exacerbated by falling world oil prices, the timing could prove ideal. With luck, sanctions will make the situation much worse—for Maduro’s regime.



What Does Cantor’s Loss Mean for U.S. Immigration Reform?

Inter-American Dialogues

From the analyses I’ve read of the Cantor-Brat congressional primary race, the immigration issue was a factor — but not the decisive factor— in David Brat’s upset victory. 
Other factors, it seems, were more important: Cantor’s increasingly national role in the Republican congressional leadership, which reduced his time and in-person visibility in his Richmond-area district; the fact that Republicans in the Virginia legislature, seeking to make Cantor’s district more secure, added new areas to it in redistricting to which Cantor’s ties were still weak; and Brat’s success in identifying Cantor with an ‘establishment’ that was ‘soft’ on Wall Street excesses.

Other Republican candidates favoring immigration reform and facing primary challenges — notably South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham — won their primaries handily. It seems obvious that it was less Cantor’s stance on immigration than the current crisis at the Mexican border, with tens of thousands of undocumented minors arriving suddenly — a more than 800 percent increase over 2013 juvenile arrivals—that has raised the salience of the immigration issue in 2014. For most Democrats, the immigration issue is simpler, since it handily fits into the ‘grievance group politics’ paradigm that has propelled the party for the last half-century—and the new arrivals promise mainly to swell Democratic voter rolls once they’re legalized. For Republicans, the issue is trickier, involving a balancing of humanitarian, legal, regional and national interests, and constituent sentiment—and how Republican candidates will ‘play’ it will depend on their reading of voter sentiment, constituency by constituency, in these mid-term elections.” 

International Practices

What Do Opposition Electoral Gains Mean for Ecuador?

Inter-American Dialogues

The municipal defeats of President Correa’s Alianza Pais in Ecuador’s 10 largest cities, including Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, in last month’s elections do not signal the end for Correa’s government, but perhaps the beginning of the end. The losses were due to a host of differing local issues and can’t necessarily be read as a referendum on Correa, whose term runs through 2017 in any case. The opposition remains divided and lacks a comparably prominent leaders — though the election results may give Quito’s new mayor, Mauricio Rodas, a chance to audition for that role. 

Read the full piece here.


The Trouble With Clinton’s State Department Report Card

U.S. News & World Report

Among the U.S. State Department’s perennial challenges is to live down the hackneyed sobriquet of “striped-pants cookie-pushers,” with its implied weakness, elitism and ineffectual foppery. Another is to overcome what it sees as its perennial under-funding.

Trying to kill two birds with one stone, the department has for some years styled itself as the nation’s first line of defense, an indispensable contributor to our national security. Its less-than $30 billion budget, dwarfed by U.S. defense and intelligence expenditures, looks like a national security bargain. And so it is.

But since talk is cheap, to bolster its case, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton innovated the State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) – a direct lift from the 1997 Defense Authorization Act’s mandate for a Quadrennial Defense Review. Hillary’s QDDR called forth a whole raft of monitoring and evaluation initiatives “for evidence-based decision-making.”

The aim is clear: simultaneously improve the State Department’s internal management while bolstering its case for adequate resources through a quantitative demonstration of effectiveness. And so, now, to implement this “QDDR mandate,” beltway contractors are queuing up to devise these evaluation schemes and then apply them to the State Department’s and USAID’s (the U.S. Agency for International Development’s) programs.

This is all so self-evidently sensible and managerial. How could anyone object?

Well, first, this is just the kind of thing that’s instantly attractive to spendthrift Democrats whenever they drift into a thoughtful, reflective moment. It’s a “two-fer”: It enables them to posture as eagle-eyed stewards of taxpayer money while equipping themselves with data and statistics to spend even more of it. But more than that, Hillary’s seemingly unobjectionable initiative – assuming it’s really implemented in a serious, not a haphazard, fashion – could end up further dumbing down American diplomacy.

How? Unlike the military programs from which the QDDR is copied, diplomacy involves many intangibles – combinations of private communication and public rhetoric; maneuvers with friends and allies, neutrals and others, bilaterally and in multi-lateral organizations; blandishments of different inducements and expressed or implied consequences – all sequenced strategically and tactically in time.

It’s not quite as straight-forward as determining whether a new tank procurement is on schedule, on budget, and meeting its performance targets, or whether a new aircraft design can achieve its maximum operating ceiling, turn rate, or payload capacity.

A lot has to do with time – specifically when the evaluative judgments and assessments are made. Take, for instance, President Reagan’s bold arms control approach with the Soviet Union. Assessed in, say, the election year of 1984 – when the Soviets had walked out of the Geneva Strategic Arms Reduction Talks for over a year due to Reagan’s intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) deployments to Europe and his Strategic Defense Initiative, and when talks on an INF agreement to ban all such U.S. and Russian weapons were similarly on ice – Reagan’s arms control diplomacy looked to many like a failure.

But fast-forward to 1987 – the year after the spectacular collapse of Reagan’s and Gorbachev’s Reykjavik Summit – when Reagan signed an INF weapons ban with Gorbachev in Washington. Then Reagan’s tough stance looked pretty smart. Fast-forward another few years, to Moscow in July, 1991 where George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev signed a START I nuclear arms treaty embodying the dramatic reductions, throw-weight and multiple-warhead limitations that Reagan demanded, and Reagan’s policy looked inspired. Fast-forward less than six more months more, to Christmas of 1991 and the dissolution of the USSR, and Reagan’s policies looked like genius.

Or consider the Clinton Administration’s years-long, torturous military-intervention-cum-diplomacy in former Yugoslavia that finally put an end to Serbian atrocities and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Take a snap-shot at any point up to the conclusion of the Dayton Peace Accords and you’d probably have, at best, a qualified, if not a negative or doubtful, verdict. Put that snapshot in the hands of partisan detractors and you’d have headlines – as unhelpful abroad diplomatically as they will be at home politically.

Of course, if you’re not attempting something as bold and gutsy as staring down the Soviet Union over nuclear arms reduction during a Cold War or facing down a genocidal, nationalistic thug like Slobodan Milosevic, maybe getting your bureaucracy to write you a diplomatic report-card that rewards things like “leading from behind” and “preserving the relationship” – and likely penalizes risky, high-stakes measures against today’s thugs, like Kim Jung Un or Bashir Assad – well, that might look good all the way around, politically and budgetarily.

The trouble is that someday we may have a president with a larger, longer-range strategy and the ambition and capacity for strong international leadership. It would be too bad if Hillary’s little diplomacy report-card idea turned out then to be a stumbling block.

Public Affairs

No Wedding Bells for Catholic Priests

U.S. News & World Report

The Catholic Church has received ample focus in the last two months, between Pope Benedict’s surprise resignation and the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, the first pope from Latin America.

These dramatic events have evoked torrents of commentary about the Church, ranging across issues far beyond the papal succession. And, predictably, a good many of those commentaries have revealed Catholicism’s remarkable capacity to drive some otherwise sane men (and women) absolutely nuts.

Take Bret Stephens’ March 14 Wall Street Journal column, “A Church, If You Can Keep It.” Stephens, to my mind, is an almost unfailingly insightful columnist whose arguments are generally penetrating and trenchant. More often than not, I agree with his analysis, and I almost never fail to learn from his columns.

To be fair, Stephens opened his pre-papal-election commentary with the admonition that non-members of a religion should comment on it in much the way that porcupines make love: very carefully. So, while carefully tripping through Catholicism’s recent years of sex abuse scandals and revelations—as heart-breaking and dispiriting for the faithful as they’ve been lucrative for trial lawyers and glee-filled for those who glory in sneering at others struggling to live righteously—Stephens came to this startling curative: “The obvious and needful solution is to abolish the celibacy of the priesthood, a stricture that all but guarantees the sorts of sordid outcomes” that he had just chronicled.

But wait a minute! The John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s exhaustive study of sexual misconduct by Catholic priests, commissioned in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (and accurately cited by Stephens) makes clear that just over 80 percent of the victims in these abuse cases are males, mostly between the ages of 11 and 17. In the 52 years between 1950 and 2002 (with most cases having occurred between 1960 and 1984), the 4392 priests against whom at least one abuse allegation had been made represented 4 percent of the total number of priests serving in the U.S. during those years. This is roughly the same rate at which sexual misconduct charges against men occur in society at large and is comparable to the experience of clergy of other faiths.

The priestly abuse problem has clearly and preponderantly been a homosexual one. So, the solution is … married priests? Or at least permitting priests to marry? Certainly,  nobody thinks that homosexually inclined men are going to be ‘converted’ by marriage. Apart from being contradicted by all experience, such a notion would be laughable to adherents of the contemporary cannon of homosexual ideology. What a quaint and condescending notion!

Enlarging the pool of ‘eligibles’ to those who want to marry might make it easier for the Catholic Church to say ‘no’ to homosexual candidates for the priesthood. But, ironically, the Church—thanks to lawsuit settlements and moral imperatives—is being impelled toexclude homosexuals from ministry at a time when, in every other walk of life, the impetus is to include homosexuals in everything and to prevent discrimination against them.

And what of the implication that homosexual priests manifestly prey on and victimize underage young men? How is it that this is such an acute problem only when homosexual men train in seminaries and are ordained? Because it’s a cardinal tenet of contemporary social policy and jurisprudence that homosexuals pose no danger, moral or otherwise, to the welfare of children. To suggest the contrary—something that only the bravest or most foolhardy would do—would imply that today’s widespread homosexual adoption and child-rearing would be tantamount to state-sanctioned child endangerment, another anathema within homosexual ideology. This ‘sleeping dog’ implication of the priestly sex abuse scandals will, predictably, remain undisturbed.

Of course, marriage would completely change both the economics and the priorities of Catholic priesthood. Every married man’s family must be his first priority. This means satisfying the economic needs and demands of wife and children—a fundamental challenge to the cost-structure of ministering to the Catholic faithful. Priesthood would become much like any other job, with motivations for higher paying positions and ways to eke more money out of the role taking precedence. Pondering this possibility reminds us of one of the chief reasons—besides sacrifice, mortification, discipline and tradition—that Catholic priests are unmarried in the first place: their first and over-riding priority is ministering to the faithful. Changing priests’ civil status will change their priorities, inevitably.

Naturally, those who suggest abolishing the stricture of priestly celibacy claim to have only the best interests of the Catholic Church in mind, helping it save itself from a tradition-bound cul-de-sac freighted with recurrent, tragic implications. But in light of the paradoxes and contradictions between the nature of the problem and the proposed remedy, and the implications of that remedy for the Church’s future operation, it makes one wonder.

Public Affairs

The Cynical Motives of a ‘Department of Peace’

US News

Last week, Democratic California Rep. Barbara Lee introduced the Peace and Nonviolence Act—a bill to create a cabinet-level department dedicated to these laudable goals. And that’s where the Washington fun begins.

The congresswoman’s office got to issue high-minded, pious-sounding press releases and declarations about how this initiative is needed to address not only wars and conflict abroad but every sort of violence—criminal, gang, domestic, mass murderers—here at home.

Fox News Channel got to run a morning show segment decrying the expense and waste that would be involved—a cabinet secretary and under secretary, seven assistant secretaries, plus other officials and staff. Its commentators could mock the hopeless idealism of supposing that world and domestic peace, no less, can be brought about by the advising, educating, and policy-kibbitzing activities of a federal department.

Presiden Obama’s antiwar constituency can be appeased; conservatives can be appalled. But what’s really appalling is the cynicism of all this.

First of all, the idea is not new. It’s old. Ultra-liberal Democrat Rep. Dennis Kucinich has introduced this bill in every Congress since two months before the 9/11 attacks. (He was lucky, in 2001, to get it in under the wire; if he’d waited another eight or 10 weeks to introduce it, he’d have looked like a cross between the biggest squish imaginable and an active protector of Osama bin Laden—at the moment when the entire country was screaming for retaliation.)

Second, the idea is completely redundant. For 30 years, we’ve had an almost entirely federally-funded U.S. Institute of Peace. It occupies a shiny new building next door to the State Department on the National Mall. Originally dreamed up as a counterweight to the Pentagon’s War Colleges and defense think tanks, studying how to make war (instead of peace), it’s programs have long since expanded beyond interstate conflict to research, teaching, and training on sources of and antidotes for societal violence— including forays into more effective approaches to policing. Practically everything Representative Lee’s new federal department would do, the institute already does. But the proposal isn’t to elevate the institute to cabinet rank; it’s to build something new on top of it. Just the thing to do in a time of out-of-control deficits and run-away debt.

And then there’s the fact that we already have a “Department of Peace.” It’s called the State Department. Ask anyone who works there—or ever has. They’ll tell you: It’s their professional mission to keep the United States at peace and to achieve its aims in the world peacefully.

Finally, of course, there’s the recognition by everyone in this little Washington footnote drama that there is virtually zero chance of Ms. Lee’s bill becoming law at all—at least for now. It’s well-known that only 2 percent or so of bills submitted by our 535 enterprising legislators ever get enacted. (After all, that’s how the U.S. Institute of Peace got started—a 1976 Senate bill to create a “Peace Academy” that went nowhere until it became a 1979 Carter-era study and, finally, a law acceded to by President Reagan in the midst of the Soviet’s election-year-long boycott of the START nuclear arms talks.) So tossing this little feel-good bone to the antiwar left is costless.

But is it costless? Our nation remains in crisis: over four years of unemployment hovering between 7.5 and 8 percent; sluggish economic growth; run-away deficits, ballooning national debt; a federal government operating without a formal budget for four years, and near gridlock in Congress and between the executive and legislative branches. At such a time, that Rep. Lee apparently felt no inhibitions about introducing a transparently frivolous, wastefully duplicative piece of legislation during the run-up to last Friday’s sequester deadline underscores that attitudes in Washington really haven’t changed. Members of Congress still act like they can propose spending on anything from a vanity project back home to a symbolic fillip to a core constituency and the taxpayer will foot the bill.

Lofty goals proffered from the most cynical of motives. Sacred cow projects that nicely provide fodder for the 24-hour news channels’ outrage mills—whether of Fox or MSNBC. No wonder the American public is alienated and cynical about Washington. It’s hard to find a starting point to address such a profound and wide-spread … dare we say malaise?. But one small step might be for congressional leaders to drive a stake through the heart of Rep. Lee’s proposed new federal department.

The original article can be found here.