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Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Latin America in the Elections: Time for a new ‘strategic vision’?

President Barack Obama delivers an address in Chile. March 21, 2011.

President Barack Obama delivers an address in Chile. March 21, 2011.

Over fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy proposed an “Alliance for Progress – Alianza para Progresso” with Latin America “to build a hemisphere where all people can hope for a sustainable, suitable standard of living, and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom.” In his address announcing the Alliance for Progress, President Kennedy said:

Our unfulfilled task is to demonstrate to the entire world that man's unsatisfied aspiration for economic progress and social justice can best be achieved by free men working within a framework of democratic institutions. If we can do this in our own hemisphere, and for our own people, we may yet realize the prophecy of the great Mexican patriot, Benito Juarez, that ‘democracy is the destiny of future humanity.’

The program was meant to improve relations, which were at an all-time low when Kennedy assumed office, and to combat Communism. Many in the region were dissatisfied with American economic assistance after World War II. In addition, the United States was concerned with the growing Communist influence in the region. The ten-year program included a multi-billion dollar U.S. investment for economic aid, military assistance, food aid, education, and cultural initiatives.

Policy toward Latin America is one of the central issues this election. While containing the communist threat and civil wars are no longer the central focus of U.S. policy, the next administration will confront other ongoing critical challenges, including drug and gang violence, building economic ties, and immigration. Some critics contend, however, the United States no longer has a “strategic vision” for policy in the region as embodied in programs like the Alliance for Progress or the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Making and (un)Keeping Foreign Policy Promises

President Barack Obama Remarks at University of Cairo. June 4, 2009.

Yesterday marked the third anniversary since President Barack Obama delivered a landmark speech at the University of Cairo in which he promised forge a closer relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. On June 4, 2009, President Obama said:

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

Yet, three years later, hopes for better relations have been dashed. UVa Edward R. Stettinius Professor of Politics William B. Quandt placed the anniversary in perspective for Riding the Tiger:

Obama's Cairo speech in June 2009 raised expectations among many in the Middle East that they were about to see significant change from the widely disliked policies of the George W. Bush era. But along with the hope went considerable skepticism. Many admired the rhetoric, but were skeptical about real policy changes. Three years later their doubts seem largely justified, especially on the sensitive Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Beyond Tiananmen: Managing Sino-American Relations

Beijing:Tiananmen Square 180 degree overview picture

Beijing: Tiananmen Square 180 degree overview from Tiananmen gate looking south.

While the economy is central focus of most presidential elections, foreign policy serves as proxy for demonstrating presidential leadership. A strong record on foreign policy can help to bolster re-election prospects, but challengers can also use foreign policy failures for electoral advantage or to distinguish their policy platforms. In a series of posts this week, Riding the Tiger will examine the implications of foreign affairs for the presidency and the presidential election.

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China. Students sparked the popular demonstrations following the death of liberal reformer Hu Yaobang on April 15. The students called for economic and political reform and expressed grievances over inflation, limited career prospects for students, and corruption of the party elite. Military suppression ended the demonstrations just seven weeks later on June 4.  It is unclear how many protestors were actually killed by the military action and some are still serving prison sentences for participating in the demonstrations. The anniversary remains a sensitive subject for the party leadership in China. Twenty-three years later, censors continue to prohibit public commemorations, except in Hong Kong, and numerous internet search terms related to the date are blocked. Meanwhile, the Shanghai Stock Exchange opened on Monday at 2346.98, which looks like the date of the crackdown written backward, followed by the 23rd anniversary, prompting Chinese censors to block search terms related to the stock market. The Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index also fell 64.89 points, which of course looks like June 4, 1989.

American foreign policy toward China has been a careful balancing act between managing the economic relationship, human rights, and democracy for decades.

Whither the War Powers Resolution?

President Barack Obama delivered an address at the National Defense University on the American intervention in Libya.

President Barack Obama speaks on the military intervention in Libya at the National Defense University, March 28, 2011. Photo courtesy of the National Defense University.

In observance of Memorial Day, we express our profound gratitude to all of the men and women who have bravely served our country. In this post, Riding the Tiger contributor Stephen Knott puzzles over the institutional contestation of the power to send our soldiers to war. 

Students taking introductory courses in American government are taught that there is an abiding tension built into the Constitution, “an invitation to struggle” between Congress and the President over the right to direct the nation’s foreign policy. We learn that the founders were determined to “chain the dog of war” by giving Congress the power to declare war, believing that this power was simply too dangerous to entrust to the President alone.

Missile Defense: Achilles’ heel of U.S.-Russia Relations

Remarks Announcing an Agreement on Limiting Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (May 20, 1971)

At its summit in Chicago, NATO announced that the first phase of a United States-led missile defense system in Europe is “provisionally operational.” Against this backdrop, it is worth remembering that forty years ago on this day, the United States and former Soviet Union were making great strides in relations that had been strained for decades. On May 22, 1972, Richard M. Nixon was the first president to visit Moscow and reached several important agreements, including one on nuclear arms control, during a week-long summit.

U.S.-Pakistan Relationship: “One of the Most Severe Roller Coaster Rides in History”

President Barack Obama with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Vice President Joe Biden

President Barack Obama with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Vice President Joe Biden during a statement in the Grand Foyer of the White House following a trilateral meeting. May 6, 2009

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan has received substantial attention at the NATO summit this week in Chicago. Just before the summit commenced, a deal to reopen supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan collapsed. President Barack Obama refused to meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari without a deal on the supply routes, a measure of just how much the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated.

In April, Bruce Riedel, senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four presidents of the United States in the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, spoke about the relationship between the United States and Pakistan at the Miller Center. He said the relationship between the two countries “can only be described as one of the most severe roller coaster rides in history.” Read highlights of Riedel's in-depth analysis of the relationship.

The Politics of Presidential Commencement Addresses: Not Just for Grads

Barack Obama at Notre Dame commencement May 2009

President Barack Obama bows his head during the invocation at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony, May 17, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each delivered commencement addresses this week to core constituents of their respective party’s base. It is fair to say that both speeches were campaign speeches. Of course this wasn’t the first time in history that presidential candidates have delivered commencement addresses for campaign purposes or to justify policies. We dug into our archives here at the Miller Center to highlight a number of memorable commencement speeches from presidential history.
 

Barack Obama’s Protected Flank

Obama and Karzai in Afghanistan, May 1, 2012.

President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

On Wednesday, the Miller Center welcomes Peter Bergen for a forum on his new book, Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden--from 9/11 to Abbottabad. Today's post on Obama and national security comes from Stephen Knott, Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, and author of Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics.

For the first time in decades the Democratic Party will nominate a presidential candidate whose reputation as a tough, formidable Commander-in-Chief seems secure. Throughout much of the Cold War, the Republican Party held an edge on the “toughness” issue, be it Goldwater vs. Johnson, or Nixon vs. McGovern, or Reagan vs. Carter and Mondale, or Bush vs. Dukakis. Not since 1960, when John F. Kennedy condemned the Eisenhower/Nixon administration for passively standing by while the Soviet Union surpassed the United States has the Democratic Party been so well positioned to outflank the GOP on an issue Republicans once owned.

Friday Roundup

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio, photo by Gage Skidmore

Each week in the Friday Roundup, Riding the Tiger takes a look at the major news stories of the week involving the presidential election of 2012.

This week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Arizona’s 2010 immigration law, S.B. 1070. Media reports suggested the Court, based on their questions, appeared to be rediscovering federalism and might be inclined to uphold a controversial part of the law. In a post for Riding the Tiger earlier this week, Anna O. Law provided historical context to the debate over who should control immigration policy, and conversations from the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Program examined the historical relationship between immigration and the economy. 

Breaking the (Nuclear) Cycle: The Diplomatic Dance with a ‘Soprano State’

The Yongbyon Nuclear Center in the DPRK.

Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford physicist, examines machinery removed from the disabled Yongbyon Nuclear Center in 2008.

During his trip to Seoul for the Nuclear Security Summit last month, President Obama visited the Demilitarized Zone that marks the border between North and South Korea. That visit, coupled with the satellite/missile launch that Pyongyang has planned for mid-April, highlights the fact that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) remains one of the most intractable challenges facing American foreign policy. It will remain so regardless of whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins the election in November.

A Decent Interval

Click "listen," then "play" above to hear the clip. Launch full screen player.

Today, on March 29, 1973, the last U.S. troops left Vietnam. As the country debates the war in Afghanistan and a new poll indicates that two-thirds of Americans are against U.S. involvement in the war, it is interesting to listen to this secret White House recording from 1972 between President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, as they discuss a time frame for pulling American troops out of Vietnam.

Missile Defense Systems

Excerpt of 1984 Presidential Debate

On this day in 1983, President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars" program to protect the U.S. from enemy nuclear missiles.

Yesterday NPR featured a story from the Associated Press about Russia’s concern over a missile defense plan that NATO has proposed, designed to deflect potential nuclear attacks from Iran. Russia’s president argued that plan broke existing nuclear parity between the United States and Russia.

NATO has said it wants to cooperate with Russia on the missile shield, but has rejected Moscow's proposal to run it jointly. Without a NATO-Russia cooperation deal, the Kremlin has sought guarantees from the U.S. that any future missile defense is not aimed at Russia and threatened to retaliate if no such deal is negotiated.

"I will say honestly that no matter how warm relations between me and my colleagues are, no matter how advanced relations between Russia and NATO member states are, we will have to take that into account and, under certain circumstances, respond," [President Dmitry] Medvedev said.

The idea of a missile defense system, and Russia's role in U.S. National Security, was a hotly debated topic in the 1984 presidential election between President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Party nominee, Walter Mondale. In this excerpt from a presidential debate in 1984, President Reagan advocates sharing the technology of the so-called Star Wars plan with the Soviet Union, while Mondale strongly disagrees.

Click to watch the whole debate. 

Making the Case for History: Using Historical Analogies in Policy Analysis

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a January 2012 visit to Ecuador. Photo by Miguel Ángel Romero/Presidencia de la República del Ecuador.

The conflict between Iran and Israel, which has escalated steeply in recent weeks, is likely to be a critical campaign issue for both President Obama and the Republican candidates. What can history tell us about this conflict? How useful is history as a tool for understanding the present?