Foreign Policy In Focus

Ukrainian Unity Depends On…Bulgaria?!

Ukraine’s war with pro-Russian separatists is not only being decided in the battlefields of eastern Ukraine.

Oddly enough, the Ukrainian government’s recapture of Slavyansk and its advance on Donetsk were only made possible because of a decision of the Bulgarian government. The decision was to stop the ongoing construction of South Stream, a new gas pipeline that would have circumvented Ukraine to deliver Russian gas to energy-hungry Europe.

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China, America, and a New Cold War in Africa?

Juba, South Sudan — Is this country the first hot battlefield in a new cold war? Is the conflict tearing this new nation apart actually a proxy fight between the world’s two top economic and military powers?

That’s the way South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth tells it. After “midwifing” South Sudan into existence with billions of dollars in assistance, aid, infrastructure projects, and military support, the United States has watched China emerge as the major beneficiary of South Sudan’s oil reserves. As a result, Makuei claims, the United States and other Western powers have backed former vice president Riek Machar and his rebel forces in an effort to overthrow the country’s president, Salva Kiir. China, for its part, has played a conspicuous double game. Beijing has lined up behind Kiir, even as it publicly pushes both sides to find a diplomatic solution to a simmering civil war. It is sending peacekeepers as part of the U.N. mission even as it also arms Kiir’s forces with tens of millions of dollars worth of new weapons.

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Iran: Is the Short Honeymoon of Media Freedom Over?

On July 31, a prominent Iranian journalist tweeted, “Saba’s mother has now joined Twitter.” Saba’s mother Akram Mohammadi, had just given an interview about her daughter Saba’s agonizing 65 days of pretrial detention at an unknown location. Unidentified security officials had arrested Saba Azarpaik, a Tehran-based journalist, on May 28.

A few hours later, the Twitter account linked to her posted this message: “Mr. Rouhani, you promised that our children would no longer be arrested for writing articles and reporting… So what happened?”

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Obama: Into Africa

President Obama is definitely “into” Africa. As much as possible in a world riven by multiple crises, the president has made the continent a focus of his policymaking. Turning his own Kenyan heritage into a personal bridge to the region, he has visited Africa three times as president – in 2009, 2011, and 2013. He has touted his administration’s multi-billion initiatives such as Power Africa to bring electricity to millions of homes, a fellowship program for young African leaders, and the continuation of efforts to fight HIV-AIDS and other infectious diseases.

At a time when criticism is mounting about the way the president is handling the rest of the world, Africa is shaping up to be Obama’s major play for a legacy.

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How Western Aid Bungled Syria’s Opposition & Paved the Way for ISIS

The takeover of large swaths of Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—and the declaration of a new caliphate within this territory—has captured the attention of every media outlet, pundit, and politician with even a passing interest in Middle East affairs.

The reason for the emergence of ISIS remains hotly contested. Certainly, the Syrian regime’s willingness to employ the worst forms of brutality has created an environment in which ISIS has thrived. Also important has been the Sunni extremism born in the ashes of Iraq. “Moderate opposition forces,” for their part, have also failed to stem the tide of radical extremism.

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Can the Hungarian Party “Can Politics Be Different” Live up to Its Name?

Every few years in East-Central Europe, a new political movement emerges that challenges not only the status quo but the very substance of the political system. Sometimes the movement targets the party patronage system. Sometimes it focuses on the corruption that enriches those who participate in governance. Sometimes it elevates a set of issues that the media or the political elite has ignored.

In Poland, Janusz Palikot created a movement that spoke to the libertarian values of a younger generation, mixing together market liberalism with the legalization of marijuana and support for LGBT rights. In Bulgaria, Volen Siderov created a right-wing populist movement that attacked vested interests and also blamed minorities for a variety of social ills.

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A Bittersweet Victory for Srebrenica’s Survivors

Nineteen years ago, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim, or Bosniak, men and boys were massacred in the small mountain town of Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The genocide, perpetrated by Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic, is the worst to occur in Europe since World War II. Even more devastatingly, these men and boys were essentially handed over to their deaths by the very people entrusted to protect them.

During the Bosnian war, Srebrenica was declared a safe area under the protection of the United Nations (UN). A Dutch peacekeeping force, the Dutchbat, was assigned to the area to safeguard the thousands of Bosniaks seeking shelter in the enclave. Yet, General Mladic’s men outnumbered the peacekeepers and as Srebrenica fell, the Dutchbat turned over the Muslims who were under their protection. The Serb forces would later go on to kill the male inhabitants of the town.

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Is Obama Really Adrift in the World?

For all the hands shaken and hamburgers eaten, President Obama has never quite shaken his reputation for detachment.

He is the “cool” president who doesn’t lose his temper even when he should. He is the former constitutional law professor who is too “academic” for the Oval Office. He uses his brain when he should be relying more on other body parts: guts, heart, cojones. He surrounds himself with a small coterie of friends and lacks the common touch.

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The “Responsibility to Protect” Is Buried in Iraq

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) is wreaking havoc in Iraq, committing atrocities and leaving death and destruction in its wake.

According to recent data from the United Nations, Iraq saw at least 1,571 civilian casualties with an additional 1,763 wounded in the month of June alone. Furthermore, there has been broad displacement of people, with numbers upwards of 600,000 since the beginning of June. More recently, concern has heightened over ISIL’s threat to the non-Muslim populations in Mosul, giving them an ultimatum to leave, convert to Islam, or pay a tax—if not, they risk execution. The threats have caused many civilians to flee.

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Is Human Rights Watch Too Close to the U.S. Government?

In the realm of human rights advocacy, few organizations enjoy the influence commanded by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

With outposts and contacts all over world, the New York-based NGO enjoys a reputation for assiduously chronicling human rights abuses and leveraging its political clout to hold abusers to account. HRW experts routinely testify before Congress, and HRW scholars enjoy access to a range of media outlets—from the New York Times on down to Foreign Policy In Focus.

The organization employs many courageous and conscientious researchers, but critics say its influence may come at a cost. In recent months, some activists have charged the organization with having a “revolving door” relationship with the U.S. government, which they say gives it a blind spot for abuses that originate in Washington.

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