Leslie Bull


Recent Posts by Leslie Bull

  • Venezuela: The Crisis We Fuel With Our Apathy

    Feb 28, 2014Leslie Bull

    When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

    When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

    Given the recent revolutionary events in Ukraine, it is understandable that much of American media attention on foreign politics is concentrated on that country, and that country alone. But it is important to remember that our myopic focus on just one world event at a time comes with a price: sometimes the other crises in the world that go ignored are actually made even worse because of it. We sometimes forget the power that just paying attention to a crisis can have – without it, those perpetrating the crimes can rest assured that the international community’s eye is elsewhere, and can behave with impunity. In the case of the current unrest in Venezuela, the price of that apathy might just be my friend’s life.

    That friend is Carlos Vecchio, National Political Coordinator of the Venezuelan opposition party Voluntad Popular (VP). I met Carlos when he came to Yale University just a few months ago to start his term as a Yale World Fellow. While he was here, he spoke passionately about his tireless efforts to promote democracy in Venezuela; his enthusiasm and depth of knowledge were infectious. As a recent college grad, I was by far the youngest and least experienced of the staff on the program and he always made time for me and treated me with respect and kindness. He reached across campus to students, faculty and other Fellows – many of whom have rallied around him in this time of crisis – with his pure love of his country and genuine respect for democratic ideals. And now, just two months after returning to Venezuela, he is facing a warrant for his arrest.

    Venezuela is in the midst of game-changing anti-government protests by students and opposition party supporters (many led by Voluntad Popular members), calling for improved security, an end to shortages of basic goods, and better freedom of speech. The Venezuelan government has responded with a violent crackdown on protestors, raids on VP’s political offices, and persecution of VP leaders, including Carlos. Following the detention of top VP leader Leopoldo López, who was taken into custody on February 18, Carlos now serves as the de facto leader of the VP party, making him a likely government target. Carlos’ safety is in serious jeopardy, and he is currently in hiding with limited access to communication. Unlike López, he is not an internationally recognized figure, so media outlets outside of Venezuela have yet to report on his situation. Amnesty International has released an alert specifically naming Carlos as a government target, but his relative anonymity will allow government forces the space and ability to do whatever they please without fear of international repercussion. 

    This is the real, human result of what may seem like harmless apathy on our part. Leaders who want to stifle political opposition and media freedom through extreme or violent means are free to do so, and those working to effect positive democratic change are sacrificed because we can’t be bothered to pay attention. As Francisco Toro, of the blog Caracas Chronicles, put it best:

    “Venezuela’s domestic media blackout is joined by a parallel international blackout, one born not of censorship but of disinterest and inertia. It’s hard to express the sense of helplessness you get looking through these pages and finding nothing. Venezuela burns; nobody cares.”

    We cannot continue to choose our apathy over people like Carlos, who are putting their lives on the line for the sake of a functioning democracy. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken out about Carlos’ persecution, and a few news outlets are picking up the story, but there is a long way to go if we are to ensure Carlos’ safety. Please share Carlos’ story far and wide, urge your representatives to speak out as well, and help us show the Venezuelan government that someone is paying attention.

    Leslie Bull is a former Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy with the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. She is currently a Woodbridge Fellow at the Office of International Affairs and the World Fellows Program at Yale University. All opinions expressed herein are her own, and not those of Yale University or its administration.

    Photo via Flickr.

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  • An Ambitious Foreign Policy Agenda for the First Hundred Days

    Nov 13, 2012Leslie Bull

    As part of the "Millennial Priorities for the First 100 Days" series, suggestions for how Obama can ramp up his foreign policy agenda.

    As part of the "Millennial Priorities for the First 100 Days" series, suggestions for how Obama can ramp up his foreign policy agenda.

    Now that President Obama has officially been re-elected to a second term as the 44th president of the United States, it is time to put the campaign behind us and think about what comes next. A president’s first 100 days is traditionally the time during which he is most able to push through new legislation, as his power and influence are at a post-election peak. So what should Obama do with this period of opportunity? This is a large and multi-faceted question, but one area of the president’s agenda must be foreign policy. I am a member of the Millennial generation who is deeply invested in the direction our foreign policy takes and believe the issues listed below are especially important to those of us who will be inheriting the world that President Obama is shaping for us.

    • First, and possibly most obviously, President Obama will have to choose a new Secretary of State. Along with many other members of his administration, Hillary Clinton made it clear long ago that she will be stepping down for President Obama’s second term. The forerunners for possible replacements include John Kerry (whose Senate seat Democrats are no longer worried about losing after unexpected gains in the election) and Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. (who, although capable, has recently been tainted by her association with the administration’s initially false accounts of the attack in Benghazi, Libya.) Whoever he chooses, the new Secretary of State should be nominated as soon as possible to ensure that there is no gap in leadership.
    • Early on, it is crucial that he figure out how tough a stance to take on China. While both candidates competed to be perceived as more hawkish toward China on the campaign trial, experts expect more moderate action than campaign rhetoric would have had us believe. I would like to see a continuation of the perhaps frustrating but smart policy of maintaining a balancing act between curbing China’s problematic behavior (by continuing to bring trade cases against it when it violates free trade agreements), developing good relations with the new Chinese government set to take over soon, and reassuring our allies in the region that although the U.S. must work with China, we are not abandoning them. At this time, China and the U.S. are simply too important to one another’s well being for either to develop an overly antagonistic position unless it becomes absolutely necessary.
    • He must figure out under what circumstances we would intervene militarily to help defend the Syrian people. Neither candidate seriously considered this possibility on the campaign trail. But Foreign Policy predicts this position is likely to be severely tested. As refugee flows increase, atrocities multiply, extremist groups gain traction, and the civil war spills over into neighboring states, Americans may want more decisive action from their leaders.
    • President Obama must also re-commit to development assistance. While traditional development aid certainly has its problems, working to improve the lives of those living in developing countries is one area in which the U.S. is seen as a global leader. Now that President Obama has safely been elected to a second term, the development community believes that he has the chance to be ‘bolder’ on foreign aid. Initiatives to do this would include re-committing to USAID Forward, implementing the agency’s broad reform agenda, defending poverty and humanitarian accounts from budget cuts, expanding the reach of the Feed the Future program to support more smallholder farmers, and continuing the Global Health Initiative. I would also recommend increasing/improving foreign aid to Afghanistan as we further withdraw from a nation that continues to be deeply troubled. Using the enthusiasm of the first 100 days might allow President Obama to push through actions like these when they might otherwise be blocked or pushed aside as unimportant. Even if spending concerns constrain the president’s ability to increase development assistance, he can still improve the efficacy of such programs by focusing on reform instead of expansion.
    • Another issue that President Obama mentioned on the campaign trail, in his acceptance speech, and afterward is the need to work on ending America’s dependence on foreign oil. The fact that he has so frequently brought up this issue means that he has created the expectation that he will deal with it soon. Given that he has talked about the bipartisan nature of the issue, a good place to start would be to reach out to Republicans on the issue during the unprecedented period of post-election goodwill between the two parties (as evidenced by the unusually conciliatory and cooperative language coming out of Republican congressional leaders). We might also see legislation to further cut subsidies for oil companies and investment in clean energy alternatives (mostly as a publicity-generating measure) in order to make it clear that this is an issue President Obama actually plans to tackle during his second term.
    • Start garnering political support for a negotiated solution for Iran’s nuclear program and develop the process and substance for an agreement that restrains it. Given that Iran is unlikely to give us a reason for military intervention in the next 100 days, there is still room for diplomacy, but U.S. unilateral action will not have nearly as strong an impact as internationally supported action will. Given how overwhelmingly in favor of President Obama our international allies were during the election, now is a good time to leverage their post-election relief into unprecedented coordination on Iran and setting a concrete agenda for limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

    Although this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it is enough to show that President Obama needs to do a lot of tone-setting on foreign policy in the beginning of his second term. At a very general level, the president needs to figure out how hawkish a foreign policy he wants to pursue. He certainly doesn’t want to be perceived as weak, but neither would it be prudent to be overly aggressive when we have so many troubles at home. Hopefully President Obama will use his first 100 days to provide clarity about where he stands on these pressing foreign policy issues. However, he shouldn’t forget that now may be the time he is most able to let his inner progressive off the leash and incorporate that into the foreign policy tone he chooses to set.

    Leslie Bull is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow in Defense and Diplomacy and a senior political science major at Yale University.


    Barack Obama image via Shutterstock.com.

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  • The New Red Scare: Four Misconceptions About China on the Campaign Trail

    Nov 6, 2012Leslie Bull

    As the presidential race arrives at the finish line, both sides have engaged in increasingly harsh rhetoric about how they’ll handle China. This is due largely to voters’ concerns about American jobs moving overseas, the amount of U.S. debt held by China, and the U.S.-China trade deficit. Romney says one of the first things he’ll do in office is to label China a currency manipulator, something the Obama administration has not done, and claims Obama has a record of being too soft on China.

    As the presidential race arrives at the finish line, both sides have engaged in increasingly harsh rhetoric about how they’ll handle China. This is due largely to voters’ concerns about American jobs moving overseas, the amount of U.S. debt held by China, and the U.S.-China trade deficit. Romney says one of the first things he’ll do in office is to label China a currency manipulator, something the Obama administration has not done, and claims Obama has a record of being too soft on China. (Check out this Romney campaign ad attacking Obama on China.) Obama in turn defends his administration’s record of bringing trade cases against China and attacks Romney for making money by doing business with Chinese companies during his time with Bain Capital (shown in the Obama campaign’s response to the Romney ad above). However, there are several crucial points that voters might miss if they’re only watching the campaign ads.

    1. What are the real differences between Obama and Romney’s positions on China? Who is being dishonest (or at the very least misleading)?

    Despite the antagonistic language used on the campaign trail, there’s not as much as difference between the candidates as you might think, and both of them have been misleading.

    Both Obama and Romney pledge to be more aggressive in enforcing trade deals with other countries -- especially China. The two candidates also vigorously defend high-profile agreements that send U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas. Unsurprisingly, they are also both guilty of misconstruing the facts in order to garner votes. According to Time, “Both sides’ attacks are misleading — and, like so much campaign rhetoric, drastically oversimplified.” When it comes to Romney’s attacks, U.S. exports to China have actually boomed during the Obama administration, and Obama has done more than past presidents to protect U.S. trade interests, including imposing tariffs on Chinese solar panels and tires. The attacks on Romney’s China record don’t hold up either. Romney wasn’t actively running Bain when it invested in companies that outsourced jobs, and while Romney likely profited from such investments anyway, Bain was neither the only firm engaging in the practice nor the first.

    2. How much influence has China had on U.S. economic woes?

    There are links that exist, but the situation is being drastically oversimplified in the campaign.

    The trade deficit with China has indeed had an impact on the U.S. economy. According to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute, “Growing U.S. trade deficit with China cost more than 2.7 million jobs between 2001 and 2011, with job losses in every state.”

    On the other hand, one must remember that China is currently the U.S.’s fourth largest trading partner, and the two are inextricably economically linked. Thus, it is in the U.S.’s best interest for the Chinese economy to continue to flourish. As the Washington Post puts it, “China and the United States are the twin engines of global growth, and both need each other to take steps to keep economic activity going.” It’s this latter point that you won’t see coming up in the campaign ads.

    3. What exactly happens if China is labeled a currency manipulator?

    Labeling China a currency manipulator would really just mean that the Treasury Department would have to negotiate with China over the price of its currency, something it has already been doing for some time.

    However, if that translates into corresponding legislation such as tariffs, the situation could escalate into a trade war. (It’s worth noting that this is something that Romney told the Wall Street Journal is “the last thing I want.”) A trade war would lead to falling American exports to China and more expensive Chinese imports. According to a recent Brookings analysis, “In the worst case, a Romney decision to go to the brink with Beijing on the value of its currency would result in a mutually damaging trade war that slowed economic growth and increased unemployment in both countries and caused inflation and higher interest rates in the United States.”

    4. What effect is all this anti-China rhetoric having on Sino-U.S. bilateral relations? In other words, how is China perceiving this?

    Unsurprisingly, China is not too happy with all this.

    In response to the Romney ad mentioned above, Chinese state media called it “ironic that a considerable portion of this China-battering politician’s wealth was actually obtained by doing business with Chinese companies before he entered politics.” But will this actually translate into any sort of action? According to the same Chinese state media source, if Romney’s “mud-slinging tactics were to become U.S. government policies, a trade war would be very likely to break out between the world’s top two economies, which would be catastrophic enough to both sides and the already groaning global economy.” However, we can only speculate about whether whoever takes office will actually act as harshly with China as he says he will on the campaign trail.

    There’s a serious “chicken and the egg” problem with public opinion when it comes to China in this campaign. The American public is worried about China’s rise (more worried about than the experts, according to this fascinating Pew poll), so the candidates act tough on China to garner votes, spouting oversimplified sloganeering rhetoric, which makes the public even more worried about China, and so on. I can only hope that once the election is over this vicious cycle will be broken and our national politicians will no longer have an incentive to so mislead their constituents on the China threat.   

    The question then becomes whether the worry they’ve stirred up during the campaign will impact the foreign policy that follows. Will the extent to which misleading campaign rhetoric has amplified American fears about China’s rise then constrain whoever becomes president such that he must pursue a very aggressive foreign policy towards China? Given that the Pew poll analysis predicts that the experts counseling the president will advocate a less hawkish plan of action, there’s good reason to be skeptical.

    Leslie Bull is a Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy.

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