Daily Digest - July 17: Are We Building a Sustainable Future?

Jul 17, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Why This One UN Report on Sustainable Development is Different from the Rest (UN Dispatch)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Why This One UN Report on Sustainable Development is Different from the Rest (UN Dispatch)

Campus Network Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy Nehemiah Rolle says the Global Sustainable Development Report incorporates a broad array of both science and policy data.

Will a Fox, Time Warner Deal Be Approved? (Bloomberg TV)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford says the Federal Communications Commission has an interest in regulating these big mergers to protect the future of U.S. communications.

Imagining Economic Policy Focused on Women (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Rob Johnson points to minimum wage, work sharing, and paid family leave as key policies for improving women's opportunities and thus the economy as a whole.

Punish the Executives, Not Just the Banks (New Yorker)

The short-term incentives for individuals on Wall Street continue to encourage risky and destructive business practices, writes James Surowiecki, which is why bank settlements aren't effecting change.

America’s Unrequited Corporate Love Affair (MSNBC)

Timothy Noah says the trend toward reincorporating abroad to avoid U.S. taxes is only part of a larger negative shift in the relationship between American corporations and the state.

Hobby Lobby's Harvest: A Religious Exemption for LGBT Discrimination? (LA Times)

Michael Hiltzik looks to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to explain why President Obama should not allow a religious exemption in his executive order barring discrimination against LBGT workers.

New on Next New Deal

Fighting Bad Science in the Senate

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn says that even when they won't pass, strongly pro-choice bills like the Women's Health Protection Act are a means of fighting anti-choice falsehoods.

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What the History of the World Wars Can Tell Us About the Deeper Struggles at Work in Iraq

Jun 19, 2014David B. Woolner

Spreading democracy abroad requires more than military power, as history has shown from the two World Wars.

The very philosophy of the Axis powers is based on a profound contempt for the human race. If, in the formation of our future policy, we were guided by the same cynical contempt, then we should be surrendering to the philosophy of our enemies, and our victory would turn to defeat.

Spreading democracy abroad requires more than military power, as history has shown from the two World Wars.

The very philosophy of the Axis powers is based on a profound contempt for the human race. If, in the formation of our future policy, we were guided by the same cynical contempt, then we should be surrendering to the philosophy of our enemies, and our victory would turn to defeat.

The issue of this war is the basic issue between those who believe in mankind and those who do not—the ancient issue between those who put their faith in the people and those who put their faith in dictators and tyrants. There have always been those who did not believe in the people, who attempted to block their forward movement across history, to force them back to servility and suffering and silence.—Franklin D. Roosevelt 1943

As Franklin Roosevelt realized all too well, victory in the Second World War required much more than military power; it also involved the defeat of the extremist ideology of fascism that brought death and destruction to millions. Viewed from this perspective, the six-year struggle between 1939 and 1945 was as much a battle of ideas as it was a military conflict, and throughout the long years of fighting, FDR put as much effort into winning the peace as he did into winning the war.

Moreover, this determination did not just occur overnight. It came from a deep understanding of history and long years of experience, including the experience of having lived through America’s first major engagement as a global power—our entrance into the First World War, a move which President Wilson claimed was driven by America’s desire “to make the world safe for democracy.”  

The tragic events unfolding in Iraq today are not all that dissimilar to what took place in the 1930s and 40s. Once again we face an extremist ideology that is bent on conquest and has little respect for human life. Once again we face an adversary that rejects the core set of values that stand at the root of Western civilization, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

To counter this threat, senior American policy-makers often speak—as former Vice President Dick Cheney did yesterday in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal—of the need to defend and secure America’s “freedom,” in part through the promotion of “freedom” abroad.

In recent years, the best and most dynamic example of this modern-day attempt “to make the world safe for democracy” can be seen in the 2003 invasion of Iraq—a war of choice which was launched under the false assumption that the “Iraqi people” would respond to “freedom” in a manner similar to what happened in Japan and Germany after the Second World War. Hence, American strategy in this exercise in regime change was based on the idea that the people of Iraq would embrace democracy and Western values—forgetting of course that Iraq—unlike Germany or westernized Japan in 1945—was most emphatically not part of the West and that most of the Iraqi people had very little experience or interest in building a modern pluralistic state.

All of this points to a fundamental flaw that existed—and still exists—in the thinking of those like Vice President Cheney who base America’s security on the promotion of what some recent analysts have termed “hard Wilsonianism”—the idea that the in the post Cold War world the United States can use its overwhelming military superiority to enforce a liberal international order.

It is true that what is happening in Iraq and Syria is a major international crisis. It is also true—as Vice President Cheney and others have argued—that America’s withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 has helped precipitate this crisis. What is largely missing from the current debate over Iraq and Syria—as well as the equally dangerous crisis in Ukraine—is the overwhelming need for American policy-makers and the American public to pay greater attention to the religious and ideological forces at work in these crises and the one tool perhaps more than any other that can help us avoid these sorts of catastrophes in the future: the study of history.

A rudimentary understanding of Iraq’s history, for example, would have made clear that Iraq was carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in a secret treaty between the British and the French at the height of the First World War, and that modern Iraq is really three nations, one Sunni, one Shia and one Kurdish, held together in its initial years by the British Empire and for the rest of the 20th century by the brutal hand of dictators like Saddam Hussein.

In his criticism of the decision to withdraw all of America’s combat forces from Iraq, Vice President Cheney accused President Obama of being “willfully blind to the impact of his policies.” The recent history of Iraq indicates that President Bush and his advisors are equally guilty of this sin, if not more so. A deeper understanding of Iraqi as well as American history would have indicated to them that “wishful thinking about our adversaries,” as Vice President Cheney put it, is indeed “folly,” the sort of folly that led us to launch the 2003 invasion with far too few troops, based on the fatal assumption that U.S. forces would be universally welcomed in this deeply divided, semi-artificial state. Viewed from this perspective, the Bush administration’s decision to not only take out Saddam Hussein but also destroy—with a minimum of American force—Iraq’s bureaucracy and army borders on criminal negligence. For as we now know, the latter two moves, especially disbanding the Iraqi Army, were a grave mistake, releasing tens of thousands of armed men—mostly Sunni armed men, who were convinced they had little or no future in a Shia-dominated Iraq—into the general population. The result was near civil war and the need for a major surge of American troops, all of which made a mockery of President Bush’s claim on May 1, 2003 that “major combat operations in Iraq” had ended.

Even if one believes that the toppling of Saddam Hussein was necessary, a closer reading of history might have led to a much more responsible and well-thought-out strategy: one that took cognizance of the deep ethnic and religious divisions within Iraq; understood—as General MacArthur and President Truman did when they ordered the Japanese Army to keep order in Japan until American occupation troops arrived—that the uncontrolled disbanding of a nation’s armed forces is a recipe for disaster; and recognized—as FDR did—that the development of Western-style democracy involves much more than the highly over-used and over-rated concept of “freedom” or the right to vote. It also requires tolerance, a respect for the rule of law, and a willingness to build the necessary institutions that make up a modern democratic state.

In a little-known comment near the end of the tumultuous 1920s—the decade which brought us a brutal civil war in Russia and a great deal of nationalist upheaval in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine—British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin reflected that what was really required in the wake of the First World War was not so much the determination “to make the world safe for democracy,” as President Wilson argued, but rather the determination “to make democracy safe for the world.”

Franklin Roosevelt understood this. He recognized that it was the ideology of fascism—inspired in part by the frustrations of the First World War—that brought us the Second World War and all its concomitant horrors, including the Holocaust. As such, to win the military struggle—made so much easier today by the advent of technologies like the predator drone—was not enough. We also had to bring an end to the ideology of fascism, and to accomplish this we had to offer the people of the world not just “freedom” in the narrow sense of the word, but a much more expansive and all-inclusive concept, a definition of freedom that included, as FDR so eloquently put it, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. These four concepts together, along with the creation of such institutions as the United Nations and America’s willingness to embrace multilateralism, gave us the credibility to lead the world in the decades that followed. In this sense, FDR also learned from history, for having lived through the First World War and the failed peace that followed, he understood that our ultimate task was not so much to “make the world safe for democracy,” but rather “to make democracy safe for the world.” It is this lesson above all else that we need to embrace today if we are to entertain any hope of bringing an end to the crises in Iraq and Syria. 

David B. Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. 

 

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Daily Digest - June 16: Oakland's Minimum Wage Workers Could Win in November

Jun 16, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our Monday through Friday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

New Study Shows Who Wins if Oakland Hikes Minimum Wage (San Francisco Business Times)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our Monday through Friday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

New Study Shows Who Wins if Oakland Hikes Minimum Wage (San Francisco Business Times)

Eric Young reports on a study coauthored by Roosevelt Institute Fellow Annette Bernhardt, which shows 48,000 workers could benefit if Oakland approves a $12.25 minimum wage.

GOP Doesn’t Waste Time Blaming Obama for Iraq (Melissa Harris-Perry)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren says Republicans are using current events in Iraq to attempt to shift responsibility for the war off of President Bush and onto Democrats.

A Civilized Critic of Savage Behavior - Robert Johnson on Reality Asserts Itself (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Robert Johnson explains how his critique of the financial sector developed as Wall Street's political power grew and risk was shifted onto the public.

The Many Pipelines That Pump Up Our Wealth (Truth-Out)

Citing William Lazonick's new Roosevelt Institute white paper and two other studies on corporate pay practices, Sam Pizzigati sees a need for serious policy shifts to fight inequality.

  • Roosevelt Take: Lazonick's paper focuses on stock buybacks, which inflate the value of CEOs' stock-based performance pay.

Bank Account Screening Tool Is Scrutinized as Excessive (NYT)

Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery report on the New York Attorney General's efforts to ensure that a private bank database does not improperly deny banking access.

Starbucks Will Pay Full College Tuition For Thousands Of Its Workers (Business Insider)

Many Starbucks employees will be eligible for full tuition coverage for online studies at Arizona State University, writes Rob Wile. For low-wage service jobs, that's a very rare perk.

Hell on Wheels (TNR)

David Dayen looks at how current workplace conditions incentivize truckers to bend the rules and drive through fatigue while the industry lobbies against any work-hour regulation.

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Negotiating With Iran Should be the United States’ Foreign Policy Priority

May 12, 2014Jacqueline Van de Velde

If the United States wants to maintain influence in the conflicted Middle East and legitimacy in the international arena, it's time to open up to diplomatic relationships with Iran.

If the United States wants to maintain influence in the conflicted Middle East and legitimacy in the international arena, it's time to open up to diplomatic relationships with Iran.

With many states in the Middle East still politically torn, economically disadvantaged, and serving as hotbeds of extremism in the wake of the Arab Spring, Iran has come to play the surprising role of a stable power player in an extremely unstable region. Iran’s influence in regional politics is undeniable: it is a power player in the Syrian crisis, maintains a close relationship with Russia, and serves as the ideological opposite to Saudi Arabia in the Middle East peace process. Despite sharing a vested interest in the same crises and regional developments, the United States and Iran have myriad differences. Iran has yet to recognize Israel’s statehood, has provided sponsorship to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and, of most concern, has uranium mines and enrichment capabilities that place Iran near “breakout capability” (having enough highly enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear weapon).

The election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned on and was elected on a platform of attempting to warm diplomatic relations with the United States, opened the first avenue since 1980 for Iran and the United States to attempt direct diplomatic negotiations.

Such interaction, centering on resolving the Iranian Nuclear Deal, ending the conflict in Syria, and lessening violent extremism in the Middle East, has placed both states in an unstable situation. Negotiations have forced Iran to work with the country that supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, and forced the United States to work with the country that held their diplomats hostage in 1979. The United States has been forced to recognize and treat Iran as a significant, sovereign state with its own legitimate interests, rather than as a violent and extremist rogue nation. At the same time, Iran has been forced to seek out negotiations with the United States to kickstart their sputtering economy. Negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, attended by Iran, the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany, and Russia, have been remarkably successful. The group, which reached an interim agreement in November, meets again on May 13 to draft the text of a permanent resolution.

Despite the progress, the United States has failed to treat Iran as an equal negotiator in all aspects of the international diplomatic arena. For example, on January 20, the United Nations, under pressure from the United States, withdrew Iran’s invitation to the Geneva II peace talks, designed to craft a sustainable solution to the Syrian conflict. The pattern of withheld diplomacy was repeated on April 11, when the United States announced that it would block Iran’s selection of Hamid Aboutalebi as its representative to the United Nations. President Obama then signed a law passed by Congress that blocks any individual found to have engaged in espionage or terrorist activity from entering the United States. Aboutalebi, who reportedly served as a translator during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, would thus be barred from receiving a visa to take up his position at United Nations headquarters in New York under U.S. law. Frustrations over this affront to Aboutalebi, who is seen as a moderate and highly experienced diplomat within Iran, have led Iranian lawmakers to accuse the United States of “bullying.” While the United States has maintained calm decorum within discussions of nuclear disarmament, it has continually undercut Iran’s authority and displaced it from the table within international negotiations. In spite of concerted efforts, public interviews, and measured responses to the insults, the two countries’ negotiations and interactions seem to be stretched thin.

History and differences aside, reestablishing relations with Iran is one of the greatest foreign policy challenges of President Obama’s final term as president. Retaining peace through the nuclear discussions with Iran is crucial to ensuring that Iran does not progress to breakout capability, which has the potential to spark a regional arms race, cause oil prices to rise, or provoke an Israeli attack.  With the United States withdrawing from Afghanistan and absent from Iraq – two states which border Iran – it is critical to engage Iran so that the stability of the region is maintained. Finally, as Saudi Arabia and the United States drift apart ideologically, as Russia and the United States engage in diplomatic struggles over the future of Ukraine, as Europe tries to free itself from energy dependence on Russia, and as the international community struggles over the future of Syria, Iran becomes a critical “balancing power.”

The United States stands to lose a foothold in the Syrian conflict, influence in the Middle East, and perceived legitimacy in international politics if it does not actively work with Iran. This is not the moment for reflecting on the past; rather, our foreign policy makers need to be looking to the future. The consequences of not engaging with Iran are severe, and the risk of failure isn’t worth the attention we receive from flexing our muscles on the international stage. 

Jacqueline Van de Velde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy and a senior at the University of Georgia.

Photo via ThinkStock.

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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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Rethinking Diplomacy: Why Iran Should Have a Seat at the Table on Syria

Jan 21, 2014Jacqueline Van de Velde

As the Geneva II talks on Syria begin, Iran's absence at the negotiating table reveals the problems in attempting to reach an agreement if the actors involved in this crisis aren’t invited to help end it.

As the Geneva II talks on Syria begin, Iran's absence at the negotiating table reveals the problems in attempting to reach an agreement if the actors involved in this crisis aren’t invited to help end it.

The situation in Syria has grown increasingly desperate, though the decrease in news coverage might lead you to believe otherwise. Over the past few months, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) an al-Qaeda linked group of violent extremists, has gained control of much of the north and the borders between Turkey and Syria. ISIS has begun kidnapping journalists and holding them hostage for ransom. Dozens are still in captivity, leaving reporters to scrounge for news along Syria’s borders or risk imprisonment, torture, or worse.

The news is grim: the Syrian crisis has now raged on for nearly three years. It has killed over 130,000 people, created an estimated 2.4 million refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced peoples (IDPs), and made over half of the Syrian population dependent on aid. Many IDPs in rebel-controlled areas are unable to receive aid. Schools are closed, leaving a generation without its education. ISIS has recently imposed sweeping restrictions on individuals, killing children for heresy, banning music, and forbidding images of people. Prospects are bleak.

As I wrote about three months ago, the international community is still hoping for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. On Wednesday, January 22, the international community will gather together at the Geneva II talks to discuss achieving peace in Syria. The talks are the brainchild of the United States and Russia, as an attempt to map out a transition plan to end the Syrian crisis. They are also invitation-only.

The talks are the follow-up to the Geneva I talks, held on June 30, 2012, at which participants agreed on the Geneva Communique and an Action Plan which calls for a “Syrian-led political process leading to a transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people;” requests multi-party elections free of sectarian, ethnic, or religious discrimination; and mandates the creation of a neutral transitioning body that can “include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent.” All parties present at Geneva I agreed to and signed on to this plan.

However, the negotiation attendees threaten to undermine the previous talks. One of the main actors at the talks is the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an umbrella organization of dozens of rebel groups that oppose Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The SNC is in disarray. Since many representatives in the SNC are now forced to live in exile in Europe, some Syrians have claimed that the group is out of touch and does not accurately represent their viewpoint. Even persuading the SNC to attend was complicated; many of its member groups have refused to take part in the negotiations.

If the Syrian people do not view the SNC as a valid actor, there is no guarantee that the people will accept or agree to implement any treaties that are agreed upon at the conference.  The United States needs to begin negotiations and discussions with groups who are actually, actively involved in the Syrian conflict and are viewed by the Syrian people as legitimate representatives.

Surprisingly, the country that has been pushing for inclusivity has been Russia. During the lead-up to the Geneva II talks, Russia began to stress that the absence of Iran from the negotiating table was a failure. And it is. Iran is a country critically involved in the Syrian crisis: a firm backer of the Assad regime and an active agent in sending aid and troops to the conflict. Negotiating without Iran at the table is ignoring one of the largest players  in the conflict. It’s also a regional snub, as Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia, is invited to participate in the negotiations.

On Sunday, January 19, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited Iran and 9 other states to participate in the Geneva II talks. Iran followed by announcing on Monday, January 20, that it would not accept “any preconditions” for attending the talks, such as accepting the Action Plan crafted at the Geneva I talks. The Secretary-General withdrew the invitation on the same day.

Alienating such a critical regional power will not benefit the Syrian people and may harm recent U.S. moves towards peace. The Syrian conflict was created precisely because large regional powers meddled in Syria; it needs to have these same powers’ support to fully be resolved. Snubbing Iran may also serve to undermine the critically important nuclear agreement that is just now going into effect in the international community.

Diplomacy is not gathering like-minded individuals at a table to reaffirm their beliefs; it is gathering states from various regions and with differing opinions and working together to find a solution. Until the international community can gather all – or at least more – of the actors who are involved in Syria, any agreement, road map, or action plan that is reached at Geneva II will be seen as illegitimate in the eyes of the Syrians and will lack the consent of several major actors who will continue to pursue their own strategies.

The Syrian people deserve better. 

Jacqueline Van de Velde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy and a senior at the University of Georgia.

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Sister Simone Campbell Shows Us Freedom of Worship is a Bipartisan Value

Oct 10, 2013Jacqueline Van de Velde
On Wednesday, October 16, the Roosevelt Institute will present the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards, honoring individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies FDR's vision of democracy. Click here to RSVP for the free public ceremony.

On Wednesday, October 16, the Roosevelt Institute will present the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards, honoring individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies FDR's vision of democracy. Click here to RSVP for the free public ceremony. Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow Jacqueline Van de Velde weighs in on the significance of awarding Sister Simone Campbell the Freedom of Worship Medal and why religious values are bipartisan.

On January 6, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the annual State of the Union address to Congress, in which he presented an argument for American involvement in World War II. In assisting Britain, Roosevelt claimed, America was fighting to protect universal freedoms, shared by all global citizens. Roosevelt identified four freedoms that America would protect: the freedom of speech, the freedom from want, the freedom from fear, and the freedom of worship.

Today, the Roosevelt Institute recognizes these freedoms as the foundation of its own policy work through the Four Freedoms Center as well as the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Pipeline, but it also honors the important work being done by others with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards. Among this year’s impressive group of laureates, the most compelling to me is Sister Simone Campbell, the recipient of the Freedom of Worship Medal.

Sister Campbell and her work with NETWORK and Nuns on the Bus remind us that the religious beliefs that individuals hold, and that influence their policy decisions and preferences, don’t belong to one side of the aisle. These values can be translated across the political spectrum. Sister Campbell’s Catholic faith motivated her decision to drive around the county to organize individuals around opposition to Paul Ryan’s budget and around support for immigration reform. She delivered remarks at the Democratic National Convention. She was interviewed multiple times on The Colbert Report. And, at the core of what she is doing, her Catholic faith informs her progressive beliefs.

Talking about “freedom of worship” in an explicitly progressive space can cause some to recoil. Many people associate religion with a more conservative agenda and assume that working to protect it is incongruous with progressive ideals. Others assume it’s an issue of the past, something our forefathers had to care about, but something that’s been long resolved. But I would argue that the freedom of – and from – belief is just as relevant today as it was when President Roosevelt identified it a freedom important enough for America to fight a terrible war to ensure its protection.

As teaching assistant for the Roosevelt Scholars class at the University of Georgia, I believe it’s important for my students to create policies that are founded on data. However, after they propose topics for research, we pause and take time to identify the values underlying their choices. The lesson that I want my students to learn is that no matter how much we attempt to separate ourselves from the policies that we are suggesting, the inherent beliefs that we hold in the core of our being will influence the kinds of policy change that we want to see in the world.

For many people, those core beliefs are influenced by their faith. In the United States, we have a Constitutional right to practice, or choose not to practice, religion as we see fit. Religion plays a huge role in American culture, politics, and society. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Forum’s Religion and Public Life Project, 83.1 percent of all American adults identify themselves as part of a religious tradition, while 16.1 percent identify themselves as unaffiliated with a specific religious tradition. According to the same study, Americans also exercise their freedom to explore religion; 28 percent of American adults have left the religion in which they were raised in favor of either another religious tradition or to no tradition at all. Thanks to the First Amendment, we are allowed to define for ourselves our core beliefs and values.

That right to define our own beliefs is also protected by international law. With assistance from Eleanor Roosevelt, religious freedom was first recognized as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Since then, it has been reaffirmed as a human right within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as within several other agreements and declarations. However, according to the Pew Forum, one-third of states restrict their citizens’ freedoms of religion to a high or very high degree. Seventy percent of the world’s population lives within the states with the highest restrictions on religious freedom. State restrictions on freedom of religion can range from apostasy laws to restrictions on missionaries to restrictions on worship, and individuals face punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment to even death for exploring their own beliefs. 

On the other hand, when states allow for religious freedom, they also tend to improve political liberty, prosperity, and economic development. According to Brian Grim and Roger Finke in The Price of Freedom Denied, “Wherever religious freedom is high, there tends to be fewer incidents of armed conflict, better health outcomes, higher levels of earned income, and better educational opportunities for women.” Improving freedom of religion means an improvement in the global economy, increased security, and better job prospects for women. And those are issues that I think everyone – regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on, regardless of whether you identify as progressive or conservative, or whether you identify as religious or not religious – can identify as important.

While the work that we do to address religious freedom abroad is construed as a protection of human rights, debates over religious freedom at home, from the construction of the Islamic Cultural Center near the World Trade Center to the requirement that religious employers provide birth control for their employees, should be viewed through the same lens. Religion and the values acquired through religion – or through a choice not to pursue religion – can inform either progressive or conservative policy.  Likewise, promoting freedom of worship should be a bipartisan issue, and it is gratifying to see an explicitly progressive organization like the Roosevelt Institute embrace that idea through the Freedom of Worship Medal.

Jacqueline Van de Velde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy and a senior at the University of Georgia.

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War-Weary Millennials See Few Good Options in Syria

Sep 24, 2013Jacqueline Van de Velde

After growing up with protracted conflicts in the Middle East, Millennials are glad to see the U.S .consider a diplomatic response to Syria, but know it might not end there.

The past few weeks have seen a heated debate in the news and through the halls of Congress on whether or not the United States should respond to the widespread use of chemical weapons by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on his own citizens – and if so, to what extent. With diplomatic options proposed, the U.S. has the option to participate in an international solution.

After growing up with protracted conflicts in the Middle East, Millennials are glad to see the U.S .consider a diplomatic response to Syria, but know it might not end there.

The past few weeks have seen a heated debate in the news and through the halls of Congress on whether or not the United States should respond to the widespread use of chemical weapons by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on his own citizens – and if so, to what extent. With diplomatic options proposed, the U.S. has the option to participate in an international solution.

As a Millennial, I care deeply about how this situation escalates. Some of my earliest memories involve 9/11; I have few memories from a time when the United States was not at war in the Middle East. All of this war, with its violence and its expense, has made my generation a bit pacifistic and extremely sensitive to the idea of becoming involved in international conflict. At the same time, we’ve lived through Wikileaks and more recently, Snowden’s whistleblowing. Regardless of whether these individuals or programs were right or wrong, they showed us that sometimes government programs, policies, and interventions, when mismanaged, could infringe upon the rights of both U.S. citizens and global citizens. This has made Millennials sensitive to the idea of injustice in our interventions. We are hesitant to put boots on the ground where they aren’t wanted, needed, or carefully considered. We are hesitant to initiate a program without oversight capacities in place, and we want to know what they are and have a say in how they work.

Syria must be addressed out of this same feeling of injustice. But I’m cautious about placing trust in an international solution, particularly when this kind of operation has never been attempted before. The proposed weapons collection program will require the U.N. to do work they’ve never done before, for the international community to commit to funding this expensive and time-consuming work, and for the Assad regime – the very source of the problem – to commit to full disclosure.  

All three of these requirements are difficult, but I particularly doubt the Assad regime’s cooperation. In late August, the Assad regime released sarin gas, a neurotoxin that causes seizures, vomiting, loss of bowel control, foaming at the mouth, and can lead to death. In Syria’s case, over 1,400 people died from exposure to sarin.

The use of chemical weapons was first prohibited by international law within the Geneva Protocol in the wake of World War I, and specific limitations were further clarified in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1992, which called for a cease in production of these weapons, made their transfer illegal, and mandated that countries begin destroying their stockpiles. While Syria is not a signatory to the CWC, they are party to the Geneva Protocol. Until only a few days ago, Syria has continually denied ownership of chemical weapons.

Syria is in the midst of a brutal civil war, the population divided into ever-splintering factions of rebel groups that oppose Assad’s regime. There is little organization, there are many divisive factors (religious and ethnic differences, for example), and there is much fear. Assad, in a particularly calculating move, used sarin gas on a civilian area where one particular rebel group – and the rebels' families – were based. Hundreds of children died in their beds; others died writhing in pain and foaming at the mouth at overcrowded, contaminated hospitals.

The United States felt compelled to act in this volatile situation based on a comment by President Obama a year ago, that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line,” not to be crossed. Rather than serving as effective deterrence for the Assad regime, this served as a line to be tested and a boundary to be crossed. These words became shackles for President Obama; he had left no room for backtracking, and his own words compelled him to action.

But, not too much action. Assad may be a “thug,” as Secretary of State Kerry called him, but he is a thug whom the U.S. doesn’t want to remove from office. If an American attack crippled his regime, it would create a power vacuum in the region. One of the many splintered rebel groups could take power, and while some would promote peace and human rights, others are linked to Al Qaeda and other extremist organizations. There is no good alternative to Assad at this time, and we don’t want to risk an overthrow. Hence, Obama has argued for extremely limited strikes: no boots on the ground, a limited time-table, and in-and-out destruction of the remaining chemical weapons that Assad possesses.

Obama brought this proposal before Congress, which is almost unheard of; the last time that a president asked Congress for approval for military action was Franklin Delano Roosevelt concerning World War II. And until recently, it looked like the proposal might make it through. But as time passed and constituents, war-weary after more than 10 years of Iraq and Afghanistan, raised their voices, prospects for getting something done looked incredibly bleak.

But no response isn’t an option. The United States, as the global hegemon, is compelled to protect international norms and promote human rights. With Russia previously vetoing action through the Security Council of the United Nations and Great Britain’s Parliament voting no to action (thereby preventing NATO or simply the U.S. and U.K. from acting in tandem), the United States had no course of action but acting alone. If we turned our backs on such widespread atrocities, such universally-agreed upon violations of codes of behavior for states, we would create incentive for these actions to be repeated.

My generation knows that one split-second foreign policy decision can lead to life-long results – that a decision to go after Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and a dream of turning a Taliban regime into a democratic state could lead to 13 years of boots on the ground, thousands of deaths, and children who don’t remember a time without conflict. So Millenials are cautious. I am cautious. I do not want to live in a world where state leaders can gas their own citizens to a horrific death and see no consequences. I do not want to establish a new international norm permitting the use of chemical weapons. I don’t want to have to clean up another mess, an even greater mess, than those we have already created.  

But now, a new option has opened up: diplomacy. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned the possibility of Syria turning over its weapons to the international community, and the Russian Federation, close allies with Syria, suggested taking that proposal seriously. President Obama asked for the vote on action in Congress to be postponed while this possibility was explored. Over the weekend, Secretary Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to hammer out an initial agreement to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons by mid-2014.

I am a proponent of diplomacy and believe it should be prioritized far above military action. However, this option is messy. Syria is a state in conflict; explosions, attacks, and deaths are an everyday reality. Assad’s chemical weapons are not all in one place. For a U.N. team to come in, locate, and destroy the weapons would take years. They would have to destroy the weapons while on the ground. They would have to build structures in which to do their work. They would have to do this in the midst of a turbulent and vitriolic war between a government that has a history of lying to U.N. inspectors and myriad rebel groups, some with extremist ties.

This is far from the ideal situation. In fact, it’s about as far from the ideal situation as it could get. Assad will not be punished for his actions, and it’s likely the U.N. team would be hurt, threatened, or unable to finish their work. While ideal, this may be impossible, and if it proves to be impossible, then the U.S. needs to be ready to step in to ensure that no global citizen has to fear a sarin gas attack by the Assad regime again. We have to protect human rights, and we can do that through diplomacy first. The U.S. should certainly give every effort to cooperate along diplomatic lines and give full support and assistance to the U.N. team. But we should not, by any stretch of the imagination, take limited strikes off the table – in case negotiations fall through, in case the U.N. team is in danger, or in case Assad’s regime does not disclose the location of their full stockpile. 

Jacqueline Van de Velde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy and a senior at the University of Georgia.

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Obama Can't Avoid Foreign Policy Focus, and Neither Should Young People

Sep 9, 2013Jacqueline Van de Velde

President Obama's second term is off to a rocky start on issues of defense and diplomacy, but that gives Millennials a great opportunity to share their own solutions.

This summer, I had the honor of serving as an intern in an international organization. Employing staff from over 180 member countries, the workplace was extremely diverse and full of talent from around the world. It was a fantastic experience.

President Obama's second term is off to a rocky start on issues of defense and diplomacy, but that gives Millennials a great opportunity to share their own solutions.

This summer, I had the honor of serving as an intern in an international organization. Employing staff from over 180 member countries, the workplace was extremely diverse and full of talent from around the world. It was a fantastic experience.

However, as the only American in my division, I was conscious of the fact that my behavior and my opinions were being taken as representative of my country. As the summer unfolded and crisis after crisis in U.S. policy was revealed, I found myself constantly called upon to give an explanation. Why was the NSA collecting data on citizens outside of the United States, and how could that be considered either legal or ethical? Did I think Edward Snowden was a hero or a traitor? What was my opinion on the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt? Trying to answer those questions was complicated, especially since they were asked by co-workers who were personally upset by the actions of the U.S. government. Making an impact, and changing minds, meant devoting a lot of time and thought to our conversations, while being firm enough in my own opinions to respectfully but confidently assert them, even when we didn’t agree.

I’m not the only American who has been faced with tough questions about foreign policy lately. The Obama administration has been beset by criticism and crises in foreign policy in its second term: well-publicized hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay; widespread protests in Brazil, Turkey, and Egypt; Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster in protest of U.S. drone strikes; Bashar al’Assad’s use of chemical weapons; and the now-infamous leaks by Edward Snowden of the NSA’s widespread surveillance policies.

Previously, it was speculated that President Obama, whose foreign policy was a strong suit in his first term, hoped to step back and focus on domestic issues in his second. However, the explosive foreign policy issues over the past few months have proven that defense and diplomacy will have to be addressed within this term as much as in the last, much to the excitement of student policymakers such as myself.

Student members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network will have unique opportunities to contribute to defense and diplomacy policy over the next year – opportunities to provide Secretary of State John Kerry with a list of Millennials’ preferred foreign policy solutions; to inject our voices into the public discourse both at home and abroad on the ethics and efficacy of widespread surveillance, cyber-security, and drone strikes; and to use the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, estimated to occur by the end of next year, to analyze the relative success of the venture and suggest new and more effective methods of peacemaking around the world. I look forward to leading those efforts as the Campus Network’s new Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy.

But if my work this summer was any indication, our most pressing job over the next year may be to speak out. There is a widespread perception abroad that the U.S. is meddlesome at best and voraciously power-hungry at worst, and these recent scandals, particularly the NSA leaks, have done nothing to help that image. The more policies that we can write, the more innovative ideas we can share, and the more solutions that we can propose to increase international peace, security, and prosperity, the more we can promote the kind of U.S. foreign policy that I believe in: one genuinely interested in bettering the world for all global citizens.

Foreign policy is a complicated field with policy issues that are immense and difficult, even for the most seasoned State Department analysts, to try to tackle. When solving these problems, we need to find a manageable angle, something that we, as students, can comprehend in order to offer valid solutions. In doing so, it’s critical to remember that we don’t have to save the free world alone. Rather, if we all work on small pieces of behemoth problems, then eventually, that problem won’t be so immense.

On foreign policy, perhaps more than any other policy area, young Americans must be vocal about our ideas, whether that means promoting them in in-person meetings, suggesting them in blog posts, or presenting them at conferences. That will be critical if we hope to gain the access that is required to make an impact. With implementation of our ideas often in the hands of high-level politicians, analysts, and diplomats, we need to be just as serious about being heard as we are about producing quality policy analysis. So, let’s get started.

Jacqueline Van de Velde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy and a senior at the University of Georgia.

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The Egyptian Coup Isn't the End of Democracy. It's a Demand for Justice.

Jul 16, 2013Reese Neader

By deposing Morsi, the Egyptian military is responding to the people's calls for democracy and economic growth.

By deposing Morsi, the Egyptian military is responding to the people's calls for democracy and economic growth.

In the summer of 2011 I was serving as policy director for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, organizing thousands of students across the U.S. to build community change. 2011 was also the year of the Egyptian Revolution. Inspired youth had banded together across the country and across ideologies to protest and overthrow the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Because I had a proven background in youth organizing, the State Department sent me to Egypt in late July 2011 under their “Speakers and Specialists” program to train youth opposition leaders in grassroots organizing and political communication and to support Egypt’s hopeful transition to democracy. What I learned there has made me more optimistic about the outsing of President Mohamed Morsi than many other Americans.  

It was a deeply humbling and life-changing experience, and thankfully I’ve managed to keep in touch with some of the friends I made during my travels. To honor their friendship and support a sensible response to the recent coup in Egypt, I want to speak out against the false narrative that Egypt is experiencing the “death of democracy.” In truth, Egypt’s military has served as the guardian of the Egyptian Revolution. The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood is an exercise of the will of the Egyptian people, and it was a necessary action to advance the country’s hopes for prosperity and democracy.

The most important thing to remember as you watch events unfold in Egypt is that the United States government invests more than $1 billion a year in the Egyptian military. The Egyptian military has a very deep relationship with the U.S. military and a massive ownership stake in Egypt’s economy. It will never act strongly against the interests of the United States because it cannot afford to lose its support. For the same reasons, the Egyptian military, as well as the civilian elite of the country, want Egypt to be a stable, prosperous, and moderate Islamic republic that is closely aligned with the United States.

Clearly that insight doesn’t speak to the concerns of Americans who view the recent coup in Egypt as the disruption of burgeoning democracy. But those concerns misconstrue the reality of what happened in Egypt in 2011. The Egyptian Revolution was a popular coup overseen by the Egyptian military. Egypt’s military leadership guided the transition to civilian governance by forging a power-sharing agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood after they won elections that were overseen by a provisional government controlled by the Egyptian military. Yes, it is true that the Brotherhood and other hardline Islamist groups won a landslide popular vote in mostly free and fair elections. But their victory wasn’t the result of popular democratic mobilization as we think about it here in the U.S. The Muslim Brotherhood is an extremist group that has a tremendous advantage at organizing political support in a country rife with economic and social poverty.

In the developing world, extremism thrives in places where people have nothing to lose and nowhere to go. Where governments fail to serve their citizens, informal support networks arise to provide the basic services that the government does not: food, jobs, education, health care. And in exchange for providing those services, extremist organizations demand total loyalty from the citizens they service. Hamas and Hezbollah are both terrorist organizations that have been democratically elected to represent the territories they control, not because the citizens of Gaza and Lebanon are supportive of Islamic extremism, but because they depend on these patronage networks.

Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood has been organizing in the neighborhoods of Egypt for over 50 years, providing social services that the government did not in an effort to win support for its ideology. And it, along with other Islamist groups like the Salafis, was the only organized opposition to the Mubarak dictatorship. When Mubarak was deposed, and there was a popular call for swift elections, who was going to win? It was never a question: the only organized opposition group that had a proven track record of providing services to the people. 

The Muslim Brotherhood’s extreme incompetence at governing was dividing the country along sectarian lines and led Egypt to the brink of a severe economic crisis. While the citizens of Egypt grew desperate from economic hardship and social strain, the Egyptian military elite grew concerned with the direction of civilian governance and orchestrated a takeover that will minimize casualties and guide the country toward economic growth and stable, moderate democratic governance.

Currently, there is bipartisan clamoring for the suspension of foreign aid to Egypt. While it is highly likely that these are hollow threats, the suspension of foreign aid to Egypt would be disastrous for U.S. geopolitical interests in the region. U.S. aid to Egypt ensures a strong military partnership, tacit influence over the direction of Egyptian governance, and peace and high-level cooperation between Egypt and Israel. Giving up that leverage because a popular revolt deposed a radical Islamist government would be a tremendous blow to our long-term interests in the region.

The U.S. government pays lip service to supporting democratic mobilization in the Middle East. If it wants to do this without creating instability that extremists can use to their advantage, we need to build relationships with regional leaders to forge civil society and support strong economic growth. And that will inherently involve “choosing sides.” Anyone in the West who thinks that the Arab World is defined by popular support for radical Islamism needs only look to the massive protests that destroyed the Muslim Brotherhood. The people of the Middle East want economic opportunity, democratic representation, and integration with the global community.

In response to the coup, the Gulf States (staunch U.S. allies) have pledged $12 billion in assistance to the new Egyptian government. This will allow the provisional government, which is being directed by Western-educated, liberal technocrats, to continue the provision of desperately needed public subsidies while providing an infusion of cash for investment in job creation. Already, the Egyptian military is in the process of organizing another constitutional convention and continuing to support the construction of a provisional government that will lead the country toward adoption of the national blueprint for governance drafted by civilian authorities.

Instead of decrying the “death of democracy” and publicly scolding Egypt’s military leadership, the United States needs to react with patience and calm support. It is easy for us to forget that democracy is never easy and the process is always messy. The massive wave of protests that brought down the Muslim Brotherhood represents the will of the Egyptian people. In the eyes of the people of Egypt, their revolution continues. We should respect their voice. Vox Populi Vox Dei - the voice of the people is the voice of God. 

Reese Neader is the founder and director of Forge Columbus and the former Policy Director for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

 

Egyptian flag image via Shutterstock.com.

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