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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What Did the State of the Union Say to Women?

Feb 14, 2013Ellen CheslerAndrea Flynn

The president didn't just lay out specific policies that will benefit women. He also shifted the theory of how government can help them.

The State of the Union address is inherently a political exercise, intended to chart a course for governing but also to let important constituencies know that they are heard and valued. On Tuesday night, President Obama seemed intent on sounding down-to-earth, sensible, unthreatening, and easy to understand. He presented a long list of concrete proposals as if there couldn’t be any disagreement over their merits.

The president didn't just lay out specific policies that will benefit women. He also shifted the theory of how government can help them.

The State of the Union address is inherently a political exercise, intended to chart a course for governing but also to let important constituencies know that they are heard and valued. On Tuesday night, President Obama seemed intent on sounding down-to-earth, sensible, unthreatening, and easy to understand. He presented a long list of concrete proposals as if there couldn’t be any disagreement over their merits.

For women, a critical voting bloc who helped deliver his second term, the president checked off many important boxes. He spoke about ending violence against women, guaranteeing them equal pay, preventing teen pregnancy, providing working families with more daycare and early child education, and promoting military women in combat roles. He also acknowledged that women around the world are drivers of prosperity and must be empowered if we hope to reduce global poverty and secure emerging democracies.

Hearing this litany of familiar issues was reassuring, but the overall theme of the speech provided an even more important takeaway. Without much fanfare, the president put forward a reshaped agenda for government programs that are, as he put it, not “bigger” but “smarter.” This is vital for women because it would have the government target policies and marshal resources for women and families, which, in turn, prevent larger and costlier social and economic problems. It’s a welcome departure from forgetting about women and children and waiting around to address the unfortunate consequences after the fact.

No grand principles were enunciated. But the president craftily put forward a theory of change that emphasizes strategic and comprehensive investments and interventions to establish a floor of well being for at-risk women and families.

  • He called on the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, not just as a moral imperative but because studies since its passage demonstrate the effectiveness of the social services and criminal justice reforms this pioneering legislation funds. Over two decades, rates of intimate partner violence and homicides have decreased dramatically, as the White House recently reported.
  • He called for expanding mandatory and free early childhood education – currently available to only three in ten American children – not just because it’s the right thing to do for hard-pressed parents, but because the data shows that it also boosts graduation rates, decreases teen pregnancy, and even correlates with palpable reductions in violent crime in communities across the country.
  • He promised to fight to increase the minimum wage and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This would close a real gender earnings gap. It would also benefit the nearly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers who are female, many of them single heads of households who can’t possibly lift their families out of poverty without this critical and long overdue intervention. Small businesses have long opposed a raise, despite studies that demonstrate a return to employers through increased productivity.
  • He mentioned the Affordable Care Act only in passing, but it too provides many additional preventive policies, which, as he noted, are already improving services while driving down health care costs overall. For example, the ACA has already brought comprehensive, affordable family planning and reproductive health care to more than 1 million women. By 2016, it could extend those services to as many as 13 million additional uninsured women if the many state challenges to contraceptive coverage and the Medicaid expansion do not undermine its potential reach and impact. And here again, as we have written previously, data demonstrates incontrovertibly that these services will dramatically reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion.
  • While the focus of the president’s speech was primarily domestic, he also mentioned America’s responsibilities in the world and obliquely referenced the signature efforts of his administration to mainstream gender considerations into our diplomatic, defense, and development policies. Under the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the United States has joined 30 other countries in adopting a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, facilitated by the United Nations, which applies gender considerations and disaggregates spending across all agencies to require focused investment to improve the status of women. The government recognizes that this is not just the right thing to do, but also the smarter course if our aim is to meet the security and development challenges of our foreign policy. This shift in thinking lies behind the decision to promote military women to combat rank, for example, because in conflicts that involve civilian populations, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, women officers on the frontlines have played critical roles in connecting with local populations. And local women empowered by the U.S. presence have in turn become important agents in post-conflict resolution and peace processes and in relief and reconstruction efforts.

The president’s State of the Union provided a blueprint for a strong, positive government obligation to secure the wellbeing of women and families at home and abroad. Not a lot of detail was offered, nor was there any fancy philosophical framework for what would represent a palpable shift in U.S. priorities and our traditional ways of governing. He spoke as if this was all pretty much just common sense – the better part of wisdom.

But certainly if Senator Marco Rubio’s response is any indication, the president’s intentions, however masked in straightforward, anodyne rhetoric, face innumerable obstacles to their realization. That should not, however, stop us from applauding and getting behind the potential for meaningful policy change.

Ellen Chesler and Andrea Flynn are Fellows at the Roosevelt Institute.

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The Paralyzed President Who Lifted a Paralyzed World

Dec 18, 2012David B. Woolner

The Republicans who voted against the ratification of the UN convention on disabilities are erasing a crucial part of our history.

It is not only that the lights of peace blaze in our great cities and glow in our towns and villages—that laughter and music still ring out from coast to coast—that we will return to safe beds tonight…

It is because we believe in and insist on the right of the helpless, the right of the weak, and the right of the crippled everywhere to play their part in life—and survive.

The Republicans who voted against the ratification of the UN convention on disabilities are erasing a crucial part of our history.

It is not only that the lights of peace blaze in our great cities and glow in our towns and villages—that laughter and music still ring out from coast to coast—that we will return to safe beds tonight…

It is because we believe in and insist on the right of the helpless, the right of the weak, and the right of the crippled everywhere to play their part in life—and survive.

It is because we know instinctively that this right of the unfortunate comes under our free people's philosophy from the bottom up and can never be imposed from the top down. —Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 30, 1941.

In recent years, we have recognized that people with disabilities are integral to our society, that we cannot afford to waste their talents, nor can we proclaim our beloved America demonstrably–the home of the brave, the land of the free–as we overlook the abilities that trump any disabilities.

The approaching vote on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a proud moment for the Senate, the latest chapter of an untold story including the Americans that say: no first class democracy can tolerate second class citizens. —Former Republican Senate Majority Leader, Robert Dole, December 4, 2012

The recent decision by Senate Republicans to reject the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) serves as yet another sad example of just how pervasive—and effective—the fear mongering and misinformation tactics of the extreme right have become in our society. The convention, after all, had the strong support of such Republican luminaries as Senator John McCain, former governor and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, and of course former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole. Yet in spite of their repeated assurances that the non-binding convention—which does not have the force of international law—would in no way infringe on U.S. sovereignty, 38 Republican Senators voted against the measure, largely based on the false claim spearheaded by the former conservative Senator Rick Santorum that ratification of the convention would have given UN bureaucrats “oversight” over such issues as “the healthcare and education choices parents with special needs kids make.”

Nothing could of course be further from the truth. The convention, like many other UN provisions on human rights, only establishes an international committee that makes recommendations to national governments, not laws, as part of their ongoing efforts to monitor a given state’s progress in achieving the non-discriminatory standards set by the treaty. Moreover, as the articles in convention are largely based on the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which received broad bipartisan support in Congress and was signed by Republican President George H. W. Bush in 1990, and requires no change in U.S. law, the conservative right’s claims that ratification of the convention would somehow “put the state under the direction of the UN” are simply not true. Ironically, Mr. Santorum himself admitted as much when he asserted as part of his argument against the vote that there was no point in ratifying the treaty as it “would do nothing to force any foreign government to change their laws or to spend resources on the disabled.” That, he said, “was for governments to decide.”

Mr. Santorum’s confusion and ignorance about the jurisdiction of this convention—and the UN in general—is all the more disturbing because it represents a victory for the anti-internationalist, isolationist wing of the republic party. These are the same ideologues who are quite willing to highjack the common good on such issues as the fiscal cliff or debt ceiling for the sake of ideology. Thanks to their anti-government and anti-UN obsessions, the more than 600 million people living with disabilities worldwide will no longer be able to look to the United States for leadership in support of their fundamental right to live full and productive lives, free from both the physical and political barriers that all too often stand in their way.

Numerous editorials in the wake of the Republican Senators’ actions have characterized the vote as a shameful travesty of justice. But it is more than that. It is also a travesty of history. In their chauvinistic fervor to protect America from “overzealous international organizations” and supposedly supranational bodies, they forget that it was the United States that largely created the United Nations. Worse still, they have also forgotten why the UN was created and remain largely ignorant of the origins of its name or the decisive role that the average American played in bringing it into existence.

The term “United Nations” refers to the wartime alliance that Franklin Roosevelt helped craft in the wake of America’s entry into the Second World War. Its first formal appearance came on January 1, 1942, just weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when representatives of 26 nations joined Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in signing a “Declaration by the United Nations.” In signing it, the states involved pledged to join a “common struggle” to “defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice” not only in their “own lands” but also in “other lands,” against the “savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.”

Millions of men and women across the nation, including such World War II veterans as George Herbert Walker Bush, Robert Dole, and the late Senator Daniel Inouye, risked their lives in support of the United Nations. By the time the United Nations Organization was born in April of 1945, over 400,000 Americans had died in the effort to bring the United Nations to victory.

On the very day of his death and less than two weeks prior to the opening of the United Nations Conference that would give birth to the United Nations, President Roosevelt reflected on the importance of American leadership in the world in an address he planned to deliver on Jefferson Day. The president planned to remind the American people that “great power involves great responsibility” and that “the mere conquest of our enemies is not enough.” We must, he insisted, “go on to do all in our power to conquer the doubts and the fears, the ignorance and the greed” that made the horror of war possible. We must, he continued, face the “preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together, in the same world, at peace.”

It was this spirit that gave birth to the United Nations and this spirit that drove young men like President George H.W. Bush and Senators Dole an Inouye to risk life and limb in the service of not only their country but also of humanity. It was this spirit that made their sacrifice and wartime wounds and life-long impairments worth the price, and this spirit that has been so sadly and callously abandoned by the 38 Republican Senators who voted against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. He is currently writing a book entitled Cordell Hull, Anthony Eden and the Search for Anglo-American Cooperation, 1933-1938.

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GOP Adds Insult to Injury With Rejection of Disabilities Treaty

Dec 6, 2012Tim Price

Senate Republicans passed up an opportunity for the U.S. to lead because of half-baked arguments and conspiracy theories.

Senate Republicans passed up an opportunity for the U.S. to lead because of half-baked arguments and conspiracy theories.

You wake early in the morning to the sound of your doorbell ringing, followed by a heavy knock on the front door. Bolting up in bed, you hear the ominous whir of a helicopter’s blades circling above your house. You race to wake up your disabled children and tell them to stay close and take only what they can carry. But even as you make a break for the back door, a glimpse of shadowy figures through your curtained windows tells you it’s already too late. They have you surrounded. The United Nations Peacekeepers are here to take your kids to school.

This scenario is not too far removed from the nightmare future some Republicans claimed would unfold if the Senate had ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities earlier this week. That’s why, despite strong bipartisan support, the treaty failed in a 61-38 vote on Tuesday, five votes short of the required two-thirds majority. Another day, another missed opportunity in America’s most dysfunctional deliberative body. But this particular case of mindless obstructionism is both a bad omen for the possibility of progress in President Obama’s second term and a real blow to children and adults throughout the world whose physical and mental disabilities continue to pose serious economic and social challenges.

The convention, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006 and since ratified by 126 countries, aims to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” In addition to outlining basic principles for fair and equitable treatment of the disabled, it established a committee of human rights experts tasked with monitoring progress and issuing non-binding recommendations pursuant to those goals.

Pretty scary stuff, right? Well, yes, according to people like Rick Santorum, one of the treaty’s most vocal critics. Writing at Glenn Beck’s online news hub, The Blaze (where I go for all my sober analysis of international human rights law), Santorum warned that ratifying the treaty could “potentially eradicate parental rights for the education of children with disabilities” and “allow our beliefs and values to be outsourced to outside entities that may not always have our best interests in mind.” Somehow, a measure meant to promote equal opportunity and increased accessibility was twisted into a law that would allow a shadowy council of bureaucrats in Geneva to authorize forced abortions and ban home-schooling for students with special needs.

After Republicans blocked the treaty, Santorum took a victory lap at The Daily Beast, writing that he opposes the treaty:

because our nation has been the worldwide leader when it comes to protecting the disabled. We should be telling the U.N., not the other way around, how to ensure dignity and respect for the disabled.

… However, the United States passing this treaty would do nothing to force any foreign government to change their laws or to spend resources on the disabled. That is for those governments to decide.

So if I’m reading Santorum correctly, he’s claiming that the treaty would allow the UN to dictate U.S. law, but not other countries because they write their own laws, but U.S. law is already stronger than anything the UN could ask for anyway, so the U.S. should be telling other countries what laws to write. In other words, he opposes it because Barack Obama signed it.

Anyone hoping that President Obama would have an easier time pushing a progressive agenda through Congress in his second term should be concerned that incoherent arguments like this managed to persuade 38 Republican senators to oppose the treaty. Of the eight Republicans who crossed party lines to support it, three will not be returning to office in January. This was a treaty originally negotiated by George H.W. Bush and endorsed by John McCain and Bob Dole, not some hippy business about stimulus spending or climate change. While the constitutional two-thirds requirement created an extra hurdle to clear, it’s telling that even this benign measure couldn’t escape the legislative graveyard that is the U.S. Senate. Harry Reid’s proposed changes to filibuster rules can’t come soon enough, but in cases like this, there’s no substitute for a minority party that actually wants to help govern rather than obstruct.

And despite opponents’ claims to the contrary, America’s failure to ratify the treaty is in some sense a symbolic rebuke to people with disabilities and an abdication of its role as a world leader. Santorum is right to point out that the U.S. has historically led on this issue. As many news reports have pointed out, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed in 1990 with broad bipartisan support, actually served as the inspiration for the UN convention. That just makes it sadder that failure to ratify the treaty now puts the U.S. behind the curve compared to Burkina Faso.

With or without our help, there’s plenty of work to be done. The UN’s fact sheet notes that there are roughly 650 million people living with disabilities throughout the world, facing unemployment rates as high as 80 percent and literacy rates as low as 1 percent. At the same time, the U.S. is in danger of undermining its own progress in this area by slashing programs like Medicaid, which delivers benefits to 8 million people with disabilities. Rejection of this treaty is just the latest sign that helping the disadvantaged, whether they’re born with physical impairments or born into poverty, is not a priority for Republicans in Congress.

In his Four Freedoms Address, FDR declared, “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.” This conception of freedoms entails responsibility to the global community rather than isolation from it. Having our legislation held up as the international model for the rights of the disabled should be a source of national pride, not more partisan paranoia. Like the fringe theories about Agenda 21, discomfort with this convention seems to have less to do with the failings of the UN than with the right’s fears that its own agenda will be judged by the world and found wanting.

Tim Price is Deputy Editor of Next New Deal. Follow him on Twitter @txprice.

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The Battle Over Women's Health is a Fight for Human Rights

Dec 5, 2012Andrea Flynn

The election is over, but the work of expanding and improving women's access to quality health care is just beginning.

The election is over, but the work of expanding and improving women's access to quality health care is just beginning.

Last month, the United Nations declared access to family planning to be a universal human right that all member countries should respect, protect, and fulfill—a decidedly non-controversial concept for most of the developed world, and indeed not a novel concept for the UN or its members. That is, of course, with the exception of the United States, where human rights are mostly regarded as instruments for other countries to adopt and implement while considered quite unnecessary for our own advancement and wellbeing. So far are we from adopting a human rights framework at home that it’s hard to imagine what would happen if U.S. policymakers approached access to health care – and women’s health in particular – as a right akin to free speech, bearing arms, or practicing our religion. However, given our domestic women’s health crises, we could certainly benefit from adopting some outside perspectives on the right to health care.

Women’s health issues were front and center in the 2012 presidential campaign, garnering far more mainstream attention than in previous elections. From serious discussion in the primary and general election debates to thoroughly considered policy positions to uncensored public remarks, hot-button women’s health issues—rape, abortion, contraception—created a gender gap in the electorate to which many attribute President Obama’s victory. As we look toward the commencement of Obama’s second term, it's clear that the president has numerous monumental challenges before him. But we must not let the protection of women’s health and rights be compromised by other priorities such as the fiscal cliff, the federal budget, or foreign policy crises.

Obama’s victory was a win for women in the short term because it averted the immediate decimation of women’s health funding and infrastructure promised by Romney and his Republican counterparts across the country. But the country needs a long-term win: one that will improve the lives of American women and girls for generations to come. Such a win will require the president’s unwavering determination to improve women’s access to health services and their health outcomes throughout the course of his second term. And it is the job of women and the people who love them to provide a constant reminder that he must deliver on his promises.

Our government should ensure that all women have access to affordable, quality health care not only because it is morally the right thing to do, but because it is the smart and necessary thing to do to strengthen the entire country. Critical indicators such as maternal mortality, teen pregnancy, and unintended pregnancy illustrate the high cost of treating women’s health care as a privilege instead of a right. The United States trails 49 other nations in a ranking of maternal deaths worldwide and has a teen pregnancy rate higher than almost all other industrialized countries. Moreover, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. The data below illustrate how the health circumstances of women of color and low-income women have truly reached crisis proportions and demand immediate action.

(Sources: 1. National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3. Guttmacher Institute, 4. Ibid, 5. Amnesty International, 6. Ibid, 7. New York City Maternal Mortality Review Project Team)

These inequities in women’s health in the United States are shameful, are a violation of human rights, and are, of course, directly related to the quality and availability of family planning and reproductive health care. Obamacare is certainly a historic step in the right direction. It has already extended contraceptive coverage (including highly effective methods such as the IUD, hormonal implants, and injections) to more than 1 million young women, and by 2016 it will cover nearly 13 million more. It also mandates the inclusion of other critical services: one annual “well woman” visit to a primary care physician, access to emergency contraception (also known as the morning-after pill), HPV testing, screenings for STDs, screenings for gestational diabetes, and coverage for maternal health care, including breast-feeding support.

Despite the immediate improvements to women’s health and the long-term cost savings associated with expanded coverage, Obamacare faces a steep uphill battle. Twenty-seven states have filed suit against the president’s plan, challenging its constitutionality. Additionally, over the last year a number of states have attempted to defund Planned Parenthood and other facilities that provide information about, referrals for, or counseling on abortion (even though none of these providers actually perform abortions), threatening to dismantle an irreplaceable infrastructure that has provided millions of women across the country with critical health services.

So far none of these states have succeeded in their lawsuits, but new challenges pop up every day. In Texas alone, more than 50 women’s health providers have closed over the past year as a result of Governor Rick Perry’s decision to slash the state family planning budget by two-thirds and his promise to eliminate Planned Parenthood and other clinics from the state’s Women’s Health Program. Numerous court battles are underway, but regardless of their outcome, the governor has successfully chipped away at a system of care upon which thousands of women – particularly young women, poor women, immigrant women, and women of color – have relied for decades. This system cannot be easily rebuilt.  As anti-choice and anti-family planning lawmakers across the country continue to face resistance from the courts, they will likely look to Texas for strategies of how to successfully defund our nation’s most effective, far-reaching women’s health care providers. Even if Obamacare succeeds in continuing the expansion of Medicaid and private insurance coverage, its impact will be diluted if women have fewer places to receive comprehensive, quality care.

The United States cannot afford these inequities. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that nearly three in ten girls become pregnant in their teenage years and that teen childbearing now costs U.S. taxpayers more than $10 billion annually. Thirty-eight percent of African American girls and 36 percent of Latino girls who dropped out of high school in 2006 reported doing so because of pregnancy or parenthood. And only 40 percent of teens with children complete high school, with less than 2 percent finishing college by the time they are 30. Teen pregnancies levy an additional toll on young women and the U.S. public by contributing to these higher drop-out rates and reducing the potential lifetime income for teen moms.

Unintended pregnancy among women of all ages is a major drain on U.S. coffers. According to the Guttmacher Institute, public insurance programs paid for more than 60 percent of all births resulting from unintended pregnancies, with total public expenditures for these births totaling more than $11 billion in 2006. A number of studies have shown that by expanding contraceptive coverage to underserved communities, Obamacare would drastically reduce these expenditures.

Providing all women better care before and during their pregnancies is clearly the smart thing to do financially. It is also, plain and simple, the right thing to do. The UN says that access to family planning is a right that should be enjoyed by all women because it “permits the enjoyment of other rights, including the rights to health, education, and the achievement of a life with dignity.” Women fully understand that having the ability to control their bodies, preserve their reproductive and sexual health, and make fully informed decisions about when they will have children impacts their ability to thrive socially and economically.

The election may be behind us, but the battle for women’s health is far from over. States will continue to push back against the mandates of Obamacare and conservative legislators will continue to peel away at women’s health rights and their ability to access the care they need. Women in the United States must remain diligent as Obama begins his second term, reminding him, along with local, state, and national leaders that they demand and expect better health care and better health outcomes in the four years to come. They should do so because having affordable and accessible health care and the ability to make fully informed decisions about their bodies is a universal human right. And that is an idea that anyone invested in America’s long-term stability, strength, and security should embrace.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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