Currency War

Debating Robert Zoellick's vision for reintegrating economics into U.S. foreign policy. 

In arguing that the United States should reintegrate economics into its foreign policy ("The Currency of Power," November 2012), Robert Zoellick ransacks America's past to make his case for a future foreign policy based on the conservative economics of debt reduction and budget-cutting. Echoing U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney's dismissive view of America's "47 percent," Zoellick, who was the Romney transition team's chief national security advisor, argues for a foreign economic policy that favors "makers over takers."

Twelve years ago, Zoellick had a different reading of history. His Foreign Affairs essay "Campaign 2000: A Republican Foreign Policy" foreshadowed a radical turn in U.S. foreign policy under President George W. Bush, under whom he served as U.S. trade representative and deputy secretary of state. Zoellick wrote that "a modern Republican foreign policy recognizes that there is still evil in the world," after joining neoconservatives in signing two open letters about the need for U.S.-led regime change in Iraq. More than a decade later, national debt has displaced evil in Zoellick's eyes as the leading threat to U.S. national security.

Zoellick concludes his Foreign Policy essay by asking, "If the United States does not lead now, who will?" That's certainly a central question in international relations. But neither U.S. military preeminence nor the conservative economics Zoellick embraces will restore America's hegemony. The kind of global swashbuckling practiced by the Bush administration -- and once hailed by Zoellick -- underscored the futility of U.S. military power while eroding respect for American leadership.

In his search for the keys to future influence, Zoellick has buried himself and the Republican Party in the doctrines of the past rather than looking forward. If the United States is to reassume global leadership, it will be because the country offers domestic and foreign policies that address climate change, economic inequity, and resource depletion, and chart new paths for international cooperation -- not because, as Zoellick argues, it signs more free trade treaties, reduces the debt by slashing social services for the "takers," or seeks power by maintaining a $700 billion military budget. Zoellick and the Republican Party will further marginalize themselves and the United States by continually trotting out old dogma about national power and the private sector. The new currency of global affairs lies elsewhere.

Senior Policy Analyst
Center for International Policy
Silver City, N.M.

Robert Zoellick replies:

First, Tom Barry attacks me as "joining neoconservatives" when Foreign Policy has also reported that neocons attack me. Perhaps I should ask FP for a ruling?

Second, I do believe that there is evil in the world. How would Barry describe al Qaeda? Or what I saw on many trips to aid victims of atrocities in Darfur? Or genocides in Europe, Cambodia, and Rwanda?

Third, as for fostering free trade, Barry may wish to expand his acquaintances in the developing world. At the World Bank, I encountered many people, from the poor to government leaders, who fought trade protectionism and obstacles to growth and opportunity. Free trade challenges domestic oligopolies, oligarchies, and special interests, and the Labor parties in Australia and Britain side with me.

Fourth, regarding the U.S. national debt, Barry seems to be an admirer of Alexander Hamilton, America's first Treasury secretary, whom I respect. But one can have too much of a good thing. President Barack Obama -- and former President Bill Clinton -- have favored debt and deficit reduction too. They also seem to back the private sector that Barry disdains.

Fifth, Barry takes me to task on the military budget even though my article said nothing about the size of that budget. As a fiscal conservative, I believe all spending should be scrutinized. However, the first duty that the U.S. Constitution assigns the president is "commander in chief," and national security is the first responsibility of government.

Finally, as for climate change, I led the U.S. negotiations for the successful 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and at the World Bank I raised more than $7 billion -- leveraged to $50 billion -- for Climate Investment Funds that are assisting about 50 developing countries. I advanced biodiversity, debt-for-nature swaps, protection of species ranging from elephants to tigers, and initiatives to save life and livelihoods in the oceans.

Debate is all to the good. But illogical vitriol is thin gruel.


Security Studies

The Honduran ambassador to the United States responds to James Verini.

James Verini's article ("Prisoners Rule," November 2012) is an inaccurate portrayal of the security situation in Honduras. He struggles to contextualize facts related to gangs, drug trafficking, and violence in our country and fails to acknowledge the government's efforts to address these issues.

First, the author's characterization of how President Porfirio Lobo Sosa came to power is offensive to the 56.6 percent of Honduran voters who elected him in 2009. More than 4,200 domestic and international observers -- plus the other four contending political parties -- recognized the electoral process as open and fair. Contrary to Verini's unfounded allegations, Lobo and his family were long known for their generosity and goodwill toward campesinos. As president, he has made possible the transfer of some 5,000 hectares of land to the campesinos in the Bajo Aguán region.

Second, though Verini criticizes former President Ricardo Maduro's anti-gang measures as "sweeping" and "indiscriminate," the people of Honduras are grateful to Maduro for handing a safer and economically sound country to former President Manuel Zelaya in January 2006. Between 2005 and 2009, the year Zelaya left office, the murder rate increased significantly, from 35 to 77 homicides per 100,000 people.

Third, Lobo has tackled the issues of gangs and drug trafficking that he inherited from the previous government. The national Observatory of Violence in Honduras has reported that the country's murder rate declined from 86 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 to 80 in 2012 -- a drop that occurred as a result of Lobo's efforts to strengthen law enforcement institutions, implement prevention programs, and install new leadership for the Honduran national police. Simultaneously, a blue-ribbon Commission for Public Security Reform and community involvement in neighborhoods and municipalities have increased civil society's participation in justice and security reforms.

The Lobo government's accomplishments include increased vetting of police personnel, the training of new police officers, and the reform of current police law. Over the past two years, new or modified laws have been approved against terrorism financing, asset forfeiture, and wiretapping suspected criminals. A constitutional amendment was passed last year to allow for the extradition of Honduran citizens accused of terrorism, drug trafficking, or organized crime. Judges now have national jurisdiction to hear and solve cases involving organized crime, and Congress has approved a new security tax to increase funds for the war against drugs.

What's more, Honduras and the United States recently signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on criminal investigation and the fight against impunity, corruption, and organized crime. Both countries also instituted a bilateral working group on human rights. But none of the above is even mentioned in Verini's unbalanced article.

Honduran Ambassador to the United States
Washington, D.C.

James Verini replies:

Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro's job is to defend his president's administration and present his country favorably in Washington. This does not require him to spend time in the streets and barrios of San Pedro Sula, speaking with the ordinary people behind the frightening news reports coming out of Honduras. If he did, the ambassador might find that my portrayal of the situation there is inaccurate in only this sense: It is far less grim than the reality. If the ambassador spoke with some of the people I have -- the priests, police officers, teachers, judges, parents, lawyers, prison wardens, journalists, children, and gang members -- he would find it's the statistics he offers, not my reporting, that lack context. He would learn not just of endemic crime and lurid mass violence, which he presumably knows about already, but also of pervasive, murderous police corruption and official indifference to these problems.

But even if Hernández Alcerro prefers to confine himself to news reports, the ambassador need hardly rely on mine. Dozens of Latin American and international news organizations and investigative bodies are chronicling Honduras's brutal reality.

Finally, the ambassador is right to point out that President Lobo was elected, but he neglects to mention that it was only after Lobo's candidacy was agreed upon by the people who orchestrated the 2009 coup against his already-elected predecessor. Hondurans (including the ambassador) did not get the chance to vote on that illegal action. Nonetheless, many who neither supported the coup nor trusted its backers voted for the president in the hopes that his connections might help improve public safety and reduce corruption. If the ambassador would care to walk the streets of San Pedro Sula, or any other city in Honduras, and speak with some of those voters, he would learn just how bitter their disappointment is.