State Department Makes Mobile App

I immediately bookmarked this great site that you can access through your Blackberry, iPhone or less-awesome phone (cough my LG) to get the latest news on foreign policy and the State Department.

The site features top stories from the State Department, remarks from Sec. Clinton, her travel plans, daily press briefings and information on every country.

Check it out! Today I also discovered (far too late, in my opinion) the Council on Foreign Relations site, which has such great multimedia, hard-hitting interviews and compelling reports on international issues prevalent in the news.

Hypocrisy all around: Karzai tells foreigners to back off

President Hamid Karzai

After a summer of attempts to improve relations with the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, Karzai came out today with tough statements against foreign assistance. He said, according to the latest article in the Wall Street Journal, that foreign advisors should be replaced by Afghans.

He called for a ban on private security companies that are sent to protect a number of Western servicemembers in Afghanistan, saying “We have the ability to rule and govern our country and we have our sovereignty.”

Oh you do, do you?

“We hope that NATO countries and the U.S. pay attention,” he said.

The Wikileaks files along with the many reports of civilian casualties has lead to anti-American sentiment and overall loss of hope in the country. At the same time, the U.S. has promised to “start” withdrawing its troops and transitioning Afghan security forces by the summer of 2011. That means they committed to another year in the country in terms of security forces. Diplomatic efforts will continue long after 2011, they say. And that deadline, according to Sec. Clinton, is a “working deadline” and could change if circumstances change.

Just this weekend, 10 aid workers were killed, piling up the number of Western casualties of the war. The continued violence on top of Clinton’s repeated calls for corruption accountability have essentially diminished the good will we saw when Karzai visited in May.

A screenshot of Aisha, victim of abusive husband and antiquated laws in Afghanistan

Karzai made claims that security forces have received “illegal” salaries and are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night.”

What these companies do, in reality, is provide security for Western diplomats and organizations that provide aid and major infrastructure tools for Afghanistan. The article states that these companies are wary to hand control completely over to Afghan forces, which are often infiltrated by Taliban members.

According to Reuters, Congress has approved $345 billion so far to Afghanistan since 2001. Obama has asked for billions more and 30,000 extra soldiers. Will Congress be willing to fund the war when Karzai doesn’t even want foreign contractors there?

While Karzai is calling for a withdrawal, TIME, featuring an Afghan girl with her nose cut off, said “What Happens If we Leave Afghanistan.” We have a call for human rights, equality for women and the expulsion of misogynistic radical Taliban law while Karzai is telling the people of Afghanistan that foreign services need to leave.

I eagerly await a response from Obama and the State Department.

Secretary Clinton Gives Remarks on Pakistan Flood: Text to Help

Floods in Pakistan have left millions displaced. Photo from RFE/RL

Sec. Clinton held a press conference this morning on the flood in Pakistan that has taken the lives of over 1500 people, left millions stranded and many more missing.

“Violence like this is abhorrent at any time, but especially at this time of crisis for the Pakistani people, and I want to convey the condolences of the American people to the Pakistani people on behalf of everything they are confronting,” she said.

The U.S. has promised 10 million in aid along with a number of humanitarian groups to provide food, critical supplies and “hundreds of Halal meals.” They’ve also sent boats to help with water purification, search and rescue and the construction of temporary bridges.

Clinton also said those wanting to help can text “SWAT” to 50555 for $10 donations similar to how donations were made to Haiti.

According to the AFP, members of Pakistan’s army have offered to donate one day’s salary towards flood victims.

RFE/RL reports that Pakistan could see more storms headed their way in the coming days. Despite the disaster, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is traveling to the United Kingdom for talks with senior British officials”despite pressure for him to cancel the trip and return home to oversee relief and rescue efforts.”

Record rains last week triggered floods and landslides that washed away entire villages and ruined farmland in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and central Punjab provinces.

At the State Department: New America’s Steve Clemons and Special Rep. to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith Discuss the Notion of “Muslim Community”

The State Department’s “Conversations with America” is, according to the Washington Note, designed to provide “an opportunity for [State Department officials] to discuss a range of issues, important issues with people within the United States and around the world.”

In a conversation at the State Department, Steve Clemons from the New America Foundation and the Washington Note sat down with the Special Representative fo Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith, for a dialogue on engagement with the Muslim community.

First and foremost, both Farah and Steve urged people to go beyond the notion of the “Muslim Community” (although her title doesn’t do so…) and see Muslims as a diverse group of people with different desires, cultural backgrounds and ideologies.

“I am extremely optimistic about what’s possible and the energy and passion of young people,” he said of the youth in engaging the Muslim community. While most see it as monolithic, the State Department has made it its goal to go beyond the cookie cutter image.

Farah noted that a vast majority of Muslims live outside of the Middle East and in Western countries, so the notion of the “Muslim World” vs. the “West” is an error in and of itself. She said Muslims are represented in most, if not all, forms of the federal government in the U.S.

One issue that has created this divide with the “Muslim World” so to speak is the issue of Israel and Palestine. Because some groups in the Middle East have strong feelings against Israel for one reason or another, they also associate those feelings with the United States although the U.S. doesn’t always agree or support Israel’s actions.

“People have high expectations of the President,” Steve said of Obama’s treatment of the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

Farah said this question comes up ALL the time: “It’s not just a Muslim question–it’s a human question. They’re watching carefully to see how negotiations are going. I think there’s no doubt that this is a priority to the President—there’s an envoy to the Middle East. But you cannot push fast something that’s taking time to develop.”

While the White House can create special envoys to address different Middle Eastern relationships, she said it’s also the responsibility of other organizations (Education, Health, Economic, etc) to build those bridges too. Clemons cited Tomorrow’s Youth Organization and the Cherie Blair Foundation as two examples.

Farah said the media should also do its part in representing Muslim groups that aren’t radical or show animosity towards the West.

“There are 1.4 billion Muslims, and a vast majority of them are not represented in mainstream media,” she said. She discussed a number of examples of Muslim groups working towards change in their communities, including a youth radio station that aims to push back against violent extremism.

Since 9/11, it’s true that certain Muslim communities felt isolated or targeted because of their beliefs, and those feelings reemerged when a Mosque was going to be built near Ground Zero in New York City. Clemons said because this tension still exists in some pockets of the country, it’s important for the U.S. to have an action program for Muslim communities in the U.S.

“I am more free as a Muslim here to talk about my faith in America than anywhere else,” Farah noted.

Farah noted an initiative that would fit into the communications, government and nongovernmental efforts to rethink engagement with Muslims in America. She said the State Department is developing a timeline of engagement with Muslims that details different initiatives and speeches promoting Muslim equality by past presidents and officials.

Farah noted that despite the common perception that Muslims have not condemned acts of violence against the U.S., many groups have spoken widely against religious extremism.

“Muslims are trying very hard to push away from those narratives,” she said.

While the U.S. was blasting fireworks: Clinton’s visit to the former Soviet Union

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton made her way through Eastern Europe over the 4th of July weekend, making stops in Poland, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Ukraine. Her message to counties once under communist rule: the RESET does not mean that the U.S. will lighten its expectations of Russia and its influence in the region. She pushed for “political pluralism and democratic transfer of power.”

According to a NYT report, Clinton said “Washington would continue to finance nongovernmental organizations in the region — an endeavor that has long irritated Moscow — and pledged $2 million to a fund to assist such organizations that were under pressure to shut down.”

Her trip reassured the U.S.’s support for Georgia and a warning for Russia, who invaded Georgian territory in the 2008 war. She said the U.S. will support Georgia as a sovereign state and does not recognize Russia’s sphere of influence in the area.

According to a report by RFE/RL, Clinton said Russia “should permit humanitarian access to the portions of Georgia its troops still occupy, the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and refrain from building more permanent military bases there.”

Clinton said in a press conference that Georgia could serve as a beacon for democracy in the region.

But I thought that was the idea behind the Ukrainian elections?