Articles

Atlantic Council Africa Center Director J. Peter Pham authored an essay entitled "The Development of the United States Africa Command and Its Role in America’s Africa Policy under George W. Bush and Barack Obama" for the forthcoming issue of the Journal of the Middle East and Africa.

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AS PRESIDENT Obama looks ahead, 2015 may be the most challenging and consequential year of his presidency on foreign policy. Here are some major global tests where he will need to marshal American diplomatic strength, leadership, and effectiveness this year.

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As 2014 draws to a close, the war in Syria grinds on.

The main combatants continue to pummel each other like punch drunk fighters, with no referee to make them stop.

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President Barack Obama's decision to transform the U.S. relationship with Cuba has obvious implications for the few remaining countries that lack normal diplomatic ties with the United States, especially Iran.

While there are many differences between a resource-poor island of 11 million people 90 miles off the coast of Florida and a large, oil-rich nation of 80 million that is thousands of miles from U.S. shores, regimes in both countries have based their ideological legitimacy in large part on opposing the United States.

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US involvement in Afghanistan has broadened and deepened diplomatic and economic relations with Central Asian countries. Yet soon-to-retire former US defense secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to Afghanistan early this month reminded Americans and the world that large-scale US and NATO troop engagement in Afghanistan is nearing its end. The withdrawal of most US and coalition forces is giving rise to considerable concern among the Central Asian states that this may mark the beginning of a much lower level of overall US and Western engagement in the region.

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2014 was an annus horribilis in foreign policy, as the Ebola crisis, Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the rise of ISIS in a burning Middle East, and multiple civil wars in Africa attest.

As the year ends, however, a closer look illuminates thousands of courageous men and women who work ceaselessly for the elusive hope of peace. I asked some of the smartest, globally-minded people I know — my students at the Harvard Kennedy School and my three daughters — to suggest those people, from the celebrated to the unknown, who gave us hope in an otherwise turbulent year. Here are their and my heroes.

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To salvage the Russian economy, Putin should withdraw from Ukraine and accept a compromise.


Russian President Vladimir Putin's problem is that he was born on third base, but thinks he hit a triple. Putin's tenure in office has, until now, been lubricated by high oil prices that account for 60 percent of Russian exports and, along with natural gas, more than 50 percent of its budget.

Before Putin's economic system began to melt down, oil and gas exports fueled the growth of a Russian middle class. Putin showered petrodollars on them with pension increases, wage increases to government employees and other public spending.

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Bottom Line Up Front:
•  Nearly three years after the collapse of Muammar Qadhafi’s regime, Libya has become a failed state, reaching levels of instability never before experienced in North Africa and the Sahel

•  More than 1,700 competing clans, regional and Islamist militias are vying over control of what remains of the state; some radical groups are gaining ground amidst horrific and anarchic violence that has spilled over into neighboring states (Egypt, Tunisia, Niger, Algeria, and Mali); and regional powers are exploiting the disorder to pursue their own interests in the country

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President Barack Obama's executive order today dramatically alters Cuba policy in a manner likely to advance individual freedom and democratic change. In taking steps to pursue direct engagement with a country just 90 miles off our coast, the president's actions will open access to information, increase exchanges, boost private enterprise, and accelerate democracy. Once walls are torn down – like with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union – the truth becomes hard to hide. The beginning of the end of the island's authoritarian legacy will come because Cubans will now more easily see what is beyond their shores.

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In the last month, President Obama has used executive orders to address the two largest structural impediments to better US relations with Latin America; immigration, and Cuba. We commend his leadership on both counts. Today, nearly 55 years of ineffective Cuba sanctions policy has come to an end.

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