The Cable

State Department hosting massive business conference

Next Tuesday, the State Department will convene its largest business conference ever, bringing together business representatives from over 100 countries to discuss how the U.S. government can help them succeed.

State's first Global Business Conference will be held over two days and will bring together senior officials from the White House, the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury and Energy, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency to meet with the visiting business leaders and leaders of U.S. trade and industry associations operating abroad.

"The idea is to talk about what the government can do, and what the State Department through its embassies can do, to support American businesses abroad," said Robert Hormats, the undersecretary of state for economics, energy, and the environment, in an interview with The Cable.

State wants to leverage the U.S. diplomatic presence around the world to help American companies increase exports, encourage foreign direct investment in the United States, and ensure American businesses are not robbed of their intellectual property and business secrets when operating abroad. This is all part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's economic statecraft agenda, as she announced in a speech last October.

"We want to make sure that by engaging with these people, we are responsive to their needs and their concerns, and they have a sense of what we in our government are able to do," Hormats said.

Clinton, Commerce Secretary John Bryson, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue, and Boeing Chairman James McNerney will all speak on the first day, which will also include panel discussions and small group meetings on export promotion, increasing foreign investment in the United States, creating public-private partnerships, and facilitating business and leisure travel to the United States. The second day of the conference will include breakout sessions hosted by the State Department's regional assistant secretaries to discuss regional strategies to advance shared economic interests.

"The bottom line is we want to support the ability of the American companies to create private sector jobs in the United States. And second, strengthening our international economic policy by working with American business strengthens our economy at home and complements other aspects of our foreign policy," said Hormats.

Most of the guests will be business facilitators, such as American chambers of commerce or business associations that operate abroad. There will be some individual companies in attendance as well.

Hormats said some embassies, such as in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey, have already been proactive in supporting U.S. businesses and have achieved results..

"In Saudi Arabia, the number of small and medium enterprises for whom the embassy has advocated has gotten a lot of business. There are a substantial number of small- and medium-sized American businesses that are doing business there that weren't two years ago," he said. "What we're trying to do in particular is to identify some of the fast-growing economies and make a really strong effort there."

The key elements of the new push for international business focus on sectors like infrastructure, healthcare, information technology, insurance, financial services, construction, and transportation equipment, he said.

"We really want the people from abroad to give us ideas on what's important to look at," said Hormats.

One development that is impacting the environment for American businesses abroad is the Arab Spring, and one of the breakout sessions is specifically designed to focus on the effects of government instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

Another focus will be how to deal with countries with economic systems that are state-controlled, which can hinder foreign companies' ability to compete fairly with government- supported local firms.

"Our worry is that state enterprises and state-supported enterprises get an inordinate amount of support from their governments, which distorts competitiveness," said Hormats. "That's definitely one of the big challenges for the United States and it puts our companies at a disadvantage."

In the end, Hormats said the American economic model ultimately will win out, as long as the United States does not stop attracting the world's best and brightest.

"We still have a culture that's very innovative, we have an entrepreneurial culture, one where upward mobility is a hallmark of what we're doing. But we also have to work hard to continue to reinforce our strengths, which means more emphasis on education, infrastructure, and research and development," he said. "We really are seeing competition among systems."

The Cable

Conservatives call for Obama to intervene in Syria

Fifty-six leading conservative foreign-policy experts wrote an open letter Friday to U.S. President Barack Obama calling on him to directly aid the Syrian opposition and protect the lives of Syrian civilians.

"For eleven months now, the Syrian people have been dying on a daily basis at the hands of their government as they seek to topple the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad.  As the recent events in the city of Homs-in which hundreds of Syrians have been killed in a matter of days-have shown, Assad will stop at nothing to maintain his grip on power," wrote the experts.

"Unless the United States takes the lead and acts, either individually or in concert with like-minded nations, thousands of additional Syrian civilians will likely die, and the emerging civil war in Syria will likely ignite wider instability in the Middle East."

The letter was organized jointly by the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, both conservative policy organizations in Washington, D.C. Signees included Max Boot, Paul Bremer, Elizabeth Cheney, Eric Edelman, Jamie Fly, John Hannah, William Inboden, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Clifford May, Robert McFarlane, Martin Peretz, Danielle Pletka, John Podhoretz, Stephen Rademaker, Karl Rove, Randy Scheunemann, Dan Senor, James Woolsey, Dov Zakheim, and Radwan Ziadeh, a member of the Syrian National Council.

The letter calls on Obama to immediately establish safe zones within Syrian territory, establish contacts with and provide assistance to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), give communications and logistical assistance to the Syrian opposition, and enact further sanctions on the Syrian regime and its leaders.

The letter comes one day before the first "Friends of Syria" contact-group meeting in Tunisia and on the same day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is meeting with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton in Washington.

On Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the government sponsored violence in Syria, but the letter argues that multilateral efforts to protect civilians in Syria have thus far failed.

"The Syrian people are asking for international assistance," it reads. "It is apparent that American leadership is required to ensure the quickest end to the Assad regime's brutal reign, and to clearly show the Syrian people that, as you said on February 4, 2012, the people of the free world stand with them as they seek to realize their aspirations."

Read the full letter after the jump:

 

 

February 17, 2012

 

The Honorable Barack H. Obama

President of the United States of America

The White House

Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

For eleven months now, the Syrian people have been dying on a daily basis at the hands of their government as they seek to topple the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad.  As the recent events in the city of Homs-in which hundreds of Syrians have been killed in a matter of days-have shown, Assad will stop at nothing to maintain his grip on power.

Given the United Nations Security Council's recent failure to act, we believe that the United States cannot continue to defer its strategic and moral responsibilities in Syria to regional actors such as the Arab League, or to wait for consent from the Assad regime's protectors, Russia and China.  We therefore urge you to take immediate steps to decisively halt the Assad regime's atrocities against Syrian civilians, and to hasten the emergence of a post-Assad government in Syria.

Syria's future is not purely a humanitarian concern.  The Assad regime poses a grave threat to national security interests of the United States.  The Syrian government, which has been on the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list since 1979, maintains a strategic partnership with the terror-sponsoring government of Iran, as well as with Hamas and Hezbollah.  For years, it facilitated the entry of foreign fighters into Iraq who killed American troops.  For years, it secretly pursued a nuclear program with North Korea's assistance.  And for decades, it has closely cooperated with Iran and other agents of violence and instability to menace America's allies and partners throughout the Middle East.

Equally troubling, foreign powers have already directly intervened in Syria-in support of the Assad regime.  Russia is providing arms and supplies to the Syrian government.  Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah are reportedly operating in Syria, and assisting Syrian military forces and pro-regime militias in efforts to crush the Syrian opposition.  In turn, the lack of resolve and action by the responsible members of the international community is only further emboldening the Assad regime.

Given these facts, we urge you to take the following immediate actions to hasten an end to the Assad regime and the humanitarian catastrophe that it is inflicting on the Syrian people:

  • Immediately establish safe zones within Syrian territory, as well as no-go zones for the Assad regime's military and security forces, around Homs, Idlib, and other threatened areas, in order to protect Syrian civilians. To the extent possible, the United States should work with like-minded countries like Turkey and members of the Arab League in these efforts.
  • Establish contacts with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and, in conjunction with allies in the Middle East and Europe, provide a full range of direct assistance, including self-defense aid to the FSA.\
  • Improve U.S. coordination with political opposition groups and provide them with secure communications technologies and other assistance that will help to improve their ability to prepare for a post-Assad Syria.
  • Work with Congress to impose crippling U.S. and multilateral sanctions on the Syrian government, especially on Syria's energy, banking, and shipping sectors.

Unless the United States takes the lead and acts, either individually or in concert with like-minded nations, thousands of additional Syrian civilians will likely die, and the emerging civil war in Syria will likely ignite wider instability in the Middle East.  Given American interests in the Middle East, as well as the implications for those seeking freedom in other repressive societies, it is imperative that the United States and its allies not remove any option from consideration, including military intervention.

The Syrian people are asking for international assistance.  It is apparent that American leadership is required to ensure the quickest end to the Assad regime's brutal reign, and to clearly show the Syrian people that, as you said on February 4, 2012, the people of the free world stand with them as they seek to realize their aspirations.

Sincerely,

Khairi Abaza

Ammar Abdulhamid

Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Tony Badran

Paul Berman

Max Boot

Ellen Bork

L. Paul Bremer

Matthew R. J. Brodsky

Elizabeth Cheney

Seth Cropsey

Toby Dershowitz

James Denton

Mark Dubowitz

Nicholas Eberstadt

Eric S. Edelman

Jamie M. Fly

Reuel Marc Gerecht

Abe Greenwald

John P. Hannah

William Inboden

Bruce Pitcairn Jackson

Ash Jain

Kenneth Jensen

Sirwan Kajjo

Lawrence F. Kaplan

Irina Krasovskaya

William Kristol

Michael Ledeen

Tod Lindberg

Herbert I. London

Clifford D. May

Ann Marlowe

Robert C. McFarlane

Joshua Muravchik

Martin Peretz

Danielle Pletka

John Podhoretz

Stephen Rademaker

Karl Rove

Jonathan Schanzer

Randy Scheunemann

Gary J. Schmitt

Daniel S. Senor

Lee Smith

Henry D. Sokolski

Daniel Twining

Peter Wehner

Kenneth R. Weinstein

Leon Wieseltier

R. James Woolsey

Khawla Yusuf

Dov S. Zakheim

Robert Zarate

Radwan Ziadeh