Friday, April 25, 2008
How Chinese nationalists are like blog commenters
I've never really been able to take China nationalism that seriously. It's like some of the comments on my blog. There's no shortage of passion but it's also curiously skin deep. It's often a foil for anti-government feelings, employed by Chinese who are actually fed up with Communist Party rule but aren't allowed to say it. Finally, it often masks deeper divisions in Chinese society. Whenever I read a Chinese blogger urging an anti-foreign boycott or some other type of joint action, I'm reminded of the telling saying that Chinese have about themselves. "A Chinese alone equals the power of a dragon, but three Chinese, nothing but an insect."Read the whole thing.
Friday, November 30, 2007
So what's going on in the Islamic justice system?
A British teacher in Sudan was convicted of "insulting Islam because her class of 7-year-olds named a teddy bear Muhammad," according to the New York Times' Jeffrey Gettleman. He has more information on the Sudanese reaction, which is a bit varied:
Hundreds of demonstrators in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, poured into the streets on Friday demanding the execution of a British teacher who was convicted of insulting Islam because her class of 7-year-olds named a teddy bear Muhammad....Time's Rob Crilly has more backstory, which suggests that much of the outrage is terribly, terribly faux:
Teachers at Unity High have stood by their colleague, noting that the first complaint came only last week despite the fact that parents had been aware of the class bear's name since September.At the same time, there's another case in Saudi Arabia that's equally interesting -- because it suggests that there are fissures within the Saudi government. Click over to Charli Carpenter's post at Duck of Minerva for more -- as well as this post at the wonderfully-named Elected Swineherd.
UPDATE: Lydia Polgreen has a front-pager today iin the New York Times about yet another country that has incorporated sharia into its justice system -- Nigeria. The outcome, however, is at variance with initial expectations:
When Muslim-dominated states like Kano adopted Islamic law after the fall of military rule in 1999, radical clerics from the Arabian peninsula arrived in droves to preach a draconian brand of fundamentalism, and newly empowered religious judges handed down tough punishments like amputation for theft. Kano became a center of anti-American sentiment in one of the most reliably pro-American countries in Africa.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Meanwhile, in Iraq....
The New York Times' Damien Cave and Alissa Rubin have the story that will occupy the blogosphere for today -- Baghdad is safer:
The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.This report, combined with reports on monthly deaths from sectarian violence, suggest that the effects of the surge are clear -- we've managed to get Baghdad back to the place it was prior to the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra. I believe this is also a period in which even members of the Bush administration admitted that their Iraq policy was "adrift."
Well, there are some other changes... ike in the rest of Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher has a story on this:
Ammar al-Hakim is presiding over an Iraqi Shiite building boom. His austere Shaheed al-Mihrab Foundation has raised 400 mosques in Iraq since 2003. It's building the largest seminary here in the holy city of Najaf and opening a chain of schools. And it now has 95 offices throughout the country.Is this a good thing? The International Crisis Group is skeptical:
As long as the U.S. remains in Iraq, its alliance with ISCI will help entrench the party in the country’s governing, security and intelligence institutions, in Baghdad as well as most southern governorates. Its only true challenger remains the Mahdi army, which despite its ruffian credentials and bloody role in sectarian reprisals enjoys broad support among Shiite masses. Their rivalry now takes the form of a class struggle between the Shiite merchant elite of Baghdad and the holy cities, represented by ISCI (as well, religiously, by Sistani), and the Shiite urban underclass.Question to readers: is there cause to be optimistic about the future of Iraq?
[The] optimism is totally unwarranted. Not because things aren't improving in Iraq—it seems they are, at least for the moment—but because the collateral damage inflicted by the war on America's relationships with the rest of the world is a lot deeper and broader than most Americans have yet realized. It isn't just that the Iraq war invigorated the anti-Americanism that has always been latent pretty much everywhere. Far worse is the fact that—however it all comes out in the end, however successful Iraqi democracy becomes a decade from now—our conduct of the war in Iraq has disillusioned our natural friends and supporters and thrown a lasting shadow over our military and political competence. However it all comes out, the price we've paid is too high.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Could Hugo Chavez threaten Venezuela baseball?
Maria Burns Ortiz has a story at ESPN.com that indicates Hugo Chavez's nationalization policies are starting to foreign direct investment -- in baseball:
With that kind of talent emerging from Venezuela in recent seasons, one would assume that big league clubs would be flocking to the South American nation in search of the next superstar. However, the cultural and political scene in Venezuela is undergoing rapid and radical transformation, and instead of flocking to the country, teams are fleeing over concerns about safety and political uncertainty. They aren't leaving in droves just yet, but the stream has been steady enough to raise a red flag about the future....
Friday, October 26, 2007
I was in a nowhere job... going nowhere....
until I heard about the Robert Mugabe National School of Intelligence!!
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has launched an intelligence academy named after him, saying it would produce officers able to counter growing threats from Western powers, state media reported on Friday.Request to commenters: please propose possible course names for the Robert Mugabe National School of Intelligence. Pedagogically, which courses should be required? What are the possible areas of concentration?
Hat tip: Blake Hounshell.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Blip or surge?
The Iraqi government reported on Monday that civilian casualties dropped by more than 50 per cent in September, a month in which US casualties also declined to their lowest level in 14 months.
Monday, September 17, 2007
What will Iran do in Iraq?
A common objection to any kind of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is that it's a gift to Iran. Iran is actively meddling in Iraq's politics as we speak. Should U.S. forces go over the horizon, the prospect of a powerful Iran and a subordinate Iraq stokes fears of a Shiite superstate in the region.
Is this how things will actually play out? Consider what is heppening now in Basra. The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher reports on how Iraq's second-largest city is doing in the wake of the British exit from the city earlier this month. To get a sense of how fractious the place is, here's Dagher's guide to the key players in the region:
Sadrists and Mahdi Army: The movement of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is a formidable force in Basra. The Mahdi Army is estimated to number 17,000 in the province. Security officials say that some of the Basra militia are infiltrated by Iran and beholden to Tehran. It opposes a super-Shiite region, but supports the ouster of the Fadhila governor.Read the whole thing. A few facts are quite clear: 1) Iran is playing a very active supporting role;
2) Iran does not appear to be playing a unifying role. The Monitor story suggests that this is because it lacks the capacity to do so:
Although Iran is closest to the council and its affiliate parties like Badr and Sayed al-Shuhada, it's also backing many other Shiite groups in southern Iraq including those that are openly using violence to oppose British and coalition troops, according to Ali Ansari, an Iran specialist at London's Chatham House.There's an alternative interpretation -- it's possible that Iran lacks the interest. A fractious Iraq can serve as a buffer for Iran without triggering a security dilemma with Saudi Arabia or other Sunni states.
The Basra story is still developing, of course. Still, one wonders whether Tehran will be any more adept at nation-building in Iraq than the United States.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
And here I thought "angry Buddhist monks" was an oxymoron
The Financial Times' Amy Kazmin and Andrew Ward report that Myanmar's regime is so bad that they've actually managed to make Budshist monks angry. Apparently, you wouldn't like them when they're angry:
Burma’s military regime fulminated on Friday against ’external anti-government groups’ which it claimed were trying to foment a mass uprising in Burma, and warned that it remains determined to crush open displays of dissent....
Friday, August 24, 2007
In honor of Hugo Chavez and Woody Allen....
Starting in September, Hugo Chavez is going to be shifting Venezuela's clocks forward by a half-hour (to ensure "a more fair distribution of the sunrise" according to Reuters).
An hour I can understand -- but a half-hour?
How long is it going to be before Chavez delivers this kind of speech?If you liked that clip, then I must encourage you to click here as well.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
For those of you nostalgic for Pravda
Simon Romero reports in the New York Times about Hugo Chávez's proposed constitutional changes:
President Hugo Chávez will unveil a project to change the Constitution on Wednesday that is expected to allow him to be re-elected indefinitely, a move that would enhance his authority to accelerate a socialist-inspired transformation of Venezuelan society.The story has a whiff of the old Soviet-era Pravda. Not because Romero is Chávez's mouthpiece, but rather the tone of the comments made by Venezuelan officials.
And, of course, Chávez's apparent fondness for democratic centralism.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
This is a responsible negotiating partner?
One of the standard mantras uttered by Middle East experts is that if the Bush administration had approached Hamas differently when they came to power in 2006, that group could have eventually cut a deal with Israel.
This may very well be true, but every once in a while I run into a story like this one in the New York Times that makes me wonder just how much wishful thinking is embedded in that sentiment:
Hamas television, which was criticized for a Mickey Mouse-like character named Farfur who spouted anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish nostrums at children, has replaced the mouse with a bee named Nahoul, who says he is Farfur’s cousin.UPDATE: In the words of my people... sweet fancy Moses!!
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Zimbabwe invites an anarchy pool
Zimbabwe’s week-old campaign to quell its rampant inflation by forcing merchants to lower prices is edging the nation close to chaos, some economists and merchants say.I'm offering five weeks as the over/under before complete lawlessness and anarchy break out in that country.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Hey, what happened at those EU negotiations?
The depressing part comes with Nikolas Sarkozy's success at "moving market competition from the list of the EU’s main goals." Henry is undoubtedly less concerned about this than I am, but even he concludes:
I suspect that the main beneficiaries of these changes will be powerful semi-monopolies and national champions with good political connections, which can by no means necessarily be expected to act in the public interest.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Laugh, cry, take your pick
In Der Spiegel, Marco Evers writes about the President of Gambia, ruled one 41-year-old Yahya Jammeh. He's quite the Renaissance man:
Jammeh -- a military officer who staged a successful putsch in 1994 -- is not just the president. He's also a healer on a divine mission. In January of this year, he summoned a number of his acolytes together with foreign diplomats and revealed to them that he had made an extraordinary discovery. He announced that, in addition to asthma, he was now capable of healing Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) -- the epidemic that ravages sub-Saharan Africa like no other region of the world. More than 15 million Africans have already died of AIDS, and a further 25 million are infected with the HIV virus which causes the disease.Lest one think that Gambia has the monopoly on this sort of behavior among African leaders, Evers points out some more examples:
[South Africa's] former vice president, Jacob Zuma, has had unprotected sex with a woman who was HIV positive at the time. There was hardly any risk of infection, Zuma said publicly, since he showered immediately after having sex. It's astonishing that Zuma isn't more knowledgeable about the spread of HIV; he was, after all, previously the director of a national AIDS organization.Writing in Passport, Preeti Aroon laments:
Speaking seriously, though, this "cure" for AIDS highlights the misinformation that surrounds the disease in many countries. In Africa, many aren't aware that condoms protect against HIV infection. Even if they are told, they also face anti-condom messages: Condoms are a conspiracy by whites to lower African birthrates; condoms are tainted with HIV to decrease the African population. On top of it all, traditional healers, tribal leaders, and the Catholic Church warn against using condoms. What is one to believe?
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
How's the economy going, Mahmoud?
The Financial Times' Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Gareth Smyth report that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, if left to his own devices, will succeed in running the Iranian economy into the ground:
Some 60 economists this week wrote to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad criticising his government for putting “short-term welfare above long-term sustainable development”.A depressing parlor game to play: which economy will implode the fastest, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, or Iran?
The smart money would have to be Zimbabwe, but don't underestimate the economic incompetence of either Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
UPDATE: Congatulations to Venezuela and Zimbabwe for making this list.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Hugo Chavez vs. the telenovela
According to CNN International, Hugo Chávez has declared war on yet another facet of Venezuelan life:
Venezuela's most-watched television station -- and outlet for the political opposition -- went off the air after the government refused to renew its broadcast license.In a war between Hugo Chavez and the telenovela, I'll take the telenovela every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Never mess with an art form that is capable of producing the likes of Salma Hayek.
In the Guardian, Ben Whitford goes to town on Chávez 's decision:
Chávez and his officials unilaterally branded the network coup-mongers and pornographers - the latter apparently a reference to the trashy but popular telenovelas that are standard fare on all the region's networks. No investigations, meetings or hearings were held to assess the station's failings; no evidence was presented, and the network was given no right of reply.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Just how bad is Iran's international image right now?
If you're a developing country that reflexively opposes the United States, you have to work exceptionally hard -- I'm talking years of effort here -- to do anything that provokes the ire of Noam Chomsky. I mean, this is a guy who had few qualms about the Cambodian genocide because the Khmer Rouge was anti-American. Clearly, the bar of awfulness is pretty high to get ol' Noam's attention.
Amazingly, Mahmoud Ahmdainejad's Iran has pulled this off. Robin Wright explains in the Washington Post:
Momentum is building behind an academic boycott of Iran to pressure the government to release imprisoned American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was jailed in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison May 8 after more than four months under house arrest....If you're interested in registering your own protest about this action to the Iranian government, Amnesty International has conveniently set up a website to send letters to Ahmdainejad and other Iranian leaders.
American scholar Haleh Esfandiari has been charged with trying to topple the Iranian regime, Iran's state-controlled television reported today.I suspect that Iran's war against American "soft power" is going to have a lot of collateral damage.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Hugo Chavez approaches the Mugabe level of economic mismanagement
On Thursday the Wall Street Journal's Jose De Cordoba had a front-pager describing how Hugo Chávez's agricultural reforms are going:
Now Mr. Chavez is taking his revolution to the Venezuelan countryside. "We must end latifundios," he said in a televised speech in March, referring to large agrarian estates. "The people order it, and we will do it, whatever the cost." Then he announced the seizure of a land area larger than the state of Rhode Island.Chávez has now reached the Robert Mugabe level of economic incompetence by messing with the farm sector. Let's hope he does not move past that to the Mao Zedong/Great Leap Forward level of economic mismanagement.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
How's the diversification thing going, Hugo?
Over at Duck of Minerva, Peter Howard explains why Hugo Chavez's plan to diversify oil exports away from the United States will not work. This bit from a linked Washington Post story was particularly interesting:
During most of Chávez's eight years in office, more than 60 percent of the country's total crude exports have gone to the United States, up from 50 percent throughout much of the 1990s, according to Ramón Espinasa, a former chief economist at PDVSA who is now a consultant in Washington. The trend is due to growing U.S. demand, Venezuela's rising consumption and what oil analysts say is the state's inability to diversify its base of clients to include big consumers.Here's an interesting (and purely hypothetical) question: if Chavez is so gung-ho to nationalize the energy sector in Venezuela, what would happen of the United States government chose to nationalize Citgo?
Monday, May 7, 2007
My bold prediction about Sarkozy
Nicholas Sarkozy will be the next French President. The Economist spells out what this means:
By sheer drive and political cunning, Mr Sarkozy managed to build up an electoral machine, through the party that Mr Chirac originally founded, and reinvent himself—30 years after entering electoral politics—as a force for change.In a prediction that I believe Kevin Drum would label as, "Drezner says the sun will rise in the East tomorrow," I'm not terribly optimistic about Sarkozy's chances for reform implementation. Craig Smith put it nicely in yesterday's NYT Week in Review:
In the months leading up to today’s presidential voting in France, there was a lot of talk about breaking with the past. Don’t bet it will happen.[But what about Franco-American relations? Sarkozy has made repeated statements expressing his fondness for most things American!!--ed.] Yes, why, Sarkozy is clearly the most pro-American French president since.... Jacques Chirac, who when elected president stressed his fondness for America, developed after he worked in the States.
My guess is that Sarkozy will adopt more anti-American rhetoric -- regardless of U.S. foreign policy -- right around the time his first major domestic reform effort shuts down the streets of Paris.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Does Zimbabwe support or weaken the smart sanctions argument?
Last week Michael H. Cognato blogged at Passport about the fact that smart sanctions seemed to be having an effect in Zimbabwe:
[The International Crisis Group] found that targeted sanctions have played an important role in undermining Mugabe's support:Sounds promising... until we get to more recent events. Like today's AP report:Targeted EU and U.S. sanctions on senior regime figures are working. ZANU-PF leaders cite their personal financial situations as motivation for wanting Mugabe out. “We have businesses which we worked hard over years to set up which are collapsing. It is about time we change course”, said a senior politburo member.The possible implications stretch far beyond Zimbabwe. Targeted sanctions, which limit the activity of specific regime members, rather than the entire country, are a relatively recent innovation. The hope has been that they would better pressure a target government while sparing its citizens needless suffering. Officials in Sudan, Iran, and North Korea are currently on the receiving end of these appeals to their unenlightened self-interest. The news out of Zimbabwe is reason to hope they might be similarly persuaded.
Top opposition leaders were assaulted and tortured by police who broke up a prayer meeting planned to protest government policies, colleagues of the activists said Monday.There are two ways to interpret this kind of repression. One way is that this is the last gasp of a dying regime. You can find this interpretation in this Washington Post story by Craig Timberg:
[Former member of parliament Roy] Bennett, speaking in Johannesburg after consulting with other opposition figures by phone, said Sunday's gathering was the beginning of mass protests against Mugabe's government under a newly formed Save Zimbabwe Coalition.The thing is, the Save Zimbabwe Campaign has been around for six months now, and prior efforts to mobilize have not panned out.
So there's another, gloomier possibility: smart sanctions are insufficient, and the state's ability to repress will not be tamed anytime soon.
Friday, March 9, 2007
Talk about addiction to cheap oil
The Financial Times' Gareth Smyth reports that Iran is starting to tighten its belt in anticipatio of serious economic sanctions. Of course, one person's "belt-tightening" is another person's "pitiful reduction of massively inefficient subsidy.":
Iran’s parliament this week set May 22 as the day when the country’s 15m motorists lose access to unlimited cheap fuel.
Thursday, March 1, 2007
Why suicide terrorism is different in Afghanistan
While Iraqi suicide bombers target civilians and soft targets in order to sow destabilization and provoke/respond to sectarian violence, nearly all Taliban suicide bombings -- and in Afghanistan, resistance to the presence of foreign forces and the Karzai government is overwhelmingly Taliban -- are focused on Afghan or U.S./NATO security forces. The two researchers assess that unlike the Iraqi insurgents, al-Qaeda or Shiite militias, the Taliban has to cleave the population away from the Karzai government, but in the process must "avoid losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people by needlessly killing civilians."
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Things begin to fall apart in Venezuela
Simon Romero report in the New York Times about what happens when you combine price controls and the Dutch disease in Hugo Chavez-land:
Faced with an accelerating inflation rate and shortages of basic foods like beef, chicken and milk, President Hugo Chávez has threatened to jail grocery store owners and nationalize their businesses if they violate the country’s expanding price controls.It will be interesting to see whether Chavez will reverse course. His supporters repeatedly point to Chavez's apparent successes in poverty reduction as the hallmark of his administration (though those "successes" are more illusory than real). Inflation above 20%, however, is a guaranteed recipe for increasing economic inequality -- because only the rich can move their capital abroad or otherwise hedge against inflation.
UPDATE: Chavez is now on a goodwill tour in the Caribbean trying to buy more international support. According to the AP, "The crowd, however, did not respond with applause to the Venezuelan leader's vitriolic statements."
Monday, February 12, 2007
Ségolčne Royal's democratic socialism
When the International Herald-Tribune characterizes an economic program as "far-left," it's time to click over and see what all the fuss is about:
Ségolčne Royal, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, unveiled a long- awaited platform on Sunday, veering sharply to the left on economic policy while also stressing discipline and "traditional values."At this time, there is no official confirmation that Royal has also promised free ponies to all French children who asked for them.
I have enough of a soft spot for the old Athenian council of 500 to hope that the citizen jury idea could actually work. Beyond that, if Royal wins and actually tries to implement this, it will be the fiscal equivalent of Francois Mitterand's "Keynesianism in One Country" -- with the same results of massive capital flight, recession, and policy retrenchment.
UPDATE: Over at U.S. News and World Report,James Pethokoukis blogs about another prominent politician who's big into taxing profits.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
So how's it going in Belarus?
The Temporary Turkmenbashi of the Blogosphere commands all who revere him to look in the direction of Belarus. When we last left things, Russia was putting the screws on the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, stung by big rises in Russian energy prices, vowed on Tuesday to recover $5 billion in losses by making Moscow pay for vital transit traffic and military cooperation.Read the whole thing to get a sense of Lukashenko's foreign policy bind. He's not going to befriend the West anytime soon (and vice versa). This gives Russia something close to carte blanche to put the screws on its smaller, politically isolated neighbor.
It's worth keeping this fact in mind when reading about Belarus' recently announced intentions to build its first nuclear reactors.
There's no partisanship in Turkmenistan!
The hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com has demanded that your humble blogger be declared the Turkmenbashi of the Blogosphere by universal assent. I hereby accept that mandate for the day -- which makes it about as legitimate as the last guy to accept this title.
In honor of the old Turkmenbashi, I hereby decree to spend the day posting about the remaining totalitarian dictatorships in the world.
OK, so let's see....Zimbabwe? Yep, got that one. Hey, let's check up on Turkmenistan itself!
Of course, they're hold a presidential election, so they might fall from totalitarian status. However, if this report from Peter Finn of the Washington Post Foreign Service is any indication, it's a presidential election that warms the cockles of the Turkmenbashi's heart:
Six presidential candidates are barnstorming the country and holding public meetings to talk about improving education, reforming health care, ensuring adequate pensions and boosting agriculture.The Turkmenbashi of the blogosphere applauds the measures taken to eliminate the petty squabbles that come with partisanship and political competition.
Things fall apart in Zimbabwe
In the New York Times, Michael Wines chronicles the slow collapse of the state in Zimbabwe:
For close to seven years, Zimbabwe’s economy and quality of life have been in slow, uninterrupted decline. They are still declining this year, people there say, with one notable difference: the pace is no longer so slow.In it's darkest hour, however, Mugabe's government has come up with a brilliant plan to deal with the situation:
The central bank’s latest response to these problems, announced this week, was to declare inflation illegal. From March 1 to June 30, anyone who raises prices or wages will be arrested and punished. Only a “firm social contract” to end corruption and restructure the economy will bring an end to the crisis, said the reserve bank governor, Gideon Gono. (emphasis added)Read the whole thing. I have two questions after reading it:
1) Wines also reports the following: "Foreign journalists remain barred from the country under threat of imprisonment, and harassment of Zimbabwean journalists has sharply increased." OK then, Michael Wines, how did you pull this off then? That was just a big ol' raspberry to the Washington Post's Africa correspondent, wasn't it?!
2) One wonders whether South Africa has any kind of cintingency plan for what happens when the Mugabe government collapses.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Raul Castro... reformer?
Anthony Boadle writes a story for Reuters suggesting that Cuba under Raul Castro is somewhat different than Cuba under Fidel:
Six months after Cuba's sick leader Fidel Castro handed over power provisionally to his brother Raul, signs of an opening in public debate are emerging in the communist-run country.Calling for greater criticism of economic shortcoming might be a sign of greater openness -- or it might be a clue for how Raul plans to consolidate his political position. Much as China's central government highlights the daily demonstrations that take place within China as a motivation for greater government centralization, Raul might be highlighting economic difficulties to lay the groundwork for steps that consolidate his own political position.
Mind you, Raul Castro might actually be going for perestroika rather than abertura. But I'm not holding my breath.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The dictator for life is dead
If there were a contest for wackiest dictator in the world, many Vegas oddsmakers would have made Kim Jong Il the putative frontrunner. In truth, however, until today the hands-down winner would have been Turkmenistan president Saparmurat Niyazov:
He renamed the town of Krasnovodsk, on the Caspian Sea, Türkmenbaşy after himself, in addition to renaming several schools, airports and even a meteorite after himself and his immediate family. He even named the months, and days of the week after himself and his family. Niyazov's face appears on Manat banknotes and large portraits of the president hang all over the country, especially on major public buildings and avenues. Statues of himself and his mother are scattered all over Turkmenistan, including one in the middle of the Karakum Desert as well as a gold-plated statue atop Ashgabat's largest building, the Neutrality Arch, that rotates so it will always face into the sun and shine light onto the capital city. Niyazov commissioned a massive palace in Aşgabat commemorating his rule. He was given the hero of Turkmenistan award five times. "I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want," Niyazov said.The Independent has more on the Niyazov looniness:
He renamed the month of January after himself and April after his mother and banned ballet, gold teeth and recorded music. A planet of the Taurus constellation, a crater on the Moon and a mountain peak were other things named after him....
In 1999, the Turkmen parliament elected him president for life. Which apparently lasted only seven years. The Financial Times has his obit:
Saparmurat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan, has died leaving the gas rich Central Asian republic he had ruled for over twenty years impoverished, internationally isolated and with no obvious successor.Western diplomats are right to be concerned -- it's going to be an interesting few weeks ahead in Ashgabat.
Whether this translates into a few interesting weeks for global energy markets remains to be seen.
Thursday, October 5, 2006
So what's going on in Ukraine?
Crooked Timber's Maria Farrell went on a study tour organised by the 21st Century Trust and the John Smith Memorial Trust to see what's going on in Ukraine nearly two years after the Orange Revolution. The group decided to create their own blog to record their thoughts on the trip.
If you're interested in the country, go check it out.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Why are there no anti-Borat riots in Kazakhstan?
The New York Times' Steven Lee Myers looks at a question that I've wondered about from time to time -- what do the people of Kazakhstan think about Borat? The answer appears to be surprisingly liberal:
There is no Running of the Jews here. No one greets you with the expression “Jagshemash,” which is either nonsense, garbled Polish or mangled Czech; it’s hard to say. The country’s national drink is not made from horse urine, though fermented horse milk, or kumys, is considered a delicacy. (It tastes like effervescent yogurt.)It is interesting that this Muslim country can take Borat with a grain of salt, whereas other jibes at Middle Eastern values provoke a more... frenzied response.
[Borat does not poke fun at Islam, whereas Mohammed cartoons do. You're comparing apples and oranges!!--ed. Maybe... except that nationalism can provoke just as much passion as religion, so I think the similarities are more important than the differences.]
Oh, and you can see the trailer for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan by clicking here. As for Borat's reaction to the Kazakh government's denunciations, click here.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The underwhelming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
I have discovered, through long and intensive soul-searching, that I would be a lousy pundit for a Sunday morning talk show. The reason is that my reaction to 99% of the topics discussed on such shows boils down to, "This too shall pass."
In other words, claims that individual leaders or individual political performances make a difference leave me, for the most part, unimpressed.
Which brings me to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Multiple sources have Ahmadinejad performing brilliantly while in NYC. Consider the New York Times' David Sanger:
Over the objections of the administration and Jewish groups that boycotted the event, Mr. Ahmadinejad, the man who has become the defiant face of Iran, squared off with the nation’s foreign policy establishment, parrying questions for an hour and three-quarters with two dozen members of the Council on Foreign Relations, then ending the evening by asking whether they were simply shills for the Bush administration.See also Sanger's audio report.
Then there's Andrew Sullivan:
Watching the CNN interview with Mahmoud Ahamedinejad and reading about his meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations reinforces my sense of foreboding about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There's no point in denying that his trip to the U.S. has been a big media and p.r. coup for him. And there is a chilling slickness to him that is as disturbing as it is obviously formidable. The way he deflected questions always back toward the U.S., the way he skilfully used every awkward moment to pivot to the themes his domestic and international audience want to hear, the very image of the informal, mild-mannered, quiet-spoken, constantly smiling serenity: all these represent a very, very capable politician. There is a complete self-assurance to him that suggests he can neither be trusted as a diplomatic partner nor under-estimated as a global foe.Even cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sparred with a high-levelgroup from the Council on Foreign Relations for ninety minutes Wednesday on virtually every contentious issue between the United States and Iran.Color me mostly unimpressed. Ahmadinejad gets points for staying on message and not losing his temper. However, I judge whether someone has put in a good political performance based on whether they manage to persuade others of the merits of their worldview.
Looking at Gwertzman's account, I did not see that. Instead, I see Ahmadinejad getting pilloried by Matin Indyk, Brent Scowcroft, and Kenneth Roth -- not exactly a homogenous bunch. Which might explain Ahmadinejad's truculence at the end:
As the meeting drew to a close, the Iranian leader observed, “In the beginning of the session you said you are independent, and I accepted that. But everything you said seems to come from the government perspective.” Haass responded that there had been no advance coordination among the Council participants and that “the aim was to expose you to views of a broad range of Americans. It would be wrong for you to leave this meeting thinking that you heard unrepresentative views.”Like Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad might be able to stoke his own supporters, but he seems to excel even more at creating and unifying his adversaries.
Ahmadinejad too will pass.
UPDATE: OK, I'll give Ahmadinejad credit for sartorially converting Matthew Yglesias.
ANOTHER UPDATE: A valid question running through the comments boils down to, "what if Ahmadinejad gets nuclear weapons?" I agree that this does not fall under the "this too shall pass" category -- however, we need to be clear about terms here. My (limited) understanding of the Iranian power structure suggests that on the nuclear question, Ahmadinejad is a) not the most important decision-maker; and b) holds the minority position of rejecting all compromise. So even if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, I do not think this means Ahmadinejad is going to have his finger on the button.
Besides, I suspect Ahmadinejad has his own domestic troubles.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
The worst form of government in Thailand and Hungary
It's strictly a coincidence that third-wave democratic governments in Hungary and Thailand are having a spot of trouble today. There does seem to be a loose commonality in the underlying sources of the instability, however.
Why the attempted coup in Thailand? The BBC has a good backgrounder:
Thailand's latest political crisis traces its roots back to January when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sold his family's stake in the telecoms firm Shin Corp.
As for the situation now, the BBC also reports that: An army-owned TV station is showing images of the royal family and songs linked in the past with military coups." To which I must say -- there are songs associated with military coups???
As for Hungary, here's the Associated Press explanation:
Protesters clashed with police and stormed the headquarters of Hungarian state television early Tuesday in an explosion of anger over a leaked recording of the prime minister admitting his government had "lied morning, evening and night" about the economy.In both countries, the formal electoral rules and laws seem incapable of dealing with shady behavior by duly elected officials.
A mark against democracy? Well, yes, but only until one considers Winston Churchill's thoughts on the matter.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Mexico returns to normality
James C. McKinley reports in the New York Times that after an interesting period of protest, Mexico is now returning to normal:
Supporters of a leftist candidate who narrowly lost the presidential election this summer were tearing down five miles of tents on Thursday that have blockaded this capital’s central avenues for six weeks.It is an interesting irony that one of the reasons for this is Mr. López Obrador's self-defeating strategy -- by alienating so many of his supporters, he created a consensus for Calderón that did not exist at the time of the election:
Now even Mr. López Obrador’s aides acknowledge that he is losing some support among middle-class liberals and influential leftist politicians and intellectuals, as Mexicans seem prepared to move on from the election dispute, even if Mr. López Obrador is not.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
How bad was Hezbollah hurt?
[I]it is possible that Hezbollah has suffered far greater losses than we know. There is an asymmetry in the reporting of the conflict -- reporters clearly have much greater access to the Israeli military than Hezbollah. While it's in both sides' interest to keep published reports of their losses to a minimum, it's institutionally tougher for Israel to do this.So the war is over now -- how bad was Hezbollah hurt?
I still don't know the answer. According to Greg Djerejian, Hezbollah has acted so swiftly to reconstruct and rebuild the affected portions of Lebanon that, "Hizbollah's vast independent network undermines the state and encourages criticism of the cash-strapped central government."
On the other hand, according to Michael Totten, Hezbollah is acting in a quite chastened manner in South Lebanon:
[T]he most recent development in Hezbollah’s post-war saga is frankly humiliating.I challenge my readers to parse out these contradictory developments.Hizbullah has dismantled 14 outposts on the Israel-Lebanon border near the Shaba Farms, Lebanese security sources said Monday.
UPDATE: Below is an extract from an e-mail relayed to me by someone within the "defense establishment" -- make of it what you will:
1. All serious military analysts in the US, Iran and Israel understand that Hezbollah suffered an enormous defeat on the battlefield.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
That Lopez Obrador has an interesting political strategy
Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s strategy to reverse the results in Mexico's presidential election is starting to confuse me. Consider this Financial Times story by Adam Thomson:
Ever since Mr López Obrador, leftwing candidate in the election for president on July 2, lost by a razor-thin 244,000 votes to Felipe Calderón of the ruling centre-right National Action party, he has been “fighting to save democracy”....If this Bloomberg report by Patrick Harrington and Adriana Arai is accurate, the sit-in in Mexico City cost his party votes in Chiapas.
If Lopez Obrador knows that his "permanent protest" campaign is causing him to lose support, and there is no indication that the protests to date are affecting the legal part of the electoral process, how is this Mexican standoff going to end?
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
So what's it like in Northern Uganda?
Taylor Owen at Oxblog relays a first-person account from Erin Baines about negotiations to end a conflict in Uganda. You know a situation must be pretty dire when the Sudanese government is the mediator in a dispute.
Go check it out.
Saturday, August 5, 2006
Mexico is about to get very interesting
Mexico's electoral body has rejected a request by left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for a full recount of votes from July's disputed election.Reporting for the AP, Traci Carl reports that Lopez Obrador's supporters are not taking the news well:
In Mexico's central plaza, thousands of protesters watched the court session on a huge screen, chanting "Vote by vote!" and drowning out the judges' statements. Representatives of Lopez Obrador walked out of the session in protest.Lopez Obrador's party controls the Mexico City government, so there is very little chance of the city trying to clear out his supporters. What will be interesting is whether the court decision will increase protests, or whether the current sit-in has turned off former supporters. As this New York Times story by James C. McKinley, Jr. suggests, the street protests are starting to annoy people:
The blockade looks more like a fair than a protest. City workers and party members have erected enormous circus-like tents the length of the avenue. There are stages where musicians entertain the protesters, and a photo exhibit of Mr. López Obrador’s life. A volleyball net had been set up, as well as a mini soccer field.Developing....
Friday, July 28, 2006
The situation in Lebanon has calcified
When the war started in Lebanon, I said the situaion was fluid.
Not any more.
Neil MacFarquhar has a front-pager in the New York Times suggesting that the Arab Middle East has come to a consensus about the war in Lebanon -- and it's not a consensus the United States would like:
At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.This situation is no longer developing -- it's developed. And ironically, it's developed because Arab governments in the region are doing what the Bush administration wants them to do -- respond to popular opinions within their countries.
To be fair, I suspect if the IDF had managed to cause Hezbollah to disintegrate within the week of conflict, this wouldn't have happened -- and I think that was what the IDF expected to happen. However, I'm shocked, shocked to report that pre-war intelligence might have been flawed.
Now, Israel faces the worst of both worlds -- they've discovered that Hezbollah is a more potent, disciplined, and technologically savvy threat than they previously thought. At the same time, public opinion in Lebanon, the region and across the world has shifted against Jerusalem, making it next to impossible for them to adopt the military measures necessary to eradicate the threat [What measures are those?--ed. I'm not even sure -- I just now they would involve action on a greater scale than what the IDF is currently doing.]
UPDATE: There is one whopping caveat to the above that I forgot to mention -- it is possible that Hezbollah has suffered far greater losses than we know. There is an asymmetry in the reporting of the conflict -- reporters clearly have much greater access to the Israeli military than Hezbollah. While it's in both sides' interest to keep published reports of their losses to a minimum, it's institutionally tougher for Israel to do this.
As a result, the Israeli losses are known -- the Hezbollah losses are not completely known. [If Hezbollah crumbles in the next week, will this be your "quagmire" post?--ed. Pretty much, yes -- but I still don't think they will fall apart.]
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
In their summer 2006 issue, Foreign Affairs featured a roundtable on "What to Do In Iraq?" with contributions by Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufmann, Leslie Gelb and Stephen Biddle.
This month, foreignaffairs.org invited four prominent online commentators -- Christopher Hitchens, Kevin Drum, Marc Lynch, and Fred Kaplan -- to a web-only discussion of the articles and Iraq in general. Biddle and Diamond respond in kind.
Go check it out.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Stratfor on Israel's strategy
Back in Boston, but very jet-lagged.
I see that the Middle East did not get more peaceful while I was on a jet plane. Stratfor provides a useful analysis on what Israel and Hezbollah are thinking in the current conflict. I don't know if the analysis is correct, but it does have the advantage of matching my cogitation on the matter:
The Israeli strategy appears to be designed to do two things. First, the Israelis are trying to prevent any supplies from entering Lebanon, including reinforcements. That is why they are attacking all coastal maritime facilities. Second, they are degrading the roads in Lebanon. That will keep reinforcements from reaching Hezbollah fighters engaged in the south. As important, it will prevent the withdrawal and redeployment of heavy equipment deployed by Hezbollah in the south, particularly their rockets, missiles and launchers. The Israelis are preparing the battlefield to prevent a Hezbollah retreat or maneuver.
Friday, July 14, 2006
The fluid situation in Lebanon
You know a crisis is still in a fluid state when major U.S. newspapers take opposing positions on in their new analysis of the situation.
For example -- how have the Israeli attacks affected Hezbollah's political position in Lebanon?
A few short months ago, representatives of every Lebanese faction gathered in central Beirut and discussed many of the issues that divide them - including how and when to disarm the Hezbollah militia.In the Washington Post, Anthony Shadid takes a different position:
The radical Shiite movement Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, hold an effective veto in Lebanese politics, and the group's military prowess has heartened its supporters at home and abroad in the Arab world. But that same force of arms has begun to endanger Hezbollah's long-term standing in a country where critics accuse it of dragging Lebanon into an unwinnable conflict the government neither chose nor wants to fight.Developing....
Friday, July 7, 2006
Just how disaffected are European Muslims?
Going by news stories -- the London bombings, the French riots, the Danish cartoons -- 2005 was not a terribly good year for Muslim immigrants living in Europe.
So it's interesting to see that according to the Pew Global Attitudes project, the situation might not be as bleak as previously thought:
Muslims in Europe worry about their future, but their concern is more economic than religious or cultural. And while there are some signs of tension between Europe's majority populations and its Muslim minorities, Muslims there do not generally believe that most Europeans are hostile toward people of their faith. Still, over a third of Muslims in France and one-in-four in Spain say they have had a bad experience as a result of their religion or ethnicity.This part is particularly interesting:
Religion is central to the identity of European Muslims. With the exception of Muslims in France, they tend to identify themselves primarily as Muslim rather than as British, Spanish, or German. In France, Muslims are split almost evenly on this question. The level of Muslim identification in Britain, Spain, and Germany is similar to that in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Jordan, and even higher than levels in Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia. By contrast the general populations in Western Europe are far more secular in outlook. Roughly six-in-ten in Spain, Germany, and Britain identify primarily with their country rather than their religion, as do more than eight-in-ten in France.Click here to read the whole report.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
So what's it like outside of the Green Zone?
The leaked memo from the Baghdad embassy to Condoleezza Rice on the situation for Iraqis in Baghdad makes for very sobering reading.
Read it and comment away. The first thought that came to mind for me: please, please tell me that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has sources of intel on the situation there beyond the locals working at the embassy.
I hope Dick Cheney is right when he says that 10 years from now people will look back at 2005 and say, "That's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq." Memos like the one linked above, however, make Cheney's assertion look pretty out-of-touch.
Thursday, June 8, 2006
Open Zarqawi thread
Accoding to both U.S. and Iraqi officials, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in an airstrike today.
Question to readers: what effect, if any, will this have on the security situation in Iraq?
UPDATE: I do like this AP headline: "Around the world, al-Zarqawi death praised"
ANOTHER UPDATE: Greg Djerejian has some instant analysis that is worh reading.
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Has Al Qaeda acquired a new base?
I've occasionally riffed about how Al Qaeda acts like the
Which brings me to Somalia, and the takeover of Mogadishu by an entity called the Union of Islamic Courts. There are some very disturbing parallels between what's happening in Mogadishu, Somalia right now and what happened in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over Kabul. Consider this BBC report:
The Islamic Courts say they want to promote Islamic law rather than clan allegiance, which has divided Somalis over the past 15 years.This July 2005 report from the International Crisis Group about Somalia does not make me feel any more sanguine.
"Now you've got a safe haven for al-Qaida," said a defense intelligence official monitoring the country that was used as a base to stage attacks on two U.S. embassies and an Israeli resort in East Africa. "It's definitely a concern."Developing.... and not in a good way at all.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The Saudis have some 'splaining to do
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, has a long essay in the Washington Post today on just what Saudi textbooks are saying after they promised to excise some of the more intolerant rhetoric post-9/11:
A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the current academic year reveals that, despite the Saudi government's statements to the contrary, an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine remains in this area of the public school system. The texts teach a dualistic vision, dividing the world into true believers of Islam (the "monotheists") and unbelievers (the "polytheists" and "infidels").What follows is a sample of some of the translated phrases:
FIRST GRADEI have no doubt that this is going to inspire a lot of "The Saudis are not our friends" rhetoric, and I can't say I'm inclined to completely disagree. There is a small part of me, however, that wonders two things:
1) How much cherry-picking is going on with the quotations?I don't know the answer to either question, but I would be curious.
Friday, May 5, 2006
When going to Brussels is a crime
I had the good fortune to attend the first-ever Brussels Forum last weekend. It turns out that at least one invitee was not so lucky, according to this e-mail from the Forum's conveners:
One of our invited guests to the Brussels Forum, Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo, never made it to the event as he was detained by the Iranian authorities on the way to the airport to fly to Brussels. Dr. Jahanbegloo is a well-known Iranian intellectual and human rights advocate who currently heads the Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran. Over the weekend we decided not to make his arrest public in the hope that he would shortly be released by the authorities. This has since proven not to be the case.It would be safe to say that the Human Rights Watch release on the arrest provides little comfort:
“The arbitrary arrest of Ramin Jahanbegloo shows the perilous state of academic freedom and free speech in Iran today,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This prominent scholar should be celebrated for his academic achievements, not interrogated in one of Iran’s most infamous prisons.”Multiple press reports have Iranian authorities accusing Jahanbegloo of espionage. This makes perfect sense to me -- if I were the Iranian regime, the last thing I'd want is to have a scholar in my midst with deep knowledge of Isaiah Berlin and Mohandas Gandhi.
Needless to say, the Iranian blogosphere has been abuzz about the arrest, the first of a prominent intellectual since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election. This post by Shahram Kholdi provides the a sense of the Farsi blogosphere:
[T]hrough this post, I inform the readers of Free Thoughts on Iran that Dr. Jahanbegloo's arrest is a cause of concern and his release should become the goal of all who are concerned with the promotion of civil society, open public space for free political debate, and last but not least a space safe enough to conduct such debates in a non-violent manner. Dr. Jahanbegloo has taught, lived, and acted in a non-violent manner, and those who would like to rally for his release should remember one fact: He did all this without Media-Mongering and without recourse to Sensationalism.Kholdi provides more info here.
I am uncertain what useful non-governmental actions can be done with regard to Jahanbegloo's case -- but e-mailing Iran's Permanent Mission to the United Nations might be a useful starting point. They even have a "human rights" category in their subject menu.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
I'm so glad the moderate Al Qaeda faction is in charge
Foreign Policy magazine has started up a blog with the catchy name of Passport. Perusing the posts, I think it will have to go up on the blogroll.
Among other posts, Davide Berretta informs us about Abu Zarqawi's apparent demotion within the ranks of Al Qaeda:
Remember the letter in which Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's sidekick, chided chief insurgent in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for killing too many civilians? Apparently, that was only a warning: word is that Zarqawi was stripped from his political duties two weeks ago, apparently due to the dispute over civilian killings.Berretta thinks this is a good thing, because "Zarqawi's demotion, if confirmed, could indicate that al-Qaeda is farther from its goal of dividing Sunnis and Shiites than we might think.
Continuing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays metaphor, I look forward to Zawahiri issuing a press release confirming that Zarqawi will be staying on as a consultant, and that the demotion is not really an organizational shake-up.
Monday, April 3, 2006
So how's it going in Lebanon?
Christine Spolar takes a look in the Chicago Tribune at what's happened in Lebanon since Syrian troops left the country. Spolar takes a pesimistic view of politicians dithering while the people suffer -- but after reading the article, I didn't see a lot of heft to that claim.
The interesting part of the story was about how Hezbollah is coping with normal politics:
The pressure is on the Lebanese political class to recapture the promise of a lost spring. Leaders from all parties in parliament are in round-table talks, the first national dialogue in decades, in hopes of translating last year's street protests for "freedom, sovereignty, independence" into some kind of progress.I'm not holding my breath waiting for Hezbollah to disarm -- but then again, I never thought I would have ever heard a Hezbollah strategist praising the "natural give-and-take" of politics.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Jacques Chirac doesn't like capitalism that much
Another month in France, another excuse for mass protests. This month, the justification has been a law proposed by French prime minister Dominique de Villepin that would make it easier for employers to fire younger workers. The thinking is that this would encourage firms will hire more workers. Needless to say, the French unions disagreed.
The Financial Times' Martin Arnold reports that de Villepin is ready to cave:
Dominique de Villepin will hold talks with trade unions “with no strings attached” on Friday over his unpopular employment law, a move widely interpreted as a climbdown by the embattled French premier....Chirac's hostility to any idea with a whiff of Anglo-Saxon provenance is also demonstrated in this FT story by George Parker and Chris Smyth:
Jacques Chirac, French president, defended his walkout on Thursday night from the EU summit – after a French industrialist began addressing leaders of the bloc in English – saying he had been “profoundly shocked to see a Frenchman express himself in English at the (EU) Council table”.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Don't expect Orange Revolution II
Belarus had a presidential "election" over the weekend, which current president Aleksandr Lukashenko won handily.. I use quotations because the OSCE reported:
The Belarusian presidential election on 19 March failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections, despite the fact that voters were offered the potential for a genuine choice between four candidates.The full text of the OSCE report can be found here.
There have been some protests in Minsk because of the outcome, but as I've written before, I'm not expecting a Orange revolution in Belarus anytime soon. This Times of London report by Jeremy Page doesn't make me feel any more sanguine:
President Lukashenko of Belarus declared yesterday that he had thwarted a Western plot to overthrow him, pouring scorn on the thousands who protested against his election victory.One thing I love about British papers, however, is that they can be much more blunt than comparable American papers. Take this paragraph:
Shown on national television, the conference was sure to appeal to his supporters in the countryside and the elderly. However, it only reinforced his image among younger Belarussians and most Westerners as a deluded megalomaniac.UPDATE: A Fistful of Euros has more... including a link to a this fake Belarusian news blog, which is apparently being used as part of a policy simulation exercise for University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Has Ahmadinejad jumped the shark?
Michael Slackman writes in the New York Times that both Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are catching some flak for their handling of the nuclear negotiations:
Some people in powerful positions have begun to insist that the confrontational tactics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been backfiring, making it harder instead of easier for Iran to develop a nuclear program.Now, this might be a case of wishful thinking reporting. Much like the hope a few years ago that Iran's regime would be overthrown in a democratic revolution, reports of a regime crack-up are intoxicating because we so desperately want them to be true.
That said, Slackman has a source who explains why Iran has found itself in the pickle it's in -- like Saddam Hussein before them, the Iranians counted on the Russians way too much:
[O]ne political scientist who speaks regularly with members of the Foreign Ministry said that Iran had hinged much of its strategy on winning Russia's support. The political scientist asked not to be identified so as not to compromise his relationship with people in the government.And herein provides a lesson that I might add to my small compendium of Princess Bride-level maxims of international relations that I plann on publishing in my dotage:
1) Never get involved in a land war in Asia;
Monday, March 13, 2006
So what was Saddam thinking?
In the New York Times, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor get their hands on a classified United States military report on what Saddam was thinking before and during the Second Gulf War. And it turns out that Saddam was petrified of insurgencies more than the U.S. Army:
As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital's defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.Foreign Affairs has published an extract from the actual report by Kevin Woods, James Lacey, and Williamson Murray for U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM). From the report, it appears that Saddam Hussein's theory of international relations had a lot in common with Norman Angell and Woodrow Wilson:
Judging from his private statements, the single most important element in Saddam's strategic calculus was his faith that France and Russia would prevent an invasion by the United States. According to Aziz, Saddam's confidence was firmly rooted in his belief in the nexus between the economic interests of France and Russia and his own strategic goals: "France and Russia each secured millions of dollars worth of trade and service contracts in Iraq, with the implied understanding that their political posture with regard to sanctions on Iraq would be pro-Iraqi. In addition, the French wanted sanctions lifted to safeguard their trade and service contracts in Iraq. Moreover, they wanted to prove their importance in the world as members of the Security Council -- that they could use their veto to show they still had power."Go check it all out.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
The European Commission's tough test
The European Commission has lost a lot of big battles over the past few years -- the growth and stability pact and the constitutional referendum, to name two. One could easily debate the virtues of either proposal, but the key political science fact is that the Commission was unable to get its way.
Tobias Buck reports in the Financial Times that the next big test is coming -- preventing a beggar-thy-neighbor policy on mergers and acquisitions:
Just over four months ago, Charlie McCreevy raised eyebrows when he warned of a “strong wind of protectionism” blowing through the European Union.The report suggests that the Commission is fighting against some awfully powerful structural forces:
[S]ome point to a more sinister reason for the rise in hostility towards foreign suitors. “One factor is clearly the current economic malaise gripping Europe. In times when the macroeconomic conditions are less favourable, protection is always on the rise,” said Jean-Pierre Casey, research fellow and financial policy expert at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies.Developing....
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Open Iraqi civil strife thread
Comment away on the ever-worsening violence in Iraq, triggered by the bombing of the Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, in the city of Samarra. Dan Simon has a disturbing synopsis in the Christian Science Monitor.
It would be a cruel irony if a bombing that didn't actually kill anyone turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Putin's party becomes a caricature
Steven Lee Myers reports in the New York Times about how a Russian province deals with cartoons that offend the sensibilities of Valdimir Putin's United Russia party:
In a controversy with echoes of the Islamic anger over Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the authorities in a central Russian city today ordered the closing of a newspaper that published a cartoon showing Muhammad along with Jesus, Moses and Buddha.
A catastrophic victory for Hamas?
As Bob Uecker would put it, this New York Review of Books essay by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley on Hamas is juuuuust a bit slanted in its assessment of the Palestinian situation.
That doesn't mean it's devoid of value, however. Their take on Hamas after victory seems pretty much on point to me:
Out-and-out victory was not what Hamas had expected or, for that matter, what it had wished for. It had come to see itself as a watchdog on the sidelines, sitting in the legislature without controlling it, shaping the government's policies without being held accountable for them, taking credit for its successes and escaping blame for any setbacks. Its triumph presents it with challenges of a different, more urgent, and less familiar sort. Hamas suddenly finds itself on the front line, with decisions to make and relations to manage with the world, international donors, Israel, Fatah, and, indeed, its own varied constituents. The Islamists may have secretly expected to sweep the elections but, if so, that secret remains well kept. Referring to Iraq, President Bush once spoke of America's catastrophic success. Judging from the Islamists' initial, startled reactions to their triumph, this may well be theirs....If this trend holds -- and that's an admittedly big "if" -- then Hamas' catastrophic victory is good news for everyone else. And further evidence that the best way to deal with Islamists is to let them try to govern.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Could Ĺland secede from the EU? Where the f#$% is Ĺland?
David Rennie has a story in the Daily Telegraph suggesting that a very small cluster of Finnish islands could cause some headaches for the European Union:
In the decade since they voted to join the European Union the islanders of the Ĺland archipelago in the Baltic Sea have been outvoted and overruled by Brussels, time and again.For more on why snus is such a big deal in Ĺland, check out this Brussels Journal post.
Rennie might be exaggerating Ĺland's influence just a wee bit. It's true that the Finnish Customs Service confirms the special tax and regulatory status of the island. However, if you go to the Ĺland Islands' official home page, you discover the following:
Foreign affairs is not transferred to Ĺland under the Autonomy Act, but remains under the control of the Finnish Government. Even so, Ĺland has a degree of influence on international treaties that contain provisions relating to areas where Ĺland is the competent authority. The Autonomy Act states that an international treaty of this kind entered into by Finland requires the consent of the Parliament of Ĺland to become valid also in Ĺland.So, if I read this correctly, Ĺland can block the proposed European constitution from applying to its jurisdiction -- but it doesn't hold a veto over the rest of Finland. I will happily defer to real international lawyers on this question of law that probably interests only me.
Click here if you want to know the historical reasons for Ĺland's special status. For some irrational reason, I do find it amusing that a small jurisdiction of 26,200 people could decide to stymie the mighty, mighty European Commission.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Open Hamas thread
I'm at a conference all day today, which means I conveniently do not have the time to post deep thoughts on Hamas' electoral victory in Palestine. So I'll let me readers comment instead. Go to it!!
But click here and here if you want an inkling of what I think. And click here for Esther Pan's concise summary of the situaion at cfr.org.
Optimists argue that Hamas' participation in mainstream Palestinian politics will spur the group to moderate its radical goals and terrorist tactics. But history shows that political participation co-opts militants only under very specific conditions -- and almost none of those exist in the Palestinian Authority today.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Michael Ignatieff.... elected official
Ten days ago I blogged about Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff's quixotic campaign for parliament seat in Canada, as a member of the Liberal Party..
Well, the elections were yesterday, and the Liberals didn't do so well, according to the Chicago Tribune:
Canadian voters, saying they were fed up with financial scandals and ready for a change, ended the 12-year run of the ruling Liberal Party on Monday, ousting Prime Minister Paul Martin in favor of a Conservative Party likely to steer a path closer to the United States.While this is bad news for the Liberal party, CTV reports that Ignatieff weathered the backlash against the party and is now an elected official:
Liberal Michael Ignatieff, touted as a potential future party leader, passed his first political test Monday, shaking off a campaign marred by accusations of opportunism and ethnic slurs to win a west Toronto riding.Ignaieff must now suffer the cruel fate of having political scientists talk about him in the media. [Could be worse..... could be bloggers!--ed.]
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Will the Pakistani airstrike be worth it?
So there was an airstrike in Pakistan over the weekend that was intended to kill Al Qaeda #2 Ayman Al-Zawahiri -- but the strike missed the target. This caused thousands of Pakistanis to protest the airstrike the next day. The Pakistani press has also been up in arms.
With goodwill earned in-country from the earthquake relief, it seems as though a single airstrike could vitiate the shift in public opinion. The Council on Foreign Relations has a web page declaring, "MISSILE STRIKE PUTS U.S. ON DEFENSIVE."
Which leads us to this tidbit of information from ABC News:
ABC News has learned that Pakistani officials now believe that al Qaeda's master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert was one of the men killed in last week's U.S. missile attack in eastern Pakistan.There is no word on whether Mursi was also Al Qaeda's number three official.
Question for readers -- assuming this information is accurate and becomes common knowledge in Pakistan, will it blunt the downturn in public opinion?
[What do you care? The bad guys are dead!!--ed. Yeah, but I want the whole megillah.]
Monday, January 16, 2006
It's been a busy day for Iran-watchers
Let's see what's been going on with regard to Iran for the past day or so, in order from tragedy to farce:
1) The BBC reports that Britain, France and Germanyt will request an extraordinary session of the IAEA in order to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.If Iran keeps this up -- making news, kicking out competitors -- they're going to exhaust that poor AP guy based in Tehran.
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
Kadima is doomed -- the sequel
It appears that Ariel Sharon has suffered from a massive, debilitating stroke -- Omri Ceren has the tick-tock on the latest medical news.
Looking a few steps ahead, this will leave Shimon Peres as the leader of Kadima -- which compels me to repeat what I blogged a few weeks ago:
I have only one thing to say about Shimon Peres' decision to leave the Labor party and join Ariel Sharon's brand-spanking new Kadima Party -- it can only mean Kadima is doomed to implode.
Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Psst.... anybody interested in a dissertation topic?
Every once in a while a natural disaster has a significant impact on international relations. We've seen in the past year how U.S. humanitarian assistance can improve America's public image in the affected countries. The 1999 earthquake that affected Greece and Turkey -- and the outpouring of cross-border assistance -- led to a thaw between those two enduring rivals.
Of course, not every natural disaster has such an effect. The Bam earthquake in Iran, for example, led to no diplomatic thaw -- neither did the French heat wave of 2003 nor hurricane Katrina in 2005.
This leads to an interesting question for a dissertation -- under what circumstances will a truly exogenous shock lead to a lessening of international or internal conflicts?
The December 2004 tsunami presents an interesting comparative case study. In Indonesia, Nick Meo reports for the Australian on the budding peace in Aceh:
The head of the feared Indonesian military in Aceh was doing what was almost unthinkable only a year ago: telling its people that the war - one of Asia's longest and, until last year's tsunami, most intractable - was over.Thinks have not worked out quite as well in Sri Lanka, as the Economist observes:
One year on from the tsunami that devastated large parts of Sri Lanka, killing more than 30,000 there, the South Asian island’s people are facing another looming disaster: the revival of a brutal civil war that has killed around 65,000 since it began 22 years ago. A fragile ceasefire, brokered by the government of Norway three years ago, is close to breaking-point after a string of recent attacks by the Tamil Tiger rebels, who are fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the island.I have absolutely zero knowledge about either conflict, but I do find it interesting that the tsunami clearly pushed one case towards a more peaceful equilibrium while having no appreciable effect on the other case.
Looking at both cases, John Quiggin proposes a different dissertation topic:
It would be a salutory effort to look over the wars, revolutions and civil strife of the last sixty years and see how many of the participants got an outcome (taking account of war casualties and so on) better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation. Given the massively negative-sum nature of war, I suspect the answer is “Few, if any”.
Monday, January 2, 2006
Talk about frozen in time
When I was living in Ukraine in the early nineties, Russia was trying to exploit Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy to extract economic and political concessions from that country -- minor things like control over key industrial groupings and the Black Sea Fleet. Russia and the government gas provider, Gazprom, would periodically threaten to shut off supplies.
While it sounds like Russia had all the leverage, there was one problem -- Russia exported much of its gas to Southern and Eastern Europe through the gas pipeline that ran through Ukraine -- and Russia could do very little to prevent Ukraine from siphoning off these supplies... except bluster a bit.
Now, back then, all of the involved parties would muddle through -- Ukraine would proffer some token concessions without making its economy more energy-efficient, Gazprom would punt on raising prices in the near abroad, and the crisis would be deferred for a year.
Let's see what develops this year.
UPDATE: Well, that was fast:
A heavily-criticised Russia on Monday promised to restore full gas supplies to Europe after Germany warned that its dispute with Ukraine over deliveries could hurt its long-term credibility as an energy supplier.
"We stress that the additional delivery of gas is not designed for Ukrainian consumers but is meant for transit through the territory of Ukraine for delivery to consumers outside the borders of Ukraine."
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Open Bolivia thread
I would be remiss in not mentioning that Bolivia just elected a former coca farmer turned socialist politician as president. Among his many campaign pledges are to decriminalize coca production and to renationalize the commanding heights of the national economy.
Comment away on the implications of this power transition in Andean region. Noah Millman offers various reasons for why this should concern the United States.
[Hey a few years ago you were pretty sanguine about the rejection of the neoliberal model in Latin America. How about now?--ed.] Well, the spread of Chavez-like politicans throughout Latin America would be intrinsically bad. At the same time, this Associated Press report suggests just how difficult it will be to foster regional solidarity by pursuing a policy of economic nationalism:
The winner of Bolivia's presidential elections has repeated his vow to nationalize oil and gas and said he will void at least some contracts held by foreign companies "looting" the poor Andean nation's natural resources.So, the new Bolivian president's first move is to alienate his top foreign investor, who happens to be.... Brazilian. The last paragraph suggests that staying this course will retard other foreign investors. And note that no U.S.-based multinational appears on that list.
Even if Hugo Chavez lends a hand, I don't think this strategy is going to inspire a lot of solidarity elsewhere in the continent.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is getting some bad press -- again
Poor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president just can't escape his press stereotype. Marc Wolfensberger has the latest story for Bloomberg:
The West has "fabricated a myth under the name 'Massacre of the Jews,' and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves,'' Iran's leader told thousands of supporters in the south-eastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, state television showed in a live broadcast.Now, far be it for me to pass up an opportunity to poke some fun at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but if I were his spinmeister, I'd stress that he really didn't say anything new in these statements. He's articulated his belief that the Holocaust did not happened, and he's articulated his belief that Israel should be removed from the Middle Eastern region. All Ahmadinejad did in his recent utterances was reaffirm his previous positions. So, I'd make darn sure the press got the following bullet point:
The President of Iran has not ratcheted up his anti-Israeli rhetoric -- his views on Israel have remain unchanged since he took office.
Thursday, December 8, 2005
This week in the Ahmadinejad follies...
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the gift that keeps on giving as far as I'm concerned. According to Reuters's Paul Hughes, Ahmadinejad put his foot in his mouth in Saudi Arabia today:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday expressed doubt the Holocaust took place and suggested the Jewish state of Israel be moved to Europe.I confess to being confused with Ahmadinejad's actual policy towards Israel -- does he want to relocate it to Europe or just wipe it off the map entirely?
UPDATE: The AP's Ali Akbar Dareni has a long story nicely detailing the variors international and domestic actors who have had it up to here with Ahmadinejad. The list includes the U.S., Europe, Russia, Saudia Arabia, the IAEA, Iranian moderates, and "[e]ven some of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conservative allies." This quote, however, is really priceless: "Saudis fumed Friday that Iran's hard-line president marred a summit dedicated to showing Islam's moderate face by calling for Israel to be moved to Europe."
Monday, December 5, 2005
Do the insurgents really want the U.S. to withdraw?
Time's Michael Ware has a long profile of the Iraqi insurgency and U.S. strategies to cope with it. The single most depressing sentence: "After 31 months of fighting in Iraq, the U.S. still can't say for sure whom it is up against."
The basic thrust of the article is that the U.S. believes that a fair amount of the insurgency consists of "Sunni rejectionists," an odd word choice given that they are nevertheless interested in participating:
The vast majority of those groups fall into a category the military dubiously refers to as Sunni "rejectionists." Mostly Baathists, nationalists and Iraqi Islamists, they oppose the occupation and any Baghdad government dominated by Iraqis sheltered from Saddam by foreign-intelligence agencies, such as Iran's or the U.S.'s. But they don't oppose democracy in Iraq. Many voted in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum and have plans to participate in the Dec. 15 election. Few see a contradiction between voting and continuing to battle U.S. forces. "I voted in the referendum, and I'm still fighting, and everybody in my organization did the same," says Abu Marwan, the Army of Mohammed commander. "This is two-track war--bullets and the ballot. They are not mutually exclusive."Here's the most revealing paragraph:
Evidence of shifts within the insurgency in some ways presents the U.S. with its best opportunity since the occupation began to counter parts of the Sunni resistance. Adopting the long-standing attitudes of secular Baathists, some Sunni leaders tell TIME they have lost patience with al-Zarqawi and would consider cutting a political deal with the U.S. to isolate the jihadis. "If the Americans evidenced good intent and a timetable [there's that word again--DD] for withdrawal we feel is genuine, we will stand up against al-Zarqawi," says Abdul Salam al-Qubaisi, spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars. "We already stood up against him on the Shi'ite issue, and if he doesn't follow us, it will be a bad path for him." Baathist insurgent leader Abu Yousif, who has met with U.S. intelligence officers, says, "The insurgency is looking for a political outlet--once we have that, we could control al-Qaeda."Color me skeptical about these assertions, for one simple reason -- the Sunnis will be the big losers when/if the United States were to withdraw. It would be irrational of them to give up the extralegal strategy of insurgency, precisely because such a tactic has garnered them influence beyond their number to date.
Assume the withdrawal goes well. in any electoral democracy, the Sunnis will lose because they are vastly outnumbered by the Shia and the Kurds. Now assume the withdrawal goes poorly -- the insurgents will face a Shia majority pefectly willing to use extralegal means to ensure that they control the levers of power. Either way, the insurgents are better off right now than they will be when the Americans leave.
The one possibility of a U.S. withdrawal contributing to the Sunnis laying down their arms is if there's some kind of grand bargain behind the scenes in which the Shiite parties basically pledge to keep their militias from engaging in any kind of a pogrom -- but if I was Sunni, I'd take my chances playing cat-and-mouse with the U.S. military instead. Indeed, my strategy would be not to engage with U.S. forces at all, but do as much damage to Shia-predominant military units as possible.
[What about the possibility that Iraqis are now in the mood to vote for secular, non-sectarian parties?--ed. Again, great for the Sunnis, if true -- but the disturbing thing about both the Time piece and the Christian Science Monitor story linked above is that neither of them have any hard data -- just assertions by the reporter. Also remember that the supposed beneficiary of this secular trend -- former PM Iyad Allawi -- just got pelted with shoes in Najaf.]
Saturday, December 3, 2005
Kadima is doomed. Doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed, doomed.
I've been remiss in not blogging about Israel, because I do so love the roiling comments section such posts generate. However, I have only one thing to say about Shimon Peres' decision to leave the Labor party and join Ariel Sharon's brand-spanking new Kadima Party -- it can only mean Kadima is doomed to implode.
Why do I say this? Because the one constant in Israeli politics is that Shimon Peres might be the single-worst politician in the brief history of the Israeli state. By this I don't mean Peres is a bad policymaker or leader -- I mean the man couldn't win an election to save his life. This is a guy who couldn't beat Mr. anti-charisma, Yitzhak Shamir. He couldn't beat Bibi Netanyahu after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish zealot.
If Peres keeps his mouth shut and goes into a bunker until the election is over, maybe Kadima has a chance. But unless the focus is completely on Ariel Sharon, Kadima will have a very short half-life.
UPDATE: Omri Ceren has an Israeli politics blogg, Mere Rhetoric, that is worth checking out. He's more optimstic about Peres than I am.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is off his medication again
Since he took office earlier this year, the militance of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad has alienated many of his natural supporters in Iran.
If you think his prior statements have made some question his sanity, however, wait until people read this Financial Times story by Gareth Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr:
A leading website in Iran has published a transcript and video recording of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad claiming to have felt “a light” while addressing world leaders at the United Nations in New York in September. Baztab.com – a website linked to Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards – said the recording was made in a meeting between the president and Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli, one of Iran’s leading Shia Muslim clerics.The staff here at danieldrezner.com confirms that its eyes and ears will definitely be staying open whenever Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad decides to say something.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Could be worse... could be in Harbin
Among the things to be thankful for this year -- my family does not live in Harbin, China. David Fickling explains in the Guardian:
Panic was today spreading in Harbin, with officials preparing to cut off water supplies as heavily polluted river water flowed towards the Chinese city.Of course, my thanks is tempered by the fact that 3.4 million people do live there.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
The difficulty of doing good on HIV/AIDS
Despite decreases in the rate of infection in certain countries, the overall number of people living with HIV has continued to increase in all regions of the world except the Caribbean. There were an additional five million new infections in 2005. The number of people living with HIV globally has reached its highest level with an estimated 40.3 million people, up from an estimated 37.5 million in 2003. More than three million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2005; of these, more than 500000 were children.David Greising has a front-pager in the Chicago Tribune about the efforts of Abbott Laboratories to help Tanzania cope with the AIDS epidemic. The story highlights the fact that this is not simply about access to cheap medicines:
For five years now, Abbott has worked with Tanzania's government to alleviate the impact of AIDS. The experience has taught the company that the biggest obstacles are less obvious, and less readily overcome, than getting drugs to the villages.
Monday, November 21, 2005
That old Iraqi nostalgia
Ellen Knickmeyer has a front-pager in the Washington Post about U.S. and Iraqi efforts to reconstitute the Iraqi army's junior officer corps with former officers from Saddam Hussein's army. Kinckmeyer's report suggests that this process is going pretty smoothly by Iraqi standards -- but it leads to some very bizarre scenes:
Clad in the olive-green uniform of old, his heart rising to the sound of the lilting march to which he once went to war for President Saddam Hussein, Sgt. Bashar Fathi, a veteran of Iraq's once-elite Republican Guard, watched Iraqi tanks trundle across a parade ground recently -- just as they once swept across the sands of Kuwait.[Er... isn't the reliance on former army people a bad thing in terms of democratizing Iraq?--ed. It's been a while since I've perused the comparative politics literature on this, but if memory serves there has never been a successful occupation or revolution that did not rely on the cooperation of the prior regime's technocrats. It's just a fact of life.]
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Not a good sign for Russia
One of the standard lines of criticism about Council on Foreign Relations task forces/reports/working groups is that the desire to product nonpartisan output can water down CFR foreign policy analysis and recommendations. There might, just might, be a grain of truth to that charge every now and then.
So it's pretty damn telling that Jack Kemp and John Edwards, the co-chairs of the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on U.S. Policy Toward Russia, sent a letter to President Bush that was pretty damn explicit in terms of concern about Russia's new law regulating NGOs. Here's how it opens:
Dear Mr. President:Developing....
Sunday, November 13, 2005
The rioters really are French, part deux
Following up on this post from earlier in the week about the rioters acting within the political traditions of France, we have Mark Landler's, "A Very French Message From the Disaffected" in today's New York Times:
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Open Jordan thread
Comment away on the latest suicide bombing attacks in Jordan.
Earlier in the week I had referenced Marc Lynch's overvations about prior Zarqawi-inspired attacks in northern Africa. I tend to agree with his preliminary read of this attack as well:
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
The rioters really are French
From Miss Jane Galt:
But Davies wins the prize here, pointing out the one way in which this is all so... French:
Indeed. The only difference between these riots and prior action like this by, say, Air France employees is that by this point in the game the French government would have already capitulated.
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Way to go Zarqawi
Marc "Abu Aardvark" Lynch reports that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's latest tactics in Iraq haven't gone down well in the Maghreb states:
Read the whole thing -- the idea that Zarqawi is playing a tw-level game is an interesting one.
Monday, November 7, 2005
That Burmese junta is just so wacky
In the Financial Times, Amy Kazmin reports that the military junta controlling Burma has found a brand-new way of ensuring its diplomatic isolation:
Thursday, November 3, 2005
So what's going on in the Parisian suburbs?
OK, so the French appear to be experiencing some domestic disquiet in recent days. The Guardian has some details:
[Wait a second -- there's a ministry of social cohesion in France?--ed. Well, sort of.]
Comment away -- but I am curious about the accuracy of the press analysis on the riots. After the reportage on Katrina, my radar is up about any exaggeration of chaos and mayhem.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
How crazy is Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad?
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad had some lovely words for Israel yesterday, according to the FT's Gareth Smyth:
The most depressing sentence in the story? "US analysts noted that the president’s remarks were not a departure from hardline Iranian rhetoric and did not represent new policy." Well that's a relief.
Whenever political leaders start talking crazy talk, some political scientist like me usually comes out of the woodwork to explain the underlying rationality of such a move. After reading this Financial Times piece by Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, however, I'm beginning to wonder about Ahmadi-Nejad's competence:
I can't see the rationale either. Maybe these kind of sanctions weaken Ahmadi-Nejad's domestic political opponents, but in a country like Iran there are better ways of weakening one's political opponents. Even in a world of $60 oil and the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, this kind of political behavior is not heakthy.
So is Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad crazy like a fox -- or just crazy? Discuss.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Open Iraq constitution thread
Comment away on the implications of the Iraqi vote on its constitution.
There's a lot riding on that last paragraph.
Saturday, October 1, 2005
Liberalization, Moroccan style
Neil MacFarquhar has an excellent front-pager in today's New York Times looking at the conundrums of Morocco's recent liberalization:
Read the whole thing.
Monday, September 26, 2005
How to try Saddam
How do you try a dictator for crimes committed while in office? The question is not an easy one to answer. The best treatment I've seen of this problem, ironically, is fictional: Julian Barnes' The Porcupine.
This question will rear its head again when Saddam is put on trial in three weeks. Gary Bass -- author of Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals -- has a non-Times-Select op-ed in the NYT expressing concerns about how the Iraqi government is handling the matter:
If this sounds trivial, Bass is correct to point out that the treatment of Saddam's past affects Iraq's political future:
Read the whole thing.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Wild Portuguese cigar orgies in Vatican!!!
Well, no, not exactly. But the AP's Nicole Winfield does have some new information on the conclave that eleated Cardinal Ratzinger to Pope Benedict XVI:
Wow, that last paragraph had some spicy info, let me tell you.
This is one of those stories where the news is not in the content but in the fact that someone made it public. [What about the prospect of a Latin American pope?--ed. Possible, but prior second-place finishers are far from guaranteed to be viable candidates in the next round of voting. That said, I'm sure Andrew Sullivan or Stephen Bainbridge could parse out further meaning.]
UPDATE: Ed Morrissey is saddened at this news, believing that, "[this] comes as a sad commentary that even the princes of the church cannot be trusted with secrets any longer, except those which specifically benefit themselves."
Hmmm... as someone who occasionally studies closed-off regimes, I can't say I agree.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
"The streets were full of miniskirts"
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Koizumi wins in Japan
Both the exit polls and the early returns suggest that Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi has won a handy victory in parliamentry elections -- reversing a decade-long decline in the fortunes of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and paving the way for privatization of the postal savings system, which has been a corrupt albatross on the Japanese economy.
From a U.S. perspective, this is a huge win. A staunch U.S. ally has been re-elected, and if Koizumi's proposed reforms are implemented, then Japanese growth could finally escape its 15-year doldrums. Since Japan is a natural market for U.S. exports, a growing Japanese economy would be a very good thing.
Some reporters will credit Koizumi's charismatic leadership as the key to victory.
Wednesday, September 7, 2005
Whither Egyptian democracy?
Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential elections were held today, and much of the press coverage echoes this London Times account by Richard Beesron: "the experiment in democracy risked being seriously compromised by intimidation, electoral abuse and widespread voter apathy."
Dan Murphy's account in the Christian Science Monitor includes corruption among the sins of this elecvtion:
Sounds rather depressing. However, Steven Cook writes on Foreign Policy's web site that in the long term, Hosni Mubarak may get more reform than he originally planned:
UPDATE: The AP's Maggie Michael reports that Egypt's regime might be feeling some blowback earlier than he had anticipated:
Tuesday, September 6, 2005
Good news about Chernobyl
Peter Finn reports in the Washington Post that twenty years after the disaster at Chernobyl, the health effects have been much less than prior estimates would have suggested:
Here's a link to the World Health Organization's press release on the report -- compare and contrast with this media assessment from a decade ago.
Environmentalists will likely not appreciate the irony of Finn's closing paragraphs:
Saturday, September 3, 2005
Attack of the lipstick ninjas
In the Washington Post, Anthony Faiola reports that Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi is pulling out all the stops in the run-up to parliamentary elections in Japan:
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Iran's smoking gun goes poof
Three weeks ago today Dafnia Linzer had a Washington Post front-pager on an National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran wasn't nearly as close to developing nuclar weapons as previously thought.
Three weeks later, Linzer pours even colder water on Iran's WMD progress:
Link via David Adesnik, who asks, "The question, then, would seem to be the same one as we now ask about Iraq: Why would a government with nothing to hide constantly lie to international inspectors?"
Monday, August 22, 2005
Does China contradict the liberal paradigm, part deux
Following up on my post a few months ago on whether China's economic liberalization will lead to democratization, the Economist asks similar questions about the trajectory of Hu Jintao's government -- and comes up with the same muddled answer:
Monday, August 8, 2005
Will Singapore remain the outlier?
Whenever people start talking about the interrelationships between regime type, the rule of law, economic development, and political corruption, the outlier is always Singapore.
Think that economic development inexorably leads to freedom of the press? Hello, meet Singapore.
Think that authoritarianism automatically leads to corruption? Have you met Singapore?
Think that no government can plug its country into the Internet while still retaining a vast web of censorship? Yes, yes, that is Singapore over there in the corner giving you the raspberry.
[So what do political scientists say whenever the Singapore is brought up as the counterexample to the general rule?--ed.] There are a few options available:
Some of these options are not mutually exclusive.
My thought piece on information technology and regime type takes some steps towards the third position. So I'm pleased to see that Associated Press reporter En-Lai Yeoh is also moving in that direction:
I'm not holding my breath anytime soon for displays of Singaporean people power. But this story suggests that maybe there are limits to how far Singapore's exceptional identity can be maintained.
Thursday, August 4, 2005
The quaint old coup
Mauritania is a not-so-pleasant reminder of a relatively pleasant fact: military coup d'etats are a post-Cold War rarity. According to Patrick McGowan (‘African Military Coups d’Etat, 1956–2001: Frequency, Trends and Distribution’, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 41, issue 3, 2003.):
Outside of Africa, the only successful coups in the past decade have been in Haiti and Pakistan. Interestingly, the only countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have been independent for 25 years and have avoided coups are Botswana, Cape Verde and Mauritius -- all of which are multiparty democracies. [UPDATE: Hmmm..... this previous sentence came straight from the McGowan article, but Jacob Levy is right to wonder why South Africa isn't on this list. One possibility is that McGowan includes attempted coups, and there might have been one in the late eighties/early nineties that escapes our collective memory.]
Even inside Africa, there is relatively good news -- although the pace of coup activity has not abated, according to McGowan the relative success of coup attempts has declined. In other words, there are as many coup attempts as in the past, but fewer of them succeed.
Why? One obvious reason for the decline in coups is the absence of great power support for them. Another reason might be contained in this London Times story by Jenny Booth:
Here's a link to an earlier AU condemnation of the coup.
Whether this will actually alter the behavior of the coup plotters is doubtful at this point, but it's worth remembering that even this gesture would never have taken place ten years ago. And such gestures in the past have helped to thwart coups in Latin America.
The rest of the world's response has been along similar lines to what's happened in Mauritania.
Alas, focusing on Mauritania itself, it seems pretty clear that the coup does not do wonders for U.S. foreign policy, according to Booth's report:
On the other hand, this International Crisis Group report from March 2005 suggests that fears of radical Islamic activity are overblown. See also Princeton Lyman's CFR briefing on the coup.
Tuesday, August 2, 2005
So what's the deal with Iran's nuclear program?
The past few days have seen a lot of hand-wringing over Iran's decision to defy the principal EU countries and IAEA and proceed with "uranium enrichment activities" as the FT's Gareth Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr put it.
Ordinarily, this development would fill the Bush administration with glee. After all, the administration cut a deal with the Europeans agreeing to let them have the negotiation lead with Iran, and even remove the block from Iran's WTO candidacy -- provided that if the talks ever broke down, the EU countries would back at U.S. resolution to bring the matter to the UN Security Council.
Now, however, I see this front-pager by Dafna Linzer in today's Washington Post:
If you read the whole article (oh, and here's a Q&A with Linzer about the story) , you'll see that the big question Bush officials are asking is whether there will be regime change in Iran before that country acquires a nuclear capability.
I have a different question -- is it possible that the mullahs are copying Saddam Hussein? Recall that even though Iraq's WMD program turned out to be relatively moribund, Hussein repeatedly refused to cooperate fully with UN officials. Among the many possible motivations, one hypothesis was that Hussein was unwilling to expose his relative weakness.
Right now every country in the Middle East fears Iran's growing power -- could the mullahs have an incentive to exaggerate perceptions of that power?
UPDATE: Frank Foer, guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, frets that the new NIE will be counterproductive to the "broad consensus that the mullahs must be stopped."
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Mahathir Mohamad's grumpy retirement
There appears to be a rift brewing between former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad and his successor, current Malaysian PM Abdullah Badawi.
After reading this excerpt from John Burton's story in the Financial Times, see if you can guess which one I hope prevails:
Thursday, July 7, 2005
Al Qaeda in Europe
CNN reports on the group claiming responsibility for the London transport bombings:
The clumsy-sounding name (at least in English) of this group makes me wonder if this is another of Al Qaeda's local subcontractees.
UPDATE: Stephen Flynn has some thoughts at the Council on Foreign Relations home page that sound this theme as well. Some highlights:
Read the whole thing.
LAST UPDATE: Steve Coll and Susan B. Glasser make a similar point to Flynn's in the Washington Post:
Friday, July 1, 2005
Open Ahmadinejad thread
More generally, It's still unclear to me what the precise relationship is between Ahmadinejad and the clerics that actually run Iran. Yesterday's New York Times op-ed by Abbas Milani said the clerics "masterminded Mr. Ahmadinejad's victory." However the NYT editorial of the same day argues that Ahmadinejad, "offered a populist economic platform that implicitly challenged the cronyism and corruption of more than a quarter-century of clerical rule."
I don't know enough about Iran's internal politics to comment -- but I'm sure that will not deter you from commenting.
[Isn't this just a case of life being complex? Maybe Ahmadinejad agrees with the clerics on some issues but not others?--ed. Undoubtedly true -- but the question that's still unanswered is whether he's willing to address certain sacred cows within the clerical establishment even as he's agreeing with them on other issues.]
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Vladimir likes the bling-bling
Some stories are so odd that all you can do is post them without comment:
It's an amazing coincidence.... it's my understanding is this is exactly how it worked with Gazprom as well.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Interpreting Iran's election
The Economist asks the questions on many people's minds following Iran's presidential elections:
However, Gordon Robison has an op-ed in the Beirut Daily Star suggesting that the western media fell down on the job in covering the Iranian elections:
Well, to be fair, some of the western media had already figured some of this out:
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Does China contradict the liberal paradigm?
The constant in U.S. policy towards a rising China for the past three administrations is encapsulated in the current National Security Strategy:
In other words, by trading with China, and by encouraging them to embrace the information revolution, the Chinese will inevitably morph into an ever-more-open society that will therefore become more benign in world politics.
There are valid reasons to doubt the second part of that logic, but I'm more concerned about the first part for now: is U.S. trade with China making the country more free?
I ask because of this Philip P. Pan front-pager in the Washington Post from last week on how Chinese President Hu Jintao is consolidating his power:
Meanwhile, Paul Mooney reports similar information about the Chinese academy in the Chronicle of Higher Education (sorry, subscription only):
As for the power of the Internet to make China more free, Rebecca MacKinnon has tirelessly covered the Chinese government's recent efforts to expand its monitoring and filtering capacities -- click here for one example.
This would all seem to suggest that our open trade policy with China ain't generating a lot of political openness on their side. By the Freedom House measures, China has been rated as "not free" for the entire history of our expanded trade relationship with them. Within that category there are some subtler trends -- in the eighties both the poliitical rights and civil liberties measures improved slightly. Both went back down after Tiannamen, and then since 1998 the civil liberties score has improved marginally.
So does China vitiate the underlying premise that an open economic relationship leads to political openness?
Well consider that even the Freedom House data and the Chronicle story suggests that economic openness can have an effect on civil liberties -- it's just that the effect is very small and trumped by Hu Jintao. See this section of the Chronicle story:
Second, remember that China is a special case because of its market size. China can get Microsoft to do what it wants, but smaller countries cannot.
Third, when questioning the utility of a certain policy, one always needs to compre it to the alternative set of options. There is no other option that would cause China to democratize any faster that a policy of openness.
Fourth, as I argued earlier this year, the effect of the information revolution on authoritarian states is not a continuous one. It is possible that repressive regimes can succeed in maintaining control for long periods of time -- but then crumble quickly. One reason for Hu's recent decision to crack down is his acute recognition of this fact.
So maybe current U.S. policy will work in the long run. The thing is, none of those points makes me feel any more sanguine about current U.S. policy in the short run.
UPDATE: David Shambaugh has an interesting piece in The Washington Quarterly on the complex triangle between the U.S., China, and Europe.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Open Chinese nationalism thread
I've been remiss in not posting about the surge of anti-Japan protests in China over the past ten days or so, and the official Chinese reaction, which ranged from tacit support at the outset to a hasty, clumsy effort to assuage the Japanese and characterize the protests as part of an evil plot to undermine the Communist Party.
Comment away on the implications. I will only make one observation -- the Chinese government has been extraordinarily maladroit over the past six months. Until recently, the government was keenly aware about the geopolitical anxiety caused in the Asia-Pacific region by its growing economic and military strength. Being a rising, somewhat opaque power is tricky terrain for any state to navigate. Post-9/11, the Chinese had been pretty deft, tolerating the U.S. focus on the Middle East while pointing out to its neighbors, Europe, and even Africa the value of close economic relations with Beijing. Chinese academics have labeled this the "peaceful rising" strategy.
However, in the past six months, the Chinese government has:
I'm curious to see how both the Chinese and the other countries in the region will respond.
Monday, April 25, 2005
What happens if the French say "non"?
When we last left the French referendum on the EU constitution, President Jacques Chirac had bungled a TV appearance designed to bolster support for a "oui" vote.
In today's Financial Times, John Thornhill reports that France's neighbors are warning of the apocalypse if France says non.
The fact that articles like this one and this Charlemagne column in the Economist are being printed suggests that experts are taking the likelihood of a non vote very seriously.
Of course, this begs the question -- would a rejection of the EU constitution really mean the end of the EU project? I'd like to hear from the Europeanists in the audience, but this strikes me as a gross exaggeration. The European project has managed to generate a common market, a common Court of Justice, the euro, Schengenland, an increasingly assertive European parliament, and even the faint stirrings of a common foreign and defense policy -- all using the current set of legal and political arrangements. None of these will disappear if the French say non (a good indicator of its significance will be to see what happens to the value of the euro as the probability of a non vote approaches one. If it actually starts to fall in value, then I'm wrong).
The "end of Europe" claim by Prodi is an extreme version of the "bicycle theory" of international integration, which says that if there is any slowdown in integration, the process starts to wobble like a slow bicycle, eventually toppling under its own weight. This line was also used after the Maastricht accord was signed in the early nineties. I suspect that warnings like Prodi's will, if anything, further turn off people against what elites tell them about the European Union.
Does this mean the EU would just sail along after a French rejection? Non, it would not, but I'm not sure that the ensuing difficulties would be any more severe than, say, what the World Trade Organization experienced after the 1999 Battle in Seattle. The EU will live on.
What will be interesting to see is whether the rest of Europe would interpret a negative vote as an actual rejection of the planned future of the EU or explain it away as a rejection of Jacques Chirac and nothing more.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Will realpolitik sell the EU constitution to the French?
In six weeks, the French will vote on a referendum to ratify the EU constitution. Current polling in France runs about 55% against, and twelve straight polls have had the "no" camp in the lead.
In an attempt to combat this trend, last night French President Jacques Chirac held a nationally televised town hall-style meeting with 83 "young people."
Two things were interesting about the event and its aftermath. The first was Chirac's principal arguments for ratification -- political and economic balancing against the United States. According to the Wadhington Post's Erika Lorentzsen:
In the Financial Times, John Thornhill and Peggy Hollinger provide an even more explicit quote:
The second interesting thing was that Chirac's line of argumentation floundered. Both the BBC and CNN International have recaps of the French media response, and they were not good. From the latter's round-up:
The Economist, among others points out that much of the "no" support might have less to do with the EU constitution and more to do with Chirac's growing unpopularity. However. going back to the FT, it's possible that the two may actually be linked:
Even the Economist acknowledges that, "in contrast to the Maastricht vote, which led to the euro, it is hard to say what is at stake in the EU constitution."
It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next six weeks. My hunch is that support for the "yes" side will increase as the vote nears -- and even if the referendum fails, the French can simply schedule another referendum. On the other hand, if the quixotic combination of realpolitik and social democracy doesn't generate majority support in France, then I'm not sure where it will work.
Monday, April 11, 2005
J. Lo, Conan the Barbarian, and Afghan Idol
You have to think that things are going pretty well in Afghanistan when a major subject of public debate is.... what's on television. Kim Barker explains in the Chicago Tribune:
I can just picture Virginia Postrel smiling at the bolded section.
UPDATE: Barker has a follow-up piece in Tuesday's Tribune on the opening of the first plastic surgery clinic in Kabul:
LAST UPDATE: Oxblog's Afghan correspondent provides an update on the situation on the ground outside of Kabul. Quick summary: "[E]nthusiasm, continued commitment, and some degree of optimism -- these are I think proper attitudes when considering the situation in Afghanistan."
Thursday, March 24, 2005
So how's Iraqification going, part II
As a follow-up to my previous post on the question of transfering police and security functions to Iraqis, it's worth linking and quoting from Spencer Ackerman's Iraq'd blog. Ackerman -- hardly a fan of the administration's Iraq policy in the past -- was a huge fan of the raid on foreign insurgents that took place yesterday.
Why is Ackerman in such a good mood about this raid?:
Monday, March 21, 2005
So how's Iraqification going?
Derrick Jackson argued in the Boston Globe last Friday that the U.S. has no exit strategy for Iraq and this is costing us allies:
Sounds like Iraqification is not going well. However, two press reports from inside Iraq suggest that in fact progress has been made. John F. Burns reports in the New York Times that the transfer of duties from the U.S. military to Iraqi security forces has helped in one Baghdad neighborhood:
Meanwhile, Time's Christopher Allbriton reports on the growing professionalism of The Iraqi Special Forces Brigade (ISOF):
At this rate, the departure of other coalition country forces from Iraq is less a sign of failed American leadership than a sign that they can hand over their duties to the Iraqis themselves. Everyone agrees that this is the best possible exit option.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Well this is nice
Barbara Slavin reports in USA Today that Iraqis are feeling better about Iraq:
Here's a link to the IRI press release of the poll.
Assume for the moment a best-case scenaio in which the insurgency starts to die down. Given that the National Assembly has just started to meet, don't be surprised if that satisfaction figure were to go down. This is the funny thing about democracy -- one people get it, their dissatisfaction from seeing the process up close seems to increase.
Eventually, most people adopt the Churchillian posture: democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Can 200,000 Chinese ex-communists be wrong?
This is one of those blog posts where I have to say up front that I don't know enough to gauge the significance of the event I'm posting about. That said, the information is interesting enough to link and mention.
Apparently the Chinese Communist Party has been suffering from a rash of resignations as of late -- approximately 200,000 in four months. At The Epoch Times, Stephen Gregory reports on what's going on:
Now, the thing is, the CCP isn't the only institution that hasn't responded to these resignations -- I can't find a non-Epoch Times report on this. On the other hand, they've been all over the story. What's going on?
Gregory is candid in an e-mail he sent to me:
So there it is. I'll leave it to my readers to decide how much weight to put on this. I would also love to see the mainstream media do some digging on this story.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Calling and raising Hezbollah
Last week I said that the re-appointment of Lebanese PM Omar Karami would trigger more protests. It turns out that was a mild understatement. The Associated Press reports that the anti-Syrian proestors in Lebanon have responded to the reappointment -- and Hezbollah's pro-Syrian rally from last week, which was undoubtedly a factor in Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's decision to reappoint Karami -- with the largest demonstration of people power yet:
Publius Pundit has much, much more on this.
UPDATE: Neil MacFarquar reports on the protest for the New York Times. The telling section:
Thursday, March 10, 2005
There are going to be more protests in Lebanon
That's not a particularly powerful prediction given this Voice of America story:
Jenny Booth reports in the London Times that the opposition has already rejected joining a unity government.
The Beirut Daily Star's Nada Bakri has the reaction from protestors. They're pretty mixed. Here's one example:
Monday, March 7, 2005
Hezbollah generates a natural experiment
As change continues to roil parts of the Middle East, media focus is increasing on Lebanon. The Syrian government is getting more specific in its plans for a partial pullout of its troops. However, the really interesting development is within Lebanon's domestic political scene. Scott Wilson explains in the Washington Post about Hezbollah's decision to maintain its support for Syria:
This will be interesting. There is no denying Hebollah's political strength in Lebanon -- however, there is also no denying that the group has been very slow to react to recent political developments.
Many commentators question whether democratization in Lebanon necessarily advance U.S. interests in the region if all it does is empower groups in Hezbollah. I've maintained in the past that even if that short-run effect takes place, democratization remains the proper long-term strategy. However, Tuesday will provide fresh evidence of whether even the short-run costs are as great as many people fear. If Hezbollah musters fewer people than expected in counter-demonstrations, then it suggests the fear of radicalism in a democratizing Middle East might be misplaced. [And if there are huge counter-demonstrations?--ed. Hey, then I'm wrong. But the social scientist in me is more excited about the prospect that there will soon be data to examine the hypothesis than worried about being wrong.]
UPDATE: The Council on Foreign Relations has an informative interview with Stephen A. Cook on the Syria-Lebanon dynamic from late February. Two useful tidbits:
ANOTHER UPDATE: Lee Smith will be posting daily dispatches for Slate this week from Beirut. His first posting contains this amusing paragraph:
Monday, February 28, 2005
Two steps forward, one step back in the Middle East
In the past 72 hours, there have been a number of developments in the Middle East -- suicide bombings in Iraq, Egyptian announcements about political reform, Lebanese people power bringing down the government, half-brothers being captured, reformist cabinets being named.
I was going to post something about how in the political change in the Middle East used to follow a one step forward, two steps back mentality, but as of late the trend has been more of a two steps forward, one step back nature of -- but Greg Djerejian and David Brooks beat me to it, so go check them out.
The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe happened after reformists first attained power through elections in Poland and Hungary. It happened rapidly, with no one comprehending the speed with which the old, corrupt edifices of power crumbled. Could the example of elections in one Muslim country in the Middle East have a similar ripple effect?
[You forget the backward steps--ed. True, true, I'm probably engaging in the error of analogy. Still it's interesting that such an analogy is even conceivable now.]
Friday, February 25, 2005
The Saudis move, but move slowly
Indeed, as Glenn Reynolds has recently pointed out, the Saudis remain a potent source of terrorist support.
Neverheless, the Saudi regime does seem to be moving forward -- however slowly -- in altering their behavior in constructive ways. Again, it's maddeningly slow, but progress nevertheless.
This week saw further evidence of this. This past week the British and Saudis held a two-day conference entitled "Two Kingdoms: The Challenges Ahead," and some constructive things were said. Khaled Almaeena reports an example of this in Arab News :
Similarly, the Saudi government is making tentative noises about giving women the right to vote in future election. Beth Gardiner explains this in an Associated Press report:
One wonders if the strong performance of the conservatives in the first round of regional elections convinced the regime that giving women the political franchise might be in their own self-interest.
This post is not meant to be a jumping up and down saying, "Look, Saudi reforms!! Yippee!!" Clearly, this is going to take a while.
But it would be nice if one could say that the Saudis were only 85 years behind the times -- instead of 250.
Developing.... very, very, slowly.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
A run on the Lebanese pound?
Roula Khalaf and Kim Ghattas report in the Financial Times that the Lebanese pound could be in trouble:
What's historically intriguing about this is that if memory serves, the Lebanese pound managed to retain its value throughout the 1975-1991 civil war.
UPDATE: Daniel Davies points out in the comments that my memory is faulty, and that the Lebanese pound suffered hyperinflation during the civil war. As it turns out, the historical data says we are both correct. The pound did a decent job holding its value in the first stage of the civil war, from 1975 to 1983. After the Israeli incursion, however, hyperinflation did kick in.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
It's getting uncomfortable for Syria
Prior to the invasion of Iraq, I wrote the following at TNR Online:
Note that Lebanon was not mentioned in that graf, because that country has essentially been a Syrian fiefdom since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.
However, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri yesterday highlights the increasing crunch Syria now faces. David Hirst -- who's covered the Middle East for over forty years -- explains what's going on in the Guardian:
Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Beirut-based Daily Star, agrees on the tectonic political shifts uinleashed by the assassination:
The New York Times' Steven Weisman and Hassan Fattah report that the assassination itself has already made life more difficult for Syria:
Monday, February 14, 2005
Iraq's election results
Anthony Shadid and Doug Struck provide a summary of Iraq's election returns in the Washington Post. The highlights:
Jeff Weintraub, analyzing the results, suggests that "On first impression, the latest news about the Iraqi election returns has confirmed my most optimistic hopes." Juan Cole, looking at the same numbers, concludes, "[current Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi's defeat... is a huge defeat for the Bush administration, though it will not be reported that way in the corporate media."
UPDATE: Robin Wright has an odd news analysis piece in the Washington Post today. It's odd becuse the headline reads, "Iraq Winners Allied With Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision" -- and the piece consists of expert quotes (including Cole) making this point. However, in the 16th paragraph there's this casual admission that, "U.S. and regional analysts agree that Iraq is not likely to become an Iranian surrogate." I'll have more to say about the question of Iran's influence in Iraq sometime this week.
Meanwhile, Weintraub e-mails the following:
ANOTHER UPDATE: It's intriguing to compare the New York Times news analysis by Dexter Filkins with Wright's analysis in the Washington Post. Filkins' analysis differs from Wright's in two ways: a) no expert quotes from American sources (though plenty of quotes from Iraqis); and b) a more optimistic piece. The highlights:
See this James Joyner post for more.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
So how are things in Saudi Arabia?
The Chicago Tribune has two stories on developments within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today -- kind of a good news/bad news deal.
The bad news is that those provincial elections didn't turn out like Saudi reformers had hoped. Evan Osnos explains:
Read the whole thing -- it's not clear how much of a setback this is, given that it was only one region, and a conservative one at that (though I'd love a Saudi expert to identify a liberal region in the country). Of course, the decision to exclude women from the vote probably didn't help the moderates much.
One other nitpick at this report is the history it provides of Islamist movements:
I'll be happy to be corrected on this, but if memory serves that's not quite accuate. It's true that the Six Day War was a triggering event for the rise of Islamist parties -- but the motivation was different. Secular Arab regimes were afraid of the growing political power of leftist/communist parties in their countries. As a result, they permitted the rise of Islamist parties to offer a counterweight.
On the good news side of the ledger, Christine Spolar reports that the Saudi regime is reaching out on the war on terror:
The internal steps to combat radicals is particularly interesting:
Thursday, February 10, 2005
I'm typing this in Princeton, NJ, as I'm giving a talk here today -- so there will not be much blogging for the next 24 hours.
Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic for discussion -- why has North Korea decided now is the time to publicly announce that they have nuclear weapons and suspend participation in six-nation non-proliferation talks?
Is it because Kim feels he can widen the diplomatic wedge between the United States and the other members of the talks (Japan, South Korea, China, Russia) -- or is it that Kim fears his regime is tottering on the abyss and the only way he can stay in power is to gin up a new international crisis? These are not mutually exclusive reasons, of course -- but which one is the primary cause?
Be sure to check out NK Zone for more blogging on the Hermit Kingdom. Also worth reading: In Foreign Affairs, Mitchell Reiss and Robert Gallucci rebut Selig Harrison's claim that North Korea doesn't really have a uranium enrichment program (link via Josh Marshall).
UPDATE: Oh, man did that first header date me -- I meant the current leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong il -- not his father, Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. Apologies to all for the error.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Follow-up post here. Over at NRO, S.T. Karnick offers the following speculation on Kim's motives:
I think that's a major stretch. As CNN points out today, there have been ample rhetorical opportunities as of late for the administration to target North Korea -- and they haven't used them:
No, Rice's testimony was a useful rhetorical hook for North Korea's actions, and not the cause.
In the International Herald-Tribune, there is more speculation about this being an example of internal DPRK strife:
Thursday, February 3, 2005
Speaking of Egypt...
This was one of the more interesting paragraphs in Bush's State of the Union:
The lines about Egypt and Saudi Arabia were nicely phrased, in that they represented a challenge to the regimes there.
Coincidentally enough, the Wall Street Journal has a front-pager by Karby Leggett on Egypt's economic reforms. From the opening, it appears that Egypt's latest prime minister is adopting a much more market-friendly posture:
Sounds good -- but what about democracy? Here's where things get sticky:
So, what does the U.S. do? Hope that the economic reforms trigger future political reforms, or apply more leverge on the Mubarak regime -- even if a more democratic government might not pursue such market-friendly policies?
Monday, January 31, 2005
Read the whole thing.
The first step -- but far from the last -- in Iraq
Kieran Healy has an excellent post at Crooked Timber on what needs to happen in Iraq after this first election. It boils down to, "those in power who lose elections have to be willing to step aside," but Kieran says it better than that -- and provides an encouraging example from Irish history.
How did the Arab media cover the election?
Read the whole thing. One wonders whether the election coverage will embolden residents of the Middle East beyond the borders of Iraq.
UPDATE: In Slate, Michael Young provides another rundown of how the Middle Eastern media covered the election. It has a great opening paragraph:
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Open Iraqi election thread
Feel free to comment here on today's historic election in Iraq. Both the wire service reports and blog accounts suggest that the turnout has been higher than expected. The Washington Post reports that, "Carlos Valenzuela, the United Nations' chief election adviser in Iraq, told CNN that he believed that overall turnout was considerably 'better than expected.'"
Certainly a 72% turnout represents a pretty humiliating political defeat for the insurgency. [UPDATE: hmmm.... the Financial Times now says turnout estimates have been scaled back to 60%] The Reuters story has the most encouraging detail:
Dexter Filkins' account in the New York Times is positively effusive:
Matthew Yglesias acknowledges the turnout but has an odd post declaring, "The important thing to keep in mind, I think, is that if the lack of problems does hold up, that will be a testament to the success of our extraordinary security measures, not to the success of our political project." Actually, I'd say it's a testament to both factors -- though it's certainly true that the political project can't be judged a success or a failure based on only one election.
On the other hand, Yglesias' post is a ray of sunshine compared to this morose Juan Cole post.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
What a long, strange, trip for Lula
When Luiz InĂˇcio Lula da Silva ran for president in Brazil, he took great delight in railing against the Washington Consensus, the IMF, and the United States more generally. Since he's won, however, he's pursued a somewhat different course.
How different? Raymond Colitt has a story in the Financial Times that highlights the gulf between Lula then and Lula now:
Monday, January 17, 2005
Behind the scenes in Ukraine
Back on November 25th, at the beginning of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, I blogged the following:
In the New York Times, C.J. Chivers has a riveting behind-the-scenes look at Ukraine's security services during the election campaign, suggesting that in the case of Ukraine, it was a combination of options (2) and (3). Here's one key moment:
Read the whole thing.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
How much has China changed in fifteen years?
Zhao Zhiyang, the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party until the Tiananmen Square crackdown, has died. Jasmine Yap has an obituary in Bloomberg; here's a link to the New York Times obit by Jim Yardley.
Combined, the obituaries make a telling point about China in the eighties -- and set up a test to see how much China has changed.
Yap's obit points out the initial trigger for the Tiananmen protests:
If Hu's death triggered Tiananmen, one wonders whether Zhao's death will trigger any similar kind of political mobilization against the government.
To be honest, I'll be surprised if it does. This is for one of three reasons:
UPDATE: Looks like the Chinese government is attempting to try hypothesis no. 2 out, according to the New York Times' Joseph Kahn:
Monday, January 10, 2005
What's next for Palestine
It looks like Mahmoud Abbas won a healthy mandate in Palestine. What should he do now?
Seth Jones offers some suggestions in the Financial Times [Full disclosure: Jones did his graduate work in poli sci at the U of C.] Some highlights:
Read the whole thing. And offer your comments about whether Abbas will be able to turn the Palestinian Authority into a functioning, law-abiding state.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
West Africa and Islamic fundamentalism
As part of the Chicago Tribune's continuing series on the internal struggle among Islamic societies between the forces of moderation and the forces of radicalism, Lisa Anderson has a fascinating front-pager on the country of Mali.
Mali appears at first glance to be one of the most improbable democracies in existence -- life expectancy is at 45 years, infant mortality is higher than 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, it's literacy rate is 46%, and according to the CIA World Factbook, "is among the poorest countries in the world, with 65% of its land area desert or semidesert and with a highly unequal distribution of income."
However, as Anderson chronicles:
The bulk of her story is on efforts by Islamic radicals from Algeria and Pakistan to attract supporters in the arid northern part of the country, and American efforts to combat this push. Some highlights:
Read the whole thing. Anderson's implicit thesis -- and it's not a bad one, is that Mali's history of tolerant Islam is resilient enough to resist outside efforts at fundamentalism. Philip Smucker had a story in November's International Herald Tribune chronicling the efforts of African scholars -- with an assist from Harvard's Henry Louis Gates -- to exploit Mali's written history to reinforce this moderate brand of Islam:
[Oh, c'mon, this is French West Africa -- does this stuff really matter to Americans?--ed. Check out Nick Tattersall's report for Reuters on the significance of West African oil to the U.S. economy. This part stands out in particular:
Click here for an African perspective on why the continent matters to the Bush administration. And, finally, check out John Donnelly's report in the Boston Globe on the military side of U.S. efforts to prevent Islamic terrorist groups from making further gains in the West African region.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
So what's going on in Iran?
Patrick Belton links to this Economist story on the state of Iran's domestic polity. The highlights of their analysis:
As I've said before, I'm very gloomy about the prospects of the theocratic regime toppling from "people power." [On the other hand, I was similarly skeptical about Ukraine, and events have progressed there in a far more peaceful and positive direction that I anticipated. Point is, I could easily be wrong.]
One question is whether expanding Iran's trade with the rest of the world would nudge them in a more positive direction. Based on this report, the Bush administration doesn't think so -- or, to be fair, they think it wouldn't lead to regime change prior to the mullahs developing nuclear weapons.
Commenters are heartily encouraged to devise a policy that would ensure peaceful regime change in Iran. I don't think it can be done -- but that could just be because I'm still jet-lagged.
Monday, December 13, 2004
Notes from Paris
So, what dirt was able to be gleamed from my trip to Paris? Here's the tidbits about the people, the place, and the ideas that are worth divilging: