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.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is a Sorbonne-educated expert on German philosophy. He has also been a post-doc in Middle Eastern studies at Harvard University and a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. Dr. Jahanbegloo is a valued member of our intellectual community and a symbol of the universality of democratic and human rights. He is a frequent contributor to the many debates about human rights and democratic freedom in both Europe and the Middle East. Among his many books are Conversations with Isaiah Berlin and (as editor) Iran: Between Tradition and Modernity. At the time of his arrest, he was working on a study of Ghandi and peaceful resistance. He holds a Canadian as well as an Iranian passport.
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.”

The authorities detained Jahanbegloo at Tehran Airport on or around Thursday, April 27. Officials refused to acknowledge his detention until Wednesday, May 3, when Tehran’s deputy prosecutor general, Mahmoud Salarkia, confirmed Jahanbegloo’s detention in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency.

Also on Wednesday, the Fars News Agency quoted the chief of prisons in Tehran Province, Sohrab Soleimani, as saying that Jahanbegloo is being held in Tehran’s Evin prison. Neither official gave any reason for Jahanbegloo’s arrest. An unnamed Judiciary official told the daily Etemad-e Melli that charges against Jahanbegloo “will be announced after the interrogations.”

“Iran’s Judiciary is notorious for coercing confessions by means of torture and ill-treatment,” Stork said. “We hold the Iranian government entirely responsible for Jahanbegloo’s well-being.”
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.

Here, I join all those who are already active to do something to secure the immediate release of Dr. Jahanbegloo, and invite those who have not joined the rest of us yet, to join us. Also, I would like to ask all those who are willing to join the cause and care for Dr. Jahanbegloo not just as a scholar, intellectual, teacher, and a friend, but as a person who deserves due process, just representation, and freedom from arbitrary confinement, to join the cause in a non-sensationalist manner.

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.

posted by Dan at 10:29 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, May 4, 2006

May's Books of the Month

What with all the hubbub about U.S. relations with particular Middle Eastern countries, I thought it would be appropriate this month to focus on a book that details the bilateral relationship between the United States and one of its oldest allies in the region -- Saudi Arabia.

Sooooo....... this month's international relations book is Rachel Bronson's Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia. Bonson documents the bilateral relationship from the start of Saudi rule to the present day. Her basic argument is that the bilateral relationship is built on more than oil for security. During the Cold War, the extent to which both the U.S. government and the house of Saud viewed Wahabbist religion as a powerful, positive bulwark against communism is striking. Bronson also ably documents how the Saudi regime with Wahabiism has waxed and waned over the years.

The book is an excellent piece of scholarship -- I particularly liked this rave at

I don't want to repeat what was already said about this remarkable overview of the U.S - Saudi relationship, so let me just steer readers to the footnotes. They are amazing! I rarely read footnotes, but these are so revealing and easy to access that I spent almost as much time with the footnotes as I did with the text. Hats off to the author here! I cannot fathom how she got so many juicy quotes and so much factual material from such a diverse array of people in the know, people who were actually at the meetings she describes. I felt like I was the fly on the wall as policy was debated and decisions made that affected most of the major political issues of the last sixty years. Wow!
In contrast to much that has been written of late about U.S. policy in the Middle East, this is first-rate, well-researched scholarship -- from someone who has deftly knocked down conspiracy theories in the past.

The general interest book is Kwame Anthony Appiah's Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. The book has been excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, among other places, and represents Appiah's efforts to carve out a commonality for most of mankind that does not rest on nation, clan, or kin.

I'm not sure how much I buy Appiah's argument yet -- all I know is that Appiah sold me on the book when he provided the following characterization of the term "globalization":

a term that once referred to a marketing strategy, and then came to designate a macroeconomic thesis, and now can seem to encompass everything and nothing.
Now that's the kind of writing that is worth reading.

Go check them out.

posted by Dan at 11:11 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

New bipartisan foreign policy blog

I'm very, very, very close to finishing some time-consuming copyediting, so posting will be light in the next 24 hours.

In the meantime, go check out the Partnership for a Secure America's new foreign policy blog, Across the Aisle. I don't know all of the contributors, but I know enough of them to have confidence in the quality of output.

I particularly like this post by Chip Andreae that carefully delimits the kind of bipartisanship the Partnership is talking about:

[I]n spite of the growing need for true and uniting leadership to emerge from Capitol Hill, we must be conscious enough of why we demand bipartisan efforts to reject the recent political phenomenon that occurred during the DP World deal: bipartisanship for its own sake.

The events surrounding the attempt of Dubai Ports World to obtain ownership of several major US ports need no review. From a political perspective, the only point I want to raise is how quickly and seamlessly Democrats and Republicans banned together to strike down an otherwise legitimate business deal. Contrary to what some believe, this movement did nothing to indicate that Washington is still capable of interjecting a thoughtful, factual debate on foreign policy or any other issue. Rather, it only served to reflect the very worst in bipartisan consensus in that it lowered the threshold of leadership to the point that both parties sought merely to respond to a base protectionist view.

Back, now, to the why. With bipartisanship – I mean true bipartisanship – our country has an unlimited, unfiltered source of ideas from which to choose the best and brightest. But if we get too caught up in party lines, the number of ideas and opinions starts to diminish until we’re back down to two: Dems vs Reps. The problem with bipartisanship for its own sake is that it results in a scenario much closer to the latter than the former. In the paradigm of Dubai ports, the party lines were less visible, but not to facilitate meaningful debate (excepting the efforts of the Administration and a few senators) and diverse opinions. Rather, so many of the politicos used bipartisan efforts as a bandwagon to carry them as far from the President as possible. In other words, they only wanted to be bipartisan because that looked better to the American public than what was really happening. This preempted much of the discussion on important related issues like Dubai’s potential role in the War on Terror, or the US’s military presence in the Middle East (including countries other than Iraq).

Washington politicians now find themselves with something they may never see again…a second chance. A UAE company named Dubai International Capital is in the process of purchasing a British Defense group with US security connections. Sound familiar? It should. The deal went through a 45-day review by CFIUS, after which President Bush signed off on it. Thus far, there has been little outcry from either side of the aisle. My hope is that this reflects the true bipartisan spirit – one that sets a stage for Democrats and Republicans to discuss the important issues of foreign investment in the US, and the inevitable repercussions manifested in US investment abroad.

posted by Dan at 02:27 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

I say 51% idealism, you say 49%

Foreign Policy's Passport blog is quickly acquiring must-read status among the hard-working staff here at Even if you disagree with the content, it's certainly thought-provoking.

Which brings me to James Forsyth's post about the Democrats and foreign policy. The hook is the release of Madeleine Albright’s new book The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs:

Albright is the wise woman of the Democratic Party on national security. Her prestigious Georgetown salon operates as a crash course in international relations for Dems with presidential ambitions. So, her work on the role of religion in foreign policy is required reading for anyone who wants to understand what a Democratic administration would do differently. After finishing it, the conclusion I came to was: surprisingly little. Yes, Albright bashes the Bush administration for Iraq, Guantanamo, and its religiously tinged language. But when she starts talking about the future rather than the past, she sounds none too different from her father’s most famous -- and favorite -- pupil, Condoleezza Rice. Albright’s call to “blend realism with idealism,” by promoting democracy at a gradual pace, wouldn’t sound out of place in any of Rice’s speeches about the administration’s goals in the Middle East. All of which suggests that, the democratizing baby won’t be thrown out with the Bush bath water and supports Jai's argument that Middle Eastern tyrants hoping to wait out Bush are wasting their time.
This does raise an interesting question: are people who reject Bush's current foreign policy are promoting something that looks awfully similar on a lot of dimensions? Is Francis Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism" so different from plain vanilla neoconservatism? Is George Clooney clamoring for intervention in Darfur any different from the humanitarian impulse (yes, there were others) that led neocons to clamor for intervention in Iraq (a point some on the left recognize)? Is the only difference between Republicans and Democrats a slight variant in the realism-idealism mix?

Actually, yes, I think there is a difference -- but it's about process and not preferences. The primary difference between liberal interventionists and neocons is that the former group thinks intervention is more successful if it takes place through the multilateral route. Multilateralism acts as a "pleasing illusion" to simultaneously obscure and enhance American power.

Which is great, when it works -- except that neocons raise a valid point when they highlight how difficult it is to get mulilateralism to work. On Darfur, for example, the past four years have been a giant game of hot potato between the United States, the UN, NATO, the EU, and the African Union about who will shoulder the burden. Daniel Davies is correct to point out that negotiations to date have the precise cast of liberal internationalism. There are times when unilateral action has the appeal of slicing the Gordian knot of multilateral diplomacy.

Liberal internationalists are correct to point out the negative fallout of unilateral military action. But liberal like Allbright are guilty of sidestepping questions of what to do when all the diplomacy in the world won't muster the necessary international consensus.

This is one reason why Fukuyama's "multi-multilateralism" concept intrigues me. In a world of multiple, overlapping international institutions, forum-shopping becomes a possibility. This allows realpolitik tactics within an institutionalist rubric. That said, Darfur shows the limitations of this gambit when there is a lack of consensus.

[Get to the grand conclusion--ed. I don't have one -- this is an age-old policy conundrum. But I'm sure my readers can cut through this Gordian knot.]

posted by Dan at 03:12 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

Oil as a dictatorship dividend

Max Boot's column in the Los Angeles Times hits at something that's been nagging at me but I had not been able to fully articulate:

Of the top 14 oil exporters, only one is a well-established liberal democracy — Norway. Two others have recently made a transition to democracy — Mexico and Nigeria. Iraq is trying to follow in their footsteps. That's it. Every other major oil exporter is a dictatorship — and the run-up in oil prices has been a tremendous boon to them.

My associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ian Cornwall, calculates that if oil averages $71 a barrel this year, 10 autocracies stand to make about $500 billion more than in 2003, when oil was at $27. This windfall helps to squelch liberal forces and entrench noxious dictators in such oil producers as Russia (which stands to make $115 billion more this year than in 2003) and Venezuela ($36 billion). Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez can buy off their publics with generous subsidies and ignore Western pressure while sabotaging democratic developments from Central America to Central Asia.

The "dictatorship dividend" also subsidizes Sudan's ethnic cleansing (it stands to earn $4.7 billion more this year than in 2003), Iran's development of nuclear weapons ($45 billion) and Saudi Arabia's proselytization for Wahhabi fundamentalism ($149 billion). Even in such close American allies as Kuwait ($35 billion) and the United Arab Emirates ($36 billion), odds are that some of the extra lucre will find its way into the pockets of terrorists.

In short, although high oil prices may not be a cause for economic panic, they do represent a big strategic headache — and one that requires a serious governmental response. But what? Most of the "solutions" being debated in Washington, such as sending taxpayers a $100 rebate or imposing a windfall profits tax on oil companies, would do nothing to address the crux of the problem: How do we defund the dictators?

Read the rest of Boot's column to see his suggestions. I'll take others from readers.

posted by Dan at 10:48 AM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Pay no attention to those men with the guns!

Edna Fernandes provides my laugh for today after reading her coverage of Evo Morales' latest move as President of Bolivia in the Times of London:

President Evo Morales of Bolivia has ordered the military to seize 56 foreign-owned oil and gas fields in a nationalisation move that hit shares of companies operating in the Latin American country today.

Senor Morales called on the military to occupy the fields and gave warning he would throw out foreign companies who refused to recognise the nationalisation of the country’s oil and gas fields, which are the second largest reserves in the region after Venezuela.

The leftwing President, who came to power on a platform of re-nationalisation, warned of similar action in other sectors. "We are beginning by nationalising oil and gas. Tomorrow we will add mining, forestry and all natural resources – what our ancestors fought for," he said in a May Day speech at the San Alberto gas field in southern Bolivia.

Foreign investors were unable to assess the full impact of the decision, as details of the nationalisation policy were not readily available. The President has given the companies 180 days to renegotiate contracts.

The nationalisation policy would effectively downgrade the role of foreign companies from owners of the assets to simply operators. The Spanish Government swiftly declared its "profound worry" about the nationalisation, as shares in the Spanish energy group Repsol YPF took a hit.

The Bolivian Embassy in London told Times Online the President would issue a further statement on the details of the nationalisation policy in the coming week and denied the move would undermine foreign investment in the country, as investors take fright.

"In the end, the companies will understand these new rules help Bolivia and make it more stable. They should not be scared," said Pablo Ossio, the Charge d’Affairs at the embassy.

Asked whether the Bolivian Government would compensate foreign companies who lose their assets, he said there would be an audit of foreign energy assets over the coming six months. "But I don’t think they’ll be compensated," he said.

UPDATE: The Financial Times reports on the international fallout. The Bolivian move has the greatest impact on... the socialst governments of Spain and Brazil:
Spain on Tuesday warned Bolivia that nationalisation of its energy sector would have “consequences [for] the bilateral relationship”, a threat that could lead to the ending of debt relief.

The Spanish government said it was “deeply concerned” by the nationalisation law introduced by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s leftwing president, and complained about the “way the changes were promulgated”.

Repsol YPF, the Spanish energy group, has invested more than $1bn in Bolivian gas production, which accounts for 18 per cent of the company’s total energy reserves and 11 per cent of production. Brazil’s Petrobras is another big investor, and other international companies could be forced to write off their Bolivian gas reserves, analysts said....

Reacting angrily to Mr Morales’ decision to seize control of gas fields using army troops and annul existing contracts, Antonio Brufau, Repsol’s chairman, told Argentine radio: “We were told there would be time for negotiations, but obviously this was not the case.”

In Brazil, which receives half of its natural gas from Bolivia, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called an emergency meeting of his cabinet and Petrobras executives, amid fears that any supply interruptions could trigger an energy crisis in South America’s largest economy. Mr da Silva intended to consult other South American leaders about how to respond to the “unfriendly” move, his spokesman said.

Mr Brufau said Repsol the new decree “sidestepped all industrial logic that ought to govern the relations between governments and companies”.

posted by Dan at 09:50 AM | Comments (42) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thoughts big and small about the Brussels Forum

The perfect time to dish about a conference full of high-level muckity-mucks is when you're really, really jet-lagged. So, without further ado:

1) After close first-hand observation, I can now confirm that Senator John McCain has the equivalent of rock star status among policy cognoscenti. How do I know this? During the past 24 hours, I observed the following:

a) Richard Holbrooke taking great pains to say that he agreed with everything John McCain said at one of the sessions;

b) Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez taking great pains to plow over anyone and everyone separating her from McCain as we were all leaving dinner so she could sit next to him on the ride back to the hotel.

c) On the plane back to the United States, the man sitting next to me asked in an excited Belgian accent, "Do you know that Senator McCain is on this flight?"

d) Despite all the adulation from Democrats and Europeans, the Republicans in attendance all seemed happy to see him as well.

2) There's no question that the official rancor between the United States and much of Europe that was on full display in 2003 is now gone. At the same time, as someone smarter than myself pointed out during one of the sessions, we now live in a world where Bush has 33% approval ratings, the French government is even more unpopular, the German and Italisn governments look unstable, and Tony Blair is a lame duck. Hardly the idea situation for getting anything of substance accomplished.

3) The Federal government of Belgium gave all of the participants an enormous coffee table book, written in Flemish and French, about Belgian horticulture. I regret to report that I may have left my copy in my hotel room.

4) Here are links to the keynote speechs given by John McCain and John Edwards. Come to think of it, here is the link to all the transcripts from the meeting. So, dear readers, you can pretend like you were in Brussels too -- minus the massive coffe-table books.

posted by Dan at 08:49 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)