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.
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 Amazon.com:
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.
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.
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 danieldrezner.com. 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.]
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.Read the rest of Boot's column to see his suggestions. I'll take others from readers.
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.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.
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;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.