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.
What are Russia and China's end game on Iran?
After reading Elaine Sciolino's excellent review of the current state of play regarding Iran in today's New York Times, I'm going to have to put the same question to Russia and China:
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is known for overheated, boastful pronouncements. So it was hardly a surprise earlier this month when he declared that despite demands from the United States and other countries that Iran stop enriching uranium, Tehran was pressing ahead and negotiations were out of the question.As near as I can figure, China and Russia don't want to think about the end game because the status quo benefits them enormously.
The status quo is a situation in which:
a) The US and EU are committed to work through the United Nations;This is all well and good, and rational in the short run. The thing is, I'm reasonably sure that neither Russia nor China really wants Iran to develop a nuclear fuel cycle that is independent of any IAEA or UNSC strictures -- which is what the status quo will lead to in a few years. Clearly, solving the problem now will be less costly than solving the problem later. And as much as China and Russia might disdain sanctions, I've seen zero evidence that inducements are having any effect either.
Question to Russia and China-watchers -- what do they believe the end game is on Iran?
UPDATE: This Reuters story highlights another problem -- as long as Iran believes that the great powers are not coordinated, they have no incentive to make any concessions:
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said late on Thursday that nothing would deflect the Islamic Republic from its pursuit of nuclear technology and that Washington had "lost" in its attempts to stop them.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Another exercise in ranking generosity
One of pieces of accepted wisdom among policy cognoscenti is that while the United States is not terribly generous in terms of foreign aid, it does excel in niche areas, like providing providing relief for humanitarian disasters.
The Financial Times' Quentin Peel reports on a new ranking exercise that suggests this perception might not match.... other people's perception:
Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have been ranked as the top four aid donors in providing relief for humanitarian disasters, according to a new index published on Thursday.I tried to access the actual report, but Dara's web site, while quite fancy, is also maddeningly short on detail or methodology.
Still, two quick thoughts:
1) Are the evaluations of aid agencies really the only metric being used here? Surely some of these agencies were on the losing end of various funding decisions by major power donors. Might that not affect their responses?
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Soft power penetrates the Bush administration
It was unusual for two reasons. First, he was asking for greater budgetary and institutional support -- for other Cabinent departments:
[M]y message today is not about the defense budget or military power. My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short, based on my experience serving seven presidents, as a former Director of CIA and now as Secretary of Defense, I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use “soft” power and for better integrating it with “hard” power.The second unusual quality was that Gates embraced an academic concept Joseph Nye's notion of "soft power." This is quite the turnaround -- a few years ago, Nye complained in Foreign Affairs about Gates' predecessor: "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld professes not even to understand the term."
It is interesting to see the head of one bureaucracy realize that his organization benefits from enhancing the capacities of a quasi-rival organization, and kudos to Gates for this kind of thinking.
On the "soft power" idea, I have just a smidgen of sympathy for Rumsfeld. Over the past half-decade, the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com has found this idea simltaneously beguiling and frustrating. However, as Nye defined the term initially -- getting others to want what you want -- he was talking primarily about non-state capabilities, such as culture and ideology.
Question to readers: can a government consciously generate soft power?
The mainstreaming of blogging in political science
When a former editor of the American Political Science Review gets into the blogging biz, you know things have changed.
Open Annapolis thread
The hard-workin staff here at danieldrezner.com will be hard at work on offline activities today. Readers are strong encouraged to post comments about today's meeting in Annapolis.
Not much of substance will be accomplished, so readers are also encouraged to develop drinking game rules for wathing the summitry. A few provisional rules:
Take a sip whenever:1) Amedia commentator compares this summit to Bill Clinton's late second-term effort at iddle East diplomacy.Take a shot whenever:
Monday, November 26, 2007
Bloggers 1, reporters 0
Over at Slate's Trailhead blog, Christopher Beam listens into two conference calls for GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, one for reporters and one for bloggers. Beam's conclusion:
[T]the bloggers’ questions were more substantive by a long shot....
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Paranoia about paranoia?
In the Boston Globe today, Drake Bennett takes a closer look at the fears of a conspiracy to create a North American Union -- and what it means about the United States:
The NAU may be the quintessential conspiracy theory for our time, according to scholars studying what the historian Richard Hofstadter famously called the "paranoid style" in American politics. The theory elegantly weaves old fears and new realities into one coherent and all-encompassing plan, and gives a glimpse of where, politically, many Americans are right now: alarmed over immigration, worried about globalization, and - on both sides of the partisan divide - suspicious of the Bush administration's expansive understanding of executive power.Bennett is not the first writer to make this point with regard to the fictional NAU. And certainly, the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com is not above poking holes in conspiracy theories or relying on Hofstadter's "paranoid style" to explain a particularly absurd line of argumentation.
Before concluding that America is awash in conspiracy theories, however, there are some paragraphs in Bennett's essay that makes me wonder whether the paranoia problem is less acute now than before:
As a social anxiety, the NAU's roots run deep. Global government and elites who secretly sell out their own citizenry have long been staples of conspiracy theories, thanks in part to the Book of Revelation's warning that world government will be an early indicator of the Apocalypse. Over the centuries, the world's puppeteers have been thought to be, in turn, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Freemasons, the pope, the Jews, international bankers, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Rockefellers, and the Communist International.Conspiracy theories have wreaked far more damage on past policies than present ones. One could plausibly argue that in the past, the paranoid style helped torpedo America's entry into the League of Nations and exacerbated the worst excesses of McCarthyism. The paranoias that exist today -- the NAU, the 9/11 conspiracies, Bush stole the 2004 election -- are certainly irksome to policymakers and candidates alike. That said, as political roadblocks I'm not sure they rise to the same level as previous waves of paranoia.
[But the Internets, the Internets!! Surely this shows that conspiracies are omnipresent in a way that never existed before!!--ed. No, they just make them more visible than ever before. The Internet also makes it easier to puncture conspiracy theories earlier than ever before as well.]
I'm not sure I'm right about this, so I'll put the question to readers -- are today's conspiracy theories more harmful than the conspiracy theories of the past? How could we test this assertion?
UPDATE: Hmmm... this Scripps-Howard report suggests the prevalence -- but also the limits -- of the paranoid style (hat tip: Tom Maguire):
A national survey of 811 adult residents of the United States conducted by Scripps and Ohio University found that more than a third believe in a broad smorgasbord of conspiracy theories including the attacks, international plots to rig oil prices, the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the government's knowledge of intelligent life from other worlds.The decline in the UFO response suggests two things: a) The X-Files has been off the air for some time now; and b) there is a residual belief in some conspiracy at any point in time -- but when the global political economy seem threatening, conspiracy theorists migrate towards those issues.