Archive for ‘Foreign Policy’

It Takes Courage: Christine Lagarde at the IMF

By , 24 August, 2011, No Comment

I’ve written the cover story of the next issue (dated September 12) of Forbes, a profile of Christine Lagarde, the new head of the IMF. This is Forbes’ annual Power Women issue, containing the magazine’s ranking of the world’s 100 most powerful women. Lagarde comes in at #9.

Here’s a snippet of my piece:

Not a moment too soon, given a world in financial turmoil and an IMF shaken to its core by the scandal of her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned over allegations of sexual assault in May. A moderate Socialist, DSK pushed for lenient fiscal policies and stringent financial regulations and opposed austerity programs in beleaguered euro zone economies like Ireland, Portugal and Greece. Lagarde, an unabashed free marketer, takes a much flintier approach to the crisis. It’s time, she says, to return the IMF to its roots, “that fiscal consolidation line, which I think is right.”

She knows this is a tough sell. “You first have a period [after making cuts] where growth takes a hit and goes negative”—and with that come unavoidable human costs in lost jobs and social services. Political feuding over controversial cuts will only make the pain worse. How should ordinary people cope? She pauses. “It takes courage.”

Read the whole story (and watch some video from my interview with Lagarde) here.

Bin Laden Dead: The Sovereignty Debate

By , 6 May, 2011, 1 Comment

A post on the legal status of U.S.-Pakistan relations right now. Verdict: they’re pretty ambiguous.

Thankfully, for the moment, the United States doesn’t need to defend its actions on Sunday because Pakistan is not pushing it. For this particular raid. But the Pakistani government has been very clear that a future raid–on other high value targets believed to also be in Pakistan, say–would be received as a hostile act and merit retaliation.

Legally, most scholars I’ve spoken to say an official statement saying ‘no’ has to be respected. Or at least, explains Gabriella Blum, a professor at Harvard Law School, it constitutes a reclaiming of sovereignty temporarily, a resetting of the accountability clock, and has to be taken–whether this seems plausible or not–as a promise to try again. The United States would have to build up a new case for Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to combat terrorism if it wanted to go in again. To continue to pursue covert raids without a break now could very easily be described as a attack on Pakistan. That’s quite concerning, since it appears from the recent re-shuffling of CIA and Pentagon leadership, that more covert raids and other intelligence-heavy operations are going to be a staple of the Obama Administration’s war on terror.

If you need further enticement, there’s a clip from the West Wing. Read here.

How Information Travels

By , 4 May, 2011, 3 Comments

For the past few days, I’ve been reporting round-the-clock on the Pakistani fallout of the bin Laden assassination. In the process, I’ve been able to play a small part in one of the fascinating side-stories of the assassination: the discovery of Sohaib Athar, an Abbottabad local who live-tweeted the sounds of the raid (helicopters overhead, then a massive explosion when one copter crashed) without knowing what he was hearing.

The Poynter Institute’s Steve Myers has done a great piece on how news of Athar traveled, and my role appears to have been, essentially, that I sit at the intersection of two networks: the network of people who follow news on Pakistan, and the network of American journalists, media critics and wonks. From the first network, I picked up early news of an unidentified helicopter crash in Abbottabad, and passed it on to Chris, who was visiting New York and watching the news alongside me. Chris did some clever sleuthing (more on that in a moment) to learn more, and came across Athar’s tweets. We both tweeted about Athar at around 12:38 AM on Sunday.

As Chris describes in his stellar post on the experience, my tweet happened to get traction (despite my having a relatively small follower base) because it went to my second network: American journalists, media critics and policy wonks who were, at precisely that moment, trying to get more information on the raid President Obama had described an hour before.

Chris’ role was different. He had the instinctive knowledge of technology to think of using Google Realtime to pull up tweets about Abbottabad from before Obama’s announcement, he recognized Athar’s tweets for what they were (a live account of the raid) and in describing them as such, provided the narrative frame that others could latch on to.

Here’s Chris’ account of what made Athar’s tweets so compelling:

Given a popular narrative of Bin Laden hiding in caves and the like, to find out he was living in a mansion somewhere so quiet, so genteel and so near to the heart of the establishment came as a surprise. The key thing that made Sohaib’s liveblogging from earlier in the day so compelling was that it was completely unwitting, mirroring our own disbelief that Bin Laden had been quietly residing in the Pakistani equivalent of Tunbridge Wells all these years, without any of us knowing. The story chimed perfectly with our own emotions. And because the story had been unwitting, it was also candid and honest, cutting through the hype and speculation that the 24-hour news stations were resorting to.

I agree with this, but I would add something else. At least for me, the power of Athar’s story was as a reminder that ‘war zones’ are also people’s homes. It brought to life the mundane details of daily life, and the poignant struggle of trying to live daily life–in Athar’s case, just to have a quiet work night–in one of the most dangerous and maddening countries on earth. As Athar told me when I interviewed him for Forbes, he moved to Abbottabad a few years ago from Lahore precisely to shield his family from the violence then engulfing the city.

What we saw in his tweets was a man who had run from the madness only to have it running after him. What we witnessed was the moment he realized it had caught up with him. That tension between what people really care about in Pakistan and the violence that prevents them from moving on with their lives, the bitter irony of life there, is something I’ve written on often. Yet no matter how much reporting I do, it doesn’t cease to affect me emotionally. And when, after the news about bin Laden had broken, Athar realized what had happened, and began to receive an avalanche of requests from journalists, he tweeted, “Bin Laden is dead. I didn’t kill him. Please let me sleep now.” For me, that’s an absolute punch to the gut.

Chris’ post makes another really great point about how Athar’s relationship to Twitter and his sudden celebrity progressed during the first 24 hours of the story:

As the story matured and his fame rose, Sohaib took on the role of citizen journalist, becoming a correspondent of sorts (not many other residents of Abbottabad are on Twitter, he remarked, it’s mostly Facebook). He conducted interviews on television, and ventured out into town to take photographs and report back on the mood in the town.This is a far cry from the cynical caricature of Twitter as an echo chamber – a place where nothing new is said and everything is relentlessly retweeted. As the story progressed, Sohaib came to the wider community’s attention and it in turned shaped his role in the affair. His relationship with Twitter evolved – it went from being a place to remark on the events that had taken place, to realising their significance, to realising his own significance, and then finally embracing it with intrepidness, intelligence and good humour. I might have been one small factor that sparked the process off, but I definitely can’t take any credit for the phenomenon he has become – that’s entirely to his own credit, and something that we should celebrate.

I’ve really nothing to add here, except to say that I think this is very much the ideal of how social media and citizen journalism is meant to work. Not everyone can grow into their new status as a one-person-broadcast-network with such speed and grace, which is why I’m so often skeptical of how it will evolve as a model, but Athar’s transformation is nothing short of a triumph.

Bin Laden Dead: Pakistan Responds

By , 3 May, 2011, No Comment

Have started a new post tonight, with some information from the Pakistani government on their role. Probably best to read yesterday’s post as background first.

Bin Laden Dead: Fallout in Pakistan

By , 2 May, 2011, 1 Comment

A post up at Foreign Exchange on the bin Laden raid and what’s come of it in Pakistan:

In other words, as Pakistan has sunk deeper into the abyss of violence, the country’s political debate has divided on two related questions: how involved are we in America’s war, and does more involvement make us safer or less safe?

The raid on bin Laden’s compound only underscores that debate, and the information emerging so far presents all sides with new ammunition.

Read it all here.

In Defense of Political Economy: new ideas on development from the World Bank

By , 30 April, 2011, No Comment

A new blog post at Foreign Exchange, finally. This one’s on a new report from the World Bank that makes some strong points about the relationship between conflict, security and economic development:

The central argument of the report is that economic development is imperiled, or even undermined, by political instability and conflict. That’s not a new line, but historically, it’s a line that has been deployed by critics of foreign aid or development spending: given that poor countries are also warring states or corrupt states where aid dollars often fail, the critics say, aid dollars are wasteful at best, and detrimental at worst.The answer, historically, has come from organizations devoted to solving conflicts or protecting the rule of law as ends in themselves, who often try to remind donors of the economic dividends of their work.  Development institutions meanwhile have defended their work by the argument that economic investments can solve political problems and therefore that the politics need not be tackled, or even engaged with, first. [That’s why, for example, the central development document of the last decade, the Millennium Development Goals, doesn’t include benchmarks for democracy and good governance.]

The new answer is that aid dollars should be spent directly on solving these ‘political’ problems, that in fact there are no problems in the developing world today with purely economic or political character, that this is a chicken-or-egg debate in which neither factor actually comes first.

This has much to do with the changing nature of conflict.

Read the rest here.

A Dash of Cynicism on Libya

By , 28 March, 2011, No Comment

I return from blogger exile with a post at Foreign Exchange on the French role in Libya:

It’s a nice idea, perhaps, that after Bernard Kouchner, France’s leading advocate of liberal interventionism, has left office, the President who fired him suddenly comes around to the doctrine. It’s an even nicer idea for nerdy foreign policy writers that France’s intellectual mascot, Bernard-Henri Lévy, played the decisive role, a notion BHL is quite happy to entertain. But given the French government’s history of being relatively skeptical of this type of argumentation, you must forgive my looking for some material factors.

What factors? In my post, I posit the blowback from Tunisia, France’s peculiar energy mix, and its Mediterranean geography. Read it here.

Raymond Davis and the Media

By , 5 March, 2011, 2 Comments

The Raymond Davis saga in Pakistan is far from over, and I’ll have a piece sooner or later on the implications, broadly, for US-Pak relations. But there’s a meta-story that’s worth taking note of now: the coverage of the story in the Pakistani and international press. Essentially, Davis’ CIA status was being floated in the Pakistani press for several weeks before it ‘broke’ in the Guardian. It turned out that the New York Times and other American news organizations had deliberately held back the information at the request of U.S. authorities. Though a similar request was made of the Guardian, the paper’s editors and reporters refused.

As a reader of the Pakistani press, I’d seen the CIA claim, but in part because of the easy way in which the CIA is used as a bogeyman in Pakistani political discourse, I must admit I was skeptical of the claim until the Guardian verified it. As a critic of the Times’ inconsistent policy about withholding information for ‘the safety of the subject,’ I’m disappointed, but unsurprised, by their call on this one. Points to the Guardian for getting it right. For more on the details, this video from Al Jazeera’s media-watch show, Listening Post, is good:

The story is amusing coming on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s takedown of the American media at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week. Clinton asserted that the U.S. is losing the global information war because of the frivolity in American journalism: you don’t feel when watching American news stations, she says, that you are getting real news.

Problematically, one reason American news outlets don’t deliver enough ‘real news’ is because they comply too readily with the intelligence agencies trying to win that information war. Yet another example of misaligned agendas coming from the State Department and the CIA.

Economic Peace: Some Thoughts from Barcelona

By , 1 March, 2011, No Comment

Returning from a brief (9 days) blogging hiatus with a post at Foreign Exchange. The subject: a panel I was asked to speak on at IESE’s sustainable business conference in Barcelona this weekend. My topic was ‘economic peace and the private sector’s role in fostering political stability.’ An excerpt:

Specifically, the reductive tendency leads us to place emphasis on macroeconomic growth as a cure-all, when as we’ve seen in Obasanjo’s Nigeria or Ben Ali’s Tunisia or Musharraf’s Pakistan, growth can correlate quite easily with increasing political instability and conflict. For one thing, there’s the question of distribution, of how much growth is trickling down the bottom of the economic ladder to those most likely to be embroiled in crime or violence.

But even if ‘economic growth’ is replaced by a genuine focus on job creation and the building of a stable middle class, a critical challenge remains. In a society which has chosen—and this is an ideological choice—to invest its resources in militarism or theocracy but not in education or health care, an angry young man with a steady income still can’t spend it providing for his family: the services he needs aren’t there to be purchased.

Instead, they’re available to him for free from the same crowd of ‘non-state actors’ responsible for his country’s turmoil. In other words, those actors—be they mobsters or terrorists or warlords—aren’t grafting an abstract ideology onto his poverty and rage; they are producing an alternative society, complete with the services the state does not provide. It’s an ideological battle, not an economic one, to transfer a whole society’s focus and collective, public, wealth into building the social structures that make an income valuable. Without those, a little money’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

You can read the rest here.

One postscript: left to my own devices, I’d probably have parachuted into Barcelona for a day; attended the conference and jetted out. With encouragement and company from qwghlm, I took four whole days off work. I didn’t check Twitter and Google Reader every 5 minutes; I missed thousands of tweets and hundreds of news stories; and when we got back and I caught up, I found that nothing had fundamentally changed on the big stories I’d been following. Gaddafi? Still in power. Raymond Davis? Still in legal limbo. Me? Recharged and ready to report on both.

Three Lessons in Bahrain

By , 19 February, 2011, No Comment

Post at Foreign Exchange this evening on Bahrain:

As Khalil Al-Marzooq a senior opposition leader and the first deputy to the speaker of Parliament put it to me earlier in the week, “Our demands are not born of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. Our demands date back to 2001.”

That is when, for the uninitiated, Bahrain adopted the National Action Charter, a truce intended to bring an end to over 10 years of violent political uprisings. Those uprisings joined together liberals, leftists and Islamists, but protesters referred to their movement as an intifada and it did develop a sectarian character, not least because a Sunni regime hit back particularly hard in Shi’ite areas. This is an important point: whether or not the content of political protest is Islamist, the demographics of government-opposition relations in Bahrain are sectarian in a way that has not been true in the countries we’ve seen flare up so far this year.

The other two lessons? Find them here.