Archive for ‘Foreign Policy’

I have drunk the Pimms

By , 6 March, 2009, 5 Comments

Larry Smith, one of my favorite political bloggers, has held my interest this year because he’s a liberal who has refused to drink the Obama Kool-Aid, and as a Brit, has risen above ideology by being able to critique his own Labour Party. But he has a ghastly post this week detailing all the reasons he’s ga-ga over President Obama’s first month in office, for which I took him to task in his comments section.

To be honest, I’m not in a great place to point fingers. Because while I am still pretty irked by President Obama, I have gone ga-ga for Gordon Brown. It’s been coming on for some time–for a while I was able to separate my admiration for his intelligence and his principles from his lack of political savvy and charisma. That division shattered when he addressed Congress on Wednesday–it was a personal, eloquent and yet forceful policy address the likes of which, as the British papers were quick to point out, Brown has never made in Westminister.

So in part, I just swooned to see Brown succeed on both political and policy fronts. But I was also bowled over by the content of his argument:

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Elephant in the Room

By , 17 January, 2009, 1 Comment

Lest anyone think I am being callous or unfeeling in not covering the war in Gaza, let me explain: it’s because I am so dismayed and so bereft of useful things to say on this topic. BUT if you do want to hear an optimistic and actionable plan for how to untangle the Mid-East mess, watch this video clip. I more or less agree with everything in this plan–someone give this man a job as an envoy to the region and get this ball rolling.

Follow-Ups

By , 5 August, 2008, No Comment

An all-too-true criticism of bloggers is that we get caught up in whatever is the hot news story of the minute, but can’t follow through or stick around long enough to see the full picture. To correct that, I’m revisiting two previous posts today.

1. Way back in May, I ranted about America’s atrocious decision to rescind some Fulbright awards to Palestinians at Israel’s request. To summarize my previous argument, even if you believe that Palestine should be denied a seat at the negotiating table till it solves its internal problems, isn’t helping responsible, social-service oriented Palestinians (ex. academics) a key way to facilitate that precondition? For a few weeks after the Fulbright scandal broke, the U.S. appeared to see that logic and re-granted the grants. Today, we found out that of the 7 grants that were taken away and given back, 3 have been taken away AGAIN. For the details of the Kafka-esque legal proceedings, see the NYTimes coverage. But suffice it to say, this blog’s snapshot judgment earlier this year was sadly right.

2. Yesterday, I indulged in a little gloating at spotting some errors in a David Brooks column. Those errors still hold, but today, Brooks pretty much smacked me in the face for doubting his intelligence: his column on Barack Obama was spot-on, and as usual focused on the cultural side of politics, looking for social and cultural forces that might turn voters off him. No, that doesn’t mean racism. It means that Obama’s post-partisan, post-racial, trans-national ideology is a problem not because of the specific groups he transcends, but because he’s so determined to be transcendant. It’s okay, says Brooks, to have your feet in a few communities; that’s good. But it’s not okay when it starts to feel as though you have no community at all. Accusing Barack of being sort of antisocial has nothing to do with challenging his patriotism, his blackness or his whiteness; it has to do with the fact that humans of all political stripes are social beings.

On one point, I do disagree with the almighty DB. He makes the point that this uber-individualism Barack exhibits is something of a generational shift and alludes to the notion that the rising hyperlinked generation, whose reality is all about being in multiple places, viewing multiple tabs at once, are his core constituents. True. But even the techiest of GenYers has a community or two–no one I know is on EVERY SINGLE social network or wants to be. And no one views their various online communities with the aloof dispassion that Obama seems to have for the whole notion of belonging to a group.

Brooks is wrong, FINALLY!

By , 4 August, 2008, 1 Comment

For the last seven years (as long as I’ve been writing opinions pieces), I’ve had a grudging respect for the genius of David Brooks, referencing him in several columns and linking to him from most of the posts on this and previous blogs. That’s odd, because Brooks is a classic Burkean conservative, and I’m a pretty unabashed liberal, and most of the time I disagree with his policy proposals. What I like about Brooks is his social and cultural approach to political subjects, his explanation of elections and geostrategy through technological change or class hierarchies. He’s asking the questions I want to be asking, and even if we come up with different answers, our differences are matters of values, not a sign that one of us is more right than the other.

His most recent column, however, breaks the mold. For the first time in years, I think David Brooks is wrong and I feel like a cross between the child who finds out his parents aren’t superheroes after all and the proverbial martial arts student who defeats his master in one-on-one combat.

Brooks wrote on Friday about the rise of a multipolar world. America’s demise as THE single superpower will not usher in the rule of China, or India or Brazil or even a consortium like the EU, but the rule of nobody and everybody. To Brooks, this means we are doomed to anarchy, because any one power has the ability to cripple the international process–witness the collapse of the Doha talks and the lack of action on Darfur. He seems to think that the international process and international institutions depend upon the ability of a few (Perm5, G8 etc) players to keep everyone in line.

In fact, the opposite is true. Yes, the world has gone multipolar. Not in the sense that all powers have suddenly become equally powerless, but in the sense that different kinds of power are focused in different places. Technological power is centered on both sides of the Pacific; military power in America, China, Russia, and Israel; economic power in India, China, Brazil and if they get their act together the EU, political power in China, Russia, and the OPEC countries etc.

But instead of yielding a world in which no country can exercise whatever kind of power it’s got, the multipolar age means every country has an increased vested interest in the international process TO exercise that power. When you only control one small niche, and when that niche is part of so many global relationships (India’s economic power is all linked up with the technological power of Silicon Valley, for example), you NEED the international process to make your power valuable. The problem with our current international institutions is that their hierarchical setup isn’t suited to multipolar power dynamics. The P5 or G8 nations are unrepresentative of today’s power dynamics, but simply adding more countries (or bringing EVERYONE to the table, a la Doha) is inefficient.

Instead, imagine a United Nations with 3 or 4 possible Security Councils. Depending on the resolution up for debate, a different Council would be in session, allowing say Brazil to trump Russia if the topic is trade, but Russia to trump Brazil when the topic is disarmament. Just as individuals are dividing up their world in more niches as technology allows, so the international process can become more issue focused, allowing many powers to become the central pole of their own niche.

Dumb as we wanna be

By , 24 July, 2008, No Comment

Tom Friedman has a line about US energy policy—“dumb as we wanna be.” I’d like to apply the same to our policies in Pakistan. Right now, we’re pummeling billions into the Pakistani military to help us fight insurgent Taliban sympathizers on the Pak-Afghan border. This is a good cause, but giving a blank check and big arms shipments to the army, then waiting for them to do the right thing is a bad methodology.

First of all, as the NY Times reports, there’s no guarantee that the funds go towards counterterrorism. Secondly, by helping to expand the power of the military at the expense of civilian leadership, we undermine the progress of the rule of law. That’s been the case throughout the Musharraf years, but it’s even more so now when there’s a new democratic government who campaigned as an alternative to Mush. Thirdly, by encouraging the country to focus so myopically on its military, we feed the fire of a ballooning deficit and stalled economic development.

In the end, this “counter-terror” policy of ours promotes dictators over democratic leaders, martial law over constitutionalism and wasteful government spending over economic growth. But it’s when young people have no economic opportunities and no voice in government or in the law to appeal for change that they turn to radical alternatives like terror in the first place.

As Dumb As We Wanna Be.

What Friends are For

By , 30 May, 2008, 1 Comment

Just when I think I’ve seen it all, the U.S. government does something so mind-bogglingly stupid I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s real. That’s what happened today when I learned that the State Department has cancelled the Fulbright grants for seven students from Gaza.

Israel’s current policy vs. Hamas is to close off the Gaza strip until tough living conditions force Palestinians to rise up against their government. That means no one can go in or out of Gaza for work, food, or travel.

I’m not a fan of the culture war rhetoric that dominates discussions of Middle East politics, but if there is a culture war, then our best hope is to empower the brightest young Palestinians with education and job prospects, and let them build civil society from within. It’s Kafka-esque of Israel to insist upon a strong Palestinian civil society as a precondition for any negotiations, and then deny Palestinians access to the resources to build that society.

What outrages me, as an American, is that we let them get away with it. Technically, yes, Israel has a ban on Palestinian travel, but as one of the seven students said in an interview with the NYTimes, it’s hard to believe that American influence couldn’t have wrangled an exception for seven individuals selected by the State Department. Breaking cultural barriers is precisely the reason the State Department funds Fulbrights to begin with.

Public anger about the decision today is putting pressure on Israel and the US Government to make a visa exception for the seven students, but it doesn’t solve the fact that the Fulbright organizers have already cancelled the scholarships and given the money to other applicants. Now the question is whether they can russle up new funds for the original seven.

As Israel’s strongest and staunchest ally, it’s our responsibility not only to support them in tough times, but to give honest advice, to say “no” when they make a wrong turn. THAT’s what friends are for.