Talking to myself about foreign policy, US politics, technology, &c.

Archive for the ‘International’ Category

In Azerbaijan, the Law is an Ass

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Two young political activists in Azerbaijan were given two years in prison on trumped-up charges after posting a sardonic video mocking the government with a man in a donkey suit.

Working in human rights can be pretty depressing. I don’t really have anything witty or wise to add to the sad case.

Articles of Confederation, Take Two

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

There’s a new international juggernaut on the world scene. Russia? Nah, they’re too busy drinking themselves to death. India? Nah, they’re 34% illiterate. China? Brazil?


Nope, it’s the United States of Europe. After a long journey, the European Constitution Lisbon Treaty has crossed its final hurdle.

This is a truly historic moment. Much as one might laugh about Brussels, the process of “ever closer union” has made a very significant step. Remember that, after a period under the weak Articles of Confederation, we quickly got a much stronger federative document – but even with that the balance of power was in the hands of the states for a long time.

The logic of centralization will continue for a long time. God forbid another Great Power war, but if we have one then things will speed up infinitely.

With a first EU president, Kissinger’s snide question – “If I want to call Europe, who do I call?” finally has an answer. I hope it’s this one.

The Company You Keep: Goldstone and Israel

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

cranesThe Goldstone Report on potential war crimes during the Gaza conflict Operation Cast Lead last winter has set off a frenetic flurry of spin and pushback in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. The report could even lead to International Criminal Court prosecutions for Israeli leaders.

Goldstone’s report, commissioned by the somewhat ridiculous UN Human Rights Council, condemns both Israel and Hamas for violating humanitarian law by targeting civilians. The Human Rights Council is a travesty packed with governments that sometimes, say, torture their own people. Despite that and the fact that the group relentlessly bludgeons Israel the Council, in this case, still has a point worth investigating.

The Israeli government and allies have been running a full-court press to try and quash and discredit Goldstone’s report and the man himself. A past president of of Human Rights Watch excoriated the criticism of Israel, suggesting that rights defenders have no business criticizing largely open governments.

I disagree completely. As someone deeply concerned with civil liberties here in the United States, I vociferously criticize developments in my country that I think are human rights violations, and I applaud outside groups who apply pressure and scruitiny to the US on these topics as well.

This does not mean that the US – or Israel – is as bad as Zimbabwe or Hamas. It does mean that one must speak out about injustice in your home as well as abroad. Countries that are more open and more liberal – and that proudly claim to be so – have a special obligation to acknowledge mistakes, investigate them, and attempt to ensure they do not occur again.

You don’t need to get into a who-is-more-awful pissing match to recognize faults that need to be corrected.

Oh, but Israel doesn’t need to worry about referral to the ICC. The Chinese have promised to veto any Security Council move to do so.

Best headline of the year: All problems in Caucasus to be resolved – Turkish President

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

In my job with the US Helsinki Commission I start the day by compiling news clips. Pretty interesting, often depressing, only occasionally laugh-out-loud humorous. This one was, thanks to our friends in the Azeri media.

All problems in Caucasus to be resolved: Turkish President.

I can’t say how glad I am to hear that. Some of my colleagues will probably be out of work, the end of thousands of years of fractious violence is worth celebrating.

I don’t know why the NYT didn’t lead with the good news, though.

Freelancing Foreign Policy

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

There’s only one branch of the US government that is responsible for foreign policy. Fuzzy as the constitution can be on some things, this one is pretty cut and dried.

Now, Republicans, the Party of Patriotism ™ might be expected to follow the maxim of partisanship ending at the waters’ edge.

You would regrettably be wrong.

Senator DeMint went traipsing off to Honduras today to be a cheerleader the leaders of the coup who overthrew President Zelaya. His moves are in direct opposition to US policy which has staunchly

Indeed, those who would call the military’s violent ouster of a democratically elected leader a ‘coup’ are, according to DeMint, “ill informed.”

Good to know.

I had some sympathy for the revolutionaries; the former president was publicly mulling constitutional changes to pave the way for another term for himself. Hitler’s rise to power provides the ultimate example of the argument for stopping a leader undermining a democratic system while staying mainly within the constitutional lines; you can make a case for saving a democracy by overriding it in such cases.

With junta leaders attempting to squash free speech rights, though, that seems to make such a premise a bit doubtful.

Worse, in my mind, was Mike Huckabee’s grandstanding in Israel. In an attempt to bolster his standing with evengelicals he goes over to Jerusalem and makes provocative statements opposing a two-state solution, undermining what has been official US policy for ages, and undercutting Obama as he is working to bring peace to that troubled land.

Development Does Some Good

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Sometimes when you deal with the world of international development you get the sense that it would be a lot more useful to take all the billions spent on foreign aid and burn them. At least that way you might get a really cool bonfire out of it.

The NYT has a beautiful slideshow on development developments in Malawi, one of the most spectactuarly awful countries on Earth as all health and education indicators go.

The great take away is that, through concerted efforts and billions of dollars, things have made a big jump. Infant mortality, for example, has been cut by more than half. That’s a real difference for a lot of real families.

Partial Democracy as Ice Cream Cone

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

The NYT has a great piece on ongoing dissent in Iran. While Ahmadinejad has bloodily quieted the streets, within the government struggles continue.

The most powerful quote:

A dissident senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, once in line to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, released a letter on his Web site that struck at the moral and religious credentials of the leadership, saying it had chosen a “deviant path.”

“I hope they will compensate for their damages and not hold innocents in prison any longer,” he wrote, “and end the legal trials and the broadcasting of confessions, so that they no longer mock the Islamic judiciary; or at least have the courage to announce that this government is neither a republic nor is it Islamic.”

Oooh, snap! A bit of the power of constitutional democracy on display. While authoritarian, Iran’s always had something of a liberal mask; after all, apart from Israel & Turkey they were the most democratic system in the Middle East. But that has been ripped away. On the same principle that you don’t take an ice cream cone away from a toddler, this may have been a significant strategic error.

There’s a lot of smart, educated middle-class people in Iran who were already chafing under the religious thuggishness. Not that it is clear they are living under a dictatorship, who knows what the long-term consequences might be.

Bear-ly tolerable?

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Tom Friedman (the Mustache of Understanding) wrote a book aeons ago (ok, last century) called “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”. The book, and most of Friedman’s writing, gets dismissed as layman’s schlock by highbrow IR folks, along with progressives who hate him, mostly for Friedman’s early support for the Iraq war. And his ridiculous metaphors. And perhaps the fact that his writing does really well. Me, I like him ‘cuz he’s a Minnesotan.

Anyhoo. In LntOT (not to be confused with LotR) Mr. F talks about the “golden straitjacket” applied by international financial institutions, banks, and investors. No modern economy can survive without the capital, liquidity, and confidence provided by a decent investment climate. I leave the discussion of the current American disaster to the real eggheads - but  it certainly emphasizes that no modern economy can really function without these fat cats behind them.

Maybe that’s not the right turn of phrase, because it looks like the investors have indeed been leaving Russia behind them. After an already-bad summer, the main Micex index has lost another 30% since the Georgian invasion. Gobs of money have fled Russia. Increasingly, folks are getting the sense that Putin’s Medvedev’s Putin’s Russia is not, well, normal. Not-normal places are bad for investment. Not-normal places with tremendous oil teats to suckle at sound all right, until you realize that you’re either gonna get locked up or nationalized. After that, well, they mostly sound like a bully who happens to control the playground where everyone wants to ride the hydrocarbon swings.

Er, sorry. Channelling Friedman. Anyway, the point is that Russia is paying a price for this incursion, and perhaps the neoliberal market economist dovish peace-love-dope hippies will be right, and Russia will find that crime trans-border conflict does not pay. So you can hold on the panicking for the moment.

If they go for Ukraine, well, then you can panic.


The End of the Innocence

Monday, August 18th, 2008

One of my favorite parts of my grad program was being a teaching assistant for Intro to International Relations. 

The question that demonstrated the fundamental differences in the class – and was always good for an argument where I could chill out, sit back, and watch the fireworks – was simply “Will there be a World War in our lifetime?”

No way, I though to myself, drifting off as the students started calling each other impolite names. The world is so economically integrated; it would be financial armageddon. All countries pay at least lip service to liberal democracy; apart from the fringe Salafist Islamic elements, there’s no existential enemy left out there. Peace will prevail. You silly Realist students gunning for another epic conflict were simply not getting enough multi-player Counter Strike in the dorms.  It was The End of History. It’s a Small World After All. Let’s all sing Kumbaya.

And then Russia stomped all over Georgia.

A lot of people have run the analysis of the situation in the Caucasus better than I will; if you read this, I’m sure you’ve read them already.

The main takeaways for me: Territory matters. Nationalism matters. As long as there are authoritarian regimes, the whim of the president prime minster matters.

The whole international system is built of beautiful stained glass – an intricate piece of delicate art, constructed over generations, that seems substantial – but the first time a thug throws a brick through it, as ephemeral as the air. 

As the power of the United States has been sapped in Iraq and a resurgent Russia and expanding China have caught up, we’re back to the era of the Great Powers. Not two superpowers, facing each other with the prospect of worldwide destruction, but something closer to the bad old days. The unipolar moment is past – if either of those countries committed to war in their sphere of influence, America would be faced with the choice of acquiescence - or another World War.

Maybe the teacher – despite my time overseas and expensive education – was the naive one in Intro to IR.


Monday, November 12th, 2007

So, as predicted, we aren’t going to remember Nov. 11th as the Day the Internet Stood Still.

Jihadist E-Bomb Fails to Explode

Unsurprisingly, combine two things that journalists don’t understand – Salafist insurrectionists and the magic tubes of the Internet – and you’ve got great press but bad facts.

Of all the things to worry about out there, massive cyber-warfare isn’t high on the list. Even, I would think, in a time of real war.

Fortunately this won’t overshadow future celebrations of the signing of the Mayflower Compact


Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Uncowed by David Horowitz’s fatuous IslamoFacismAwarenessWeek , Al Qaeda has called for an Internet jihad against its enemies for November 11th.

I’m dubious about this stuff. Massive denial-of-service attacks, even if they occur, ain’t gonna do much. If a huge flow of data from the Middle East was swamping American servers, they’d simply cut off the link. A nuisance, but not a big one. Remember, DARPA was thinking about nuclear war when they designed the Internet.

The real malevolent force trying to destroy our American Internet-surfin’ way of life? the sinister backhoe.

Anyway, mark your calendars. If the Internet shuts down, go for a walk. It’ll be back in a minute.

Cranberries, Mashed Potatos and Cross-Border Turkey Incursions

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Looks like we have a nice lil’ situation brewing in Turkey/Northern Iraq. Remember northern, Kurdish-controlled Iraq? The nice peaceful place? Well, what’s a little internecine warfare between cousins – it’s an island of only occasional mass terrorist carnage. If you need a refresher, check out my friend Matan’s blog on his travels there. I’ll wait.

Anyway, Kurdish separatists snatched a dozen Turkish soldiers, right in the wake of the Turkish Parliament’s authorization for invasion of Northern Iraq.

This whole debacle will only get better if we manage to destabilize our long-time ally and the only real democracy in the region. Hey, maybe the military will revolt against their new (mildly) Islamic overlords and use it as an opportunity to get back in the driver’s seat.

For future reference when you’re wondering how to raise the temperature on Turkey without anyone getting hurt, check here.

In Defence of the Very Serious Foreign Policy Community

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Atrios is on one of his snarky tears these days on something that actually hits a bit close to home: the “Foreign Policy community,” which he sees as a bunch of pro-war shills for the administration and general nincompoops.

Here are some examples. (you can’t directly link to posts on his blog, but if you look for “foreign” you’ll find it.)

This gets me antsy, since I hope to be one of those nincompoops once I come out of my cocoon and become a Foreign Policy Community Butterfly.


Pakistani Democracy Not Quite Dead?

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

In Pakistan, President Musharraf also faces a threat diametrically opposed to that of Al Qaeda – the fact that the country is nominally a democracy.

Despite the parlous state of affairs there, the not-quite-elected president may have finally reached the outer limits of his authoritarian consolidation; after booting out the Chief Justice back in March, the Supreme Court said “um, no, you can’t do that” and reinstated him.

Months of protests have shown that there are still some folks out there concerned about this state of affairs. Musharraf could have upped the ante by preventing the Chief Justice from taking his seat or perhaps simply sacking the whole lot of them.

Oh, also, he may have to give up either the presidency or the leadership of the armed forces. Considering he only has the former because of the latter, it’s not a pleasant prospect.

Musharraf is a fascinating and rather sympathetic figure; he’s clearly a technocratic leader who isn’t doing a bad job for the economy, and has been a useful ally to the US. Pakistani friends tell me they really like him – too bad about the whole democracy thing, but he’s all right, they suggest.

Still, the threat of Islamists overrunning government ala Hamas seems unlikely given a real election, so I can’t see the Supreme Court’s moves as anything but a good thing.

The US and What Army?

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

“US Won’t Rule Out Force in Pakistan” threatens today’s Boston Globe.

Al Qaeda has set up a comfy little arrangement in the uncontrolled tribal areas of Northern Pakistan; training camps, local autonomy, tight connections with local leaders. Like, you know, Afghanistan was before 9/11.

The Pakistani government basically gave up trying to impose control on this remote, mountainous, and rabidly independent region in a cease-fire 10 months ago and since then regrettably the situation has not improved.

The question is what the US could possibly do to improve the situation. Clearly expanding into another theater of war with unresolved struggles in both Iraq and Afghanistan is not a viable option. Equally clearly, Bush is not about to pull the troops out of Iraq.

So where exactly would the forces come to do this? The Pakistanis have been problematic but critical allies in this struggle, but they are not likely to let America invade their territory; it would be another nail in the coffin of Musharraf’s rule.

There’s always the possibility of pinpoint airstrikes and bombing, but that didn’t work pre-9/11, and will still piss off the Pakistanis.

I’m glad I study China. There’s just no good answers for anything in the Middle East.

Pics from Europe

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

Added a nice new set of pictures to the gallery from the travels across Europe going to and from Kyrgyzstan last summer.

Check ‘em out.

Petulant Putin

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

President Putin has gone ballistic over the rattling the ol’ nuclear sabre over America’s attempts to install anti-ICBM missile interceptors in Poland. It can’t actually be the idea that the West – with which Russia is increasingly appearing in opposition rather than alliance – is a threat. Even the rusting Soviet arsenal is enough to destroy the Earth, much less the US, many times over.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the former Russian/Soviet sphere of Eastern Europe appears to be increasingly gone forever. Or maybe it’s just the ever-popular railing against outside threats to distract from internal problems.

The people that really should be concerned are the Chinese. With a mere handful of weapons, a moderately effective and upgraded anti-missile shield really would hold the potential to prevent effective nuclear attack.

The bigger story is the ongoing erosion of democracy. Bush is right to talk about “derailed” reforms; a better term might be crushed, mangled and dismembered.

Poor Russia. The Communist Party is Dead; Long Live the Czar! The country’s history is so bleak, I see why her authors always have such a romantic pathos to their stories.

Perhaps Putin actually will step down at the end of his term limit next year; if not, that’ll be the end of the short-lived experiment in Russian democracy. For now, at least. As the economy keeps expanding, some of it may reach the middle classes, and memories of brief but vibrant democracy may encourage its rebirth.

Big Sticks are Nice, But Don’t Forget that Soft Talking Is Required, Too.

Saturday, April 14th, 2007

Ed. note: I have been finishing my thesis and out of town for some time. Hopefully we’re back on the posting front now.

Ed. note part deux: This was an op-ed for Prof. Drezner’s Statecraft class. I am lazy, so I have crossposted it here.

Fifteen captured British navy personnel are recovered from Iran, unharmed. Without a single shot fired or helicopter crashed in the desert, the prisoners were released in a fortnight, not 444 days. Iran’s reckless President Ahmadinejad came off looking even more of an erratic and violent bumbler and managed to further alienate the rest of the world. The temperature on the pressure cooker that is the Persian Gulf dropped a few degrees, and all breathed a sigh of relief that yet another Middle Eastern conflict is not yet imminent.

Well, almost all. Former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton – the Don Imus of the Diplomatic Corps – wrote a scathing piece in the April 9th Financial Times lambasting Britain for its “weakness” and describing the resolution of the crisis as a “win-win” for Iran. The problem appears to be that Bolton is deeply offended by the fact that discussions between Iran and Britain took place at all; that these lead to the release of the prisoners is irrelevant. He does not offer a superior alternative method to achieve the liberation of these unfortunate hostages, though one imagines it would involve things going “boom”. This attitude – that diplomats should (possibly) be seen but (certainly) not heard – is sadly not the sole perspective of bombastic cashiered neocons. A childish unwillingness to talk to those defined as “the bad guys” is at the heart of the posture of President Bush and his administration towards the world.


Lots of White Space to Fill

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

As I’m writing my thesis, this is true in more ways than one.

But here it’s a map of the world that shades in where you’ve been. Some huge swaths yet to cover.

Percentage-wise, this one looks better.

You can create your own visited countries or states map too.

Zimbabwe Is Still A Terrible Place

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

High on anyone’s list of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad countries would have to be Zimbabwe.

*mulls* I guess I’d put it at number 3 after Burma and long-time reigning champ North Korea. Still, Zimbabwe doesn’t get much attention, and it’s easy to forget about. Here’s a reminder, if you missed it, on President Robert Mugabe’s misrule.

Mugabe is an astonishingly bad man. Amazing how much one man’s greed and incompetence can destroy a once stable and somewhat successful country. 1700% inflation, anyone? Alas for the stability of the good ol’ days in Weimar…


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