Archive for August, 2010

Pyongyang, DPRK (North Korea). February 2010

Image by adaptorplug via Flickr

“Speaking of Mr. Kim, Mr. McCarthy said: “He wants to feel validated. He does things or he won’t do things unless he gets a photo op with someone in a high office.”

The choice of Mr. Carter to go to Pyongyang was weeks in the making, said a person briefed on the process, and reflected a complex set of considerations for the Obama administration.

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico had both volunteered to go, and each had a credible reason: Mr. Kerry because Mr. Gomes is his constituent; Mr. Richardson because he has carried out these rescue missions before.

But Mr. Carter was the administration’s preferred choice, this person said, in part because he was not a current official, and therefore would send less of a signal to the North Korean regime. Mr. Carter was also able to obtain assurances from Pyongyang that if he went, he would win the release of Mr. Gomes.”

It is great that Carter has been able to get Mr. Gomez out from the North Korean prison and back home, but it took a very high-profile man to do so, and as Mr. McCarthy said, the North Korean president wanted to feel “validated”. We saw a similar instance happen with Clinton’s visit to North Korea to get the US journalists released. What is the North Korean leader lacking, that requires him to want so much visits by high-profile former US leaders? In my view, I think it might be the lack of fair elections and such that is finally catching up, and constraining Kim Jong-il‘s legitimacy in the international arena.
Obviously, visits by former presidents of the World Power, United States, would give Kim Jong-il some legitimacy that he needs in the international arena. But how about within the country itself? It seems to me that it is about time that the poor and abused people of North Korea start standing up against Kim Jong-il…What is giving Kim Jong-il the needed legitimacy domestically, that is keeping down all movements of demonstrations and uprising? True, he has secret police and such to repress such movements, but are those really enough? China has had the Tienanman Massacre despite such repressionist efforts…what makes North Korea different from China?


Read Full Post »

Map of Israel, the Palestinian territories (We...

Image via Wikipedia

Op-Ed Contributor – Hamas, the I.R.A., and Us – NYTimes.com

Ali Abunimah calls George J. Mitchell’s comparison between the Israeli-Palestinian talks and those in Northern Ireland in the 1990s “misleading at best”. He points out that

Both the Irish and Middle Eastern conflicts figure prominently in American domestic politics — yet both have played out in very different ways. The United States allowed the Irish-American lobby to help steer policy toward the weaker side: the Irish government in Dublin and Sinn Fein and other nationalist parties in the north. At times, the United States put intense pressure on the British government, leveling the field so that negotiations could result in an agreement with broad support. By contrast, the American government let the Israel lobby shift the balance of United States support toward the stronger of the two parties: Israel.

This disparity has not gone unnoticed by those with firsthand knowledge of the Irish talks.In a 2009 letter to The Times of London, several British and Irish negotiators, including John Hume, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the Belfast Agreement, criticized the one-sided demands imposed solely on Hamas. “Engaging Hamas,” the negotiators wrote, “does not amount to condoning terrorism or attacks on civilians. In fact, it is a precondition for security and for brokering a workable agreement.”

Although factors such as dissatisfaction with Hamas’s rival, Fatah, played a role in its  election in 2006, one must ask how a group labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and others could be democratically elected in the first place. (Let’s set aside qualms over the contentious label “terrorist” for the moment.) The problem is that over the course of the last 60+ years, the Arab-Israeli conflict has metastasized as an entire generation grew up with hatred for Israel ingrained from an early age. But another key difference between Israel/Palestine and Ireland is the level of vehemence. Understanding this is key to understanding the bizarre alternate reality where Hezbollah’s version of Disneyland features Kalashnikovs and mortars in place of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

I personally found Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree, an assiduously reconstructed account of the experiences of two families – one Jewish (originally from Bulgaria) and one Palestinian – enlightening on how such dystopian imagery can occur. Of course, I can recommend all the books I want; it won’t stop certain people from accusing the Obama administration of being “the most anti-Israel administration in the modern history of the state of Israel” for not condoning further settlements in East Jerusalem. Still, it seems like engaging Hamas would be more constructive than blockading them. There’s a more esoteric debate on the wider subject of engaging Islamists in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.

Read Full Post »

The only patriotic solution

Image by Night Heron via Flickr

A Tea Party Foreign Policy – By Ron Paul | Foreign Policy
Rand Paul, who won the Kentucky Republican primary for U.S. Senate, has been talking about foreign policy:

Our foreign policy is based on an illusion: that we are actually paying for it. What we are doing is borrowing and printing money to maintain our presence overseas. Americans are seeing the cost of this irresponsible approach as their own communities crumble and our economic decline continues.

I see tremendous opportunities for movements like the Tea Party to prosper by capitalizing on the Democrats’ broken promises to overturn the George W. Bush administration’s civil liberties abuses and end the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A return to the traditional U.S. foreign policy of active private engagement but government noninterventionism is the only alternative that can restore our moral and fiscal health. I am optimistic, and our numbers are increasing!

On one level, Dr. Paul isn’t wrong. The U.S. essentially imperial foreign policy may not be economically or fiscally sustainable. The U.S. does need a foreign policy strategy that is sustainable. It’s the conclusion he draws, that the U.S. should revert to a traditional pattern of “active public engagement” but “government nonnterventionism,” that leaves me scratching my head (just like his arguments that we should rely on the market to eliminate racism in public accommodations).

First, as Walter Mead has been arguing for years, the tradition of “government noninterventionism” in foreign affairs is a fiction. You can’t really revert to what never was. Second, it’s simpleminded to the point of being infantile. The idea that there are neatly separable public and private sectors is an illusion coming from who knows where. Finally, what is the alternative to a U.S. imperial role to deal with the spectrum of global challenges from terrorism to environmental degradation to global pandemics. Dynamic as it has been, China is not yet ready for prime time. And even if it were, would we want that. Collaboration with other international actors, both other states and international institutions? Well, if there is one thing we know for sure about Tea Party foreign policy, it is that the TPers are not too keen on international collaboration.

And besides, I have a sneaking suspicion that more than a few Tea Partyers like the notion of U.S. hegemony.

Read Full Post »

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia


David Rothkopf reacts to Fouad Ajami‘s pre-mortem for the Obama adminstration:

Ajami’s central assertion was that as far as this presidency is concerned, it is all over but the entropy. Due to mistakes already made, he suggested that the president had sealed his own fate, couldn’t recover and that he (and we) are doomed to a Carter-like descent into presidential impotence and irrelevance. “There is little evidence,” the professor writes, “that the Obama presidency could yet find new vindication, another lease on life. Mr. Obama will mark time, but henceforth he will not define the national agenda.”

It was a well-argued, quite passionate piece. The problem with it was that it was arrant nonsense. (I recognize that the term “arrant nonsense” should usually be reserved for gaunt English character actors playing the Sherriff of Nottingham but in this instance it fits, and if you heard me say it with my not-so-plummy Central New Jersey accent, you wouldn’t think it sounded half as pompous as it might appear in print.)

As Rothkopf points out, few adminstrations have been clearly within their first two years.  What lies ahead, and a good deal lies ahead, will provide the foreign policy definition of the Obama administration.

Read Full Post »

People wade through flooded streets in Charsad...

Image by DFID - UK Department for International Development via Flickr

Why Are So Many Donors Ignoring Pakistan? | The Progressive Realist
This is a question I have been asking myself and which now seems to be on the minds of much of the foreign policy blogosphere.  It is actually hard to exaggerate the scale of the catastrophe now taking place in Pakistan.

Twenty percent of Pakistan is under water, and it’s getting way, way less attention – and more importantly – financial support – that the earthquake in Haiti generated. It’s true that in terms of initial casualties, the situation in Haiti was far worse, but the long-term impact of the Pakistani floods is going to dwarf the catastrophe in Haiti. That fact is apparently being ignored, by both the media and donors.

The New York Times has probably got it about right. The August-vacation factor may be more important than you would think.  My diocese, for example, has been quick to announce a second collection in the face of other disasters, but hasn’t for Pakistan because the priest who authorizes second collections is on vacation (and apparently doesn’t do Blackberry).  I suppose, too, that given Pakistan’s, shall we say, ambiguous role in the GWOT generally and Afghanistan specifically, may Americans may not be moved to sympathy.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: