Afghanistan needs more sociologists, not more troops. Sociologists would point out that Americans tend to see this country as one nation, with a central government and national security forces. But it actually is a collection of tribes—(including Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara). The first loyalty of most members of these tribes is to their own kind, not to the national government. Most Afghans correctly perceive the national government as corrupt to the core, in cahoots with drug lords, promoted by foreign powers, and the beneficiary of fraudulent elections.
In a cynical review of a sensationalistic book, the New York Times featured–front page–the thesis that there is nary a difference between men who must wine and dine women before they fork over sex, and johns who pay for prostitutes. In a discussion that would (or at least should) embarrass a bunch of fraternity boys, the New York Times argues, “Money is the elephant in every bedroom.” Toni Bentley’s review (”Meet, Pay, Love”) of Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys, a collection of essays written by sex workers, finds nothing problematic about equating sex between romantic partners and sex between clients and prostitutes, asking “Why is sex supposed to be free? It never is.” Ms. Bentley complains that “it is still taboo to regard sex and money as inextricably interwoven” and quotes approvingly British artist and author Sebastian Horsley, who asserts, “The difference between sex and money and sex for free…is that sex for money always costs a lot less.” (The book itself is concerned only with straight-up money-for-sex transactions and has little to say about role of money in personal, intimate relationships.)
The looming defeat of a progressive health care bill is a much greater disaster than meets the eye. The right wing will learn, as they already surmised from previous skirmishes, that they can blow the Democrats out of the water. They will use the same smear tactics, emotional lies, and talk radio campaigns to defeat whatever other progressive moves of any significance are left on the diluted and impoverished Obama agenda. And they will further water down whatever laws have been passed, the weak cap and trade bill for instance. Moreover, the right wing will use the same tactics during the forthcoming mid-term elections, as a dry run for 2012. By that time they will have convinced the masses that Obama was born on Mars, is a Soviet agent, and will take away the people’s right to shoot each other.
The opponents of Obama’s Health Insurance for All Americans have given him a gift. They so overplayed their hand that they provided a golden opportunity for the president to show the American people how irrational, irresponsible and false their criticisms are.
I have a confession to make. I am an avid reader of personal advice columns. When I read those published generations ago, I feel that they provide a great insight what life was really like in those days–and what the prevailing norms were regarding what was considered right and wrong. Contemporary advice, by the likes of Carolyn Hax and Jeanne Phillips (”Dear Abby”), provide similar sociological fodder. In addition, they allow me to play a little game. I first read the question and ask myself what I would counsel, and only then read the advice the columnist gives. I am often stymied. The advice columnists “solve” most difficult problems by sending the reader to see a shrink.
Obama officially unveiled his doctrine on his first day in office. One is entitled to read much in the following short lines, as every line in major presidential speeches, above all on inauguration day, are carefully crafted, reviewed, and checked one more time, precisely to ensure that they send the right signal. Obama stated: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
Obama is challenged to come up with ways to pay for a health insurance plan that will cover most, if not all, Americans. Many call for cutting services and reducing fees for doctors and for hospitals. Others favor raising taxes one way or another. I say first cut out the crooks. You may say this is an often-used gambit; that people who do not want to face the tough choices that must be made claim that you can pay for what must be covered by curbing fraud and abuse. However, in this case, there are strong data that show that scores upon scores of billions could be saved in this way.
One particularly attractive fantasy dies hard: Let’s send over some of our government officials or volunteers, loaded with good intentions and some money, to turn an illiterate, corrupt regime into an American suburb. Quickly (if only to “drain the swamp in which terrorists thrive”). Cheaply (there is not much tolerance for foreign aid among our voters). And on the run (no need to learn the local language and culture; we are soon on the way to develop the next nation).
I yield to no one in my delight that President Obama is bringing a whole new attitude to international relations, and I salute his consistent efforts to restore the good name of the United States across the world. The new goodwill was supposed to make it easier for the US and other nations to work together. What is happening instead, at least in dealing with Russia, is that the Obama administration is making major concessions—in order to make it seem that the new spin is working.
As President Obama heads to Russia, our discussions with various American and Russian representatives show that stove-piping is blocking what could be a major multifaceted deal. The main negotiations in preparation for the president’s visit are taking place in tightly controlled compartments.
North Korean ships are carrying missiles and materials from which chemical and nuclear weapons can be made — to other tyrannies, such as the oppressive regime in Myanmar and in Yemen. The United States leads a group of more than ninety nations that are committed to stopping such traffic, but North Korea has stated that such interventions would lead to war. One hears extremely little from progressives about what the United States should do next.
The Western media projects on the demonstrators in Iran our best hopes and wishes. It sees another “color” revolution, in the wake of which the people will overthrow the regime, and a new democracy will arise. I say, very unlikely. The color revolutions succeeded—to the extent that they did—because the police and the army either joined the uprising or refused to suppress it. In Iran, the media did find a few cops who were nice to the demonstrators, but most were brutal. And the sad fact is that in short run, brute force tends to win.
There is no reason for the Democrats to allow themselves to be painted again as the party that is weak on defense, an image that will haunt them when the next terrorist attack hits. Nor is there a reason that security and the protection of rights cannot be squared. One should not take lightly the marker that Cheney put down, just because so many good people hold him in very low regard. Republicans, and many other voters and our allies overseas, will ask “Did the Democrats neglect security?” when we are attacked again.
One can disagree with everything the new Israeli prime minster says and does and still admit that he raised an important question during his recent visit to the White House. Benjamin Netanyahu stated “I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians. We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel.” The same issue was addressed by two leading foreign policy mavens not suspected of a pro-Israeli bias, to put it mildly, namely Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. Both favor pushing a two state solution on Israel, as they see it as the way to turn around the Middle East (which they define as including Afghanistan and Pakistan). Three elements of the plan the US is to push are well known (no refugee return, a divided Jerusalem, and redrawn 1967 borders), but the fourth is much less often explored. Namely that the Palestinian state be disarmed and that US or NATO troops be stationed along the Jordan river. They pointed to this condition in a new book America and the World, composed of interviews with Brzezinski and Scowcroft, conducted by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. In the book both authors agree that “they [Israel and the Palestinians] need a heavier hand by the United States than we have traditionally practiced” (87). Furthermore, Brzezinski suggests “an American line along the Jordan river” and Scowcroft favors putting a “NATO peace keeping force” on the West Bank. That is, they do not want the Palestinians to have what most people consider a true state, one that is free to arm itself.
Many observers have suggested that Obama’s foreign policy agenda has abandoned the Bush Administration’s emphasis on promoting democracy, including human rights. Much was made of President Obama’s statement in his inaugural address: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Others have pointed out, critically, that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton did not raise objections to China’s deplorable human rights record during her first visit to that country as an Obama administration official.
If one refuses to shut down one’s critical mind, one soon notes that this approach is based on shiploads of wishful thinking and may well distract attention from urgent priorities. The precept that because the United States and Russia talk up a world without nukes (a world which is indeed very far over the horizon, given the grave dangers for a nation that disarms if the other successfully hides a few nuclear bombs) this will inspire other nations to give up their bombs or nuclear ambitions, has no legs. This is even more true for the notion that if the United States and Russia reduce their stockpiles to 1,500 warheads (below the current ceiling of 2,200)—or some other such number— this too would somehow inspire other nations to pack in their nuclear ambitions.
Social scientists have long used systems theory to point out links that are sometimes overlooked. Such a link now leads to the suggestion that to deal with the crisis in Pakistan and the mounting difficulties in Afghanistan, one should go to, of all places, India. The main reason the Pakistani army is reluctant to take on the Taliban, who threaten to overrun the country, is that the army considers India its enemy.
If you thought that after all these years there could not possibly be a new idea for making peace between Israel and the Palestinians, well, as the cliché goes, think again. Better yet, it is a damn good idea. It holds that Israel would implementthe long talked about two state solution (a Palestinian and a Jewish state, “living next to each other in security and peace”)—and Iran would actually give up its military nuclear program.
I arrived in Moscow from Washington highly optimistic, a day after the vigorous, historic handshake between President Medvedev and President Obama in London. I left—after visits with officials and colleagues—more than a bit concerned. My optimism was not based on such cheerful gestures as pushing reset buttons, although such tone-setting steps have their place. I believed that a major deal between the two countries could be made, one based not on identical or even complementary interests of Russia and the United States—but one that would build on profound differences in saliency.
We are told that the reasons we have such a hard time stopping the pirates is that our forces have a very hard time locating them in the vast sea. An odd statement, given that the pirates have no trouble locating our ships in the same sea, and they have no drones, satellites, AWACS, and all the other means of modern technology. Moreover, we hardly need to look for them; they present themselves to us, quite regularly. Most recently they captured six ships with a few weeks.
Joe Biden was wrong when he stated that he expected President Obama to be tested within six moths of his taking office by some foreign power. Not just Obama is going to be tried. The whole soft power, multilateralism, diplomacy-will-open-all-doors liberal foreign policy is on trial.
I grant you President Obama has more urgent things to worry about than whether we should spend more money on exploring the far away stars or the nearby oceans. However, given his talented and wide ranging staff, maybe someone can find the time to shift a few billions from the pursuit of the Mars and beyond, to the seas. [For a recent Washington Post article on NASA’s projects and cost, go here.]
President Obama has a unique talent: He is able to inspire people all over the world to deliberate and dialogue about burning issues. At the top of the agenda for such a global give and take is what makes for a good life. At first, it may seem preposterous for a nation deep in an economic crisis and mired in wars to pay mind to what at first blush seems like a philosophical subject. Actually, there is a profound connection between our multiple crises — add that of the climate to the mix — and the characterization of what makes a life good.
After Professor Samuel Huntington passed away on December 24, I held off commenting on his work during the first 30 days of mourning out of respect for the norms that govern such a period. I believe we are now ready for a balanced review of his work.
For each day that implementation of the stimulus package is delayed, and the longer the deep recession lasts—the greater the human and social cost. Much has been made of the devastating economic costs we are facing. Decade of research show that other costs are equally high.
If this was part of the print media, the editors would proudly flap their wings when an idea their editorials helped advance ended up becoming public policy. The editorials would be flagged as “scoops”–news they broke first or best predicted. Well, you read it here first that Obama ought to offer Hillary the Sectary of State position (here); that the stimulus package will and ought to grow to a trillion dollars or higher (here - we are almost there); and that public buildings should be greened in short order (here and here– the House stimulus package includes $6 billion for the greening of federal buildings).
Daschle’s resignation should have been accepted; indeed welcomed. However, that of Nancy Killefer should have been refused, if it is true that all her troubles amounted to a few hundred dollars taxes not paid when due. Puritanism long suffered—and inflicted tons of suffering on others—by demanding human perfection and by making a mountain of sin out of every minor transgression. I am not saying that the President, the Senate, or the American people should ignore a violation of the law, even when it’s jaywalking. However, responses must be tailored to the “sin.” Not all imperfections make a person unfit for office.
It may not be ‘political’ to openly say so, however, the United States has barely enough heft to lift its own boat; to expect it to lift those of all nations, of the global economy, is a noble thought but completely unrealistic. All nations will have to do their share for the worldwide bailout.
In Security First, we made the argument at great length and presented data that most Muslims are “illiberal moderates”: they do not support a Westminster form of democracy nor the full plethora of human rights, but do reject violence in general, and terrorism in particular. Moreover, we showed that in this respect, Muslims are not different from the followers of other faiths. Most important, we pointed out that such moderate Muslims make reliable partners in peace, and that regime change need not be forced down their throats. (For the full exposition of this position, go here. For an abbreviated version, go here.)
As President Bush is packing, a review of his legacy is starting in earnest. Much of it is troubling at best, and all too often, it is profoundly regrettable. However, he deserves kudos for the way his administration dealt with Libya. Even more important: It suggests steps the next administration should consider in dealing with other rogue states.
What a difference a few weeks—and a few new reports—make in assigning priorities to protect the world from WMDs. Until a few weeks ago, a report by four leading statesmen—Henry Kissinger, Charles Schultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry—was all the rage. They argued that the place to start making the world safe from nukes was Russia and the United States. If these two superpowers would move toward zero stockpiles, the other nuclear states would follow. When we argued (Wrong Priority) that the nuclear hot spots are failing states (especially Pakistan) and rogue states (especially Iran), we got little traction.
Vaclav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, is taking the helm of the EU. He will serve as EU President for next six months, as of January 1, 2009. This is not necessarily good news for Europeans, Americans, or any one else, given that my encounters with his oversized ego are rather typical for him.
Not all infrastructure has been created equal. Some parts are yesterday, and should be relegated to the famous dust bins of history rather than cemented into our future. Their light is blinking red—stop investing in them, as much as is politically possible. The best examples are those elements of our infrastructure that serve cars and encourage the use of fossil fuels. Contrast them with green industries, led by providers of public transportation and of sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar power.