As Pakistan's new government settles in, press reports are saying that Husain Haqqani, an FP contributor and a former Carnegie Endowment analyst, will be made Pakistan's next ambassador to Washington. He would replace Mahmud Ali Durrani, a retired general who would become national security advisor. For now, Haqqani has been made "ambassador at large" and the change in Washington isn't expected until June, when Durrani's term expires.
If the reports are true, it's an interesting development. Haqqani has written extensively for FP, most recently in a debate with Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also the author of "Think Again: Islamist Terrorism" (along with Christine Fair), "Islam's Weakened Moderates," "The American Mongols," and "Islam's Medieval Outposts." A theme of his writing is a staunch defense of democracy and a plea to do more to help Islamic moderates weaken extremists. He has a lot of friends in Washington and in the media.
When we last interviewed Ambassador Durrani in November, I thought I detected some hedging on his part. He didn't seem entirely confident that Pervez Musharraf would remain the president, nor was he willing to take the usual shots against Benazir Bhutto. Perhaps he was just being characteristically polite. In any case, Durrani appears to be landing on his feet in the new order, so he must have played it smart.
Ireland's decision to send Dustin the Turkey -- a crass puppet who rides around in a shopping cart -- as its representative to the Eurovision Song Contest was met with mixed reviews by audience members last month. But the Irish aren't the only ones calling this turkey "fowl." Once again, because of the Macedonia name issue, the Greeks are up in arms.
At one point in the turkey's song "Irelande Douze Pointe" ("Ireland Twelve Points," in reference to the maximum points each country can give a contestant), Dustin sings, "Eastern Europe we love you, do you like Irish stew, or goulash as it is to you?" then proceeds to list countries in Eastern Europe one by one, including Macedonia (check here for clearer audio -- the lyrics are pretty great).
Ever since Macedonia's independence in 1991, Athens has argued that the name "Macedonia" is a part of Hellenic cultural heritage and that the former Yugoslav republic expresses territorial claims on northern Greece by using it. Now, thanks to Greek paranoia, rumor has it that Dustin the Turkey will have to join the U.N. in calling the country FRY Macedonia ("The Former Yugoslav Republic of...") in his lyrics.
But the name issue gets far more serious on the security front. Macedonia hopes to be invited to join NATO at the Bucharest Summit this coming Wednesday, but an invitation requires the unanimous support of existing NATO members, including Greece. Despite months of U.N.-supervised negotiations, neither Athens nor Skopje seem capable of coming to an agreement any time soon, spelling trouble for Macedonia's NATO aspirations.
Greece may have Macedonia in a NATO bind, but come May we'll see who gets the last Eurovision laugh. With acts like this as the winning standard, it's really anyone's game.
I think the Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon is overselling this story of increasing criticism of Sen. Barack Obama's alleged "radical departure from standard U.S. doctrine" regarding negotiating with rogue leaders, but Karim Sadjadpour makes a good point here:
If Obama comes into office in January 2009, I wouldn't advise him" to hold talks with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad quickly, said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who said he is generally supportive of Sen. Obama's agenda. "Only two things can rehabilitate Ahmadinejad politically: bombing Iran or major efforts to engage" him ahead of the vote.
My hope is that Obama doesn't literally mean he will sit across the table from Ahmadinejad, but rather that he won't be afraid to negotiate with Iran and will drop preconditions that only ensure that talks will go nowhere. But it's worth pointing out that the United States has tried in the past to ignore Iran's power dynamics and negotiate with its preferred interlocutors. That approach simply doesn't work, because the hardliners will work to torpedo any deal that doesn't include them. Plus, they've got Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on their side, and he's the big boss. There will be no deal without his approval.
State Department officials John Negroponte and Richard Boucher are in Islamabad for what sounds like an extremely uncomfortable meeting with Pakistan's new government. Pakistan People's Party advisor and FP contributor Husain Haqqani made it clear that things ain't what they used to be for the Americans in Pakistan:
If I can use an American expression, there is a new sheriff in town," Mr. Haqqani said. "Americans have realized that they have perhaps talked with one man for too long."
Whether Dmitry Medvedev's presidency will resemble Vladimir Putin's is an open question, but according to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the two men resemble each other physically as well.
At a meeting at Putin's official residence on the outskirts of Moscow on Tuesday, 79-year-old Mubarak told Putin that the physical similarities with Medvedev were almost uncanny.
"Your appearances are very much alike," Mubarak said before heading in for talks with Putin.
"When going to meet Medvedev, I saw you on the television and felt at a loss as to who is who."
We should, perhaps, cut one of the world's oldest leaders some slack, but Putin and Medvedev obviously look nothing alike. Besides, there's a handy trick for telling your Russian leaders apart: Ever since Lenin, the country's rulers have alternated between bald men and those with hair.
(Hat tip: Johnson's Russia List)
China has announced that around 100 countries have voiced moral support for its recent actions against Tibetan protestors (Tibet's exile government claims 130 protestors have died). Xinhua, China's state news agency, ran a list of some of the said 100 countries (more here) -- and oh, what a list it is.
In a list like this, the inclusion of Serbia actually seems to improve legitimacy levels.
Though the list may seem unsavory, Xinhua explains in a story today that German, British, and American media are actually full of lies. Through a series of "truth" and "lies" stills taken of Western media coverage of the recent riots, Xinhua makes a good case for why support from an up-and-coming superpower like Lesotho is far more valuable than say, a vote of confident from Nancy Pelosi.
(Thanks to Passport reader AS for the tip.)
There's been a lot of discussion over the past few years about the United States' pitiful efforts at public diplomacy. Maybe the State Department just isn't being creative enough:
Japan has created an unusual government post to promote animation, and named a perfect figure Wednesday to the position: a popular cartoon robot cat named Doraemon.
Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura appointed the cat an "anime ambassador," handing a human-sized Doraemon doll an official certificate at an inauguration ceremony, along with dozens of "dorayaki" red bean pancakes — his favorite dessert — piled on a huge plate.
Komura told the doll, with an unidentified person inside, that he hoped he would widely promote Japanese animated cartoons, or "anime."
"Doraemon, I hope you will travel around the world as an anime ambassador to deepen people's understanding of Japan so they will become friends with Japan," Komura told the blue-and-white cat.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick, formerly the number two in the State Department, told Europeans at the Brussels Forum that the next U.S. president is going to piss them off:
Zoellick began his session by challenging European expectations for a new U.S. president. "My major concern is that the tenor of the debate in Europe is raising expectations – regardless of who the next president is – that overlooks a range of interests that I think both parties in the United States would pursue and also some ideologies… they would pursue, and that those heightened expectations will inevitably have to be adjusted," Zoellick said.
At today's White House press conference touting his endorsement of John McCain, U.S. President George W. Bush gave this tantalizing, if garbled, hint at his remaining foreign-policy priorities:
I'm focusing on, you know, protecting America, and succeeding in Iraq, and dealing with the North Korea, and dealing with the Iranian, and dealing with the issues around the world where we're making a difference in terms of keeping peace.
So, how might the United States go about "dealing with the Iranian"? John W. Limbert, an international relations professor, retired U.S. diplomat, and a former hostage in Tehran, has penned a handy guide to negotiating with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Check it out.
And if you want to dig a little deeper, read Limbert's 15-page report on the same topic for the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Hugo Chávez's former defense minister, Raúl Baduel, had harsh words this week for his old boss, who sent Venezuelan troops to the Colombian border over the weekend in response to Colombia's military incursion in Ecuador:
This is a desperate attempt by President Chávez to use the military for political and personal ends, making them participants in an action whose consequences could be disastrous."
In other words, Baduel is accusing Chávez of fomenting an international crisis in order to distract from his domestic political problems. It's a significant move, coming from someone whose personal and professional relationship with the Venezuelan president spans 35 years, culminating with Baduel's resignation from the defense ministry in 2007. Baduel is a legendary revolutionary figure in Venezuela, best known for defending Hugo Chávez during the April 2002 coup attempt, and for his fierce loyalty to the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement that Chávez founded in the 1980s. But as Chávez tried to push through constitutional reforms late last year, Baduel began distancing himself from the president, citing his moral and ethical obligation to point out the harm Chávez would do to Venezuela if he succeeded in centralizing executive power and socializing the economy.
It's good that somebody is calling Chávez to account, because most in the region seem distracted by the accusations being hurled back and forth between Colombia and Ecuador. Colombia claims to have found evidence linking Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), whose leader Raul Reyes was killed in this weekend's raid. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe says that Venezuela has been funding FARC and has pledged to take Chávez to international court for funding genocide. And although Peru's president, Alan García, suggested that Chavez should butt out of the diplomatic row between Ecuador and Colombia, he is also urging Uribe to apologize and avoid setting a bad precedent for sovereignty. As Passport reader joeljournal noted on Monday, though, some would say that propping up a terrorist group in your neighbor's country isn't such a great precedent to set either.
Before declaring independence, Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci announced that 100 countries would quickly recognize its sovereign status. It seems he may have been a bit too optimistic.
Currently, 25 countries have or are in the process of recognizing the
The list of recognizing countries includes big names like the United States,
Even if Kosovo does hit the 100 country mark, that's still barely half the countries in the world. Though, I suppose fewer recognizing countries does mean fewer thank you notes.
Over at Democracy Arsenal, a blog about foreign policy from a Democratic perspective, Michael Cohen says he thinks all the excitement over the New York Philharmonic's trip to Pyongyang is a bit ridiculous:
Look, I don't mean to sound like a curmudgeon... but I really don't see how this event does anything to impact the terrible existence of the North Korean people. It seems instead to me as if the Philharmonic (well meaning as they certainly are) was played for a patsy.
That's certainly the tenor of comments you'll get from folks like Brian Meyers, the dean of international studies at Dongseo University in Pusan, who believes the trip was a propaganda boon to Kim Jong Il's regime.
I wonder, though, who was really making the claim that the trip would help the North Korean people? The question at hand is whether the Philharmonic's performance could somehow help move the nuclear negotiations along. For some answers on that front, check out FP's interview with Nam Sung-wook, a top "North Koreanologist" at Korea University in Seoul.
Although a full member of the International Table Tennis Federation, Kosovo is unlikely to be Olympic ready by August. In order to participate in Beijing, Kosovo would need full U.N. recognition as an independent state –- something
For the first time ever, the United States will use a ship-based missile to take out a satellite. In the next day or two, the world will witness a modified weapons capability that will have significant policy implications. But it's the "how" story behind the scenes that has Russia sweating.
The spy satellite malfunctioned hours after reaching orbit in December 2006. When re-entry became imminent beginning in January of this year, the U.S. Navy got busy computer coding. The Navy can now outfit a standard missile (SM-3) that was designed for intercepting other missiles with a new brain that gives it the ability to target spacecraft. In this instance, the missiles will come from an Aegis cruiser, but ground-based missiles like the ones the United States wants to put in Poland can be larger and have farther range.
Theresa Hitchens, director of the space security program at the Center for Defense Information, noted the comments of General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said in a press conference that it took the Navy three weeks to reconfigure the new targeting software. The implication? Hitchens told me:
If [the United States] wanted to develop that type of software (that could be downloaded into the missiles that would be placed in Poland), we could in a very short period of time. So I understand why the Russians might be pretty nervous about this."
A little software change, in other words, could end up posing a big threat to strategic spacecraft in the future. General Cartwright insisted this new capability will be executed on a "one-time reversible basis." But there's no way the U.S. military would throw away the keys to a new generation of missiles. The Russians would probably prefer that this Pandora's box not be opened, but once it is, all space-faring countries are going to have a new threat to worry about.
She [Condoleezza Rice] can lick her elbow* if she thinks that Khartoum will kneel down to her conditions and accept pressure from her or the international community.
That's a quote from Nafi Ali Nafi, the advisor to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in charge of the Darfur file. "It is not clear why the Sudanese official chose Rice as a target for fierce criticism using this slang language," the Sudan Tribune dryly notes. According to the paper, to tell someone to lick their own elbow in Sudanese is to describe "something that is very unlikely to happen."
I've blogged before about the U.S. State Department's bizarre daily appointments e-mail for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The e-mail often arrives after the events noted therein have already taken place, rendering it all but useless. Today was no different in that regard, except that whoever mailed it out seemed especially eager to inform me of Ms. Rice's morning meeting with defense ministers from Adriatic Charter states.
Today must be an especially an important day for Ms. Rice, so I'll reprint the e-mail below. Here's what flooded my inbox at 2:11 p.m. today:
SECRETARY OF STATE RICE: ON FOREIGN TRAVEL WITH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE NEGROPONTE: MORNING PRESS GAGGLE: 10:15 a.m. with Tom Casey DAILY PRESS BRIEFING:
9:45 a.m. Meeting with the Adriatic Charter (Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia) Defense Ministers.
(CAMERA SPRAY IN TREATY ROOM / EDITORIAL PRESENCE WELCOME / NO Q&A)
Pick up time for all press: 9:15 a.m. from the
Pick up time for all press: 10:10 a.m. from room 2310 / no late escort
**(at approximately 12:00 p.m. with Sean McCormack)**
SECRETARY OF STATE RICE:
ON FOREIGN TRAVEL WITH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE NEGROPONTE:
MORNING PRESS GAGGLE:
10:15 a.m. with Tom Casey
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING:
Raul Castro has run Cuba ever since his brother Fidel fell ill in the summer of 2006, so Fidel's announcement today that he is stepping down after nearly 50 years in power is largely symbolic. That said, Fidel continued to pull political strings from his sickbed, and his statement today suggests that he still intends to voice his opinions on matters of state.
FP has long been host to debates on Castro's legacy and what a post-Fidel Cuba might look like. With Raul at the helm, today will look much like yesterday. But Raul is also 76 years old. The machine is surely in motion to find ideological heirs to the Castro brothers.
Was Fidel Good for Cuba? Ignacio Ramonet of Le Monde Diplomatique squares off against columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner over Castro's true legacy.
Seven Questions for Brian Latell The former CIA analyst and author on what life in Cuba is like under the younger Castro brother.
Seven Questions for Carlos Saladrigas The businessman and outspoken Castro critic discusses Fidel's decline and his homeland's future.
What America Must Do: End the Embargo Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer's advice to the next American president.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about a U.S. spy satellite that had gone haywire and might need to be shot down. I noted how diplomatically sensitive it would be for the United States to do so after telling China that anti-satellite tests are a big no-no. Some commentators downplayed the possibility that the United States would really shoot the satellite down, but now comes word that it's gonna happen: The U.S. military will use its missile-defense system to blow the errant satellite to smithereens.
Mind you, a missile-defense system is not supposed to be a dual-use satellite killer. U.S. officials have pledged compliance with space and weapons treaties by giving other countries advance notice before shooting off space missiles. They also insist the move is necessary to prevent contamination from toxic substances and is not a showcase of U.S. weapons capability. Still, in the wake of the Chinese satellite missile hoopla, it smacks of "Anything you can do, I can do better."
What's more, shooting the satellite down could create orbital debris, which was a major point of criticism after the Chinese experiment. U.S. officials insist the Chinese test was different in nature as it was higher in altitude and the resulting debris poses a much longer-term threat. They estimate the mess from the U.S. operation will fall to the Earth within a few weeks, whereas debris from the Chinese test will be a danger for decades.
Meanwhile, Russia and
USAToday's "OnDeadline" blog finds some choice morsels from newly released transcripts of Henry Kissinger's 1973 meeting with Mao:
You know, China is a very poor country," Mao is quoted as saying during the exchange. "We don't have much. What we have in excess is women. So if you want them we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands."
The Chinese leader drew laughter when he returned to the proposition a few minutes later. "Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you 10 million." he said, adding: "We have too many women ... They give birth to children and our children are too many."
It's not clear whether Mao is at all serious -- he was a pretty crazy dude, after all -- but Kissinger's response is precious:
It is such a novel proposition, we will have to study it.
Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov seems mighty pleased with himself for negotiating a mutibillion-dollar nuclear energy deal with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh:
Got your own suggested caption for this photo? Send us your one-liners and we'll print the best one below.
The liberal blogosphere is all in a tizzy over John Bolton's endorsement of John McCain, leading some to speculate that the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations would be tapped to serve as secretary of state in a McCain administration.
I doubt it. Is McCain a neocon? Maybe. Maybe not. Supporting the surge does not a neocon make, friends. It's true that since the late 1990s, McCain has increasingly surrounded himself with foreign policy minds sympathetic to the neocon cause, including Bill Kristol, Mark Salter, Daniel McKivergan, Marshall Wittmann, and Randy Scheunemann. His closeness to Kristol, in particular, has been well documented. But McCain casts a wide net. He also seeks advice from Henry Kissingers and Brent Scowcrofts, and occasionally -- gasp -- Democrats, too. And any way you slice it, McCain and Bolton don't exactly see eye to eye.
Here was McCain's answer to a question posed in 2006 by the New Republic's John Judis on a preemptive strike against Iran:
We haven't taken the military option off the table, but we should make it clear that is the very last option, only if we become convinced that they are about to acquire those weapons to use against Israel.... I think that if they are capable with their repeatedly stated intention, that doesn't mean I would go to war even then. That means we have to exhaust every possible option. Going to the United Nations, working with our European allies. If we were going to impose sanctions, I would wait and see whether those sanctions were effective or not. I did not mean it as a declaration of war the day they acquired weapons."
That doesn't exactly sound like John Bolton to me.
Sen. Dick Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, isn't the kind of guy who goes around spouting invectives. So when he says something like this, it's worth paying attention:
I'm not certain we have a plan for Afghanistan."
The comment came at a Capitol Hill hearing yesterday where Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher insisted the war in Afghanistan is being won. Boucher visited Afghanistan last week and told senators, "Nobody can tell me it's not going in a positive direction." That was enough to prompt Sen. Chuck Hagel to ask the obvious: "If we are making so much progress, why are we putting in 3,200 more Marines?"
Hagel's question can be answered in one word: Europe. Sec Def Bob Gates is betting that if NATO's European members see more U.S. Marines on the ground, they will be emboldened to send more of their own boys. Gates has reportedly sent stern letters to Franz Josef Jung, the German defense minister, and his other European counterparts asking for more troops. A peeved Jung turned down the U.S. request today, saying Germany's 3,100 troops, stationed mainly in Kabul, are "doing important, useful work."
Now the question is whether the other European NATO members will also fail to heed the warnings detailed in three independent reports this week, including one led by Gen. James Jones, the former chief U.S. commander in Afghanistan, that the war in Afghanistan is being lost. "Make no mistake," the Jones report says (pdf), "NATO is not winning in Afghanistan."
Will Europe sit idly by as Afghanistan is lost? It can't have helped to have Boucher painting a rosy picture on the Hill yesterday. Public opinion in Europe remains staunchly anti-war. A majority of Germans, for instance, say they oppose the continued deployment of German troops in Afghanistan. Now many will ask why their soldiers must remain if things are going so well. To Lugar's point, it doesn't appear the Bush administration has thought this out very well.
But the real blame here is at the feet of the Europeans. There is a broad split between America and Europe on what to do in Afghanistan. Two European diplomats had to be expelled from the country at the behest of U.S. officials after they allegedly held secret talks with the Taliban behind the alliance's back. Reasonable nations can disagree on how and when to negotiate with elements such as the Taliban. But if NATO members cannot support the military effort in Afghanistan, you have to wonder what it is that these countries stand for. A failure in Afghanistan will be judged by history as pure cowardice, and NATO will have been rendered the 21st century's most useless organization.
"Olympic Fever" has struck China. Much of the talk in the West has been about human rights and political freedoms, but the Chinese themselves are more excited to host the Olympics this summer than you can possibly imagine. I was in China in 2005 when things were just beginning to heat up, and now I'm catching a little bit of the fever myself. It's going to be one massive party, with half a million foreign visitors and 2 million domestic Chinese flocking to Beijing.
When you have a party, you need to provide food—and the Olympic village is going to have tons of it to feed the hungry throngs. With just 30 percent of its culinary offerings of the Chinese or Asian persuasion, there will be a lot of variety. There's even talk of a Beijing Kosher restaurant opening a stand to appeal to Jewish and Muslim visitors.
But China has made big headlines this year for its quality control problems—including a recent string of illnesses under investigation in Japan due to imported Chinese dumplings. Some fear the Games' participants could inadvertently ingest additives that produce positive drug test results. As such, a few teams have proven skittish about fueling their athletes with food made in China. One American swimmer even said, "McDonald's is everywhere... So I'll have some of that if I need it." The U.S. Olympic Committee has asked its squad's executive chef to provide three meals per day for the team, a step up from the "lunch and boxed meals" in Athens in 2004. (The committee insists this change is not due to concerns over the food in Beijing.)
Personally, I found the food there fantastic, and I know the Chinese government is moving heaven and Earth to avoid any embarrassing food-related incidents. But I also understand that competitors who have trained their entire lives for these Games don't want to take any risks. I just hope that, once they are done competing, they'll get a chance to sample some of Beijing's culinary delights.
This week, U.S. Central Command chief Adm. William J. Fallon is quietly reaching out to everyone's favorite Central Asian dictatorships: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Uzbekistan, you may recall, is the country with which the Pentagon broke off a basing agreement back in 2005, not long after government forces massacred nearly 200 civilians in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijan and U.S.-Uzbek relations went sour. Tentative contacts between the two countries have been underway since late September, though, as the U.S. military has grown increasingly concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and its supply lines in Pakistan. The United States is also seeking to undercut Russia's ability to play hardball with Central Asian energy resources, and rescue pipeline projects that have been threatened by savvy Russian and Iranian moves. So what it Uzbek President-for-life Islam Karimov boils dissidents alive and has unarmed civilians gunned down in the streets? He's in a strategic location.
Fallon has previously denied suggestions that the United States would reopen its air base in Uzbekistan. And so far, it appears that nothing substantive has come of Fallon's Thursday meeting with Karimov. Of course, that's normal with these types of touchy, under-the-radar missions.
In particular, Washington is keen to secure Ashgabat's participation in the long-planned Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP), a route that would circumvent Russia... Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has expressed interest in the project, but has yet to make any firm commitment.
Turkmenistan is also in a bit of a spat with neighboring Iran over gas prices, so perhaps Fallon is sensing an opportunity to bring Berdymukhamedov into the anti-Tehran camp. But as I'm sure the admiral well knows, Central Asian leaders are wily negotiators with a history of using Western powers to gain leverage with Moscow. They might just be hinting at warmer ties with Washington in order to get what they want from the Russians. So, on which level is this great game is being played?
It's well past midnight in the Bidwell-Azarm apartment in Klosters as I sit down to review another long day at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Last night, I got to bed at 2:45 a.m. after giving you all a blow-by-blow(hard) account of all the panels I went to. Since I woke up three hours later and have staggered through the day, I'm going to be a lot more telegraphic about Thursday. In fact, I'm going to summarize the day in a different style altogether, just for a change. (If there are enough protests, I'll return to prose reporting on Friday). Herewith, my day in 10 easy points:
2. Morning panel highlights: Fascinating discussion on peace and stability featuring four beleaguered Muslim leaders: President Karzai of Afghanistan, President Musharraf of Pakistan, "Chief Adviser" (de facto Prime Minister) of Bangladesh Fakhruddin Ahmed, and Deputy Prime Minister Bahram Salih of Iraq. All inveighed against terrorism and extremism, defended the ways in which their countries were run and sought the world's help in promoting economic growth and political stability in their lands. Musharraf proved the ablest at swatting back tough questions; Karzai at ducking them. Asked (by me) what exactly he meant when he said that in his region extremism had been a "tool of policy," and whether this related to his previously expressed view that terrorism was being exported his way from across his border with Pakistan, Karzai replied, "Mr. Tharoor, I have just had a good visit with President Musharraf. I'm not going to say any more."
3. Panel disappointments: A bland performance by Musharraf in a hugely attended double-bill with Henry Kissinger, who was supposed to ask him three questions but tossed him two softballs instead. Musharraf repeated the points he'd just made at the previous panel.
4. Afternoon panel highlights: A first-rate discussion on the perils of Internet terrorism, featuring such heavy hitters as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Britain's Leader of the Opposition David Cameron, head of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth, and feisty Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. Lots of pithy insight about the use of cyberspace to recruit terrorists and to wage war, plus a side argument about the definition of terrorism and whether Israel was shooting itself in the foot by denouncing even attacks on its soldiers, not just civilians, as terrorist attacks.
5. Afternoon panel disappointments: A wasted hour-long Middle East panel chaired by Tony Blair and oddly featuring three Israelis (President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Livni and Defense Minister Barak) and only one Palestinian (Prime Minister Salam Fayyad). Not one person from this impressive galaxy said a single thing we hadn't heard before, and the audience wasn't allowed to ask questions.
6. Dinner panel: I found myself speaking on whether "globalization = cultural homogenization," along with the likes of Québec Premier Jean Charest, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, genius cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the CEO of Burger King. We all agreed that it doesn't, but had fun coming up with ideas and anecdotes about cultural diversity.
7. Uneven discussions: First, the water panel, an interesting but complicated topic that had been discussed earlier in the Forum and which left me feeling I'd walked in halfway through a suspense movie and couldn't quite figure out the plot. Second, a discussion on "Brand America" with impressive panelists (starting with Rupert Murdoch) and chaired by FP's own Moisés Naím, which nonetheless went all over the place—including a bizarre attack on the United Nations by Murdoch, supported by a Bahraini royal—rather than focusing on its declared purpose of devising recommendations to the next U.S. President on how to improve America's global image.
8. Memorable informal encounters: An animated conversation on the margins with the top leaders of Bangladesh's interim government, and another at the Tata reception with two of India's more impressive cabinet ministers. Also a chat with Bombay society maven Parmeshwar Godrej, currently under pressure from Muslim fundamentalists to apologize for having hosted Salman Rushdie at her home, who is refusing to buckle under despite threats of a boycott of her company's products.
9. One-liners of the day:
10. Change of plan: Thanks to the lateness of the hour and President Musharraf's repeating himself in the two sessions I've heard him on already, I'll skip a breakfast with him organized by a Pakistani businessman Friday morning. Midway through the Forum, and particularly at the end of a Davos day featuring six panels, three breakfasts, two lunches, four receptions, and a blog diary to maintain, my borrowed bed looks a lot more inviting than a 7 a.m. bus from Klosters. Good night...
If you took the FP Quiz in our November/December 2007 issue, you would know that 23 countries maintain embassies in North Korea. But in how many countries does the Hermit Kingdom maintain an embassy? According to the listings for North Korea on the Embassy Information Web site, the answer is currently 56. Ask that same question at end of this month, however, and the answer will drop to 55.
North Korea's embassy in Australia is slated to close at the end of January because the country can no longer afford it. North Korea's most senior diplomat in Australia, Pak Myong Guk, blamed the high cost of the recent flooding in North Korea for the closure, and said that "When our financial situation is... resolved, then I think our embassy will be re-established again here in Canberra."
It's a plausible reason, but as an Aussie, my instinct is to wonder: Why Australia? Why not, say, Austria, given the relative strength of the euro? In any case, I'm surprised that North Korea is in financial trouble. With all the business opportunities offered by the country, you would think the won would be rolling in.
Tomorrow, Jan. 23, the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on the future of U.S. embassies overseas entitled, "Fortress America Abroad: Effective Diplomacy and the Future of U.S. Embassies."
Testifying at the hearing will be Jane C. Loeffler, author of the article "Fortress America" in FP's September/October 2007 issue. Jane is without question the world's foremost expert on the cultural and diplomatic impacts of U.S. embassy design and construction overseas. Her FP article, which we are making free this week for non-subscribers, looks at what the billion-dollar compound the United States is building on the banks of the Tigris tells us about America's global outlook. More broadly, she also describes how the architecture of U.S. diplomatic facilities has changed since the bombing of the American missions in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Much of the hearing will likely focus on the new embassy in Baghdad. But it also promises to look into why the design of U.S. missions around the world has undergone such a radical transformation—not just in Baghdad but in Cape Town, Dushanbe, Kabul, and elsewhere. The boldly individual designs of embassies during the Cold War have given way to cookie-cutter buildings that follow a set formula the State Department calls "Standard Embassy Design." This has a massive impact on the way the United States is seen overseas, yet it has provoked surprisingly little serious discussion until now. We're thrilled that Chairman John Tierney's subcommittee has decided to take a closer look. Other witnesses at the hearing include: Amb. Thomas R. Pickering, former undersecretary of state; Amb. Marc Grossman, former director general of the foreign service; and John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association.
The hearing will be held tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. in Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building. We encourage Passport readers to attend, whether in person or via the committee's Webcast.
The British Council, a nearly $1 billion quasi-independent organization that promotes British culture overseas and works on foreign development and educational projects around the globe, has been forced to close its offices in the Russian cities of St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg after its staff members were harassed by Russian internal security service (FSB) officers, sometimes in their homes in the middle of the night. The British Council said in a statement (pdf):
On Tuesday 15 January, the Russian State Security Services (FSB) summoned over 20 Russian staff to attend individual interviews. Late that night 10 members of staff were visited at home by the Russian tax police and called to further interviews yesterday. The interviews had little to do with their work and were clearly aimed at exerting undue pressure on innocent individuals."
One of the most disturbing trends in Russia is the use of tax inspectors and other bogus investigations to intimidate and harass foreign NGOs and their employees. And now comes news that FSB goons are visiting people's homes in the middle of the night? This is the kind of cock-eyed nonsense that went on in Nazi-occupied Europe and later in East Berlin and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. One might expect this kind of thing in North Korea or Burma today.
It doesn't say much for Vladimir Putin's Russia that the same tactics have resurfaced with so much enthusiasm there in recent years. Kicking George Soros's group out of Moscow is one thing. But the British Council? The guys who teach English classes to impoverished children and run a lending library for homesick expats? Give me a break.
Justin Logan of the Cato Institute and Matthew Yglesias of the Atlantic Media Empire protest that, contra my short post about U.S. President George W. Bush and his relationship with the Saudis, the United States needn't coddle King Abdullah.
There's nothing about the fact that [the United States]–or Europe, or China, or Japan–consume oil that mandates that we play kissy-poo with Abdullah or anybody else. There are a few theories why we would want to kiss up to the Saudis, and none of them hold water.
The United States has what I'd deem an unduly chilly relationship with Venezuela at the moment, but the oil still flows and Citgo stations are still around. The process by which oil-rich states in the Persian Gulf export oil to oil-consuming states is a business arrangement for mutual advantage driven by the exchange of money for fuel.
Here's the thing. As the only country with spare production capacity, Saudi Arabia plays a vastly different role in the global economy than does Venezuela. Unlike Chávez, the Saudis have the power to control the price of the marginal barrel of oil. Until the U.S. economy becomes much less dependent on oil than it is today, that means the Saudis get treated with special deference. Hence the aforementioned kissy-poo.
Logan maintains that Saudi Arabia chooses to expand or cuts back on production based on its own economic self-interest, not because a U.S. president begs it to. We have differing views on the 1970s oil embargo, obviously. Today, Saudi Arabia regularly prevents OPEC from cutting back on production, in line with U.S. requests. And then there's petrodollar recycling—the practice of investing money back into Western economies, often at key times and in key sectors. Surely this is all coincidence?
Perhaps a more hands-off approach to Saudi Arabia would work, as Logan and Yglesias suggest. But no U.S. president has dared try it yet.
UPDATE: Gal Luft has a different take on Bush's begging in Saudi Arabia.
You might look at this picture and say, "Wow, U.S. President George W. Bush sure is tight with the dictatorial King of Saudi Arabia. They behead people and fund the spread of Wahhabist ideology. What a corrupt relationship."
But the reality is, if you're a gasoline-consuming American, you're deeply complicit in this marriage, too. So laugh all you want at Bush, but he kisses Saudi cheek for thee—just as U.S. presidents have done for decades. There's nothing particularly unique about Bush's relationship with the Saudis.
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