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.
In an emergency meeting Monday, Serbia's cabinet adopted a "secret plan" for responding to Kosovo's seemingly inevitable declaration of independence. Though as Reuters reports, the plan really isn't all that secret:
[I]nformation leaked in the three months since the plan was first drafted point to several measures, including cutting off electricity supplies and blocking power routes for the province, which buys 40 percent of its power from Serbia, as well as a trade and goods embargo.
Serbia could also refuse to recognize Kosovo passports and force travelers to make a long detour to get to Western Europe. It might also withdraw its ambassadors from countries that recognize Kosovo as an independent state.
At first glance, all of these responses seem like plausible courses of action for Serbia—which is desperate to keep Kosovo from seceding but is essentially prevented from taking military action by the 16,000 NATO troops in the region—except for the plan to withdraw ambassadors. Given that the United States and most countries in the European Union plan to recognize Kosovo's independence, it seems unlikely that Serbia would want to risk antagonizing them and returning to the isolation and pariah status it suffered during the 1990s.
On the other hand, comments by new EU President Janez Jansa indicate that Europe may be backing away somewhat from supporting "total independence" for Kosovo, so Serbia's leaders may feel that there's still bargaining to be done. It seems increasingly likely that Kosovo will continue to languish as "undefined" for the foreseeable future.
Am I allowed to swear on a family-friendly blog? Because I have some choice words for Dutch diplomat Raymond Poeteray. This a$$h*l& and his wife, Meta, adopted a baby girl from South Korea seven years ago when they were posted in Seoul, and now they've gotten rid of her because she's inconvenient. Here are the facts:
This is a total disgrace. They think they can just cast aside a girl they've "raised" since she was only 4 months old? I'm not trying to belittle the possibility that Jade did indeed have emotional problems. But there are other ways of dealing with troubled adoptees. It's especially horrible that this incident is from a diplomat, someone whose job is to encourage good relations between nations. But the Dutch government is officially backing Poeteray instead of duly firing him for shaming his country.
Beyond the abhorrent behavior of the Poeterays, this incident has larger implications. It casts the entire concept of international adoption in a bad light. Before this incident, there were already troubling questions being raised about how Westerners conduct themselves when going to developing countries for adoptions. Take, for example, the controversy surrounding Madonna's adoption of her boy from Malawi. Supposedly, his birth father was not aware that he was giving up his rights. Then there was the case of the French charity that tried to evacuate 103 children from Chad earlier this year. Several French citizens were charged with kidnapping and fraud. And just earlier this month, Guatemala tightened its adoption rules over concerns that mothers would sell their babies for profit. It's really a tragedy that such a big part of international adoption has turned into an illicit industry. There are so many unwanted children, and so many loving and caring families willing to welcome them. Why isn't there a better way to make this work?
There will be 27 EU foreign ministers and, when they can agree, there will be one person expressing their point of view. The representative will have to represent what the views of the members states actually are, and it is sometimes difficult to squeeze out what those views actually are."
Yikes! That's Chris Patten, FP contributor and former EU commissioner for external affairs, explaining how policymaking will take place under Europe's new guidelines for a common foreign policy outlined in the Lisbon treaty, which is to be signed Thursday by the EU's 27 member states. The document is a watered-down version of what was once the EU's would-be constitution, now dead and buried thanks to a series of failed or indefinitely delayed national referendums.
Like everything in the EU, the details of the treaty tend to be complex and not altogether clear. A few practical changes, such as lengthening the term of the EU presidency from six months to two-and-a-half years, are straightforward enough. But most of what treaty means in the real world will be sketched out later, in true European fashion. It will also form, in Patten's words, an "Extremely High Rep, or whatever we are going to call him," who will be charged with running the common foreign and security policy.
Seriously, they don't know what the official will be called? I'd say deciding what to call the high officers would be a good start. At least then member states will know how to address the invitations for their Brussels cocktail parties. Instead, it's sip champagne first, and worry about the pesky details later. Ah, Europe.
(Hat Tip: James Forsyth)
I had lunch this week with Condoleezza Rice. OK, so it wasn't exactly an intimate tête-à-tête; the secretary of state was the keynote speaker at the Women's Foreign Policy Group's annual luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton, where she spoke to a crowd of about 400, including yours truly. Condi was pretty much as expected: polished, pleasant, unflappable, and on message.
Her speech began with a bland discussion of general U.S. foreign-policy issues. Yawn. Rice did draw laughs from the crowd when she got in a little dig at Thomas Jefferson, mentioning that the first secretary of state would have never anticipated that the 66th secretary of state would be an African-American woman. She had a little slip of the tongue, saying that when her 12 years in office were over, it will have been 12 years since a white male occupied the top office in Foggy Bottom. Then she laughed, said that it "only feels like 12," and gave a nod to Madeline Albright and Colin Powell, "trailblazers also in their own right."
Basically, there was not much of real substance to her speech, but at least the Q&A session, moderated by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, touched on some real items in the news. She refused to answer questions about the CIA interrogation tapes scandal, saying that she didn't know about their destruction in 2005, but not commenting on questions about what she knew about the actual interrogations, which occurred when she was national security adviser in 2002. Asked about Guantánamo later, she did mention, "no one would like to close it more than I and, I think, the president."
She handled a question about Iran with characteristic aplomb, and reiterated an offer to meet with her Iranian counterpart, anytime, anywhere ... as soon as Iran scaled back and complied with international standards. As far as the greater Middle East goes, Rice expressed her personal faith in Abbas and Olmert (conveniently not mentioning their weak domestic status in their respective homes), and said that peace talks would not have been feasible even three months ago.
What struck me the most about Rice's lunchtime talk was what she didn't say. She barely mentioned Afghanistan and Iraq. She never uttered the name "Osama bin Laden." In 50 minutes, the word "terrorism" crossed her lips but twice, and then only to muse about the challenges her successors would face. The war on terror has been the centerpiece of Bush's foreign policy, and yet she didn't mention it once in her prepared remarks. Could it be a reflection of a changing mindset inside the administration?
Last week, I noted the irony that Kosovo's bid for independence from Serbia has finally given Russia and Georgia an issue they can agree on. Both are wary of the precedent that an independent Kosovo would set for their own separatist movements.
The prospect of a "Kosovo precedent" is creating more strange bedfellows this week. Ethnically divided Cyprus is the one holdout preventing the EU from reaching consensus on recognizing Kosovo's independence. Spain, Slovakia, and Greece, all of whom contend with ongoing separatist movements themselves, were also wary about Kosovo but have apparently come around.
Perhaps most unexpectedly, an independent Kosovo may put Canada in something of a bind. In a column for the Toronto Star, political analyst Richard Gwyn worries that the 1995 "Clarity Act," enacted in response to Quebec's near-secession, will put Canada in the dubious company of Georgia and Russia:
This legislation proclaims that a pro-separation majority in any future referendum would not give a Parti Québécois government the right to declare independence unilaterally.
Instead, and as confirmed by the Supreme Court, any separation-bound PQ government would have to negotiate first with the Canadian federal government of the day.
Accepting Kosovo's right to declare independence unilaterally would ensnare us into accepting Quebec's right to do the same. [...]
Given a free choice, there's no doubt Canada would support Kosovo's independence.
Instead, we're going to stand among the naysayers, while looking embarrassed.
[Please read editor's note at the end.]
Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, who's currently visiting France, has erected a heated, Bedouin-style tent in which to receive visitors due to his claustrophobia. And it's not just government officials he seeks to meet. On his way to France he said:
I want my tent to be erected near Elysee Palace. I want to meet 200 attractive French women there.
His tent has ended up in the garden of Baron Gustave de Rothschild's former mansion. No word on whether any beauties have showed up.
[NOTE: An astute Passport reader alerted us that the aforementioned quote attributed to Qaddafi may actually come from the French satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné because an International Herald Tribune article attributes a similar statement to Le Canard Enchaîné. The Turkish newspaper Sabah, upon which this blog post was based, attributes the quote to a news program on France's Canal Plus TV channel. Passport attempted to contact Le Canard Enchaîné to verify the veracity of the quote, but the newspaper has not responded to us.]
[NOTE 2 (Dec. 18, 2007): Qaddafi is reported to travel with a posse of 200 female bodyguards called the Amazonian Guard, a few of whose members can be seen in this photo. Thus, Qaddafi may have been requesting 200 bodyguards, not beauties.]
Why exactly is Nicolas Sarkozy "calling to congratulate" Vladimir Putin on United Russia's widely discredited electoral victory? Putin always enjoyed a warm relationship with Jacques Chirac, but Sarkozy seemed to be less predisposed toward coddling dictators than his predecessor. This is certainly true of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose stern tone with Russia couldn't be more different from Gerhard Schröder, another of Putin's European defenders. (And indeed, when he left office, Schröder became board chairman for a Gazprom pipeline project that he had boosted as chancellor.)
Sarkozy has also put France at odds with the EU, which issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Russia's elections "did not meet international standards and commitments voluntarily assumed by Moscow." Even new Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who has made improved relations with Moscow part of his platform, said, "we can't turn a blind eye when democratic standards are not respected."
Another interesting question: If Sarkozy is just playing realpolitik with the Russians, what does this say about the influence of Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in the president's administration? The left-wing humanitarian has been one of Europe's staunchest critics of Putin's crackdown on opposition groups in recent weeks. Has France found its Colin Powell?
On Wednesday evening at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley spoke broadly about freedom and the Middle East. His prepared remarks (pdf) weren't too surprising—the key point was that the time is right to push for peace because Israel is becoming more receptive to the idea of a Palestinian state, the Palestinians are being more cooperative, and Arab states are engaging in the debate.
Hadley did go off script a bit during the Q&A session, though. A SAIS student asked a question about why some Arabic states would support democracy in Iraq when those states are not democracies themselves. Hadley's answer was pretty standard until he began taking about elections in Iran. But Hadley replaced the "l" in elections with an "r" and instead began to speak about Iranian erections (The audio is here. Right click and save as. It's around the 38:30 mark).
There's been a lot of speculation over China's last minute decision to deny the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and its escort ships entry into Hong Kong harbor for a long-planned port visit over the Thanksgiving holiday. Beijing later reversed the denial of entry, but only after the Kitty Hawk had already set a course for its home port in Japan and seas were too rough for the ship to sail into Hong Kong.
U.S. commanders have said that the decision left them "perplexed." But some people speculate that China's decision should have come as no surprise at all. The Chinese Navy had been conducting live-fire exercises off the Chinese coast using nearly 20 ships and several dozen aircraft. Sailing into Hong Kong would certainly have put U.S. ships (and their prying eyes) in a position that Beijing would consider too close for comfort. These exercises might also explain why the Chinese government had earlier denied safe harbor — a longstanding maritime courtesy — to two U.S. Navy ships seeking entry into Hong Kong harbor as shelter from a storm. It's just one theory. Other possible explanations, as McClatchy's Tim Johnson has pointed out, include continued Chinese anger over the U.S. lovefest with the Dalai Lama.
Whatever the reason, the result was that 8,000 U.S. sailors spent Thanksgiving afloat in the South China Sea. The real victims here, though, are the sailors' families. Several hundred had ponied up thousands of dollars to spend a long weekend with their loved ones in Hong Kong. Nearly 300 families were already on the ground there when the Chinese decided to pull the plug on the visit. One wife of a Kitty Hawk officer says she spent nearly $2,500 on airfare and hotel rooms. The Navy had booked discounted rooms for sailors and their families. But when the port of call was canceled, the families were left paying full price.
There's just no way to put a positive spin on China's actions here. Live-fire exercise or not, the port visit was planned well in advance. Families were counting on it. As one Navy officer told Power Line blog: "[T]here is not much more China could do to hurt military-to-military relations with the US than a stunt like this."
When Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's term expires on Friday, Lebanese democracy will face a stern test. Political factions there are deadlocked over the selection of a new president, and Lebanon could see the formation of two parallel governments -- or, worse, the outbreak of civil war.
In the context of the current political stalemate, the [Bush] administration cannot afford to view the possible selection of a consensus candidate acceptable to Hezbollah as a greater danger than the failure to select anyone at all.
I would even go further than Exum and McInerney, though.
Lebanon's political crisis has everything to do with the changing makeup of the country. The Shiites have long demanded their fair share of political power and the Christian and Sunni populations that back the current government don't trust that their interests would be represented in a system of "one man, one vote" (rather than the present system of sectarian proportional representation). More than anything else, Lebanon needs a new political bargain that updates the Taif Agreement of 1989, which formed the basis for ending the civil war. A lot has changed since 1989, and Washington is making a huge mistake by discouraging the so-called "March 14th forces" aligned with Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri from cutting a pragmatic deal. But the longer they wait, the more the sectarian balance in Lebanon changes in the Shiites' favor, to say nothing of Hezbollah's military might.
More broadly, Lebanon is just one more example of a mistaken U.S. approach to foreign policy that dates back decades and across administrations of both parties. Here's how it works: The United States says it supports democracy, but ends up backing pro-Western leaders when push comes to shove. Take the case of Pervez Musharraf, whom U.S. President George W. Bush described Tuesday as "somebody who believes in democracy" despite the fact that the Pakistani leader has suspended the Constitution, thrown many of his opponents in jail, and gone after independent media outlets. Or consider the Palestinian territories, where the White House called for elections and then blanched when the distasteful Hamas won them fair and square. Is it any wonder that U.S. rhetoric on democracy isn't taken seriously?
This is not to say that there aren't some tough choices confronting U.S. policymakers. But it would be better, in my view, to either dial back the grandiose democracy rhetoric or else be more consistent about supporting democratic "rules of the game" rather than always backing the more pro-American side, win or lose, and calling it "supporting democracy." If you want to get more in depth on this topic, Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment, which publishes FP, offers some practical suggestions here.
Forgive for a moment a short trip down memory lane: Back in the last half of June, Hamas had just kicked Fatah out of Gaza, the surge wasn't working, a huge truck bomb decimated a Baghdad mosque, early leaders of the "Anbar Awakening" were killed in a suicide bombing, and one of U.S. President George W. Bush's steadfast Republican supporters broke ranks with him on Iraq. Not a great month by anyone's count, least of all President Bush.
Amidst these dismal headlines, the White House managed to regain control of the headlines with a big announcement on June 27. That day, Bush declared that he would appoint the first U.S. envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of 57 countries that promotes "solidarity and cooperation among Islamic states."
Bush's aims for the appointment were simple:
[T]o "listen and learn" and share U.S. views with delegates from Muslim nations. The appointment is intended "to demonstrate to Muslim communities our interest in respectful dialogue and continued friendship," [Bush] said.
Great, right? A small gesture, but nice all the same. Except for the fact that five months later, nada. Zip. Zilch. No envoy.
The gesture is obviously symbolic, a band-aid for a deeply wounded U.S. image in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. But why even bother to announce such an appointment, which is supposed to express the United States' intention to reach out to Muslims and at least appear interested in their points of view, and then not do it? It seems so careless. I asked the White House's press office when we might be able to expect an announcement, and I was told in true Yogi Berra fashion, "when we announce it, we'll announce it." I got the feeling they forgot.
June, 2007, was the month of unfulfilled promises, it seems. On June 5, Bush declared that he'd ordered Condoleezza Rice to cable every U.S. ambassador in an unfree nation with the following message: "Seek out and meet with activists for democracy. Seek out those who demand human rights." Sounds nice, right? The Post's Jackson Diehl checked in on the status of the cable in early August. It still hadn't been sent.
Fred Kaplan over at Slate recently asked readers to write in with suggestions on how the United States can improve its image in the world. Everyone ought to read the results, because they are a powerful illustration of just how little we as Americans understand about how the world sees us.
"To Know Us Is To Love Us," Kaplan declares in his headline. It summarizes the dominant theme of the more than 100 suggestions from his readers: If only all those angry foreigners could meet more real Americans through travel and exchange programs, they would like us better. It's a variation on a refrain any traveled American has heard a thousand times: "We like Americans, but hate your government."
It's comforting to think that Americans don't get blamed for everything their government does. But the next time someone in a foreign country tells you this, remind them that it was Americans—ordinary ones—who died on 9/11, not their government or government leaders. As Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami puts it, "it is of Americans and their deeds, and the kind of social and political order they maintain, that sordid tales are told in Karachi and Athens and Cairo and Paris. You can't profess kindness toward Americans while attributing the darkest of motives to their homeland."
Part of the problem with Kaplan's experiment is that many of those writing in are Americans living overseas who see the world through the one-dimensional prism of wherever they happen to be. For instance, Kaplan writes, "Several readers emphasize that many foreigners, even those with high levels of education, have no concept of American life. They don't know that most Americans are religious people." Whoever said that must never have been to Europe, a secular continent where the United States gets viciously mocked for being overly religious. Meanwhile, in the Arab world, America is hated for the decadence and infidelity it represents. We can't win, friends.
And there's the real problem with the suggestion, "to know us is to love us." It ignores reality. One Dutch student wrote to Kaplan: "America must (re-)consider itself an ordinary country—special and of great importance, but not playing in a league of its own." Sorry, but America, by virtue of the power of its economy, military, and culture, does play in a league of its own. Being huge inspires hatred; just ask the Yankees, Wal-Mart, or Microsoft. Pretending that isn't so will hardly fix anything.
For now, America must bear the burden of being both loved and hated at once. Our embassies will at once be blown up and packed with locals seeking visas. I'm all for exchange programs, but they aren't enough to cure this ill. If you heard Karen Hughes or Condi Rice tell you that the solution to the U.S. public diplomacy problem is that foreigners just don't understand how wonderful Americans are, wouldn't you laugh her out of the room? You ought to do the same with Kaplan's experiment.
(Hat Tip: James Joyner)
Today was the deadline for U.S. foreign service officers to volunteer to fill 48 open positions in Iraq or face so-called "directed assignments" to Embassy Baghdad and provincial capitals. But, apparently thanks to a high volume of FSOs stepping up and volunteering for these positions, the State Department has decided to extend the deadline until at least the end of the week. As of yesterday, more than half of the positions had been filled with volunteers and an additional 12 posts were tentatively filled, leaving just 11 remaining posts. The hope at State is surely that these remaining posts can be filled with volunteers and the whole kerfuffle over assignments at Embassy Baghdad will soon go away.
Many FSOs spoke out against "directed assignments," including here at Passport. This prompted some in the punditocracy to call them wimps. "[G]row a freakin' pair," blustered Wired's Noah Shachtman, for one. No one appears ready to lay off, despite the fact that FSOs are volunteering to fill the posts. In today's New York Times, neoconservative commentator Max Boot takes yet another shot, calling forced assignments to Baghdad a "baby step" and "a long-overdue response to complaints that diplomats aren't pulling their weight in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Boot goes on to suggest that forced deployments of FSOs ought to be the tip of the iceberg. He wants bureaucrats from other government departments sent to Iraq as well. Boot also suggests that municipal police officers be forcibly drafted and sent to Iraq, along with "lawyers, judges and prison guards." I'm not so sure that exporting America's entire criminal justice system is such a good idea, given that we're in the midst of a surge in violent crime and all—to say nothing of what would happen were terrorists to strike here at home while all of our cops, lawyers, judges, and prison guards were overseas.
After five years of failed policies in Iraq, are we really to believe that the problem is that not enough American civilians and diplomats are on the ground over there? You can send diplomats to Iraq in huge numbers, along with cops, lawyers, judges, plumbers, electricians, and dog catchers. But assuming that they can, by their sheer presence, force Iraq to be a successful democracy proves only that we have learned nothing.
Days after King Juan Carlos of Spain told Hugo Chávez to "shut up" at the Ibero-American summit (after Chávez called former Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar a "fascist"), Chávez has fired back from Caracas, comparing the king's treatment of him to the persecution of Jesus:
Should he accept the king's injunction to shut up, "the stones of the people of Latin America would cry out", said Chávez, paraphrasing a comment by Christ in Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion. The Venezuelan information ministry issued press releases identifying the relevant part of the Bible.
The king of Spain told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to "shut up" Saturday during a heated exchange that soured the end of a summit of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal.
Chavez, who called President Bush the "devil" on the floor of the United Nations last year, triggered the exchange by repeatedly referring to former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as a "fascist."
Aznar, a conservative who was an ally of Bush as prime minister, "is a fascist," Chavez said in a speech at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile. "Fascists are not human. A snake is more human."
Spain's current socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, responded during his own allotted time by urging Chavez to be more diplomatic in his words and respect other leaders despite political differences.
The phrase used by the king, "¿Por qué no te callas?," is one that a parent might use on a disobedient child. Watch the exchange here:
Throughout the week, we've been posting e-mails from U.S. foreign service officers on their reaction to the State Department's controversial decision to "draft" FSOs for service in Baghdad. Yesterday, the State Department's official blog, Dipnote, got into the act by posting a letter from Anbar-based FSO John Matel. Matel advises his fellow employees to cowboy up and consider how ridiculous they look to those in uniform, who were never asked for their opinions about being sent to Iraq:
I will not repeat what the Marines say when I bring up this subject. I tell them that most FSOs are not wimps and weenies. I will not share this article with them and I hope they do not see it. How could I explain this wailing and gnashing of teeth? I just tried to explain it to one of my PRT members, a reserve LtCol called up to serve in Iraq . She asked me if all FSOs would get the R&R, extra pay etc. and if it was our job to do things like this. When I answered in the affirmative, she just rolled her eyes.
If these guys at the town hall meeting do not want to come to Iraq , that is okay with. I would not want that sort out here with me anyway. We have enough trouble w/o having to baby sit. BUT they are not worldwide available and they might consider the type of job that does not require worldwide availability.
We all know that few FSOs will REALLY be forced to come to Iraq anyway. Our system really does not work like that. This sound and fury at Foggy Bottom truly signifies nothing. Get over it! I do not think many Americans feel sorry for us and it is embarrassing for people with our privileges to paint ourselves as victims.
A shorter version of this post was written on Matel's personal blog last week. It's strange that Dipnote would choose to publicize departmental infighting this way. My initial assessment of Dipnote as a collection of glorified press releases might have been premature. Karen Hughes has only been gone for a week, and already this supposed tool of public diplomacy is being used to browbeat State's own employees. I doubt that Dipnote will be posting the other side's views any time soon, but they have proven us wrong before.
Passport, on the other hand, is still interested in hearing from FSOs on both sides of the debate. Keep those e-mails coming.
UPDATE: DipNote Bloggers write in:
DipNote was started to provide a forum for dialogue with the public and provide greater transparency into the Department. Given his perspective as a PRT team leader in Al Anbar Province, we thought our readers would benefit from hearing about Mr. Matel's experiences in the field. Mr. Matel has his own blog, so we asked if he'd like to blog for our site as well as his own. Since the issue of directed assignments is in the news, we thought his post on the issue was particularly timely and decided to post it. We would not characterize his post as "browbeating" his colleagues; he's expressing his opinion in a forum for open discussion. That's what blogs are for, right?
As for Dipnote iteself, initial reactions to have been ...shall we say, varied. At first, some commenters indicated that the blog would be nothing more that a "collection of glorified press releases." Ironically, others later indicated that, "It's strange that DipNote would choose to publicize departmental infighting this way." We understand the ratoinale behind both of those sentiments, but are not allowing polarizing comments to sway us from our mission to provide a fair and objective forum.
As we stated in our first post, we hope to cut through the opacity of the Department and provide an open forum. If directed assignments are what people are taking about, we'll blog about it. We're always open to anyone who wishes to contribute a blog entry expressing varying points of view and we'll run it on Dipnote.
Tonight, Nicolas Sarkozy will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Yesterday, a few of us from FP attended Sarkozy's address to the French-American Business Council, where the French president touched on a number of themes you're likely to see in tonight's speech. The bottom line? Here's a man on a charm offensive.
While he praised the United States, Sarkozy's overall message, like that of many recent French presidents, is one of restoring France to its former position of international grandeur. But this French leader brings a new twist:
If you want to be an example, you have to behave like an example. We've fallen too far behind, but we're catching up."
Editor's Note: This post coauthored by Joshua Keating.
One U.S. foreign service officer, responding to our request for comments on Embassy Baghdad and the mission in Iraq, wants people to know that diplomats are no wimps. They're "more 'forward deployed' than any military force," this State Department official contends:
[W]e are used to being misunderstood and mischaracterized. We are just beginning to see the latest vilification of our people. But we know that our men and women are more 'forward deployed' than any military force, with little or no 'force protection' in some of the most dangerous, unstable, austere environments in the world. We take casualties year in and year out, and per capita our Corps sustains grievously high numbers of deaths from terrorism, assassination and other violence.... We have no equals when it comes to serving in harm’s way in the farthest corners of the earth.
We are called to serve in Iraq in totally unprecedented numbers, and the public should know why. We do. It is because those numbers are artificially inflated, with no justification or reasoning apparent for anyone to see. The requirement for vast numbers of diplomatic officers and specialists is based on the continuation of an ad hoc series of incoherent plans, not on a clear, articulated purpose. This demand for ever-increasing numbers of diplomats is evidently based on a political desire to demonstrate State’s institutional support for an occupation with no articulation of what these numbers will accomplish.
What is most disgraceful about this state of affairs is that the Foreign Service and the rest of the State Department gave this administration an excellent, well-researched and solid set of plans for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, shortly before the invasion. Our work and participation was explicitly and dramatically rejected by the Secretary of Defense and the White House, particularly including then-National Security Advisor Rice.... Now the very actors who refused to hear the inconvenient counsel of the nation’s diplomatic service blame that service for their own mess. Why on earth should we volunteer in constantly increasing numbers to perform assignments that serve no purpose other than to show our institutional loyalty to a disastrous mismanagement of foreign policy that will surely get more of us killed in the process?
The Secretary of State has shown her level of support of the Foreign Service quite clearly by her detached and disdainful attitude towards the concerns recently expressed about this pointless waste of talent.... Sending officers into this failed, hideously violent exercise with no language training, no military liaison training, no arms or means of self-defense, no area training or expertise, no continuity of personnel, no internal support, and no post-deployment assistance of any substance is, in fact, as stupid as it appears to be. I would prefer that we have some senior officers speak out now, rather than begin our own collection of Ricardo Sanchezes who will say years from now, after many more dead and maimed, 'I told you so.'
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.