It was January 20, 2005, a heady time. U.S. President George W. Bush had just won reelection and believed the Bush Doctrine had handed him a powerful mandate. And he intended to run with it:
Today America speaks anew to the peoples of the world: All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
Oh, how times have changed. This was White House Press Secretary Dana Perino speaking to reporters yesterday:
I have a statement by the President on Burma that I will read out for him," she said, "and then a statement about the FAA.... I call on all nations that have influence with the regime to join us in supporting the aspirations of the Burmese people and to tell the Burmese Junta to cease using force on its own people who are peacefully expressing their desire for change."
In case you missed it, that was the vaunted "freedom agenda" lumped in with airport delays. To the tens of thousands of Burmese risking life and limb to demand freedom from their oppressors, Perino essentially said: We aren't really going to stand with you, but we'll definitely put a call in to China and Russia to see what they can do.
The hope of the Bush administration is apparently that increased sanctions—or the threat of them—and travel restrictions on a half dozen or so top junta leaders will bring the regime in Yangon crumbling down.
But just ask a Cuban how effective these kinds of sanctions are at toppling dictatorial regimes. The increased sanctions Bush announced at the United Nations on Wednesday are little more than symbolic. They will likely have almost no impact on the political situation, and the same goes for Europe's existing sanctions. As one European observer put it, "Stopping European companies from investing in a pineapple juice factory is laughable."
As for the now apparently universal belief that China can somehow be shamed into pressing the junta for democratic reforms, that's a joke—as Bill Overholt pointed out here on Wednesday. But let's step back for a second here: Is the United States really prepared to stake the hopes of freedom on the Chinese Communist Party? Is this what the Bush Doctrine has come to?
The danger of the Bush Doctrine was always that people in places like Burma, Sudan, or Zimbabwe might take it seriously. That they would literally stand up for their freedom, expecting Team Bush to stand with them. "We either go to democracy or back to military dictatorship," one Burmese citizen wrote to the BBC this week. The Bush administration, apparently believing it has done enough, is prepared to sit back and watch the latter happen. More than 100,000 Burmese citizens a day are standing, and the Bush administration is sitting down.
That may be the saddest comment yet on the Bush Doctrine.
If you're getting tired of that "Don't tase me, bro" guy, you might find new inspiration for humor in the story of a group of "inappropriately dressed" Saudi women who had had enough meddling from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Saudi Arabia's notorious religious police.
From the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily, Asharq Alawsat:
According to Dr. Al-Marshood, the two commission members approached the girls in order to "politely" advise and guide them regarding their inappropriate clothing.
Consequently, the two girls started verbally abusing the commission members, which then lead to one of the girls pepper-spraying them in the face as the other girl filmed the incident on her mobile phone, while continuing to hurl insults at them.
Joking aside, the Commission has been involved in a number of despicable incidents of brutality against women in the past. The perpetrators were lucky if they were only "cautioned and then released," as the article claims. We can only hope that they were allowed to keep the mobile phone, and that the clip will be circulating on YouTube soon. (Hat tip: Boing Boing)
Joking aside, the Commission has been involved in a number of despicable incidents of brutality against women in the past. The perpetrators were lucky if they were only "cautioned and then released," as the article claims.
We can only hope that they were allowed to keep the mobile phone, and that the clip will be circulating on YouTube soon.
(Hat tip: Boing Boing)
Recent press coverage and commentary on Burma's "Saffron Revolution" got me thinking: Is it really as simple as China flipping a switch and Burma will be democratic overnight? Judging by many reports, you'd think so. "If China won't change its policies toward Burma on its own," writes Nobel laureate Jody Williams in today's Wall Street Journal, "it must be pressured to do so."
But aren't we forgetting that the West spent much of the second half of the 20th Century trying to get China out of the business of regime change in Asia? Is it wise to reverse course now? To get some insight on the situation, I got a hold of RAND's Bill Overholt, who has spent decades working on Burma and helped set up the Provisional Revolutionary Government in the country's mountain jungles in 1989. Here's what he had to say.
On China's ability to encourage change in Burma:
China has interests and involvements in Burma, but limited leverage. Burma is not some kind of client state of China. It is a xenophobic, divided, tribalized country with a nationalistic government; it bears more resemblance to one of the less coherent sub-Saharan African states than to most other East Asian countries. It’s not an easy place to influence. Through most of the 1980s there was a Burmese Communist Party, which consisted primarily of the Wa tribe plus Chinese leadership. When the Wa decided to turn anti-communist in the late 1980s and chased the Chinese leadership into China, China’s influence in the country was drastically reduced but there was little China could do without military intervention. So Beijing basically sat by passively when it happened.
There's a crucial lesson in that episode. The fact that China has economic involvements in this neighboring country and sells weapons to it doesn't mean anymore than when big U.S. companies are involved in some third world country and the U.S. government also sells weapons to it. Those things imply neither political commitment to a certain regime nor any ability to change the regime. The Chinese have been pressing Rangoon diplomatically for some time to liberalize the political system. Going beyond that to some kind of active Chinese attempt to impose a new kind of politics would be like the U.S. invading Mexico to clean up Mexican politics, but much messier because Burmese nationalism and tribalism make Mexico's nationalism and Iraq's tribalism seem modest by comparison.
One would hope that our experience with regime change in Iraq would temper somewhat the occasional neocon fantasy that China could simply install a new regime in North Korea or the apparent new fantasy of some liberals that China could just install a different kind of government in Burma."
On whether next year's Olympic Games factor into China's calculus on Burma, as many news outlets are suggesting:
China's motives in relations with Burma have nothing to do with the Olympics. I doubt that even the idea of some connection has ever crossed the minds of Chinese leaders. Only someone distant from the region could even imagine that."
On how events in Burma impact Sino-U.S. relations:
Washington basically has the same attitude toward Burma that China does. It doesn't like what’s happening there, but isn't willing or able to do much about it. We have largely symbolic sanctions, and we have not done as much as we could have. We have not, for instance, gone after the oil companies that provide the big money to the junta and that have benefited so much from infrastructure built by tribal people who were kidnapped by the Burmese government and often forced to work without food until they died. Our drug policy has off and on fed the fox to guard the chicken coop.... We have occasionally given economic and military aid to the same government for the purpose of suppressing the drug trade, but the aid was of course used instead against the democracy movement.
Burma is one of the world's most serious human rights problems. We need to focus on getting our own policy right and on staying in sync with Burma’s neighbors, including China, as we do so. We're pushing in the same general direction as the Chinese, for somewhat different reasons, with equally little success. Hopefully the monks are going to change the structure of the game."
With reports that the junta is stockpiling insecticides to use against demonstrators and is clearing space in jails and hospitals in anticipation of a harsher crackdown, the stakes have never been higher.
PS: For those following the "Burma" vs. "Myanmar" debate—and here at Passport, we've used both—James Fallows convincingly puts the issue to rest.
A disturbing report from Bangladesh, from an anonymous, but well-placed source:
FARJANA KHAN GODHULY/AFP/Getty Images
Prothom Alo, the largest circulation daily newspaper in Bangladesh, is under attack from the right-wing fundamentalist groups. The immediate trigger was a joke published in a humor and satire supplement on September 17.
A man: What is your name?
Man: You should say "Mohammed Babu". What's is your father's name?
Man: You should say "Mohammed X". What is that in your lap?
Boy: Mohammed cat.
Although the joke was published strictly as humor and without incendiary intent, it raised a firestorm of protest from Islamic fundamentalists, who demanded that the paper be banned and its publisher and editor be arrested.
The cartoonist, a 20-year old freelancer, was arrested, and the government banned all the copies of that edition of the supplement.
Prothon Alo's management recognized that publishing the joke was a mistake. The next day, the editor apologized on the front page of the paper and asked readers to pardon the error. On September 19, the apology was repeated. In addition, the sub-editor of that humor section was terminated for carelessness. However, these steps have not satisfied the fundamentalists, who have continued to aggressively press their demands. On the 19th reports began circulating that the government was yielding to the demands and intended to arrest the paper's editor Matiur Rahman, a winner of the Magsaysay Award winner and an icon of the free press in Bangladesh, on September 20.
Ironically, Rahman has been a strong supporter of the current government and its reform efforts. Advocates of press freedom and individual rights in Bangladesh are concerned that if Matiur Rahman can be arrested, anyone in the country is vulnerable to attack by the fundamentalists.
(More background on this story here from Bangladeshi expat blogger Rezwan at Global Voices Online.) So far, it doesn't appear that Rahman has been arrested, and the state clerisy is coming to his aid, if not quite his defense.
But make no mistake: This story isn't about hurt feelings; it's about raw political power. While, like FP contributor Jalal Alamgir and the U.S. State Department, I have my misgivings about military rule in Bangladesh, the fundamentalists are showing their true colors here. It's a familiar pattern in Muslim countries ruled by authoritarian governments: Religious conservatives use religion cynically to embarrass the regime and whip up populist sentiment. Over time, they can force the government to make accommodating moves and concede elements of governance to the clerics. And the state can't exactly stand up for the principle of freedom of speech, because it's usually no great shakes on that score, either. This is bad news for Bangladesh. The way to break this cycle? Patient and deep democratic reforms and economic liberalization—not precipitous free and fair elections, which is what gave us Hamas in Palestine and Iranian-backed Shiite militias running Iraq.
Something is seriously wrong with this picture: An American student enrolled at the University of Florida is denied his constitutionally-protected right to question an elected leader in a nonviolent way. He's tackled by a half dozen police officers, tasered, and thrown in jail. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be given free reign to hold court before a group of students and faculty — and hordes of television cameras — at Columbia University next week.
So let me get this straight. Ahmadinejad, who is rumored to have taken Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and whose country is a leading state sponsor of terrorism, has more rights than an American college student. Friends, all is not well in American academia.
Some pundits are lamely attacking Columbia for allowing Ahmadinejad to speak. But of all people, these neocon types ought to understand that freedom means giving the microphone to someone who makes your blood boil. More convincing are folks like Matt Cooper, who is pointing out the hypocrisy in Columbia's eagerness to welcome Ahmadinejad even as they ban the U.S. military's Reserve Officers Training Corps from campus. Cooper asks, "If discrimination [is] the standard for banishment from campus why not Catholic groups? After all, the church bans women from becoming priests."
What's more worrisome, however, is the realization that, while Ahmadinejad will enjoy and test the very limits of the freedoms Americans are supposed to enjoy, a U.S. citizen was denied this priviledge earlier this week. American universities, one is left to assume, value the insights of a man like Ahmadinejad more than they do those of their own students.
Mark Jordan, FP's D.C. correspondent, writes in with a dispatch from our nation's capital:
All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected." That was George W. Bush, speaking on February 26, 2003.
On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Senate demonstrated its commitment to this bedrock democratic principle. Unbeknownst to most Americans, despite its larger population than the state of Wyoming, the 580,000-plus residents of Washington, D.C., are not represented by any voting member in Congress. Nevertheless, District residents are required to pay federal taxes and serve in the United States military. Three District residents have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Earlier this year, a bill that would provide Washington with a voting representative in Congress passed in the House. And Tuesday, Republican Senators—with the explicit encouragement of the Bush administration—blocked consideration of that legislation in the Senate, leaving over half a million Americans without a voice, and without their rights protected.
So much for leading by example.
Saudi women are putting the pedal to the metal this month in efforts to gain the right to drive cars. The newly formed League of Demanders of Women's Right to Drive Cars in Saudi Arabia is putting together a petition demanding that women be allowed to drive automobiles in the Kingdom. The petition will be delivered to King Abdullah on Sept. 23, Saudi Arabia's national day.
Saudi Arabia is the only country that prohibits women from getting behind the wheel. In recent years, reformist efforts have aimed to remove obstacles to women working, but as one Saudi political analyst notes, these efforts won't amount to much if women can't drive.
The text of the petition, along with instructions on how to sign it, originally appeared on the Arabic-language Web site Aafaq. It says, "The [right to free movement] … was enjoyed by our mothers and grandmothers, in complete freedom, through the means of transportation available in their day." It goes on to demand that the king return "that which has been stolen from women: the right to [free] movement through the use of cars, [which are] the means of transportation today."
Sounds fair enough to me. But what're the chances the king will agree?
Don't get between the British and their pints of beer. That's what the European Union has finally learned after giving in to Britian and allowing it to keep using pints—a non-metric unit of measurement—to dispense and sell beer.
Previously, the island country had been under an EU diktat to abandon pints and pounds, and instead sell goods in the metric system's liters and kilograms by 2010. Euroskeptic Brits have traditionally bristled at the idea of being pushed around by Eurocrats, which over the years has spurred the creation of many hilarious Euromyths.
The issue of abandoning the beloved imperial system of measures, in particular, had been a deeply emotional issue. Grocer Steve Thoburn became Britain's "metric martyr" when he was convicted in 2001 for the ghastly crime of selling bananas by the pound.
In the end, it seems like the EU decided to throw in the towel and just "go along to get along." A spokeswoman for the European Commission said it wanted to "put a full stop on this issue." With the future of the new EU Treaty hanging in the balance, that's probably wise.
Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute and Peter Beinart of the Council on Foreign Relations are debating Ledeen's new book, The Iranian Time Bomb, and particularly Ledeen's call for the United States to continue funding Iranian democracy activists. In May, the U.S. Congress approved $75 million in supplemental funding for nongovernmental organizations in Iran, a measure Ledeen strongly supports. Congress is considering renewing at least some of the funding in its upcoming appropriations bills, though the House and Senate versions differ.
Why is this even a debate? Of course the United States should help democrats struggling against authoritarian Iran, right? Well actually, Trita Parsi and Emily Blout of the National Iranian American Council, a nonprofit organization representing Iranian Americans, say it's not so simple:
Of the millions obligated for democracy promotion in Iran, only a negligible amount has found its way into the country. This isn't for lack of publicity. Condoleezza Rice has dedicated many a sound bite to touting the existence of the program. Still the State Department has been hard pressed to find takers, as would-be recipients refuse to accept funding widely considered tainted by the U.S. name. In its broad mandate and secretive nature, the program has rendered every member of civil society a potential recipient of U.S. funds, and thus subject to harassment by the Iranian government. This program, said Human Rights Watch at a conference last month, is "painting a target on their backs."
A Tamil-language newspaper in Malaysia has had its printing permit suspended for one month as punishment for publishing an image of Jesus that many Christians, as well as people of other faiths, found offensive.
The picture depicts Jesus holding a cigarette and what looks like a can of beer. The caption accompanying the image translates roughly as "If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them." The picture appeared as part of the newspaper's regular "thoughts for the day" feature, which spotlights quotes from famous leaders and philosophers.
Last year, two Malaysian newspapers got shut down after publishing offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed—the notorious ones that were the subject of protests from Nigeria to Indonesia. In the case of the Jesus image, some Malaysian Christians have demanded that the newspaper that published it, Makkal Osai, receive the same treatment.
At least one Malaysian Christian blogger, however, believes that shutting down civic discourse isn't consistent with the principle of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). I would add that at the very least, it isn't consistent with the principle of free speech, which requires us to defend the right of people to say things that offend us deeply.
Regular readers of Passport will know that we've been closely following the case of Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a contributor to FP. She was detained in Tehran in December and thrown into the notorious Evin Prison in May, where she's been languishing ever since.
Finally, there's good news! Dr. Esfandiari was released today after her family paid bail of 3 million rials (about $333,000), using the deed of her 93-year-old mother's Tehran apartment. The head of the Wilson Center, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, said he was unsure about why she was released, but had recently received a note from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in response to a letter appealing for Esfandiari's release.
So far, the charges against Esfandiari are still pending, and it is unclear whether or not the Iranian government will allow her to return home to Maryland. But at least she is able to spend time with her ailing mother and is no longer in prison. Let's hope there's similar good news in the cases of Kian Tajbakhsh, Parnaz Azima, and Ali Shakeri, who have also been detained in Iran.
Ai Wei Wei, one of China's most celebrated artists and the creative genius behind the new, $400 million Beijing National Stadium, has used an interview with Al Jazeera English (embedded below) to courageously denounce his country's upcoming Olympics as "fake and hypocritical."
In the video, Ai gives Beijing the middle finger, and says he wants nothing more to do with the Games. He refuses to attend the opening ceremonies, which are to be held in the very stadium he designed. Ai denounces the ceremonies and the hoopla surrounding them because, he says, the world will not see the "real state of the country, the city, and the people." He adds:
If it is far away from reality, then it is something fake and hypocritical."
Ai knows the "real state" of his country all too well. The son of renowned Chinese poet Ai Qin, his family was sent to a remote labor camp in Xinjiang province during the Cultural Revolution. It is where Ai grew up. Apparently, he sees little distinction between the hardship and suffering his family experienced a half century ago and the conditions of the workers who are building his stadium. They earn $150 per month.
As for fellow artists—particularly director Steven Spielberg—who are reportedly helping to choreograph the show, Ai has this to say:
All the sh*tty directors in the world are involved. It's disgusting. I don't like anyone who shamelessly abuses their profession, who makes no moral judgment. It is mindless."
(Hat tip: Boing Boing)
A few heads are probably rolling at China Daily this week. That's because the state-run paper ever-so-briefly deemed the 1989 incident at Tiananmen Square as a massacre on August 8. China Daily's Web site picked up a Reuters story about the 2008 Olympics, and for several hours, the newspaper's online, English-language readers learned that "[s]ecurity was tight around Tiananmen Square, where troops crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 with huge loss of life, as crowds gathered for the celebrations." Here's Google's cached version of the piece with the sentence (pictured above).
Twelve hours later, the sentence was gone.
(Hat tip: Far Eastern Economic Review's Travellers' Tales blog)
Need any more proof that markets are value-neutral?
Take a look at the share price of China Public Security Technology (CPST), which jumped over 20 percent following Sunday's article in the New York Times. In the article, the Times called out the Florida-based company for providing technology that will help the Chinese government monitor its citizens even closer than before:
Starting this month in a port neighborhood and then spreading across Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people, residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips programmed by the same company will be issued to most citizens.
Data on the chip will include not just the citizen’s name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China’s controversial “one child” policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card.
It's not something I'd want to be associated with, but investors who bought shares in CPST today are just behaving rationally. After all, electronic surveillance is a growth market—and nowhere more so than in China.
Back in 2001, when Beijing was bidding for the 2008 Olympics, Wang Wei, the head of the committee petitioning for the games, promised to give international media "complete freedom to report when they come to China." Premier Wen Jiabao repeated that pledge when he decreed that foreign reporters would be allowed to roam freely without interference by local police or propaganda officials between January 1, 2007 and October 17, 2008. It's now August 2007, and the Olympics are less than a year away. How well has China fulfilled its promises?
Not so well, according to a report just released by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC). The FCCC surveyed 163 international journalists working in China to find out if they've experienced any kind of government interference while reporting. Forty percent of the respondents say they've been through anything from source intimidation, detention, and even violence since January 1, 2007. Eleven correspondents say they've received official reprimands, particularly in regards to reporting on Tibet. A reporter for the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau was even harassed while doing a story on Mount Everest climbers.
It's not all dire news, though. Forty-three percent of respondents say that the reporting environment has improved somewhat since China decided to lift travel restrictions. But 95 percent say that reporting conditions in China still do not meet international standards. In particular, they cite difficulties in reaching top government officials.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next several months, especially since China is coming under increasing scrutiny—not just for traditional international concerns like human rights abuses, but for business practices. With melamine found in pet food and hazardous traces of lead in toys, the international media is not about to let up on China anytime soon. And as New York Times reporter David Barboza can attest, even business journalists are being detained. Time for Chinese officials to step up and fulfill their promises. They may find that transparency is in their own interests, too.
In the United States, it's legal to burn the country's flag; it's legal to put a Christian cross in a glass of urine and call it art; and it's legal to create a painting of the Virgin Mary that incorporates elephant dung. Despite the fact that many people understandably find these acts to be highly repugnant and offensive, they are protected as free speech.
Last Friday, however, a 23-year-old man was arrested on hate-crime charges after surveillance photos linked him to two incidents of throwing Korans into toilets at Pace University in New York. Granted, the behavior was offensive and inappropriate: It does not elevate the debate about Islam and terrorism.
But in the compelling interest of protecting free speech, this man's alleged Koran flushings should be treated as property crimes, not hate crimes. He appears to have taken the Korans from the university's meditation room. If true, then he should be charged with theft. If the toilets' plumbing was damaged, then he should also be charged with vandalism.
In fact, Pace University initially classified the first book flushing as an act of vandalism, but later referred it to the hate crimes unit of the New York Police Department. If the university wishes to punish such asinine behavior, then as a private university, it has the right to establish a code of conduct that takes disciplinary action against those who create a hostile environment on campus.
Free speech is essential for democracy. It doesn't require us to agree with what everyone says, but it does require us to tolerate—and even defend—the right of others to express themselves in offensive ways.
Twelve years ago, British journalist Nick Young moved to China and started an English-language publication that quickly became a must-read for Sinophiles everywhere. The China Development Brief reports on social, environmental, and civil society developments in the Middle Kingdom and has developed a loyal following of mostly businesspeople, academics, and diplomats. In 2001, CDB launched a sister publication in Chinese. It wasn't a direct translation of the English version, but included original materials providing information exchange for Chinese NGOs dedicated to development and poverty alleviation.
Alas, the newsletter is no more. A week ago, a dozen Chinese authorities paid a visit to CDB's Beijing offices. After three hours of interrogation, they ordered Young to stop publishing. As Young wrote in a statement issued Wednesday:
I, as editor of the English language edition of China Development Brief, am deemed guilty of conducting "unauthorized surveys" in contravention of the 1983 Statistics Law, and have been ordered to desist. I have since been interviewed by the police section responsible for supervising foreigners in China.
At first, the Chinese authorities allowed Young to keep publishing the English version. But on Wednesday, they shut it down too.
This is discouraging news for anyone concerned about press freedoms in China. Although CDB is not mass media—its website describes it as "deliberately specialist, targeting international readers whose job means they need to understand China"—this is still censorship. And it seems like a reversal of Beijing's new policy to lift many restrictions on foreign media in advance of next year's Olympics. I suppose the Chinese authorities could have claimed that CDB's Chinese version is not foreign media, since it's run by the Chinese (Young edits only the English edition) and published in their native language. But it's perverse to allow foreigners more rights than a country's own citizens. Evidently, the Chinese authorities agree. But instead of allowing CDB to publish in any language, they've decided to shut the whole enterprise down. Hopefully, if there's an international outcry, they'll reverse the decision.
Before I came to FP, I was living in Egypt and working at the Ibn Khaldun Center, a pro-democracy organization chaired by Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent Egyptian academic and dissident who was jailed between 2001 and 2003 for his activities.
I was deeply disturbed to learn recently that one of my colleagues at the center, Amr Tharwat (the younger man on the right of the photo), has been arrested and disappeared by the Egyptian security services. And now the story has been confirmed by the New York Times. Amr had been in charge of supervising election monitoring efforts for Ibn Khaldun during the recent elections for Egypt's upper house (They were a farce: The government's party won 69 of 71 seats). He's also the nephew of Ahmed Sobhy Mansour, a reformist Muslim scholar who was granted asylum in the United States because his ideas are controversial within Egypt. And now, Amr's gone missing, along with his cousin. It's likely Amr's been sent to Tora prison, where the Egyptian government sends political prisoners, or worse—mistreated in a local police headquarters somewhere.
Amr was just finishing his college degree at Cairo University when I first met him last spring. He was an incredibly nice young man and a firm believer in democracy and moderation—hardly a threat to Egyptian national security. Last summer, he began getting extremely nervous about getting arrested for the work he was doing in conducting political opinion polls, which are effectively illegal in Egypt. Unfortunately, he was right to worry. I hope he and his family will be safe and sound.
As for the government of Egypt, it faces the possibility of $200 million of cuts in its annual U.S. aid package, tied to its failings on human rights. Nearly every year around this time, the U.S. Congress debates the same question: Shouldn't we be sending these bozos a message? And every year, Egypt gets its money. Will this year be different?
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the end of the 1982 Falklands conflict between Britain and Argentina. Perhaps by no coincidence at all, Russian newspapers splashed headlines today revealing that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is preparing to finalize a deal to buy as many as nine Russian submarines this month. The deal reportedly includes five 636-type Kilo-class subs and four 677E Amur subs. Both are advanced diesel subs, and 677 represents the latest generation of post-Cold War Russian technology, which has not yet even been delivered to Russia's own fleet.
The deal is just the latest in Chávez's push for rapid militarization. Flush with oil money, Chávez has spent $3.4 billion on Russian arms since 2005, including the purchase of 24 fighter planes, 35 helicopters, air defense capabilities, and 100,000 small arms.
Why does Chávez need all of this hardware? He says he needs it to defend against America's evil empire. But in a column today, syndicated military affairs writer Austin Bay suggests Chávez may be up to something more sinister:
[A]n expansionary ideology and explosive ego propel Chavez. He styles himself as the new Simon Bolivar, who will reunite the South American continent while cowing the United States and other imperialists. He also bills himself as the 21st century's Fidel Castro.
As Condi Rice says, Chávez "can't intimidate the United States in any fashion." But he may use his newly acquired military power to enforce land claims against Colombia, Guyana, and the most menacing of all global hyperpowers—the Netherlands. The Dutch still rule islands such as Aruba and Curacao located off Venezuela's Northern coast. But would Chávez really try to reclaim these territories? Bay thinks it out this way:
Chavez isn't stupid — he knows Argentina lost its Falklands gamble. But he also knows that Britain's Falkland victory was more of a "near thing" than many think. Argentine combat aircraft could just reach the Falklands, while Venezuelan fighters could easily strike the Antilles.
Frighteningly, the Netherlands has started stockpiling its islands with naval forces, F-16 fighter jets, helicopters, and an infantry battalion. All that remains to be seen is whether Chávez, once armed, will back his words with action.
... President Ronald Reagan stood at Berlin's Brandenberg Gate and challenged Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to end the tyranny of communism in Europe.
In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind--too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor....
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
I've always admired the line not because it is Reagan's most famous. But because it took guts to deliver it.
It's easy to slam Reagan. But it's worth remembering that he was criticized even before this speech for being a naive optimist. No sane foreign policy thinker expected the Wall to actually come down a couple years later. In fact, the State Department tried to have the line stricken from Reagan's remarks. Even Colin Powell, then deputy national security advisor, was against it. But Reagan was insistent, and the line penned by 31 year-old staffer Peter Robinson stayed in the speech. At a time when political cynicism is running deep, it's an important reminder that strong presidential conviction can sometimes make our world a better place.
Switzerland has just two small minarets. But two are more than enough for some members of the country's right-wing Swiss People's Party. They are collecting signatures to force a referendum that would ban the building of minarets. The problem isn't that minarets would be a large eyesore; a minaret that has been proposed by an ethnic Albanian in the small town of Langenthal would only be 5 meters (16.5 feet) high. The problem isn't loud calls to prayer; the country's two minarets are silent, as would also be the Langenthal one. No, the problem seems to be fear of change.
Oskar Freysinger, a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party, says:
We don't have anything against Muslims. But we don't want minarets. The minaret is a symbol of a political and aggressive Islam, it's a symbol of Islamic law. The minute you have minarets in Europe it means Islam will have taken over.
He doesn't have anything against Muslims? Yeah, right. And since when did minarets—the rough equivalent of a church steeple—become a symbol of "political and aggressive Islam"? Granted, concerns about extremist Islam are entirely legitimate. But banning minarets isn't going to stop radical Islam. In fact, isolating and angering a community is more likely to radicalize it.
Has China's Communist Party reversed its position on Internet cafes? Beijing has been notoriously suspicious of the country's 120,000 Internet cafes for years, and has staged high profile crackdowns on many. Just two months ago, the government announced a moratorium on the opening of new Internet cafes for one year.
Today, however, a party official seemed to signal that the current policy is hopeless. Zhang Xiaoliang, chief of the Communist Youth League Central Committee's rights protection division, said that access to the Internet is—wait for it—a right. Well, sort of. Here's what Zhang said today:
A healthy environment and healthy online content should be offered to all kids [...] You can't stop kids using Internet cafes just because they are poorly managed."
Of course, it has to be the right kind of Internet, which is, presumably, a highly censored Internet. Still, beginning Friday, China's Law on the Protection of Minors will declare:
Nonprofit Internet service infrastructures within communities shall be free or offered at a discounted price, as well as provide a safe and healthy online service for minors."
So all kids should not only have access to the Internet, but it should be free or at least very inexpensive. I guess it's a start.
In a move worthy of the world's most dastardly despots, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev recently approved a constitutional amendment that abolishes term limits for presidents, allowing him to seek office again in 2012, when his current term expires. Considering he managed to pull in a highly questionable 91 percent of the vote in 2005, there's no cause to believe the autocratic leader will be going anywhere anytime soon.
In response, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has called the legislation "a step in the right direction." Wh-what?
Presumably, McCormack was speaking in reference to the other legislation packaged with the amendment, which serves to give the Kazakh Parliament greater power and autonomy. Though McCormack acknowledged that the reforms were perhaps not "exactly what we would have hoped," he maintained that "we're not going to impose it on them." The "it" is, of course, democracy, the imposition of which has proven difficult for the United States in recent years.
This retreat to realpolitik has little to do with any lessons learned in Iraq; rather, it is a reflection of the vital interest Washington perceives in a strong, stable Kazakhstan. It so happens that the former Soviet state will be one of the world's top 10 oil producers within the decade. More immediately, Kazakhstan is a vital link in U.S. and E.U. plans to bypass Russia in the export of oil from the Caspian Sea. Outraged, Nazarbayev's opponents have accused the United States of "valuing oil more than democracy." Sorry, friends—welcome to the real world.
Does seizing private property, centralizing the economy, and jailing opposition activists mean that democracy in Russia is in trouble? Not according to Vladimir Putin. He reckons Western observers just need to adopt the famously sunny Russian disposition:
What is pure democracy? It is a question of ... whether you want to see the glass half-full or half empty."
As Blake pointed out earlier today, the most surprising bit of last night's Republican debate was Gov. Mitt Romney's declaration that the United States should "double Guantanamo" and should routinely make use of what he calls "enhanced interrogation techniques."
After the debate last night, Romney expanded on that thought in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. It is worth watching the video in order to understand Romney's precise thinking here. It appears to be this: The nature of the enemy determines the morality with which you fight.
[W]e're dealing with terrorist nations," Romney told Hannity. "They're not following any procedures of this nature."
So neither should we, was Romney's point. Hannity then asked Romney how far he would go in torturing suspected terrorists.
I don't think any president of the United States is wise to say here's how far I'll go," Romney responded. "I think you always keep that to yourself."
We'll take that as an "I don't know." And, apparently, Romney won't be engaging in a public debate about where that line should be, either:
We're not going to project the kind of line that represents torture or not torture."
One has to wonder whether Romney understands the fundamental nature of the war the United States is fighting. It is a war of ideas. You don't win that kind of war by sinking to the terrorists' level, or by forfeiting the principles that separate enlightened, modern society from the dark, desperate world of radical Islamists.
I also worry that Romney's remarks are further evidence of how profoudly lost the Republican party is today. On the stage last night was a leading candidate for the party's nomination, droning on endlessly about his deep and profound "respect for life" —and advocating torture in the same breath. The only thing more disappointing was the room full of party faithful who seemed to miss the irony.
In To Change China, his 2002 case study of 16 Western advisers to the Middle Kingdom, acclaimed China historian Jonathan Spence observes that Chinese officials have proved eager and adept at learning technical skills from the West, yet not so receptive to the "ideological package" the advisers brought along with their expertise.
It was this that the Chinese had refused to tolerate; even at their weakest, they sensed that acceptance of a foreign ideology on foreign terms must be a form of submission.
Fast-forward to today. China is still officially a communist state, yet it has embraced a unique form of state-directed capitalism that has brought enormous benefits—and upheaval—to hundreds of millions of Chinese. But is China trending democratic as it trends capitalist? What if China embraces Western-style free markets, but without its "ideological package"—political freedom?
Enter James Mann, a veteran journalist and author of several books on China. His latest book, The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression, offers an incendiary critique of U.S. leaders, business people, and scholars in the China field that has lit up the listservs and discussion boards where China hands share their ideas and arguments. Mann believes that "China's one-party state is likely to persist for a long time," and urges a rethink the assumptions that underpin U.S. policy. In this special online debate, prominent China scholar David M. Lampton of Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies fires back at Mann, whom he says is being "impatient" and "naive". For his part, Mann accuses Lampton of repeating "stale formulas" and avoiding tough questions. Who's right? Check out the debate and let us know what you think.
If Rupert Murdoch is ultimately successful in his floundering bid to buy Dow Jones, parent company for the Wall Street Journal, it will be despite bitter opposition from the Journal's China desk. Greg Sargent got his paws on a memo that was sent from the newspaper's Pultizer-winning correspondents in the Middle Kingdom to key members of the Bancroft family that controls Dow Jones.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch has a well-documented history of making editorial decisions in order to advance his business interests in China and, indeed, of sacrificing journalistic integrity to satisfy personal or political aims. [...]
In 2001, for example, our colleague Ian Johnson shared the Pulitzer for international reporting for his articles about the Chinese government’s sometimes brutal suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Under Mr. Murdoch, these articles might never have seen the light of day.
More here from Johnson, who is presently a Nieman fellow at Harvard.
The following proposal was put before Google shareholders at their annual meeting held yesterday. The motion was voted down out of fears that adopting an anti-censorship policy would effectively shut down Google's business in China.
- The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.
- The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.
- Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.
- Users should be informed about the company’s data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.
- The company will document all cases where legally-binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.
- Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.
David Drummond, senior vice president for corporate development at Google, explained to PC World that "this proposal would prevent us from operating Google.cn." So we can assume that at least one of the proposed rules is being broken by Google right now.
I hope the story doesn't end here. The six-point list would make an excellent addition to the code of conduct of any business that operates online. If businesses don't want to adopt it internally, a grassroots campaign could pressure them to do so. For instance, an index that ranks how well the top 100 online companies comply with these anti-censorship measures could shed some interesting light on who's selling out freedom of speech to make a profit. The resulting harsh spotlight might force a few companies to clean up their acts. More coverage at Slashdot.
(Full disclosure: Apparently, I'm a sellout, too. I own a handful of Google shares. But I'm disappointed that these measures were not adopted.)
Thousands of Venezuelans staged a rally in Caracas in Saturday to protest against the closure of Radio Caracas Television. The demonstrators braved heavy security (and a counter rally staged by Chavez supporters) to object to President Hugo Chavez's decision not to renew the broadcasting license of Venezuela's oldest TV station, which expires on May 28. Chavez announced the decision in December, describing the station as "against the people, against the nation, against the dignity of the Republic." He was referring to the channel's decision to ignore the street protests that ended the abortive 2002 coup against Chavez, and to broadcast movies and cartoons instead. Critics of Chavez say he wants to gag the voice of the opposition, and send a warning to other media.
For Chavez to punish anyone for their "coupism" (as he calls it) is laughable. He himself first came to public attention as the leader of the disastrous 1992 coup against President Perez. Chavez was treated well then; he spent a few years in prison, and by 1998 was back on the streets exercising his democratic right to run for president. But having benefited from such rights, Chavez won't hesitate to do away with them now. Protests or no, he will scrap Radio Caracas Television, and make sure that anyone with access to the airwaves is singing a Chavista tune.
This protest demonstrated Chavez doesn't have full support of the Venezuelan people. His decision regarding Radio Caracas Television will show just how little he cares.
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