Some days, I ask myself: Just where would the ominous music industry be without war on terror ads? I mean, if anyone has hit pay dirt these past five years, it's timpani drum players. Because nothing says insecurity and fear quite like a timpani drum solo.
But not all war on terror ads are meant to inspire raw fear. Some simply seek to stoke your anger or appeal to your sense of patriotism. To find out how the war on terror is being sold to the public, FP repeatedly watched a handful of recent war on terror ads. What did we learn? Terrorists really want to kill us, Republicans (and Dems) exploit the war on terror to their own ends, and Iraqi Kurds are really grateful people. Have a look for yourself.
(And, though it's likely you've seen it 1,000 times already, go ahead and watch Little Richard translating for President Bush one more time. It's still funny.)
It's no surprise that Bush's strenuous defense of "tough" interrogation methods for terror detainees found a fan in the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. On Friday, the page accused the anti-Bush crowd of endangering civil liberties by objecting to the administration's sanctioning of "aggressive questioning" to obtain information. You may be asking yourself: Huh? Well, the argument was limited to the endangerment of Americans’ civil liberties as opposed to human beings’ civil liberties. But the last time I checked, freedom from cruel and inhumane treatment was for all, not just Americans. And the comparison of the legally-questionable domestic surveillance program and - incredibly - "the unhappy experience of airport security" to waterboarding is fairly ridiculous.
According to the WSJ, Bush's explanation of how the CIA's interrogation techniques led us from Abu Zubaydah to the discovery of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's alias, "Muktar," and to his accomplice, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, showed "quite clearly [that] the interrogations are a major reason there have been no further terrorist attacks on American soil in the past five years." The problems with this statement are two-fold: First – to beat a dead horse – we all know that all of this talk about how well we've protected ourselves from terrorist attacks is only good until the next attack. Second, as Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times wrote on Friday, the 9/11 commission report and Zacarias Moussaoui's December 2001 federal grand jury indictment show that the government was aware of this information before Abu Zubaydah's 2002 capture. Both problems call for more caution before the U.S. adopts aggressive interrogation as the standard.
Or at least that's what Beijing is hoping to do ahead of the September 28 election in the copper-rich African country. China, which has invested hundreds of millions in Zambia in recent years, has threatened to cut diplomatic ties and put investments on hold if citizens elect Michael Sata, the opposition leader gaining ground on the incumbent president. Sata has met with Taiwanese businessmen and once called Taiwan a sovereign state, angering the country's Chinese investors. And it isn't just Taiwan that has irritated the Chinese. Sata has had the courage to come out against worker exploitation in Chinese-owned mines:
They ill-treat our people (and) that is unacceptable. We are not going to condone exploiting investors because this country belongs to Zambians," Sata said in the radio interview.
Be sure to watch that election later this month.
A few weeks ago, after reading Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Salopek's tour-de-force piece on the origins of the fuel at your local gas station, I linked to the piece here on Passport and praised Salopek's ingenuity in asking (and answering) a simple, but elegant question about the journey oil takes from the ground to refineries and on to your gas tank. I made a mental note to look out for Salopek's next story.
But now Salopek is sitting in a Sudanese jail, charged with being a spy after illegally entering the country's Darfur region from Chad while on assignment with National Geographic. The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner was captured three weeks ago by a militant group allied with the government, handed over to the Sudanese Army, and held without outside contact until about 10 days ago, when Khartoum infomed the local U.S. embassy of his arrest for espionage. He could face jail time. A Slovenian filmmaker was sentenced earlier this month to two years in prison on charges similar to those Salopek faces.
The Chicago Tribune and National Geographic are working to secure Salopek's release, but it's unclear if they'll have any sucess. Better still would be to get someone in the State Department to exert some serious pressure on Khartoum. With Salopek's trial coming in less than two weeks, time is running out.
Graham Lees over at World Politics Watch thinks so. He's been tracking the high-stakes poker game that the country's ruling military junta has been playing with its 10 trillion cubic foot natural gas reserve (probably the largest in Southeast Asia). If you're not up to speed, China and India both want the gas in order to feed their insatiable energy appetites. And Burma is playing one off the other, which is throwing a wrench in the Year of India-China Friendship. Whichever country wins out, it's sad to watch democracies such as India coddle illiberal regimes in order to gain access to their resources. Of course, that's one democratic tradition that's hardly new.
FP's very own James Forsyth, in between writing missives for Passport and cranking out op-eds for the New York Daily News, has been busy scribbling some excellent analysis for ForeignPolicy.com on why homegrown terror plots seem to be a recurring theme of recent British summers. James argues that neither Iraq nor socio-economic disparities can adequately explain why some Britons are driven to plot against their neighbors. But what then explains why, in several polls, "57 percent of British Muslims regarded the campaign against the Taliban as a war on Islam, 40 percent thought those Britons who went to fight with the Taliban were justified, and 15 percent viewed the attacks on the Twin Towers as in some way warranted"? It's time, James insists, for Britain to wage an ideological war on the extremists.
Putin doesn't think the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which dominates the Duma, is rubber-stamping his legislation with enough gusto. In fact, Kremlin aides think United Russia may be losing support among the electorate. So what's a leader in need of some unwavering support to do? Create a new pro-Putin opposition party to compete with the existing pro-Putin party. Per the Guardian:
Analysts predicted the new political force - which could unite several embryonic parties - would be entirely Kremlin controlled, but presented to voters as an opponent or alternative to United Russia.
Nothing like a choice between Putin and more Putin.
Less than two weeks before Fidel Castro's 80th birthday, the favorite political parlor game in Washington is speculating about just what a post-Fidel Cuba is going to look like. It's hardly a new game, but the temporary power handoff to his brother Raul this week has everyone wondering how and when the Fidel era will end. In an effort to wade through all the swirling rumors about succession plans and fleets of fleeing Cubans, FP spoke with former CIA analyst and author Brian Latell, whose book After Fidel is one of the few in-depth portraits of Raul and men who could follow in Fidel's footsteps. Check it out.
On Sunday, the Democratic Republic of the Congo will hold its first free elections in more than 40 years. International donors have chipped in nearly half a billion dollars to finance the vote - this in a country with only a few hundred miles of paved roads, crippling poverty, little access to health care, and the world's largest U.N. peacekeeping force. But I'm all in favor of freedom, and there's good news out of the country's war-torn east today: three of the main warring militias there have agreed to lay down their arms. Still, the election is a huge logistical challenge: thousands of candidates, rampant intimidation, and the very real possibility of fraud (5 million extra ballots have been printed).
That's just the election. There's the other small matter of rebuilding the country's infrastructure after a devastating civil war that ended in 2002, after killing 4 million people. That war sucked in not just neighboring countries, but tens of thousands of child soldiers, who are now slowly being demobilized. But how do you integrate kids who extorted, murdered, and raped, most because they were forced by elder soldiers, but some because they wanted to?
In a new ForeignPolicy.com exclusive, Paule Bouvier and Pierre Englebert examine the incredible challenges the DRC faces, not just in pulling off this weekend's election, but in making the democratic experiment stick by securing the country and pulling its devastated population out of poverty. Despite all the international investment and the domestic enthusiasm, it's unlikely this weekend's election will deliver a miracle.
With all that is going on in the Middle East, it is easy to forget about the rest of the world. But there is some important—and good—news from Africa right now: Cyril Ramaphosa looks set for a political comeback. The South African press is reporting that he'll run for the presidency of the ANC in 2007 and if he wins, he'll almost certainly become the country's president in 2009. (Ramaphosa poured some cold water on the suggestion today, but was far from Shermanesque in his denials.)
Ramaphosa is one of the great heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle. At the National Union of Mineworkers, he got the color bar lifted in the mines before apartheid was abolished. He was then the ANC's chief negotiator as apartheid was dismantled between 1990 and 1994. He was widely believed to be Nelson Mandela's choice for the presidency but was edged out by Thabo Mbeki. Ramaphosa's main rival for the next presidency will likely be populist Jacob Zuma, recently acquitted of rape, but still facing a corruption trial.
Mbeki's presidency is looking to be a disappointment. In some ways this was inevitable - succeeding a secular saint like Mandela (or Vaclav Havel) is a nigh-on-impossible task - but Ramaphosa is what South Africa needs now. Since departing the political scene, he's become a successful businessman. Crucially, he's not in denial about AIDS—unlike Mbeki and Zuma—and serves as the vice-chairman of the Global Business Coalition against HIV/AIDS. He's also taken a far tougher line than Mbeki on Robert Mugabe's disastrous regime in Zimbabwe. By contrast, Zuma would likely be a disaster for South Africa. His divisive populism and know-nothing approach to AIDS could set the country back years.
What happens when a Cougar tangles with a Quayle? Well, it's not pretty, if the recent run-in between John (no longer Cougar) Mellencamp and former Vice President Dan Quayle is any indication. Quayle attended Mellencamp's concert at Harvey's Casino in Nevada last Friday. But when Mellencamp dedicated a version of "Walk Tall" to people hurt by policies of the current Bush administration, Quayle walked out. Quayle later commented:
Well, I think Mellencamp's performance was not very good to begin with, and the comment put it over the top.''
For the record, the Quayle is taller than the Cougar.
Haaretz is reporting that Israeli police have detained Al Jazeera crew members three times in the last 24 hours, largely on suspicion that Al Jazeera broadcasts about Hezbollah hits on Haifa were assisting Hezbollah guerillas with their rocket aim. But since other journalists and stations were also reporting from the locations of those and other rocket hits, similar images were being aired on other channels. Doesn't it seem a tad unfair to detain Al Jazeera journalists for airing the same images as everyone else? For more, Hugh Miles debunks the Al Jazeera-terrorism connection (and the charge that the station is anti-Semitic) in the current issue of FP.
Iran is a country divided, according to a new Zogby International poll of Iranians out today. Nearly a third of those polled want Iran to become more secular and liberal, whereas just over a third want the country to more religious and conservative.
Nearly as many Iranians believe the government should expand freedoms (23%) as think the country's top priority should be developing an arsenal of nuclear weapons (27%). Unsurprisingly, many divisions are generational. But you may be surprised to learn that older Iranians are more likely to admire American society than younger Iranians. Just as interesting: Iranians with access to the Internet and satellite TV are much more likely to identify the United States as the country they admire most. And more than a third disagreed with the suggestion that Iranian nuclear weapons would make the Middle East a safer place.
Worryingly, one point of consensus emerged:
Despite how tempting it is, now is not the right time for the West to deliver a slap to Vladimir Putin about Russia's backsliding on democracy. Russia's veto at the Security Council means that it must be kept sweet if the Iran and, to a lesser extent, North Korea crises are to be dealt with successfully. (Indeed, all those people who sing paeans of praise to the moral legitimacy of the United Nations might want to consider how it empowers a dictatorship and a so-called "managed democracy.") So, all talk of boycotting the G8 or hosting a separate "democracies meeting" of the G7 beforehand has been quietly shelved. But Russia's behavior in the lead-up to the summit is demonstrating just how far Putin's Russia is from being a proper liberal democracy.
Yesterday, pro-Putin youth groups disrupted a conference on the state of Russian democracy organized by those who take issue with Putin's governing style and attended by foreign diplomats. Today's Daily Telegraph contains a report about how a St. Petersburg opposition leader was threatened with anal rape unless he signed a form promising that his supporters wouldn't protest during the summit. This man is a member of a thoroughly unpleasant party and so his allegations must be treated with suspicion. But perhaps the clearest indication of how far Russia is from being an appropriate host for a meeting of liberal democracies is that one can't dismiss the report out of hand.
When the SARS virus hit China three years ago, Beijing responded with a massive coverup. In our March/April 2006 issue, Karl Taro Greenfeld explained how two brave journalists and one courageous doctor broke the silence before the virus had a chance to kill thousands more.
You would think that experience would have taught China a thing or two. Apparently not. A Chinese court has just jailed a goose farmer from the eastern province of Jiangsu who blew the whistle on China's bird flu cases. Here we go again.
Voters in the West African country of Mauritania overwhelmingly approved a new constitution for their country this past weekend, less than a year after a bloodless military coup gave the boot to two decades of autocratic rule.
Under the watchful (and approving) eyes of African Union and Arab League observers, 80-90% of those who cast ballots favored the new constitution. Among the provisions of the document are a timetable for elections, presidential term and age limits, and the requirement that future heads of state swear an oath not to try to extend their term of office beyond that constitutionally permissible.
With economic growth a solid 5.5% last year and the territorial dispute with Western Sahara dormant for the time being, things could be looking up for Mauritania. And in a country where 20% of the population unemployed, a little stability could go a long way. Next issue on the national agenda: slavery. Rights groups say it's still practiced, despite being abolished in 1981.
Britney Spears, in the wake of her weepy interview with Matt Lauer, wants to take a page out of Brangelina's book and give birth to her second child in Namibia. Namibian officials announced today that she may be introducing her little bundle of joy to the world via Namibia because officials there were so good at keeping reporters and photographers at bay during Brangelina's stay. In fact, the Namibians were so good at protecting the golden couple's privacy during Shiloh's eagerly-anticipated arrival that I wouldn't be surprised if the country's press freedoms rating gets a knock next year. After all, don't jailed reporters and condemnations from regional press boards land one in a little hot water with Freedom House? The organization says that "no serious abuses against journalists have been reported for several years" in Namibia. That was, however, before Mr. and Mrs. Smith arrived and set up a no-press zone. With Britney's due date approaching, let's hope Namibia doesn't decide to trade its "free" rating in order to be the next celebrity birthing It-locale.
Last summer, Cuba's Fidel Castro found himself in a bit of a pinch. Demand for electricity peaks on the island in the heat of summer, when Cubans turn on the AC in an attempt to escape the sweltering, tropical heat. The trouble is, Cuba relies largely on seven old oil-fired power plants for electricity. At full capacity, the plants should be able to generate about 2,700 megawatts. But, in reality, they only generate about 60 percent of that amount. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the plants have run on local, high-sulfur oil that wreaks havoc on the plants. As a result, breakdowns, clogs, and maintenance problems cause daily blackouts. Last summer, the blackouts led to small-time political upheavals.
So this summer, Castro has a plan. With the help of Venezuela and China, he's spent some $1 billion on linking hundreds of generators to the power grid and has replaced millions of aging, inefficient home appliances with newer Chinese ones. Castro is calling the new plan an "energy revolution." But it sounds more like a finger in the dam.
Human intel: Nabbed the most wanted man in Iraq.
Germany: May not get a huge economic bump from the Cup, but at least they won their first match.
Maliki: Sure, his cabinet is complete and Zarqawi is gone. But will he take the opportunity and run with it?
Diplomacy: Iran is given "weeks, not months" to consider the incentives offered. Still better than the drum beat of war.
Zarqawi: Whether he was a master terrorist or a marginalized wanna-be, this is his last appearance on the Winners & Losers.
Journalistic restraint: Was the text bubble really necessary?
Civility at the UN: Apparently, one shouldn't cross John Bolton.
China's environment: Government white paper says pollution could cost the country 10 percent of its GDP.
More on the continuing saga of Google and China. On Tuesday, Google founder Sergey Brin appeared to express some regret about Google's self-censorship on its Chinese search engine. Then Wired magazine's blog reported yesterday that Google is the target of a U.S. federal lawsuit for rejecting an online advertisement for the website ChinaIsEvil.com. Activist Chris Langdon alleges that the company stonewalled him when he submitted an ad for his bare-bones site (which decries China's policies and claims that Google, AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft are practicing censorship by refusing to let him advertise). In a nice twist, I was alerted to the Wired blog posting by a news alert in my Gmail account.
It's a little surprising that these information technology companies haven't been more prepared for all the complications that come from doing business in China. I mean, they trade in information. In China. It's not soft drinks or hamburgers, folks.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said today of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "I think arguably over the last several years, no single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men, women, and children on his hands than [he has]."
In the West, there is growing pessimism about anyone's ability to stop Vladimir Putin from turning Russia into the world's most stage-managed democracy. John McCain's call for the United States to boycott next month's G8 in St. Petersburg has gone nowhere fast. But, as Tom Friedman has argued in FP, soaring oil prices are making Putin more troublesome domestically and internationally. So, could a party girl be about to do what no political party can - seriously challenge Putin’s ever-growing power?
The glamorous 24-year-old reality TV hostess Ksenia Sobchak has launched a youth movement with the provocative name "All are Free." Its aim: Teach Russian youth "how to be free." The group is in direct competition with the Kremlin-endorsed clubs set up to stymie the emergence of an Orange revolution-style movement. She told the St. Petersburg Times, "We have a lot of political youth movements, but I think they are kind of fake."
So, it was with great bemusement that I found myself having to absorb abuse from white, rightwing Americans, who harked back to the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the second world war to justify military aggression in Iraq. They badgered me as though their own reference points represented the sole prism through which global events could possibly be understood. As if the struggle for moral superiority between Europe and the US could have any relevance to someone whose ancestors were brought to the Americas as slaves and whose parents and grandparents lived through the war under European colonisation.
If it wasn't for us, you would be speaking German," they would say. "No, if it wasn't for you," I would tell them, "I would probably be speaking Yoruba.
The passage is from a forthcoming book by the Guardian’s New York correspondent Gary Younge. The paper carries an extract from it today and even though I disagree with much of what he says, or perhaps because of that, I found the piece particularly stimulating.
Does Condi have a visit to Cairo coming anytime soon? I'd say cancel it, but it obviously didn't work last time.
Talabani is trying to get rival Shiite factions in Basra to settle down.
[T]he world is losing much of its ability to answer pressing questions about Iran's nuclear ambitions: how fast Tehran could make an atom bomb, and whether it harbors a program to do so. Diplomats and nuclear experts say the diminished view increases the risks of miscalculation, and possibly armed confrontation, just as the atomic impasse with the West is reaching a volatile new stage.
In the piece, David Kay echoes Michael Scheuer who told us earlier this week that the lack of good intel is going to lead Washington to rely on dubious opposition and dissident sources.
The Iranian uranium last month may have been derived from an old 1991 Chinese import.
In Darfur, another problem: the anti-Khartoum rebels are now fighting each other and the civilians they were supposedly protecting are suffering.
Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's last two civilian leaders, have put aside their differences and now promise to return to Pakistan and take part in the 2007 election.
Neither say when they will return, but it seems like they will arrive at the same time. Bhutto will probably be arrested (for corruption) and Sharif will be in breach of an agreement he signed with Musharraf promising Islamabad that he wouldn't enter Pakistan for a while.
Interesting to watch.
FP hosted a fascinating discussion this morning between Sen. Richard Lugar and Tom Friedman on the "First Law of Petropolitics," hosted by our editor, Moisés Naím. Friedman expanded on the thesis of his FP cover story (that as the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom declines in petrolist states) by declaring the advent of a post-post Cold War world (if you are a regular reader of his NYT columns, you know where he's going with this). In short, the post-Cold War world and the freedoms it bore had everything to do with a decade of low oil prices in the 1980s. Today's $70 barrel is creating a multipolar world. In addition to a rising China, there's Russia, Iran, and Venezuela awash in oil cash. In a twist on the adage that defined the American Revolution, Friedman says these states live by the code "no representation without taxation." With huge oil windfalls and little need to tax heavily, Putin, Ahmadinejad, and Chavez have little corresponding need to provide representation, and it is dramatically altering security in our age.
Hoosier Sen. Lugar spoke at length about alternative energies, especially those being developed and tested in his home state of Indiana. Who knew Lugar drives a Prius? He also remarked that energy can spark wars without any shots being fired, using Ukraine's capitulation to Russia this last winter over natural gas as an example of things to come.
Lugar has declared energy "the albatross of U.S. National Security." His efforts on energy include: the Vehicle and Fuel Choices American Security Act, the Energy Diplomacy and Security Act, and the American Fuels Act co-sponsored with rockstar/Senator Barack Obama, and the Fuel Security and Consumer Choice Act.
And Friedman, always ready with excellent soundbites, trumpeted a green and patriotic future, declaring that "green is the new red, white, and blue." He says green technology will be the growth industry of the 21st century, most likely led by Chinese innovation if the U.S. government doesn't stop coddling Detroit.
The full transcript and links to more video are available here.
Here's a video clip of Friedman explaining The First Law of Petropolitics at the beginning of the event.
Bill Clinton's "Class Day" talk to graduating seniors at Princeton looked all set to be this year's hottest commencement-related ticket, it being all surrounded by political irony and what not. Until now. Sorry to disappoint, Prinetonians, but this year's must-have ticket is for the commencement address at Nova Southeastern University in Florida on May 7. The speaker? Salman Rusdie, whose selection has started a firestorm of controversy both at NSU and within the academy. Muslim students are threatening to skip the ceremony, while Stanley Fish, a New York Times blogger and law professor, has a post that, as I read it, argues for banning Rushdie from ever giving a commencement address in America. It's behind the Times Select firewall, but here's how Fish sides with Farheen Parvez, a student who plans to boycott her graduation because Rushdie is the speaker:
Ms. Parvez had it exactly right when she said, “If he was here for any other event, that would have been fine, because that’s optional. But having him at graduation, it’s not appropriate because that’s for the families and the students.” When you’re the proud parent of a graduating son or daughter, the last thing you want to hear is something that will make you think. You want to hear something that will make you feel good. Professor Smith asserted, “The choice of Rushdie as speaker inspires questions, invites challenges and embodies larger issues… .” That’s precisely the problem.
In Nepal, King Gyanendra's proclamation today that he intends to hand over power to the increasingly restive population of his country is making headlines around the world. A quick scan of the Web sites of the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC, The Times of London, and Al Jazeera produces the following headlines, respectively:
"Nepal's King Vows Change in Political Power"; "Nepalese King Says He Will Transfer Power"; "Nepal King Gives up Absolute Power"; "Nepal King Moves to End Protests"; "King Bows to the Protesters"; and "Nepal King to Restore Democracy."
Nepal's bloggers, however, interpreted the king's short speech differently.
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