Very troubling reports out of Haiti this morning. The earthquake struck near the country's main population center, Port-au-Prince, and its surrounding suburbs and slums. Elisabeth Debrosse Delatour, the first lady, said much of Port-au-Prince is destroyed. Cell phone service is available on just one of the major networks; the other remains out, as do landlines and electricity. Hospitals, including the Doctors Without Borders surgical center and many other medical facilities, and essential-service plants were severely damaged in the quake.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calls it a "humanitarian emergency," and countries around the world are racing to deploy emergency aid to the estimated 3 million impacted by the quake -- a 7.0 on the Richter scale, with 13 serious aftershocks (the largest of which was a 5.8).
The quake also reportedly severely damaged the five-story U.N. mission headquarters in Port-au-Prince. As of this morning, there are reports of five U.N. staff dead and more than one hundred missing, many presumed dead, as the quake struck during the workday. Hedi Annabi, the U.N. Haiti chief, a Tunisian, is feared dead. The hotel in which much of the U.N. staff lived was also destroyed.
Update: I've seen this misreported in a few places, so just to clarify. The U.N.'s peacekeeping chief on Haiti, Alain Le Roy, is safe and speaking with the press. The U.N.'s mission chief, Hedi Annabi, has died.
Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
This afternoon in Shanghai, U.S. President Barack Obama held a townhall-style meeting with university students. It was an event that his staff had worked hard to include on his China trip itinerary. After a brief speech extolling the importance of core values to the success of the United States as a nation and Americans as individuals, Obama took questions from the audience and online.
It has since come to light that not all of the questions came from bonafide students. One questioner was a vice director of daily affairs for the Communist Youth League; another was a young-looking teacher. Obama's answers about Internet freedom weren't heard by most remote audiences because several networks, including CNN, mysteriously cut away for commentary at that moment. The response among expats in China was, by and large, negative -- with many complaining Obama had minced his words, talking for instance of "universal rights" rather than "human rights." If one is looking to be cynical, there's plenty of fodder.
On the other hand, from the point of view of most Chinese I've spoken, these official efforts at censorship might have been silly, or nefarious, but they didn't have much impact. The notion of a president taking questions, not a frequent occurrence in China, was itself the point. The symbolism was more arresting, to them, than the content. "Why does he want to talk to Chinese students?" one 29-year-old Chinese woman asked me, without irony. She was puzzled, impressed, and a bit amused at the spectacle.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
The World Economic Forum posted the 2009 Global Gender Gap Report today, its yearly survey of gender inequality based on economic, political, educational and health factors. For the first time, two African nations entered the top 10 rankings: South Africa at #6 position (up from #22 in 2008) and Lesotho in the #10 slot (up from #16 in 2008).
The increased ranking for South Africa is due to increases in parliamentary and ministerial positions for women under the new government. Lesotho holds its strong position thanks to its lack of gender gap in health and education services.
These advances for South Africa may come as a surprise to many who feared for women's empowerment in South Africa following the May election of President Jacob Zuma, a practicing polygamist and accused rapist.
The World Economic Forum reports that two thirds of countries surveyed have made reduction in their gender gaps since 2006. However, the United States fell four spots since last year, coming in at #31 on the list. It looks like the death of macho due to the global recession may not be occurring as quickly as some expected. In any case, the United States is not alone in its loss of gender equality; Germany, the United Kingdom and France also saw declines in their rankings since last year.
Unsurprisingly, the bottom of the list remained largely unchanged from last year with Yemen, Chad, Pakistan, Benin, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran continuing to boast the world's worst gender gaps.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential hopeful, has never been known for his foreign-policy prowess. Wonder why?
At a junket hosted by a far-right Israeli religious group, he rejected a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. The two-state solution both Israeli and Palestinian leaders say they want. The two-state solution virtually every U.S. politician, conservative or liberal, supports. The two-state solution essentially the entire world agrees offers the best hope for peace.
The new U.S. ambassador to Britain, Louis Susman, has indicated he will not pay the 3.5 million pounds ($5.7 million!) in congestion charges the embassy owes the City of London.
Drivers pay 8 pounds a day for the privilege of driving in a central zone at peak hours -- but the U.S. embassy has refused to pay. The argument? The congestion charge is a tax, not a service fee. And embassies don't pay taxes.
The mayor's office and Transport for London, which administers the program, argue that around three-quarters of embassies pay the charge -- a service, not a tax -- and that the United States should do better than to rely on semantics to wiggle out of it.
I tend to think of congestion charges as taxes. They're designed to encourage certain behaviors and to make money for local governments. London spends the program's surplus (around a third of revenue, or nearly 90 million pounds, in 2007) on transport investment, for instance. But this still seems a little unseemly. What do you think?
Seven months ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton -- the powerful New York Senator, former First Lady, and runner-up in the brutally long Democratic primary competition -- became U.S. President Barack Obama's secretary of state. Since then, she's chastened North Korea, advocated on behalf of Burma, and rallied against Israeli settlement building. She's logged nearly 100,000 air miles. She's tirelessly pursued Obama's diplomatic agenda around the world.
And she's done it while fostering or demonstrating little friction with the White House she once hoped to occupy. Being secretary of state doesn't just require being a diplomat abroad. It requires being a diplomat in Washington. For, foreign policy is not and has never been the purview of State alone -- Clinton overlaps and dovetails and supports and creates policy with Obama, a spate of diplomatic envoys, the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, the national security advisers, Vice President Joe Biden, et cetera. By all accounts, she's done well at that as well.
Not that you'd know it reading the paper. Too often, coverage of Clinton neglects the fact that the secretary of state has never been the sole creator of U.S. foreign policy. It also, far too often, focuses hyper-intently on the perceived narrative of how Clinton feels about her relationship with the White House -- rather than the actual relationship between Clinton and Obama or how she's doing her job.
Here are some main offenders.
Two weeks ago, Tina Brown took to the pages of the Daily Beast to proclaim that "It's time for Barack Obama to let Hillary Clinton take off her burqa." The article -- which makes a decent argument that Clinton's love of policy nitty-gritty means she's happy to play a supporting role -- is suffused with the speculative, the hypersensitive, and the hyperpersonal. It digresses into Clinton's relationship with her husband. And it seems shocked -- shocked! -- that Clinton might not mind being a good soldier in such a well-liked and well-run administration.
Other offenders come from less-opinionated sources.
On May 1, the New York Times' diplomatic correspondent Mark Landler published a profile of Hillary-in-situ, with the headline "Her Rival Now Her Boss, Clinton Settles Into New Role." The piece covered the secretary's tiring schedule and her jockeying for position amid other top foreign-policy thinkers in the administration.
But it also included a lot of strange diversions into Clinton's relationship with her husband and her family -- "Sad Hillary" anecdotes, as I like to call them. Take, for instance, this tart assessment of the way Clinton communicates her daughter, Chelsea: "[She] exchanges e-mail messages with her daughter, Chelsea, on her BlackBerry, which she is not allowed to use, for security reasons, at work."
Even worse was an April 1 story by the same author, about Clinton's participation at the G-20 meetings in London. Here's the lede:
For Hillary Rodham Clinton, arriving here on Tuesday night from The Hague was a lesson in the difference between being a supremely important person and just a very important one.
Mrs. Clinton's government plane was put into a holding pattern in the skies over Stansted Airport because air traffic had been backed up by Air Force One and other planes carrying world leaders to the economic summit meeting here. Once on the ground, her blue-and-white Boeing 757 taxied past President Obama's much larger 747, parking at a respectful distance.
Does the NYT honestly think anyone's surprised that the President's plane gets to go first? And do they honestly believe that it taught Hillary Clinton a lesson? I don't think so. The piece concludes with an anecdote about how Clinton brought a bunch of the tulip varietal named for her back to her hotel room -- whereas Obama got to stay in some sort of plush castle.
Of course, Clinton's a fascinating personal figure. And of course her relationship with the White House remains a topic major news outlets need to cover. This weekend, for instance, Clinton strayed far from the White House's line on Iran, taking a much harder position than other proxies on the issue of enrichment while speaking with Meet the Press.
I look forward to reading stories on that. But such strained coverage on the made-up narrative of Clinton's dislike of the parameters of her current job? No, thank you.
Photo: Flickr user sskennel
It was bound to happen: President Barack Obama's innocuous little trip to Ghana was apt to annoy someone or another. One might have exptected Kenya, where Obama still has family, to feel slighted. But the visit did even more damage the ego of another African power: Nigeria.
As soon as the news of Obama's trip was announced, the editorials began. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa by population. It has oil reserves that head, by and large, to the United States for consumption. It is a regional leader in economic and political terms. So why, the country wondered, would Obama pick its relatively smaller neighbor to the South?
The answer, many in civil society concluded, is pretty clear: Nigeria must get its house in order before it will be honored with such a visit. Notorious for corruption, flawed elections, and an ongoing insurgency in the oil-producing region, Nigeria is in many ways everything Ghana is not. One Nigerian commentor on the BBC site proclaimed, "Snubbing Nigeria is okay. It is a wake up call for those who drag Nigeria by the nose." Even Wole Soyinka, one of the country's most esteemed intellectuals, said that he agreed with Obama's decision; Nigeria didn't merit the honor, he told a gathering in the capital, Abuja.
How has the Nigerian government reacted? If the Daily Trust newspaper has it pegged, "the honey pot of the 'big men' has turned paranoid." The head of the Foreign Relations Committee in Nigeria told the BBC that Obama should express any concerns he had about Nigeria in Abuja -- in person -- rather than by sending cryptic foreign policy signs. Criticism of the foreign service abounds, as well, as many claim that it was poor Nigerian diplomacy that failed to win the visit.
So if Obama has been trying to send a message by visiting the relatively democratic and peaceful Ghana, it appears to at least be causing a stir. Of course, there are those who favor other theories for Nigeria's being slighted of the visit:
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
Come to think of it, you know Obama likes to play basketball. Suppose he invites President Yar'Adua while visiting to a game of basketball, one on one, and the man out of politeness agrees. And you know President Yar'Adua doesn't play basketball, he only plays squash.
We share President Obama's hope that the American effort heralds the opening of a new era that will bring an end to the conflict and to general Arab recognition of Israel as the nation of the Jewish people that lives in security and peace in the Middle East.
Israel is committed to peace and will do all it can to expand the circle of peace while considering its national interests, first and foremost being security.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran:
You witness that in Afghanistan, American warplanes bomb people and kill some 150 not once, but 10 and 100 times. They kill people continually. So, terrorist groups, do what you are doing there.
If the new president of America wants a change of face, America should change this behaviour. Words and talk will not result in change.
The use of Koranic sayings plays a big part in a positive change of picture, but there is a necessity for action.
The Islamic world does not need moral or political sermons. It needs a fundamental change in American policy beginning from a halt to complete support for Israeli aggression on the region, especially on Lebanese and Palestinians, to an American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and a stop to its interference in the affairs of Islamic countries.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood:
There's an unjust perspective on the part of the American president toward the Palestinian issue, one that does not differ from former President Bush's and the neoconservatives' perspective.
Speaking about a policy of pursuing a war against extremism and working towards two states for peoples on Palestinian lands is no different from the policy of his predecessor, George W Bush.
Not only did the speech specifically reject western (and American) colonialism, its entire tone was the antithesis of colonial. This is a profoundly different American voice, one that will do much to advance American goals rather than to sabotage them.
Arab leaders who were listening to this speech might want to consider a similar speech of their own to their people.
Shimon Peres, president of Israel:
President Obama's journey to Saudi Arabia and Egypt could be an opportunity. It reflects both the need for an historic change in the Middle East and a unique chance of achieving it.
The Middle East requires realpolitiks. It's indeed intriguing that Obama came to Egypt for this speech. The location and timing underline the moral choices made. And on the Middle East no less, where the means so often define the effort because the ends constantly prove elusive.
This seems connected to me to the remarkable way in which this speech is being pushed out in multiple media—on television, but also on Twitter and on Facebook and via SMS and all in multiple languages—to a global audience. Part of the rise of Obama is the rise of a post-television, post-sound bite technological paradigm ... It creates a whole new world from one in which the point of a speech is just to field test a couple of zingers in hopes that one or two of them gets picked up for the evening news.
Perhaps the most curious passage was this one: "Given our interdependence, any world order which elevates any nation or group of people above any other will inevitably fail." This is nonsense, of course, as Obama seems to recognize several sentences later when he says that America will 'relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security.
Mr Obama has addressed Muslims before. ... But this speech fulfilled his pre-inauguration promise to make a bold bid to restore American prestige with a direct public address in a Muslim capital. ...
Yet the constant refrain, heard on Cairo’s streets as well as from media pundits, is that Arabs and Muslims would like to see Mr Obama’s words matched by deeds. 'To win our hearts, you must win our minds first, and our minds are set on the protection of our interests,' declared one of the reams of editorials, columns and open letters from across the region before Mr Obama spoke.
If they want respect, Muslim states must seek active ways to improve relations with the United States. We would like to see a generally more positive and welcoming tone, with fewer anti-American harangues in official media and firebrand sermons in state-controlled mosques. ... Respect for Islam would be much more palatable if the Muslim world decriminalized conversion to other faiths and allowed true religious freedom, as Muslims enjoy in America.
The truest thing he said? "No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust."
President Obama's speech today in Cairo met the bar he set for himself.
Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine:
The ball is now in the Arab court – he needs and deserves their help, and they have a vital interest in providing it. Arab governments, organizations and individuals should, in their own interests, move quickly to do everything possible to reciprocate and support the President’s bold gestures.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Here at FP, we watched U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. John Kerry's speeches at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. We parsed the response to the two-state solution proffered by both. We considered their call for a settlement-freeze. We read about Netanyahu's reception.
Israel and Palestine -- and AIPAC especially -- tend to be tinder-box issues, and we expected to find ourselves amid some policy or defense discussion (flamewar?) in the blogosphere.
Oddly, what we noticed most was the sound of crickets.
Why the silence? Barack Obama isn't speaking (the big reason for last year's spike), The Israel Lobby is old news, there's relatively little violence between Israel and its neighbors, and the Israeli elections are over; plus, no one has yet said anything too contentious. The issues that make AIPAC's conference hot are, for the moment, relatively cool.
An extremely unofficial measurement of the response -- Google Trends -- seems to bear the observation out.
Torture: it's a byzantine tale that unraveled over the course of eight years, and is only reaching its denouement this week. There are two strands, both vitally important, to follow. One's the story of what happened and when (for that, see FP's torture timeline). The other is the story of when we knew it.
Indeed, this week, it seems like the torture story's just breaking through. But, allegations of abuse and even prisoner death started emerging as soon as the United States had prisoners in custody. And reporters have doggedly covered it since then.
One of the first Washington Post stories on the treatment of detainees from the War on Terror arrived in January 2002, just months after 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Already, there were 158 detainees from 25 different countries held in Guantanamo Bay, and two congressional delegations had traveled there to review conditions. The detainees were getting 2,400 calories a day, the Post story reported. "Some of them are getting medical attention for the first time in their lives," Senator Bill Nelson proudly noted.
There were also already allegations of prisoner abuse. Photos showing bound, blindfolded, and shackled detainees on their knees appeared as soon as prisoners arrived in Gitmo -- the International Committee of the Red Cross censured the U.S. for the photos, which violated the Geneva Conventions.
The following month, in February, President George W. Bush issued an executive order denying detainees the privileges and protections of the Geneva Conventions. The United States started down the road that culminated in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, and the black sites -- secret overseas prisons, in countries like Egypt, where prisoners were sent via "extraordinary rendition" and the worst detainee abuse may have happened.
Reports of U.S. soldiers abusing persons they detained in Afghanistan emerged that winter as well -- kicking and beating them after they'd already been shackled. The military went on the defensive. "I don't believe that any of the detainees...were subject to beatings or rough treatment after they were taken into custody," General Richard B. Myers told the New York Times. "All 27 detainees were medically screened upon arrival in Kandahar, and there were no issues of beatings or kickings or anything of that sort."
Over the next year, the trickle became a stream. The military admitted using harsh techniques on Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, high-ranking al Qaeda operatives we now know were repeatedly waterboarded.
At the time, officials told the New York Times "physical torture would not be used against Mr. Mohammed...They said his interrogation would rely on what they consider acceptable techniques like sleep and light deprivation and the temporary withholding of food, water, access to sunlight and medical attention."
It took the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, broken by veteran reporter Seymour Hersh and CBS News, to blow the door open -- that happened in April 2004.
It spawned a glut of media attention, as well as congressional hearings and a series of governmental reports: the Taguba report (on the Abu Ghraib scandal), the Schlesinger report (which described how harsh techniques from Afghanistan crept into Iraq), the Fay Jones report (on the Army personnel responsible for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib), the Church report (71 cases of abuse, six deaths). Over the next years came the Schmidt report (which said treatment at Guantanamo was humane, in 2005, after the waterboarding of Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee Report released this week.
So, most of the foundational reporting on torture happened in late 2003, 2004, and 2005 -- by reporters like Dana Priest of the Washington Post and Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, describing extraordinary rendition and the black site prisons.
But it's crucial to remember that a small group of reporters -- at the New York Times, McClatchy, the Washington Post, Time magazine, Newsweek magazine, and the New Yorker -- had the story before it was a story. They worked with a slight and growing handful of congressional, White House, military, Justice Department, legal, and other sources. They used a list-serv started by lawyers working on detainee cases to learn information. And they opened the door for Abu Ghraib to open the door further.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
I asked Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and a former Clinton administration official, to work through some of the foreign policy implications of the newly released torture memos with me.
We discussed whether the Bush administration memos encouraged other countries to torture, or led to any global uptick in "enhanced interrogation" practices. "I've always tried to be careful not to suggest that countries like Egypt or China or Uzbekistan would be torturing more because the United States was setting a bad example. Obviously, dictatorships torture for their own reasons, and they didn't need [former U.S. President] George W. Bush to show them how," he says.
But, the Bush administration torture of detainees and disavowal of the Geneva Conventions did preclude diplomacy on many occasions, Malinowski says. He testified before the Helsinki Commission in 2007 to make the point:
A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch was meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, and we raised a case in which hundreds of prisoners rounded up after a terrorist bombing were tortured by Egyptian security forces. The Prime Minister didn't deny the charge. He answered, "We're just doing what the United States does." We've had Guantanamo and the administration's interrogation policies thrown back in our face in meetings with officials from many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. U.S. diplomats have told us they face the same problem. A U.S. ambassador to a leading Middle Eastern country, for example, has told us that he can no longer raise the issue of torture in that country as a result.
Malinowski says the detainee abuse made it difficult for the White House to negotiate any human rights provisions or issues, broadly. "Issues beyond torture were effected, because it enabled authoritarian governments to say, ‘You have no right to lecture us,'" he says. "They were delighted to tweak the United States on it."
The biggest offender? Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who Malinowski described as a "world champion" of chiding the United States via its own policies.
Nevertheless, Malinowski thinks that, despite the horrible details revealed by the Bush administration and International Committee of the Red Cross memos, ultimately their release is a very good thing for the Obama administration.
[Obama] can go to a country like Turkey or Indonesia or Egypt and say, "Look, I know what it's like to face real security threats, and we as Americans understand the temptation to give up some of our liberties and principles to defend ourselves against those threats. But what we've learned the hard way in the last eight years is that those liberties and principles actually make us stronger. You could learn from our example."
That's a much more effective way of arguing the point than going to those same countries and saying, look at our perfect system and our glorious morality, and maybe someday you can be as good as we are. So I think if he uses the experience as a cautionary tale, it will actually make our country a more effective and compelling champion of human rights around the world, ironically.
Here's to hoping so.
Photo: Entrance to Bagram Air Base by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Here at FP, we don't always pay much attention to U.S. domestic policy, obviously, and the tax-day tea parties confused us a bit. Why weren't the protesters dressed up as Native Americans (like in the Boston Tea Party) or Mad Hatters? Weren't top-bracket taxes higher under Reagan?
Regardless, we've glommed onto a U.S. domestic issue which suggests a foreign-policy disaster: the U.S. state of Texas threatening to secede. Texas Governor Rick Perry, angered, like the tea-bag-partiers, over Obama's spending and tax policies, has implied that Texas might leave the Union.
So what would Texas look like as a foreign country?
It would be the world's thirteenth largest economy -- bigger than South Korea, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. But its worth would crater precipitously, after NAFTA rejected it and the United States slapped it with an embargo that would make Cuba look like a free-trade zone. Indeed, Texas would quick become the next North Korea, relying on foreign aid due to its insistence on relying on itself.
On the foreign policy front, a seceded Texas would suffer for deserting the world superpower. Obama wouldn't look kindly on secessionists, and would send in the military to tamp down rebellion. If Texas miraculously managed to hold its borders, Obama would not establish relations with the country -- though he might send a special rapporteur. (We nominate Kinky Friedman.)
So, Texas would need to court Mexico and Central American nations as a trading partners and protectors. Those very nations would also pose a host of problems for Texas. President Perry might find friends in anti-U.S. nations like Venezuela and Cuba, but their socialist politics would rankle the libertarian nation.
And Texas would become a conduit for drugs moving north to the United States from Mexico, maybe even becoming a narco-state. It would need to invest heavily in its own military and policing force to stop drug violence within its borders -- taking away valuable resources from, oh, feeding its people, fending off U.S. border incursions, and improving its standing in the world.
In short: the state of Texas would rapidly become direly impoverished, would need to be heavily armed, and would be wracked with existential domestic and foreign policy threats. It would probably make our failed states list in short order. Probably better to pay the damn taxes.
And of course -- Texas isn't seceding. Only regions in civil war or self-governing areas in very weak states manage independence. Perry was floating a piece of asinine political rhetoric, running a heated race against fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson and courting small-government conservatives of all stripes. Plus, more importantly, Texas can't secede, according to the 1869 Supreme Court Case, Texas v. White. Ah well.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Chuck Norris has offered to be President of Texas, greatly reducing the possible internal threat of unionists or external threat of U.S. military forces to the seceded country. (H/t Ezra Klein.)
Photo: Flickr user Susan E. Gray
Sen. Russell Feingold sent an interesting letter to Barack Obama about Somalia yesterday, cc-ing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and Dennis Blair. The senator, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, urged the U.S. president to engage Somalia, but carefully: work with the Somali government; improve support for the country's internal security apparatus. No quick fixes here:
[There is an] essential need to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to stabilize Somalia and support effective governance. With the strategic review now underway, I reiterate my belief that expanded U.S. support for the new unity government must be a central component of that strategy. Furthermore, we must seize the opening that lies before us by publicly declaring our commitment to high-level, sustained engagement that could help Somalia overcome the many challenges to peace and stability."
Feingold proposes stronger U.S. engagement with the Somali government -- not only to stamp out piracy but to "establish security and functional, inclusive governance within the country." Obama, he suggests, should start by calling Somali President Sheikh Sharif.
Most interesting of all, though, is Feingold's reference to the last time that piracy was notably halted in Somalia -- under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. That regime, later ousted by Ethiopian troops (with U.S. support...) brought the only calm to the seas that the country has seen in recent years.
The ultimate solution to the problem of piracy, then, is the establishment of a functional government that can enforce the rule of law. During the rule of the Council of Islamic Courts in 2006, there was a notable decline in piracy that can be attributed, in large part, to the rise of a central authority in southern Somalia.
Without replicating the repressive rule of the Courts, we must keep in mind that establishing a central governing structure in Somalia is critical to resolving, not just stopping, the problem of piracy."
Now that's an idea, unlike airstrikes, that I feel militantly supportive of.
Scott Horton reports that Spanish prosecutors will indict high-ranking members of the Bush administration over allegations of detainee abuse and torture.
The six are: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee; former OLC lawyer John Yoo; former Defense Department lawyer William J. Haynes II; David Addington, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.
Horton explains the context of the case:
The case arises in the context of a pending proceeding before the court involving terrorism charges against five Spaniards formerly held at Guantánamo. A group of human-rights lawyers originally filed a criminal complaint asking the court to look at the possibility of charges against the six American lawyers. Baltasar Garzón Real, the investigating judge, accepted the complaint and referred it to Spanish prosecutors for a view as to whether they would accept the case and press it forward. [They found sufficient evidence.]
The case won't come before Judge Real, though; he also was involved in a terrorism case against the five Spaniards held in Guantanamo.
What does it all mean?
Well, John Yoo won't be vacationing on the Costa del Sol this summer. Were any of the Bush Six to step foot in Spain, they would be arrested.
More importantly: Spain has said that it would drop the cases if the United States would investigate the claim. Thus far, the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House haven't responded. But the indictment may force the administration's hand, spurring a response to the allegations.
For, ultimately, the issue may have more political potency than judicial importance. It's up to U.S. President Barack Obama to dictate whether and how the strong allegations of legal abuses in the Bush administration will be resolved.
The International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, keeps up-to-the minute maps of global piracy, with linked data on the attacks. It's definitely worth checking out.
Above, the purple tags denote "suspicious vessels," the yellow "attempted attacks," and the red "actual attacks."
Parsing the data, I counted that of 45 attempted attacks in the Gulf of Aden, 7 succeeded; in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, of 31 attempts, 11 succeeded. This implies a pirate strike's more likely in the Gulf, and more likely to succeed in open waters.
Peter Pham takes a closer look at the technicalities of pirate attacks, and stopping them, today on FP's website.
(Hat tip: Global Dashboard)
In a widely publicized move, the Obama administration is due to finally and officially announce its easing of restrictions to Cuba. U.S. citizens will now be able to travel and send money to the country more easily. (See FP's photo essay on Cuba for more details; and this FP article by Nestor Carbonell for a convincing argument against rushing into engagement.)
The Miami Herald says the announcement, to be made this afternoon, is meant to coincide with the Summit of the Americas, which starts on Friday in Trinidad and is attended by heads-of-state from North and South American countries.
Thankfully -- apparently the pet-poisoning revelation hasn't hurt relations.
The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.
Does the United States know what they're getting into? Piracy experts have long suggested that the root of the problem is indeed on land. But air strikes on Somali bases would be dangerously close to a U.S. military operation in Somalia -- the kind that the country has avoided since Blackhawk down in 1994.
Let's think hypothetically about what might happen if strikes go ahead. U.S. onland intervention will surely anger al Shabaab, the Islamist militant wing that controls an alarming percentage of Somali territory and is the biggest single threat to Somali stability. Already, the Somali government is struggling to convince the country that its relatively pro-Western stance is for the greater good. That argument will lose all weight if and when the U.S. starts airstrikes. Forget about the government's effectiveness, and forget about any hopes that al Shabaab will disarm. This would fuel the fire. No, we shouldn't kneel to the demands of al Shabaab, but nor should we ignore that their ire will be taken out on the already dilapidated Somali population.
Talk about an escalation.
To be fair, the rumored U.S. plans includes the creation of a Somali coast guard, and support for the Somali government. U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, long a Somalia pragmatist, made a daring visit to Mogadishu today to talk about how the U.S. can help the Somalis fight piracy. But the fact that his plane was shot at only proves how difficult a situation we are walking into.
If we have learned anything about Somali over the last two decades, surely it is that military escalation (this one included) will inevitably breed more chaos. And if we have learned anything about the pirates, it is that chaos on land breeds impunity at sea.
Photo: MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
The Hill reports that in 2007 Cuba poisoned the pet animals of U.S. diplomats working in the country:
The 64-page report written in 2007 states that the life of U.S. diplomats serving in the U.S. Interest Section (USINT) - which issues visas and performs other diplomatic services in Havana - was laden with poor morale "in part because USINT life in Havana is life with a government that ‘let's [sic] you know it's hostile'"....
"Retaliations have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime has recently gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal has been to instigate dissension within USINT ranks."
The report comes just as the Obama administration is attempting to strengthen relations and ease strictures on the Communist country. Which begs the question: who decided it release it now?
Speaking with the New York Times, a top Chinese economist explained why China is cutting its holdings of U.S. bonds by quoting John Maynard Keynes: “If you owe your bank manager a thousand pounds, you are at his mercy. If you owe him a million pounds, he is at your mercy.”
With that reasoning in mind, China sold U.S. Treasuries and other foreign bonds in the first two months of the year; it returned to buying them in March. Around two-thirds of China’s foreign reserves are held in dollars.
That bulk holding has complicated relations between the two economic super-powers during the Great Recession. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and the central bank governors have expressed concern about the U.S. economic situation and their exposure to it -- though the resumption of purchases in March suggests they may believe the outlook is better.
Still, numerous economists and policy experts have suggested careful, controlled, slow draw-down would be a good thing for both countries.
Mike Allen of Politico's Playbook fame seconds our idea of renaming the pirates. "Pirates go from curiosity to crisis for 1600 and the Pentagon," his headline screamed, the suggestion of renaming them "maritime terrorists" within.
Matt Yglesias criticizes the letter of the suggestion, if not the spirit, with the rather unimpeachable logic that pirates are...pirates.
The point I made last week -- that calling pirates "pirates" allows for a certain romanticization and fueled a media frenzy which too often overlooked the realities of the situation and the circumstance of failed-state Somalia -- thankfully seems passe.
This weekend's rescue, which involved U.S. naval warships, millions of dollars, and pirate and civilian deaths, spurred an examination of the why and how behind the pirates. The sheen's worn off. They're criminals and a security concern. They redouble Somalia's problems.
Or, as someone will inevitably put it somewhere on the internet: pirates totally jumped the shark.
Not such a good Friday for Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Just last week, her name emerged as a possible ambassador to the Vatican. News outlets reported that Senator John Kerry (the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) recommended her for the role, lobbying U.S. President Barack Obama, who makes the appointments, on her behalf.
The rumor sparked outrage among Catholic groups, because Kennedy, who is Catholic, supports abortion rights, which the church vehemently opposes. One called it an "insult," saying, "It's inappropriate to appoint someone who pretends to be a Catholic but rejects the fundamental teachings of the church."
It seems that the Vatican has crossed names off of Obama's list. "At least three names...have been 'burned' even before the proposal of nomination could be made formally, because they were unwelcome to the church," one Italian journalist wrote, as translated by the Washington Times. (The Vatican denies the allegation.)
The United States has never appointed a pro-choice ambassador to the Holy See.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
The United States is scrambling this morning to save a hostaged captain from Somali pirates -- calling in back up that includes FBI hostage negotiators, more warships, and just about every high-profile military and diplomatic figure who will reassure the American press. The drama is being scrupulously reported elsewhere (most recent update: the pirates want booty), so I'll save you the repetition.
I'm interested in a different question: Just how exactly have pirates managed to out-scramble the world's top navy? If neither the U.S. Navy, nor the EU, NATO, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian vessels were able to spot this pirate attacker coming on the vast seas... how do the Somali pirates find the ships they hijack? In theory, the sea is equally vast and equally sparsely populated on both sides of the looking glass.
One interesting theory comes from NightWatch:
Several commentators highlighted the changed tactics by which some Somali pirate groups manage to seize ships far from the coast. What they do not provide is the hypothesis that this proves the existence of a well organized criminal syndicate with modern communications that link pirates to agents in port authorities from
Kenyato the Suez Canal. The business is too big and rich to fail simply because modern frigates are present.
It makes good sense. Why? Pirates have money and they can pay for tips. Port authorities, particularly in Kenya, are likely paid irregularly and poorly (particularly in comparison to pirate rates). The pirates have also shown that they are willing and able to infiltrate government authorities -- as they often do in their home in Puntland, Somalia.
No good news there. Cracking down on internal corruption among port authorities would be about as easy as, say, stopping a piracy epidemic in the Gulf of Aden.
Photo: U.S. Navy
Indispensible financial blogger Felix Salmon, Liam Halligan for The Telegraph, and the New York Times have been parsing the fine print of the G-20 Communique, which promised $1 trillion in additional funding to help ease the financial crisis and get countries growing again.
They note that countries, including the United States, are behind on their IMF funding -- the crux of the program -- and require various sorts of congressional approval; therefore, the funding push may be illusory. The NYT concludes: "Some of the money has yet to be pledged, some is double-counted and some would be counted in a 'synthetic currency' that is not actually real money."
In some sense, none of this should come as a surprise; the "$1 trillion" number hardly represented the sum of an ordered and pledged budget. The Communique included massive sums with little fine print. Member-states' contributions to international organizations always become backed-up. And the ink isn't dry on the page yet -- there's been little time to sort out which commitments will come to fruition first.
The New York Times notices a specific potential problem:
In perhaps the most novel move, the Group of 20 authorized the monetary fund to issue $250 billion in Special Drawing Rights, known as S.D.R.’s — a “virtual currency” whose value is set by a basket of real currencies like the dollar, euro and British pound. The I.M.F. will issue the S.D.R.’s to all 185 of its members, and they in turn can lend them out to poor countries.
Special Drawing Rights are not cash but a form of credit, against which a country can borrow. The Obama administration, which conceived the idea and sold it to the Group of 20, figures it would create between $15 billion and $20 billion in additional credit for the poorest countries.But there is a caveat here as well. For the program’s benefits to be felt globally, the United States and Europe will need to lend out their Special Drawing Rights. In the United States, that will require Congressional approval.
To say that the SDRs aren't a real currency is both true and false. They are a unit of exchange eventually backed with actual cash; the IMF collects money from the member-states to fund them.
And countries like Russia and China, as well as IMF representatives themselves, have called for massive revisions to the outmoded program, to make it useful for alleviating the recession. How that will work remains to be seen.
Plus, it seems early days to be sounding the death knell for the G-20 spending promises. Will the $1 trillion number prove correct? No. But that isn't to say the IMF won't massively expand to aid ailing countries -- ultimately the point of the summit.
At VoxEU, economists Barry Eichengreen and Kevin O'Rourke compare the current global recession and the Great Depression -- or, more accurately, parse the comparisons. They note that many commentators, like Paul Krugman, include only U.S. stock and economic indicators, in which case, some evidence suggests this downturn may be shorter and milder.
But, they argue, the Great Depression was a global phenomenon; it originated with the U.S. stock crash and soon engulfed the world economy. The current recession, likewise, is one of a globalized world. The U.S. led the fall, but didn't fall alone.
So, they write: "the global picture provides a very different and, indeed, more disturbing perspective than the U.S. case...which as noted earlier shows a smaller decline in manufacturing production now than then." And they demonstrate the effect, with a series of compelling and frightening graphs.
Here's the global stock market, the blue line representing its value during the Depression and red during the current recession:
And here is global trade volume, another indicator. They write, "This is highly alarming given the prominence attached in the historical literature to trade destruction as a factor compounding the Great Depression."
The one bright spot, they note: the policy responses have been far, far better this time around. Central banks have slashed interest rates earlier and lower, and increased the money supply more and faster. And, globally, there is heightened government deficit spending, intended to arrest decline.
Still, Eichengreen and O'Rourke's analysis demonstrates that the global recession may be worse than people think, even if the U.S. manages a recovery.
In today's G-20 communiqué (just a fact sheet, really) world leaders pledged an additional $1.1 trillion in loans and debt guarantees to aid trade and help shore up the worst-ailing economies.
The fact sheet (let's call it a fact sheet) notably included toothy regulatory measures and a lack of fiscal stimulus -- which Britain, the United States, and China have undertaken, to the cold shoulder of most of continental Europe.
It also dramatically increased the budget of the IMF. The New York Times summarizes:
The most concrete measures relate to support for the International Monetary Fund, which has emerged as a “first responder” in this global crisis, making emergency loans to dozens of countries.
The Group of 20 pledged to triple the resources of the Fund to $750 billion — through a mix of $500 billion in loans from countries, and a one-time issuance of $250 billion in Special Drawing Rights, the synthetic currency of the Fund, which will be parceled out to all its 185 members.
So what on earth is a Special Drawing Right (SDR) anyway?
Basically: it's a currency.
Back in 1969, the world economy was still suffering from the effects of the Great Depression and the world wars. At the Bretton Woods conference at the end of World War II, the heads of state attending decided against creating a global reserve currency, instead instituting a fixed-rate exchange system.
Twenty-five years later, there weren't enough key exchange assets -- units of gold bullion and dollars -- to keep up with the growing global economy. So, the IMF's member states decided to create the SDR system.
A basket of stable major currencies -- like the dollar, pound, and yen -- determined its value. Some countries, like Latvia, pegged their currencies to the value of the SDR. But most just used their allocated portion in various international transactions.
But, just a few years after the IMF bothered to make the SDRs, the Bretton Woods fixed-rate system collapsed and the modern world currency market, where exchange rates float freely, emerged. This rendered the SDRs pretty much useless.
Indeed, the current market for SDRs, until the I.M.F. injection, was just $32 billion. The value of current oustanding U.S. currency? Just over $1 trillion.
By Gregory Shtraks and Andrew Polk
A day before the meeting of G20 leaders was set to begin in London, U.S.President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met to discuss the increasingly important relations between the two countries. One key result of the meeting was the announcement of a "‘new' U.S.- China Strategic and Economic Dialogue" which will begin in Washington in a few months.
As opposed to the Bush administration's "Strategic Economic Dialogue" started by former Treasury Secretary Paulson, these meetings will have two distinct facets and will be lead by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on the U.S. side. With two well-known American leaders heading up the effort, here's a look at their Chinese counterparts:
Dai Bingguo makes almost a perfect synthesis of the two: He is a high-profile heavy-hitter like Clinton and seasoned bureaucrat like Geithner. Dai's career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stretches back to 1974, with brief interruptions in posts as an ambassador and as Head of the International Department for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
Just as Hillary Clinton is the chief representative of the Obama administration's attempt to remake the U.S. reputation, Dai is often considered the international face of China's growing clout and increasingly pervasive charm offensive. In 2003, Evan Medeiros, writing in Foreign Affairs noted Dai as a leader in the country's growing sophistication in diplomatic affairs, as he deftly handled China's North Korea stance. He has also matched Clinton's hectic traveling schedule of late, making stops throughout Southeast Asia and Latin America. According to this Financial Times article from February, he seems to be a pretty smooth operator:
It takes quite a lot to throw Hillary Clinton off her stride, but Dai Bingguo, China's senior foreign policy official, just about managed. "You look younger and more beautiful than on TV," he told the US secretary of state, who seemed to momentarily blush.
Tim Geithner' understanding of Asia might pay prove useful in the discussion. Geithner completed high school in Bangkok (where his father Peter was director of Ford Foundation's Asia division) and then focused on Asian economics for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He is even said to speak decent Chinese and Japanese.
Geithner's counterpart in the Economic Dialogue, Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, also had some family help early in his career. During the Cultural Revolution Wang was sent to work as an "educated youth" in remote Shaanxi province and would have probably missed his chance at getting an education if not for the influence of his father-in-law, conservative Party leader Yao Yilin, who helped young Wang get accepted into a university. Wang is thus considered to be a "Princeling"- a cadre whose career had been accelerated by a family member who was a high-ranking member of the CCP.
However, unlike other Princelings, Wang is widely respected by both the Party and the general public. He is known as "Chief of the Fire Brigades" for his role in effectively managing the SARS crisis as Beijing's mayor in 2003. Meanwhile, his reputation for economic prowess and steadfastness was cemented by his role in managing Guangdong's financial scandals in the late 1990's. He also spent a number of years conducting agricultural reforms and over a decade heading China's Construction Bank. The 59-year-old was elevated to the Politburo of the Chinese People's Congress Central Committee (CPCCC) in 2008.
With the Chinese-US relationship widely being seen as crucial to global financial stability, the stakes for the success of the dialogue for all parties involved couldn't be any higher.
With three weeks to go until the G20 Summit, the British government is assiduously preparing to host the world's leaders. It's beefing up security. It's passing out press credentials. And, like any shrewd party host, as shown by a memo obtained by the Financial Times, it's naming the in-crowd.
The document solicits bids from public relations firms, asking them to help create "moments of drama for the media" around the Summit. In a section entitled "Target Audiences," it splits the G20 countries into "tier one" and "tier two," spelling out who's worth some extra attention.
Early indications suggest that the following are our priority countries and will be the focus of intensive diplomatic lobbying and engagement:
- US, Japan, France, Germany (key G8 countries) and Italy (as next G8 President)
- China, India
- South Africa (as the only African nation)
- South Korea (as the Chair of the G20 after the UK)
- Brazil (as the main South American nation)
- Saudi Arabia (as the only Middle East nation)
Tier 2 countries include other G20 members, non G20 countries, regional groups and developing countries.
Who falls into "tier two"? Russia, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, and Canada.
A Tory spokesman immediately responded:
"The downgrading of some participants before they have even set foot in London sends completely the wrong message. In particular it is wrong for Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada to be put into the so-called second tier. So too are some of the world's developing countries whose people will potentially be among those hardest hit by the global crisis."
Looks like its Gordon Brown's turn to be called an ungracious host.
Photo: Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Don Kraus at the Global Solutions Blog and Mark Leon Goldberg at U.N. Dispatch report that Rep. Nita Lowey and Sen. Patrick Leahy managed to cut the Nethercutt Amendment out of the omnibus appropriations bill that Congress passed this week.
The Nethercutt Amendment -- named for former Rep. George Nethercutt and bundled in a 2004 appropriations bill -- cut economic support funds to nations that ratified the International Criminal Court without signing a Bilateral Immunity Agreement with the Bush administration.
Global Solutions says the law affected funding to more than 20 countries, including:
Latin American allies in the war on drugs, including Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Uruguay.
The Balkan countries of Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro, which rely on U.S. military assistance to maintain stability and reform their armies.
Caribbean countries, whose hurricane disaster assistance is tied to the affected programs: Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
African allies with which the U.S. partners to help maintain regional security, including South Africa, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania.
Photo: Paul Vreeker/AFP/Getty Images
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