Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't choose his foreign visits lightly. On May 31, Putin makes his first trip abroad since being inaugurated for a third term as president on May 7, to neighboring Belarus. The visit is highly symbolic of Russia's desire to be the leader in the post-Soviet space, as well as Putin's continued support for the authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko (also known as "Europe's Last Dictator"). Afterwards, Putin will head to Germany and France, Russia's major trading partners in the EU. After the European visits, Putin will fly to speak with Uzbek ruler Islam Karimov in Tashkent, to Beijing, and finally to Astana, Kazakhstan, to meet with long-time ruler Nursultan Kazarbayev; countries central to Putin's vision of a Eurasian Union.
Earlier in the month, Putin suddenly declined to attend the G8 Summit in Camp David, under pretext that he was too busy forming a new Cabinet of Ministers, sending instead Prime Minister Medvedev. The move was widely seen as a snub to President Obama, as Putin avoided a meeting with the president, and sidestepped making the U.S. his first foreign visit. A few days later, Obama announced he would not be able to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Vladivostok this September, because it conflicted with the Democratic Party convention.
Putin has now also taken the opportunity to snub the UK, by announcing he will not attend the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, even though the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held on Russian territory in Sochi. Likely, Medvedev will once again be sent in his stead. Russian-British relations have been tense since the 2006 poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Moreover the West has been pressuring Russian officials over the 2009 death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while he was detained in prison. Putin's foreign trip destinations are by no means accidental.
Peace between Israelis and Palestinians depends on coordinated unilateral actions, not negotiations, former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon explained during a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars on Thursday. Ayalon, who also served as a member of Knesset for the Labor Party, said that "the idea of negotiations does not exist anymore."
Ayalon presented his own plan for a two-state solution, authored by Blue White Future, a non-partisan political movement he founded. The plan, based on the Clinton Parameters, first calls for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians based on the 1967 lines and a territorial swap, should the Palestinians decide to come to the table. Second, it insists on the security fence as a provisional line and states that annexing the eastern side of the fence is not in Israel's interest. Third, the plan calls for the Knesset to pass a law enabling those settlers living on the eastern side of the fence to return to the western side, should they wish to do so. Fourth, it states that the Knesset should create a strategic plan to bring back all 100,00 settlers so as not to repeat the mistakes of the Gaza Strip pullout. Fifth, it demands that the Israeli Defense Forces remain on the eastern side of the fence to prevent any security risks. Finally, the plan requires that the Knesset pass a law that any agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians be put to a national referendum.
Robert Malley, who served as special assistant to President Clinton on Arab-Israeli Affairs, agreed that the concept of unilateralism is profound, compared to prospects for future negotiations, particularly the plan of the Quartet:
"I can't remember the last conversation I've had with a an official member from the Quartet ... who genuinely believed what they were mouthing everyday.... They don't believe it and the argument that they give for maintaining the fiction is that if you discard the fiction then you're going to leave people in a state of hopelessness and create a vacuum that bad things will fill."
Wilson Center fellow and Foreign Policy columnist Aaron David Miller, who moderated the panel, cautiously praised the plan:
"What Ami is offering is logical, it's credible. I like it because it's unanchored and unmoored to an American role in this negotiation right now or for the foreseeable future, and I also like it because it's self-directed.... Whether it will work or not is another matter."
Ayalon, meanwhile, is also putting his faith in the Israeli government:
" We understand for the time ... he cannot blame his coalition today. His coalition.... I know that in this Kensset and in this coalition, this program, this paradigm, is acceptable."
Netanyahu may have just assembled a coalition of 94 out of 120 Knesset members, a considerable mandate, but there's no guarantee that the coalition will stay intact. If history has anything to say about Israeli unity governments, nothing is ever for certain.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Though the powerful and prominent Islamist Ennahda
party has sent mixed
messages about its attitude toward Tunisia's 1,500-strong Jewish population,
President Moncef Marzouki's government
has made an extraordinary effort this year
to promote the Hiloula,
an annual pilgrimage to El Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba that
commemorates the death of second-century rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, the father of the
Kabbalah tradition. The two-day event was canceled last year for security
reasons due to the popular uprisings that ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but
it remains "the
barometer of expectations for the coming tourist season," according to the Guardian.
"So far, no more than two hundred Jewish pilgrims have joined the Hiloula.... According to our reporter in El Ghriba, police and journalists outnumbered the pilgrims, mainly Jewish Tunisians, who attended the event."
The Tunisian government has deployed a large security force to the area surrounding the synagogue, the oldest in Africa. Ten years ago, al Qaeda militants bombed the synagogue, killing 21 and wounding 30. Marzouki visited El Ghriba in April for a memorial ceremony, during which he declared that violence against Tunisian Jews was "unacceptable." Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali also voiced his commitment to a tolerant Tunisia:
"Tunisia is an open and tolerant society, we will be proud to have Jewish pilgrims visit El Ghriba as they have in the past."
The government of Israel, on the other hand, apparently sees things differently. The Israeli Prime Minister's Office issued a travel warning earlier this month advising Israelis to avoid Djerba, citing a "specific-high rating" terror threat to Jews and Israelis. Hiloula may end today, but whether Marzouki can convince the rest of the country to practice what he preaches remains uncertain.
Members of Turkey's Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed a more decentralized Turkish government at a Brookings Institution panel on Tuesday.
"We don't believe that a centralized system of government that manages all of these different ethnic groups and communities is viable and productive," said BDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas. "We see this [decentralized government] as the most viable alternative."
Demirtas also emphasized that he is not calling for a completely independent Kurdish entity:
"We are not talking about the Kurdish people [living] in a region called Kurdistan."
Though he stressed that the BDP has no "organic relationship" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classifies as a terrorist organization, Demirtas noted that the PKK is not the problem, but a result of the problem:
"We believe the PKK is part of the reality of this conflic, and we believe that they should be communicated with.... We don't see the PKK as a problem, we see it as a result of the problem."
Ahmet Türk of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) agreed, and urged the audience to consider that the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denying its Kurdish citizens their civil rights might be the root of the problem.
"You don't provide Kurds an opportunity to express themselves, so the PKK emerged."
While Demirtas made sure to explain that his party does not condone violence, he did take issue with the Turkish government's definition of terrorism:
"This means of violence that is being used has to be understood correctly. The simple, traditional [definition of] terrorism cannot be used here. This is a 100-year-old conflict.... As long as you are unable to define it correctly, the wrong definition will cause misunderstanding."
BDP member and Turkish parliamentarian Gülten Kisanak argued that the PKK's numbers are evidence that the government must rethink its position toward the organization:
"According to data provided by the Turkish chief of staff, since 1978 40,000 Kurds have participated in the PKK and lost their life in fighting the struggle. I believe these numbers cannot be seen as terrorism in that sense."
The BDP may support President Abdullah Gül's call for a new "flexible and freedom-based" constitution, but its forward-thinking notions about the PKK isn't going to win it many points with Ankara.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Although the Arab Spring hasn't won Israel many friends in the Middle East, Haaretz reported yesterday that its navy "recently strengthened its cooperation with the Lebanese Navy in the Mediterranean." The partnership, Israel hopes, will prevent provocations in the form of possible pro-Palestinian flotillas to Gaza on May 15, or Nakba Day, which commemorates "the displacement of Palestinians following the establishment of Israel in 1948, and on Naksa Day, which takes place in June and commemorates the displacement of Palestinians after the 1967 war."
It's no surprise that Israel would turn to regional multilateralism in order to avoid a repeat of the Gaza flotilla incident of 2010. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, "pro-Palestinian activists from Sweden [have] announced their intent to organize another Gaza flotilla this year, saying they have already bought the ship."
Whether this friendly strategic cooperation will last, though, is an entirely different question. Israel and Lebanon may soon be engaged in nasty disputes over natural gas fields in the Levant Basin, which as Robin M. Mills reported for FP last year "spans not only Israel's offshore but also that of Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria." In 2009, U.S. exploration company Noble Energy found Tamar, a deepwater field that holds 8.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. Noble discovered Leviathan, which has an aerial area of 125 square miles and contains a potential 20 Tcf, in early 2010. As Mills noted, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the entire basin "could contain 120 Tcf of gas, equivalent to almost half of U.S. reserves."
With Tamar set to come online in April 2013, and Leviathan expected to begin production by 2016, what is for now just a dispute over maritime borders could soon turn into a regional conflict over natural gas.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has just finished a two-day state visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The trip signifies growing ties between the two Black Sea states regarding joint energy and export projects. And as a token of this political rapprochement, Borisov was presented with honorary Georgian citizenship and a symbolic gesture of a Georgian passport.
But receiving Georgian citizenship isn't so easy for everybody. In October 2011, the government revoked the citizenship of billionaire and opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, just days after he publically announced his plans to create a new political party for the October 2012 parliamentary elections. (Ivanishvili was granted Georgian citizenship in 2004, but, according to the government, it was revoked due to his acquisition of French citizenship afterwards.) Citizenship is required in order to run for public office and create a political party. Since then, he and President Mikheil Saakashvili have been locked in an on-going feud over legitimacy. Members of Saakashavili's United National Movement have associated Ivanishvili (who made his fortune in Russia) as having close ties to the Kremlin.
In a Washington Post op-ed published on January 30, 2012, Ivanishvili referred to the government and its encroachment as having "a super-centralized, almost neo-Bolshevik style of governance." Throughout March 2012, the government has also been accused of intimidation against members of Ivanishvili's political group, "Georgian Dream," during a political financing investigation.
Ivanishvili challenged the loss of his citizenship in court, but the case was defeated in December 2011. He applied to reinstate his citizenship on January 5, 2012, and according to law, the authorities must respond within 3 months. The deadline expiring this week on Thursday, it's only a matter of time until we learn what's next in this Georgian (political) drama.
In the meantime, Ivanishvili (and the rest of us) might be forgiven for wondering what allows the prime minister of Bulgaria to fast-track through the citizenship process.
UPDATE: A letter from the Georgian Ambassador to the United States, Temuri Yakobashvili, has requested a correction in this story. The letter clarifies that Borisov "was handed a Georgian passport as a symbolic gesture while visiting one of our new Justice Halls. He was not granted Georgian citizenship."
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
The theme at this year's J Street conference was "Making History," and that's exactly what happened on Monday evening when Barukh Binah, the deputy chief of mission at Israel's Washington embassy, became "the first Israeli diplomat to attend a conference of the liberal pro-Israel group since its establishment in 2008."
Binah, who confessed in the beginning of his address that he has only held this post for two months, also revealed that it was his his first public appearance in the United States. Perhaps it was his condescending tone, or maybe it was just the fact that he spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is wildly unpopular among J Street's constituency, but the Washington newcomer's speech was less than well-received. He began with a very Netanyahu-esque reminder that the past (read: the Holocaust) is "alive and scorching."
The unpopular message continued as Binah accused the audience of not standing with the Israelis:
"We share your democratic values, but...our borders are curved and dusty and made of missiles and mayhem, and as we continue to face incurable threats we have to make decisions of life and death...At the end of the day it is we the Israelis who must bear the ultimate burden and may have to pay the ultimate price...We need you to stand with us. It is as simple as that and someone ought to say it. Internal activism is a central part of democratic society, but pressures on the elected government of Israel can present us with a problem, davka when we need you the most."
Davka is a notoriously untranslatable Hebrew word that in this sense means "especially."
He also applauded J Street for its "repudiation" of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS), noting that "our shared view in that respect is that BDS is not a form of criticism, but a blatant...attack."
No Israeli diplomatic presence would be complete without a reference to Iran, and Binah repeated the popular line that "while we seek and support peace, the ayatollah's of Iran call for our annihilation." Convincing a room full of peaceniks that the Palestinians should be blamed for thwarting negotiations was also a tough sell:
"We're willing to put contentious issues on the table, but we find that the metaphorical table was...blown up."
His talk exploding tables and rabid Ayatollahs was somewhat grim, but at least he threw in a Harry Potter reference, saying "This is not a game of political quidditch."
Despite the audible booing and hissing throughout, Binah told me after he spoke that he thought the speech was well-received, and that the embassy sent him there because of the "ripeness of time."
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert (fending off corruption charges back home) had a message more the crowd's liking, discussing the peace plan he presented to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas:
"I thought then and I think now that there is no alternative to what I proposed and one day...when we celebrate peace with the Palestinians, this peace will be identical to what I proposed to Abu Mazen finally and formally and officially on September 16, 2008."
The Olmert peace plan, to which Abbas did not respond, called for a two-state solution whose borders are based on the 1967 pre-Six Day War lines.
Olmert ended his keynote speech with the adamant affirmation that Kadima, the centrist Israeli political party he helped create in 2005, is the best alternative to Israel's political status quo. Unfortunately for Olmert, the heated race for the Kadima premiership between current chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Member of Knesset Shaul Mofaz has become just as divisive as the America's Republican candidate tug-of-war.
Between a Netanyahu talking head and an embattled politician who continues to advocate for a peace plan past its prime, the evening was a bizarre and disconnected affair that seemed to reinforce the frustrated and pessimistic mood at this year's conference.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
The protestors of London's "Occupy" chapter have chosen to camp out in the forecourt of St. Paul's cathedral. The site of the tent city was originally to be further down the road at the home of the London Stock Exchange and rightful equivalent to Wall Street, but Paternoster Square is privately owned property and, right now, it's heavily guarded. But the cathedral locale has become a flashpoint of a larger, unexpected controversy: a schism in the Anglican Church.
A lawsuit has been filed by the City of London Corporation (CLC) to evict the protestors on the grounds that they are blocking traffic. While the demonstrators aren't actually occupying the streets or, more specifically, the highways which are the jurisdiction of the CLC's Planning and Transportation Committee responsible for the suit, committee member Michael Wellbank explained that "encampment on a busy thoroughfare clearly impacts the rights of others."
In fact, the iconic St. Paul's Cathedral closed its doors to worshippers and tourists last week due to safety concerns for the first time since WWII and joined the CLC's lawsuit last Friday. But since the court action could lead to the forceful removal of protesters, and ultimately violence, the cathedral proceeds without three of its clergymen who have already resigned in protest. One of them, Canon Chancellor Giles Frase, explained his decision to the Guardian:
St. Paul was a tentmaker. If you looked around and you tried to recreate where Jesus would be born -- for me, I could imagine Jesus being born in the camp. It is not about my sympathies or what I believe about the camp. I support the right to protest and in a perfect world we could have negotiated. But our legal advice was that this would have implied consent. The church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence.
Church leaders seem divided between general sympathy for the protesters' goals, and a desire to have them advocate those goals somewhere else. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addressed the controversy for the first time today, saying, "The urgent larger issues raised by the protesters at St. Paul's remain very much on the table and we need -- as a Church and as society as a whole -- to work to make sure that they are properly addressed."
Meanwhile, the bishop of London, Rev. Richard Chartres, was called a hypocrite by angry protestors as he tried to walk a fine line with his remarks supporting both their causes and their peacefully disbanding. On Sunday, he told the crowd, "You have a notice saying, ‘What would Jesus do? That is a question for me as well."
CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images
Europeans know a thing or two about down-to-the-wire debt deals, but with time running out in Washington to reach an agreement before a catastrophic default that could have devastating spillover effects around the globe, European leaders are sweating. On Tuesday, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and former finance minister of France, warned the United States that the issue needed to be "resolved immediately." Today, she told the PBS NewsHour that there would be dire consequences for the world economy if there wasn't resolution.
There's quite a lot of concern out there. The global economy is clearly highly dependent on the U.S. economy, because the U.S. economy is the first in the world and it's a major power in many respects. So to have the lead economy uncertain about its debt ceiling is quite worrisome.
In a separate interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, she said the solution would be to raise the debt ceiling now and address fiscal consolidation issues in the medium term.
Today, the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble also warned Washington to act.
Everyone in the US should be aware of their responsibility for the global financial markets.
He added, "The core of [the U.S.'s] difficulties is exorbitant debt and the economic prospects. Americans have to find long-term solutions to create solid fiscal and growth policies."
Schäuble and Lagarde were downright tame compared to Vince Cable, Britain's secretary of state for business, who told the BBC earlier this week that "the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few rightwing nutters in the American Congress rather than the euro zone."
Perhaps, the most sobering analysis of all comes from Germany's Der Spiegel:
Even if the worst is avoided, US finances are still a mess. Total debt is approaching 100 percent of gross domestic product, putting it in the same league as Italy, Portugal and Ireland, three of the euro-zone's famous PIIGS states. America's budget deficit is well over a trillion dollars -- more than 10 percent of GDP. Were Washington to apply to become a member of the European common currency zone, it would be rejected out of hand.
We'd be rejected by the euro zone? This euro zone?
Yes, James Traub's in-depth profile of Senator John Kerry in the New York Times Magazine this week is interesting for a number of reasons (the takeaway -- Kerry is a shadow secretary of state), but the quote that makes the article is this gem from Vice President Joe Biden, which Traub calls a "Bidencentric view of Kerry's status":
I don't think there's ever been a chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee who's had as close a relationship with the vice president who's had as close a relationship with the president ... John can see the president any time he wants, but we have all three found that the best interlocutor is me.
Ironically, "The best interlocutor is me" is also the likely title of the vice president's forthcoming autobiography -- at least, that's the one we're lobbying for.
AFP/ Getty Images
Obama tries to shore up Jewish support, while poll shows he doesn't have much to worry about
A new gallup poll released today shows that despite recent remarks by President Obama that the 1967 borders should be the starting point in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians -- a position that angered pro-Israel hawks -- most American Jews still approve of the president. His approval rating among American Jews in June averaged 60 percent, down from 68 percent in May (a change that corresponds with declining numbers among other groups, reflecting the president's inflated rating in May, post-bin Laden raid, Gallup said). Thirty-two percent of American Jews disapproved of the president's job in June.
By comparison, Gallup found that his approval rating among all groups in June averaged 46 percent.
The Washington Post reported last week that Obama's team will "go on the offensive against critics of his stance on Israel," with the help of Jewish supporters, including community leader Alan Solow, former Congressmen Mel Levin and Robert Wexler, and business executive Penny Pritzker.
Obama's supporters say the plan is in effect an acknowledgment that conservative attacks on Obama's Israel stance have made defections among Jewish voters and donors a possibility they must take seriously. Obama's advisers see a need to push back even harder on the attacks than they did in 2008, in part because Obama now has a record on the issue to defend - a record that even Obama's supporters concede has not been adequately explained.
Obama won close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008. Politico reported last week that some Jewish Democratic Party donors were worried that Obama's stance on Israel could cost him support in 2012 in the Jewish community.
In its analysis, Gallup challenged the Politico article, saying its conclusions may apply to "certain politically active members of the Jewish-American community," but are "not reflective of the views of Jewish Americans more generally."
Romney heading to London this week to raise money, may meet with PM Cameron
Pawlenty won't name the ‘isolationists'
In a decidedly hawkish foreign policy speech this week at the Council on Foreign Relations, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty called out members of his party who "now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party."
Last night, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren asked Pawlenty to name names. The former governor wouldn't get into specifics, but said "there are several candidates for president and several leading voices in the party beyond that in Washington arguing for going further than the president in terms of an accelerated withdrawal, arguing that we have no business and he has no authority in Libya, arguing we should do nothing in Syria, arguing that we should not have any role in Iraq and beyond," he said.
On the campaign trail, several contenders have raised doubts about the extent of our mission in Afghanistan and Libya, including former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and -- to a lesser extent -- former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
The Huffington Post quoted Rep. Paul's son, Senator Rand Paul, attacking Pawlenty's use of the word isolationist.
"It's not a valid term. It's a pejorative term. It's name calling," Paul told the website. "Isolationism would mean that you're nowhere any of the time and you're completely within a walled-in state. I don't know anybody who's for that."
Americans largely support Obama's Afghan plan
Though the GOP field is somewhat divided on the president's Afghanistan withdrawal plan, a majority of Americans polled recently by Gallup, backed what he's doing. 72 percent supported his plan, while 23 percent opposed it. 50 percent of Republicans said they agreed with his decision to pull 10,000 troops out this year.
When the poll got into specifics of numbers, it found that 29 percent wanted more troops to come home, 19 percent said the number of troops Obama mentioned was too high. 43 percent thought the figure was just right.
NYT/CBS Poll on Republican candidates: Great news for "Anyone else"
Meanwhile, in another poll, likely Republican voters seemed unimpressed with their field of candidates so far. Only 23 percent said they were satisfied with the people in the race. 71 percent said they wanted more choices.
67 percent could not name a single candidate they were excited about. While Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann both had 7 percent saying they were enthusiastic about their candidacies.
The poll wasn't all bad news for Republicans. It found that Democrats are less enthusiastic about the race in general than Republicans. Only 24 percent of Democrats said they were more excited for 2012 than they were for 2008. 33 percent of Republicans were more excited this year and self-described Tea Party supporters were 44 percent more excited.
Perry to Justice Department: Stop Gaza flotilla
Gov. Rick Perry hasn't announced he's running for president yet, but he's already wading into international issues and sounding a lot like a candidate. This week he sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to do more to stop a planned flotilla of ships to Gaza, which are carrying humanitarian supplies. Israel has a maritime blockade against Gaza.
"As an American citizen and governor of one of its largest states...I write to encourage you to aggressively pursue all available legal remedies to enjoin and prevent these illegal actions, and to prosecute any who may elect to engage in them in spite of your preemptive efforts," Perry wrote.
Perry said participating in the flotilla would violate U.S. law because it would provide "material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization," meaning Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Perry has visited Israel several times in the past and "has touted what he calls its ‘special kinship' with Texas."
Newt to Obama: ‘Tide of war' isn't receding
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attacked President Barack Obama's assertion in his June 22 speech announcing the troop drawdown in Afghanistan that the "tide of war is receding." He said the country is facing a "tsunami of violence building offshore," according to Politico.
"I want to challenge the president to withdraw the phrase because it totally misleads the American people, and presents a delusional version of the world," he said at a Maryland Republican Party dinner in Baltimore.
Gingrich said the White House should have taken stronger action against Pakistan after it reportedly arrested CIA informants who helped the United States find Osama bin Laden.
"We should have taken extraordinary actions against Pakistanis -- within 24 hours," Gingrich told the crowd. "We should have said if you don't release those people you can assume we have no relationship and we'll chat with you from India."
He also accused the president of "sleepwalking" through the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Romney to fundraise in London
One of Mitt Romney's favorite knocks on Obama is that he is too European. In the words of the GOP frontrunner, the president takes "his inspiration not from the small towns and villages of New Hampshire but from the capitals of Europe." So, it might strike some people as a little surprising that Romney is planning to travel to London next month -- which, after all, is one of those "capitals of Europe" -- to attend a fund-raiser, according to the Boston Globe. Very few presidential candidates have held fundraisers on foreign soil. Rudy Giuliani was the first in 2007 -- also in London -- and Obama held one in the London home of Rupert Murdoch's daughter, Elizabeth, in 2008.
According to the Globe, suggested contributions for the July 6 party at Dartmouth House -- "a building not far from Hyde Park that has marble fireplaces, Louis XIV walnut paneling, and a painted ceiling by Pierre Victor Galland" -- is $2,500 a person.
Santorum and Beck discuss Israel
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was on Glenn Beck's Fox News show yesterday, and the pair discussed more than just kissing "on the mouth" -- though they did discuss that too.
Israel -- and specifically efforts to delegitimize Israel -- came up. Santorum said the United States should not force Israel to take part in negotiations since the "Palestinian Authority [and] others in the Middle East refuse to accept Israel's right to be there."
"Do you think America has enough courage to turn the tide on Israel," Beck asked the presidential candidate."
"If we had a strong leader who had the respect of the world," Santorum said. "We see now...a president backing away, who is an internationalist, someone who sees his role as almost transcending the presidency...and sees his role as to work with the international community to their ends. Not to the ends of the national security interest of our country. Not to the end of supporting allies who are strategic for us. But to the ends of some greater goal."
Whenever the two get together, the Middle East seems to come up. In April, they agreed that there is a coalition of "Sunni, Shia, socialists, and Islamists and jihadists working together [to form] a caliphate," Santorum said. Beck said the caliphate "begins with Turkey, Egypt and Iran."
Women in New Delhi are taking to the streets this July -- but don't expect to see the average run-of-the-mill protest sign or megaphone. These women are participating in a SlutWalk, an international craze that has been unleashed from Sao Paulo to Syndey. New Delhi, where 85% of women are afraid of being sexually harassed in public, will follow a string of over 60 cities to participate in the SlutWalks. The Mission? To blur the definition of slut and protest the notion that a woman's dress instigates rape.
The protests were spurred by the remarks of Toronto police officer Constable Michael Sanguinett, who told a small group of students that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
Little did he know, his comment would set off a nearly-naked international revolt. Some clad in bustiers and others dressed conservatively, protesters now hold signs saying, "society teaches don't get raped rather than don't rape" and "sluts of the world unite".
Umang Sabarwal, a Delhi University journalism student, is one of the main organizers of the planned protest. She believes that Indians have an opportunity to voice their concerns over women's safety in a city where she says women are eyed like meat. Sabarwal hopes to challenge the rape blame game, saying:
"Every time a woman is assaulted, people don't blame the perpetrator of the crime. Instead women get a lecture about what they're supposed to wear and where they can go or not go."
But the planned Delhi protest is generating criticism from both men and women. Some feel using the word slut, even in an act of protest, further degrades women. Others feel that the message of the protests is trivial as they are demanding the freedom to wear revealing clothing, not demanding "protection against violence", as Amrit Dhillon said in her article published in the Hindustan Times. The journalist cites issues like honor killings, sex-selective abortion and child prostitution that she believes should addressed first and foremost.
But with intensifying criticism comes even more feminstas, mothers, anxsty teenagers and other SlutWalkers that will undoubtedly strut their stuff in the coming months.
Afghanistan was obviously front and center on the minds of the Republican hopefuls today. With the race for the nomination heating up, the potential candidates wasted little time weighing in on Obama's plan. Here's a look at where they came down -- plus, some of today's other foreign-policy news from the field.
GOP Candidates: Obama went too far... or he didn't go far enough
The candidates' reactions to Obama's Afghanistan troop drawdown speech has been overwhelmingly negative. But they've been critical for different reasons.
Newly declared candidate Jon Huntsman wants a more rapid drawdown, and Ron Paul said Obama's plan is "too little, too late."
On Obama's right, Tim Pawlenty seemed to go the farthest, saying on Fox News after the speech he was deeply concerned about Obama's plan. "When America goes to war, America needs to win," he said. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, and Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, agreed. "President Obama speaks of winding down our engagement in Afghanistan, but he does not emphasize the need for victory," Santorum said. Cain said Obama's plan "could embolden our enemy and endanger our troops."
Front-runner Mitt Romney took a more middle-of-the road view in a statement after the speech. "We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn't adhere to an arbitrary timetable," he said.
Sarah Palin not going to Sudan
The former Alaska governor was supposed to travel to war-ravaged Sudan next month on a tour with the evangelical leader Franklin Graham and Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, but she pulled out this week. Sources close to her told the Washington Post it was because of scheduling conflicts, but it might also have had something to do with security concerns. One U.S. official told the paper that safety would prove to be a challenge. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might be forced to cancel a trip there -- planned to coincide with South Sudan's independence ceremony next month -- for security reasons.
Graham told the Post he hoped Palin could reschedule the trip soon. "She would be a very good person to help draw attention to the plight of the Christians in South Sudan," he said. "We've got George Clooney, we've got some Hollywood-type people. I'm very grateful for what Mr. Clooney has done. But we need everybody we can find."
Palin previously traveled with Graham to Haiti to tour the earthquake devastation there.
Jon Huntsman consults with Republican heavyweights
In an interview with Politico, the former ambassador to China and the newest entrant into the presidential field reveals he has been consulting with some heavy-hitters of the Republican national security establishment. According to Politico, the list includes former National Security Advisor to George H.W. Bush Brent Scowcroft, former Deputy Secretary of State to George W. Bush Richard Armitage, and former director of policy planning for the State Department under W. -- and current head of the Council on Foreign Relations -- Richard Haass. All three are known for their realist views and past criticisms of the Iraq war. The nature of the consultation wasn't characterized, but their foreign-policy philosophies would seem to mesh with that of the candidate, who also said in the interview he would support a fast drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. Huntsman didn't give numbers, but said he would lay out his plan when he gives a "major foreign-policy address" later this summer.
It's time for one of Washington favorite parlor games -- predicting what the president will say before he says it. What we know is that tomorrow President Obama will announce his plans for a troop reduction in Afghanistan. Thirty-three thousand surge troops were added in 2009, with the promise that by this summer they would begin to come home. But how many and how fast is still an open question.
Officially, the White House says the president is still "finalizing" his decision. And indeed, some of his key advisors reportedly disagree on what to do. Gen. David Petraeus-- the current Afghanistan commander who will soon take over the CIA -- and many of the generals are pushing for a pretty small initial withdrawal of no more than 3-4,000 troops. On the opposite extreme, some in the administration and outside want a far broader withdrawal. Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the president's senior advisor on Afghanistan, advocates pulling 15,000 troops out by the end of the year and another 15,000 by the end of 2012, according to the New York Times. Carl Levin, the influential senator and chair of the armed services committee, backs that approach as well. Vice President Joe Biden -- who was a critic of the surge before it was cool -- reportedly wants all 30,000 surge troops gone within 12 months. Defense Secretary Bob Gates is pushing for something in the range of 5,000 troops -- a brigade -- this year and another 5,000 over the next winter, according to the Times.
Where will Obama come down?
The L.A. Times cites Pentagon and administration officials saying the reduction will be about 10,000 by the end of the year. If true, it would be a significant move by Obama. Petraeus has warned Obama that taking out that many troops that quickly "could create problems for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan" especially if other countries follow America's lead and begin withdrawing, the paper said. But a faster withdrawal decision would seem to bolster the president politically at home. A recent NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll found that 54 percent of the country approves of Obama's handling of the war but are growing impatient with the decade-old conflict.
The Washington Post cites administration officials saying Obama will likely remove far fewer than 10,000 -- probably in the Pentagon-approved range of 3-5,000, though the officials warned that no final decision has been made. Interestingly, according to the Post, the president had hoped to announce progress on another front at the same time as the troop withdrawal -- reconciliation talks with the Taliban. But those talks have stalled and there is political confusion over the U.S.'s partner in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, whose rhetoric has been growing more and more incendiary -- some would say unhinged -- of late.
The New York Times presents a third theory, attributed to an "official," that the president tomorrow might not give any specific withdrawal number. He might only announce a date for the final drawdown of all the surge troops sometime in 2012 -- but leave the timetable vague and rely on commanders in the field to make suggestions. This was the approach he used in Iraq. According to the Times, administration sources said the president would most likely pull out "the entire 30,000 troops by the end of 2012."
Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah who crossed party lines to serve as President Barack Obama's ambassador to China, will stand in front of the Statue of Liberty tomorrow and announce he is running for president. Huntsman tends to get both foreign policy types and the cable news political punditocracy fired up -- He's moderate! He's friendly! He speaks Chinese! He worked for Obama! But is he an attractive candidate to anyone else-and most importantly, actual Republican voters?
The poll numbers would seem to suggest Huntsman has a long way to go. He finished dead last in the most recent Rasmussen poll of potential Republican candidates, with only 2 percent of likely voters saying they were inclined to cast their ballot for him. To put that into perspective, Mitt Romney got 33 percent of the vote. Herman Cain -- the pizza guy!-- got 10 percent. Even the option of "some other candidate" scored higher than Huntsman (8 percent).
Of course, this could all change once he's actively campaigning and participating in debates. But the rush to anoint him as a major candidate seems a bit premature. It doesn't help that the White House seems to be trying to kill him with kindness. Over the weekend Obama advisor David Axelrod told CNN "I think he's a very bright, fluent person." He said Huntsman's criticisms of the president were surprising because "he was very effusive about what the president was doing" when they talked in the past.
While Huntsman's ability to run the conservative gauntlet and seize the Republican nomination is still up for debate, China hands who have dealt with him and studied his tenure as U.S. envoy to Beijing give him high marks -- both diplomatically and politically.
"In terms of knowledge and diplomatic skills, I'd regard him as one of the best ambassadors we had," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution who met with Huntsman on several occasions in Beijing. "I thought he was very good. He related effectively to Chinese audiences. Part of that is he speaks Chinese well, but he also had a cultural sensitivity. I saw him when I made trips there. He was always on top of key issues."
Orville Schell, the director of the Center on U.S.-China relations at the Asia Society, said he was also well-liked by the embassy staff.
"He is a very smart guy, quick on his feet, and he has a certain candor," he said. "We'll see if that remains when he starts campaigning."
Schell confirmed that his ability to speak Chinese opened doors for him in the country.
"He would go out in front of Chinese audiences-- he was a bit of a trained bear act. The Chinese adore anyone who can speak Chinese," he said.
If there was one discordant note to Huntsman's tenure as ambassador, it occurred when he got embroiled in a controversy about democratic reform in China near the end of his tour. There was a small pro-democracy demonstration outside a McDonalds in Beijing back in February and Huntsman showed up. He denied he was there to observe the demonstration, saying he was just in the wrong placed at the wrong time, but it caused some ripples in the Chinese government, which always suspected the United States was pushing a pro-democracy agenda, Lieberthal said.
His last public talk as ambassador in April on the topic of U.S.-China relations also caused some controversy due to his specific criticisms of China human rights cases. He referenced imprisoned artist Ai Weiwei and Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and said, "The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur."
Could he have been setting himself up for a White House run by burnishing his bona fides on human rights issues and pushing a get-tough message? White House aides now say despite his past denials that he was considering a campaign in 2012, they suspect he had not always been straight with them about his political aspirations, according to the New York Times.
Beyond that, some critics say he has also already begun backpedaling on issues he once promoted, like climate change policy.
"My impression is he is an honorable man," said Schell. "We'll see whether the campaign will allow him to continue being an honorable man."
He does have one major thing going for him. In a sea of political bores, he is exciting. And people who have met with him say he has political skills that might surprise many.
"One time I brought a group of [Americans] to the embassy to meet with him,' said Lieberthal, who previously served in the Clinton administration. "There were seven people there besides me. He went around the table. It took him less than 30 seconds literally to establish some direct connection with each person. It reminded me of Clinton's skill on that level. He's the kind of politician who never forgets a name, never forgets a face."
A little Clinton magic couldn't hurt when you're at 2 percent in the polls.
A confrontation is brewing between the executive and legislative branches over the legality of America's continued military role enforcing the no fly zone over Libya. On Tuesday, June 14, House Speaker John Boehner warned the president he had until Sunday to seek authorization from Congress for the operation, or else he'd be in violation of the War Powers Resolution-the controversial 1973 law that requires presidents to get congressional approval for any military conflict lasting longer than 60 days. The bombing campaign in Libya is now up to day 89.
The White House said it would provide a legal defense to Congress later today for why it isn't in violation of the War Powers law.
"We are in the final stages of preparing extensive information for the House and Senate that will address a whole host of issues about our ongoing efforts in Libya," national security spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the same day as Boehner's warning to Obama, the House voted 248-163 to cut off funding for the U.S. mission in Libya, which is costing at least $40 million a month. The amendment to a military appropriations bill was introduced by Brad Sherman (D-CA) as a reaction to what he said was the President's violation of the War Powers Act. It still has to be approved by the Senate. Foreign Policy spoke to Sherman about his decision to pursue the drastic step of defunding the war.
Foreign Policy: You've used some strong language with regard to the White House-accusing the president of deliberately violating the law by not seeking congressional approval for Libya. And saying he's "embraced the idea of an imperial presidency."
Brad Sherman: Look, there has been a move over the last three or four decades toward an imperial presidency. Many historians and constitutional scholars have commented on that. And, I don't think that's what the founders had in mind. They were students of ancient Rome. They knew that Rome rose as a republic and that it declined under an imperial executive. And this isn't about the current president. This is about the last three or four decades.
FP: But this particular vote is about the current president.
BS: Well, this is the president now. No president has said they would follow the war powers law, even though it's the law of the land. Even though it's an extremely generous allocation of authority to the president. For a president not to adhere to the War Powers Act is a president-and, there are many-who takes a truly extreme view of executive power.
FP: Lee Hamilton and James Baker argued that this has more to do with political turf battles than foreign policy...
BS: This is not a foreign policy dispute. This is a domestic constitutional dispute. And if I agreed with absolutely everything a president was doing in foreign policy, I would still not support the violation of law. How you do it is a domestic issue and that's far more important than foreign policy. People have got to understand that America cannot play the role that it wants to play in foreign policy if it ignores its own constitution. And no matter how important they think foreign policy is, constitutional policy is more important.
FP: On Libya specifically, what about the argument that NATO is running the show...that the U.S. handed off responsibility to them?
BS: There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says you can violate the law as long as NATO blesses it. There is nothing in the American Constitution that says you can violate the law as long as you're consistent with a resolution of the Arab League. And there is nothing in the Constitution that says you can violate the U.S. law as long as your acting consistent with the UN Security Council resolution.
FP: But there is some dispute about the War Powers Act, isn't there? The Supreme Court has never decisively come down one way or the other on who has the ultimate power when it comes to declaring war.
BS: There are certain constitutional issues where the Supreme Court doesn't want to weigh in. That doesn't mean the Constitution is void.
FP: I know you said it's a constitutional issue, but are you concerned that this could be seen as undercutting the president overseas?
BS: There are those in the executive branch under this and former and future administrations who believe America can go forward only if we shred the Constitution in favor of an imperial presidency. They are advocates for an imperial presidency. They are not advocates for the Constitution and they are not advocates for the rule of law.
The State Department believes in democracy and the rule of law in every country, except the United States. It is official policy of the State Department that no president should ever actually admit that the War Powers Act is binding or is the law. Look at how extreme a position it is. Whether or not we are under attack, whether or not there is an emergency situation, whether or not an ally is attacked, a president may send American forces in any quantity he or she thinks necessary for any duration, for any purpose. I mean is there any constraint that the State Department is willing to acknowledge?
FP: Isn't it in the U.S. interest to see that Muammar Qaddafi step down?
BS: Yes. The second most important thing is that we bring democracy and the rule of law to Libya. The first most important thing is that we have democracy and the rule of law in the United States.
What a difference four years makes! The new order of the day when it came to foreign policy and national security at last night's New Hampshire GOP debate was caution. On both Afghanistan and Libya, candidate after candidate urged an end to military adventurism -- sounding more like Ron Paul than George W. Bush or John McCain.
"We've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation," front-runner Mitt Romney said. "Only Afghanis can win Afghanistan independence from the Taliban."
"Our policy in Libya is substantially flawed," said Michele Bachmann, who just announced last night she was running. "We were not attacked, we were not threatened with attack, there was no vital national interest."
"We need to think fundamentally about reassessing our entire strategy in the region," Newt Gingrich said. "I think we should say to the generals we'd like to get out as rapidly as possible...we have got to have a totally new strategy for the region."
"Is it in the vital interest of the United States of America? If the answer is no, then we don't go any further," said Herman Cain, the businessman turned candidate, summing up his thinking on national security questions overseas. He quoted his mother on Libya: "It's a mess. There's more that we don't know than we do know. So it would be very difficult to know exactly what to do until we learn from the commanders in the field."
Ron Paul went further than the other candidates, not surprisingly: "I'd bring them home as quickly as possible. And I'd get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn't start a war in Libya. I'd quit bombing Yemen and I'd quit bombing Pakistan...our national security is not enhanced by our presence over there."
Despite the candidates' general agreement, foreign policy played a very small role in the debate -- taking up all of eight minutes at the end of the CNN-hosted event.
In 2008, Yu Keping, the head of China's Central Compilation and Translation Bureau and a professor at Peking University, published an attention-grabbing collection of essays called Democracy is a Good Thing. Coming from a Chinese Communist Party official said to be close to President Hu Jintao, Yu's bold assertion that "democracy is the best political system for humankind" was striking. But so was the fine print: Yu argued in the book that while "it is the inevitable trend for all nations of the world to move towards democracy ... the timing and speed of the development of democracy and the choice of the form and system of democracy are conditional." Among other things, he has resisted the idea that a multi-party political system would be appropriate for China. All of which is to say that Yu is something of a sphinx: As a New York Times profile observed last year, "Even China experts have a hard time determining whether Mr. Yu is a brave voice for change or simply a well-placed shill."
Which makes Yu -- who is in Washington this week -- a particularly interesting person to ask about the current moment in Chinese politics, in which the Communist Party is managing the transition from Hu to his presumed presidential successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, while watching the sudden explosion of anti-government, pro-democratic sentiment in the Arab world with palpable unease. The Chinese government began cracking down on human rights activists, artists, and writers in March, and barred another prominent writer from leaving the country this week.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
I'm in Maui for the holidays. Hey, somebody has to do it and anyhow I have a good excuse. My daughter and two grandchildren live out here and I have to visit them once in a while. So why not now? Besides, I'm not the only inside the Washington beltway type coming out here this Christmastide. Michelle, the two girls, and the dog arrived over the weekend and President Obama himself will be out just as soon as he signs into law all of the last-minute bills he has been able to milk out of the lame duck Democratic congress.
After the ordeal of the mid-term elections and the last months of this congress, the President for sure deserves some R&R and if Honolulu just happens to be his old hometown, so much the better. But while he's here he might do well to ponder aspects of the Hawaiian political scene that have similarities to and significance for the Washington scene to which he will only too soon have to return.
Start with Mufi Hannemann, the former mayor of Honolulu who lost to Neil Abercrombie in the Democratic primary for the nomination for governor. Just yesterday it turned out that losing was probably the best thing that ever happened to Hannemann. Sunday's Maui News reported that Hannemann has been hired to head up the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association, the lobby group that represents most of the islands' hotels. While in office, Mufi was a big promoter of the hotel industry and now the time has come for the private hand to wash the public one.
This kind of swinging door for lobbyists and government officials will no doubt make the president feel right at home, but it might also remind him of the promise he made to stop this kind of corruption in Washington. He hasn't even come close. Virtually all of his top economic advisers have been from Wall Street or closely associated with Wall Street. Rumors have it that the top candidates to replace Larry Summers as the head of the National Economic Council are also Wall Street types. Maybe while he's reading the local papers about Mufi, the president can reconsider and get someone from closer to Main Street instead. Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm or current GE CEO Jeff Immelt would be good candidates.
Another issue Obama ought to consider while in Hawaii is that of alternative energy and energy independence. It's not clear that the United States as a whole can become energy independent. But if there's one place in the world that should be energy independent it's Hawaii. I mean with all the sunshine, tidal forces, potentially energy-producing algae, sugar and macadamia nut waste out here, Hawaii should be the world's leading laboratory and showcase of alternative energy. It's not... not even close.
Take just solar cells. My cottage out here needs a new roof. So I called the local solar cell rep to get an estimate of the cost of installing the cells along with the new roof. The quoted cost was $40,000, but after federal and state tax credits the actual number I would have to pay came down to about $15,000. That's a nice discount to be sure, but $15,000 is still a significant number and that's why most houses in one of the world's great sunshine capitals don't have solar cells on their roofs. The cost is high because solar cells are not yet being produced in large enough quantities to achieve maximum economies of scale. Moreover, those that are being produced in large quantities are being produced in China not in the United States.
This is really a critical moment for the industry and for the United States. Already, major U.S. producers like Applied Materials have moved not only production but also even their R&D centers to China. While soaking up the rays out here where the major industry is tourism that pays low wages in a high cost area, the President ought to consider matching the Chinese effort and launching a serious Apollo Moon Shot like project to make America and Hawaii number one in a solar cell industry that would pay high wages and be at the leading edge of technology.
Finally, the president ought to visit some local stores and take a look at the prices. Gillette aftershave lotion costs double what it does in Washington D.C. as do most other goods. People call it the price of paradise, but actually it's the price of monopoly. The Jones Act requires that interstate shipping in U.S. coastal waters be carried in U.S. ships, and the shipping from the mainland of the United States over 2300 miles of Pacific ocean to the islands of Hawaii is considered inter-state coastal shipping for Jones Act purposes. So the result is that the Matson Line holds a monopoly on all shipments from the mainland of the United States to Hawaii and they, of course, charge monopoly prices. Both to relieve the citizens of Hawaii and to make American shipping competitive once again in international markets, the president ought to call for abolition of the Jones Act. It is just an excuse for monopolies protected by lobbyists to rip off ordinary citizens.
Whether Barack Obama will go down in history as a great or even good president will not be decided on the battle fields of Afghanistan. It will be decided by whether the American economy can compete effectively in the 21st century market place. How that must be done can actually be seen very clearly here in warm, sunny Hawaii. Wish you could all come.
Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of The Betrayal of American Prosperity.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
This is a new one:
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) called Democrats' push to force through an arms control treaty and an omnibus spending bill right before Christmas "sacrilegious," and warned he'd draw the process out to wage his objections.
"You can't jam a major arms control treaty right before Christmas," he told POLITICO. "What's going on here is just wrong. This is the most sacred holiday for Christians. They did the same thing last year - they kept everybody here until (Christmas Eve) to force something down everybody's throat. I think Americans are sick of this."
Not quite sure by what definition Dec. 15 qualifies as " right before Christmas." As Steve Benen points out, "Americans nationwide are working this week and next, as are U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."
And if DeMint is really so concerned about getting his holiday shopping done, he might want to reconsider taking up the rest of today by having the entire treaty -- which was signed in April -- read aloud.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
With students rioting on the streets, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has (barely) survived a no-confidence vote in Italy's parliament today:
Mr. Berlusconi won by three votes in the lower house, with 314 in favor, 311 against and 2 abstentions. He also won a confidence motion in the Senate.
But he still lacks a clear parliamentary majority. Not even Mr. Berlusconi was strong -- or focused enough -- to hold together a fragile and ideologically incoherent center-right coalition that began unraveling after he split with a Mr. Fini, thereby losing his parliamentary majority.
He's hardly out of the woods. In January, Berlusconi faces yet another constitutional court challenge to his immunity from prosecution. Naturally, there's a legal follow-up to this vote, with widespread accusations of vote buying. And it's considered likely that he will have to call early elections for this spring.
Nobody ever got rich betting against Berlusconi's political survival skills, but it's worth considering who's likely to benefit if he is eventually taken down:
If Italy does go to early elections this spring, the Northern League is expected to register significant gains. Their point-man in the government is the well-respected finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, and in one scenario he might become prime minister.
So it's Berlusconi… or these people. Either way, Italy's political future is not looking bright.
Speaking in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Monday, President Barack Obama lamented America's stubbornly high unemployment and promised to outline for the gathered students a "vision that will keep our economy strong and growing and competitive in the 21st century."
There was applause as the students sat on the edges of their chairs in anticipation. Unfortunately, what followed only proved that the president should have gone to his eye doctor instead of the Winston-Salem. It was at best, a case of partial vision.
It began with a "recognition" that in the past few decades revolutions in technology and communications and the integration into the global economy of two billion new people in India and China had touched off fierce competition among nations for the industries and jobs of the future to replace the auto mechanics and machinists that Forsyth Technical Community College, where he was speaking, had been founded many years ago to produce. It continued with the argument that the winners of the competition would be the countries with the most educated workers, the most serious commitments to research, the best roads, bridges, high speed trains and airports, the fastest Internet connections, and the most innovation.
The president emphasized that the most important competition the United States faces is not the competition between Republicans and Democrats, but the competition between America and its economic competitors around the world. "That's the competition we've got to spend time thinking about," he stressed.
He went on to reassure the audience that America will win this competition because it has the world's best universities, smartest scientists, best research facilities, and most entrepreneurial people. Indeed, entrepreneurialism is "in our DNA" he said.
But then the vision became a bit cloudy. Despite the reassurances of American superiority, the president said the country is in danger of, indeed is, falling behind -- in high school graduation rates, the quality of math and science education, in the proportion of science and engineering degrees we hand out, in attracting research and development facilities compared to India and China, in R&D spending, and in Internet speed and connections.
Are you a little confused by how we could be falling so badly behind if we have the best universities, best research facilities, smartest scientists, and most entrepreneurial people? All I can tell you is that the president says we are facing in "Sputnik Moment", calling to mind the shock America felt in 1957 when the Russians launched the first earth satellite. To respond to this challenge, he emphasized that we must set the goal of "Made in America."
Hey, nothing wrong with that. At this point, I was cheering. He's the first president in my memory who has dared to say that we need to compete by actually making things. So I give the first half of the vision an A.
But then Obama turned to how we're going to come back and regain leadership by increasing education and R&D spending, improving our infrastructure, and doubling our exports by negotiating more free trade agreements like the one just concluded with Korea.
Aside from the Korea deal (which I'll address in a moment),these are all good things to do and we should do them. But doing them will not by itself reverse the decline in our competitiveness. Actually, the Korea deal illustrates both why this is true and why the president's vision is still impaired. South Korea's workforce is not better educated than America's. Nor does it spend more on R&D, nor is its labor inexpensive like that of China, and nor is it nearly as entrepreneurial. Yet the United States a growing trade deficit with South Korea and is far behind it in areas like liquid crystal displays, various kinds of semiconductors, cell phones, and much more.
What the Koreans do is target development of key industries with special financing and regulations and manage their currency to be undervalued versus the dollar as a kind of protection of the domestic market cum subsidy of exports, impede foreign penetration of domestic markets through a wide variety of formal and informal non-tariff barriers, fail to enforce intellectual property rights of foreign enterprises operating in South Korea, and make foreign investment in Korea extremely difficult as a practical matter.
I am not saying these things to attack South Korea. If these policies work, and they obviously do, South Korea has every right to keep them in place. But obviously Korea is engaging in a different kind of globalization than we are. And equally obviously, the president doesn't recognize that. Thus the president expects that this new free trade deal is going to increase U.S. exports to Korea and create 70,000 jobs in the U.S. But any deal that allows currencies to be managed in such a way as to stimulate exports and inhibit imports - to mention just one factor -- is not going to result in surging U.S. exports or in surging U.S. job creation.
The White House eye doctor needs to prescribe glasses that will allow the president to see the other half of the playing field and to recognize that he must play with a full deck of cards. More education and R&D? By all means, bring them on. But he also needs to respond to the industrial targeting, exchange rate, investment, and getting realistic about the globalization policies and practices of our economic competitors.
Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of The Betrayal of American Prosperity.
Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal has been one of the most intriguing figures in the debate over the "Ground Zero Mosque." al-Waleed is both a funder of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's proposed Park51 Islamic Center through his Kingdom Foundation and a part-owner of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, the parent company of Fox News, whose on-air personalities have led the charge against the project. Jon Stewart, in particular, has had a field day with awkwardness this has caused for Fox.
But now, in his first public comments on the controversy, al-Waleed seemed to be taking the Fox News line in an interview with an Arabic business magazine:
Prince Alwaleed urged the backers of the proposed Islamic center not to "agitate the wound by saying, 'We need to put the mosque next to the 9/11 site.'"
"Those people behind the mosque have to respect, have to appreciate and have to defer to the people of New York," the prince was quoted as saying by the magazine, which said the full interview will be published Sunday. "The wound is still there. Just because the wound is healing you can't say, 'Let's just go back to where we were pre-9/11.'"
Prince Alwaleed, who chairs a Saudi investment company that has major stakes in international giants News Corp. and Citigroup, also said Muslims in New York should consider a more "dignified" location than the proposed site in lower Manhattan.
"It can't be next to a bar or a strip club, or in a neighborhood that is not really refined and good. The impression I have is that this mosque is just being inserted and squeezed over there," he said.
Rauf has already rejected the advice, saying, "we plan to build the community centre in this location because we have been part of Lower Manhattan for decades and we want to better serve the needs of our neighbours of all faith traditions." The project's co-chairman Shaikh Ubaid piled on, adding, "If Prince Alwaleed cares about Muslims in America, then he should take his money out of News Corp."
The timing of the prince's remarks is a little strange. The furor over the project has largely died down as America's culture-warriors have moved on to fresh outrages. Why would he want to stir it up again? Then again, as Simon Henderson writes, al-Waleed's political instincts have always been questionable at best.
Karl Jeffs/Getty Images
Austria's anti-immigrant Freedom Party put in a strong showing in Vienna's municipal elections yesterday, setting off a new round of media speculation about the apparent surge of the far right in Europe. Here's the Wall Street Journal:
The Freedom Party, which achieved international notoriety in the 1990s under its then-leader, Jörg Haider, won 27.1% of the votes in Vienna, up from 14.8% in 2005, according to a preliminary tally. That put it second only to the Social Democrats, who garnered 44.2%, down from 49.1%.
The election marks a seismic shift in the Alpine country's political landscape. For decades, Vienna, Austria's capital and largest city, has been referred to as das Rote Wien, or "red Vienna," a reference to the Social Democrats' strong grip on the city. Sunday's election was the worst result for the Social Democrats since 1996.
Across Europe, radical parties have scored major gains in recent elections from the Netherlands to Norway and Sweden. Their anti-foreigner message is resonating amid economic uncertainty and fears that Muslims and other minorities cause crime, terrorism and the erosion of national identity.
Though Mr. Haider's popularity helped the Freedom Party into government at the national level in 2000, the party never enjoyed a similar breakthrough in Vienna. It won 27.9% of the vote in the city in 1996, but its support soon dissipated and the party has never been part of the government.
I'm not quite sure I understand why the fact that a party that's been a fixture of Austrian politics for decades came close to equaling a 1996 election result constitutes a "seismic shift." Perhaps Vienna hasn't actually been all that Rote for a while now. And on the national level, the Freedom Party had more success throughout the 1990s under Haider than it has in the post-9/11, post-Great Recession era.
There certainly seem to be a number of data points to support the narrative of a far-right surge in Europe, including the recent electoral successes in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. But the question should be whether these parties will have any more staying power than the last European anti-immigrant surge -- the late 1990s early 2000s electoral successes of Haider, the Netherlands' Pim Fortuyn and France's Jean Marie Le Pen. It's also possible that the movement draws its support from a constituency that has existed in Western European democracies for decades but hasn't had much success at halting immigration or European integration in a meaningful way.
The fact that anti-immigrant sentiment increases during times of economic distress isn't really shocking news, and it's true that charismatic populists like Wilders have become savvier about courting this resentment while eschewing the crude, overtly fascist overtones of the old European far right. Moreover, the anti-immigrant right is helped by parliamentary system that encourages single-issue parties as well as center-left and center-right parties whose economic platforms have become increasingly indistinguishable.
But is the sentiment that drives these parties really something new? And is it strong enough and consistent enough to keep these parties going after figurehead leaders like Wilders and Austria's Heinz-Christian Strache leave the scene? I think the jury's still out.
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister and style icon Yulia Tymoshenko is not happy about the new dress restrictions put in place by her rival, President Viktor Yanukovych:
"The Queen of England and (Libya's leader Muammar) Gaddafi, for instance, for sure would not have been allowed in the Cabinet," Tymoshenko, who is now a top opposition leader, quipped at a news conference Wednesday.
The code adopted this week calls on men working at the Cabinet of Ministers to wear mostly gray and dark blue suits and not wear the same suit to work two days in a row. Women are asked to stick to business suits and low-heeled shoes, and refrain from excessive makeup and jewelry.
Tymoshenko's stylish outfits and traditional Ukrainian braid have earned her a reputation as a glamour and fashion icon, but also angered some Ukrainians as too luxurious at a time when the country is battered by a severe economic crisis.
Some observers noted that a new dress code was overdue for government offices and other institutions in Ukraine, where women often wear tight, low-cut dresses to work while men are often seen in the same outfit for days in a row.
The Rada sure seems like an interesting place.
On a related note, Colum Lynch takes a look at some of the more interesting sartorial choices made by leaders at the recent U.N. General Assembly meeting.
The Economist's Lexington makes a provocative case that Americans' veneration of the Constitution and its framers has become unhealthy:
When history is turned into scripture and men into deities, truth is the victim. The framers were giants, visionaries and polymaths. But they were also aristocrats, creatures of their time fearful of what they considered the excessive democracy taking hold in the states in the 1780s. They did not believe that poor men, or any women, let alone slaves, should have the vote. Many of their decisions, such as giving every state two senators regardless of population, were the product not of Olympian sagacity but of grubby power-struggles and compromises—exactly the sort of backroom dealmaking, in fact, in which today’s Congress excels and which is now so much out of favour with the tea-partiers.
More to the point is that the constitution provides few answers to the hard questions thrown up by modern politics. Should gays marry? No answer there. Mr Klarman argues that the framers would not even recognise America’s modern government, with its mighty administrative branch and imperial executive. As to what they would have made of the modern welfare state, who can tell? To ask that question after the passage of two centuries, says Pietro Nivola of the Brookings Institution, is to pose an impossible thought experiment.
Lexington aims his critique at the tri-corner hat wearing faction of the Tea Party movement but I think the sentiment he identifies can be found across the political spectrum. While some portions of the U.S. Constitution are frankly antiquated (see the Onion's brilliant take on the "third amendment rights" movement) it's hard to imagine anyone on even the extreme right or left of the American political spectrum proposing that the document be fundamentally revamped beyond proposing specific amendments.
I also suspect most Americans don't realize quite how old the Constitution is by world standards. (An advantage of never being invaded or having your government overthrown.) It's by far the world's oldest and the only one from the 18th century that's still in use. (Your Wikipedia trivia fact for the day: Norway has the world's second oldest constitution from 1814.) Most of the other largest democracies -- India, Brazil, Japan, Germany, Mexico -- have constitutions drafted in the 20th century.
But "the Constitution" in American political discourse, as opposed to the actual document, is often shorthand for the speaker's conception of American political values, and in that sense, the U.S. isn't really much of an outlier. France has had about a dozen constitutions over the life span of the American version, but leaders still regularly invoke the "values of the Republic."
Finally, Americans may revere their Constitution so much because, despite its flaws, it's a very well-written document addressing universal themes. As Christopher Hitchens has argued, a document beginning "We the people of the United States" is bound to inspire more loyalty and fervor than the EU's recent foray, which starts uninspiringly with, "His Majesty the King of the Belgians."
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Gallup's annual Governance survey finds 57% of Americans expressing a great deal or fair amount of trust in the U.S. government to handle international problems. That is down from 62% a year ago, but remains higher than the percentage trusting Washington to handle domestic problems, now at a record-low 46%.
In some sense, this result is a very strange one during the bloodiest year of an unpopular, decade-long war. Especially considering that this administration actively decided to send more troops to Afghanistan -- however reluctantly -- while the economy was in sorry shape before Obama came into office.
But the polls may say less about the government's performance than where the country's attention and priorities right now. It's likely that the public gives the government decent marks on foreign policy simply because they haven't been paying very close attention to it.
Given the president that Americans' elected nearly two years ago, it's remarkable that foreign policy today seems too peripheral to the national conversation. Obama first distinguished himself from frontrunner Hillary Clinton because of his unwavering opposition to the war in Iraq and made restoring America's image in the world a major theme of his campaign, going so far as to hold a de facto campaign rally in Berlin at the height of the campaign.
As James Traub wrote last March, while most presidents are elected for their domestic plans but remembered for their handling of foreign policy crises, Obama -- at least in the first half of his term -- has often seemed like an international president forced by circumstances to focus on domestic priorities:
When the White House announced last week that Obama would postpone a planned trip to Asia to lobby for his health-care legislation, it confirmed that foreign policy would take a back seat to America's grave domestic and political problems. The economic crisis, of course, had radically reshaped Obama's scale of priorities long before he assumed office; foreign affairs took up less than a quarter of his inaugural address. And then Republican intractability sent the debate over health-care reform into one sudden-death overtime after another. The world beyond America's borders is of course no less salient, and no less threatening, than ever; but Americans are looking at it through the wrong end of the binoculars.
But with the Democratic majority in Congress likely to dwindle or even disappear in November, I wonder if foreign policy might play a larger role in the second half of this term (or at least what's left of it until the presidential election cycle overtakes events in 2011). As Peter Feaver has pointed out, there's less daylight between the White House and Congressional republicans on national security issues than on economic or domestic policy. And in any case, the president has far more leeway to act without congressional cooperation on foreign policy.
With major domestic initiatives likely stalled for the foreseeable future by an increasingly confident GOP, could we see a shift toward a more foreign policy-focused presidency? Lord knows there are plenty of neglected areas, from trade to Latin America to development policy (which Obama took on in another speech yesterday) that could benefit from some high-level attention, not to mention Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, the Mideast talks and climate change.
Michael Nagle/Getty Images
In a new low for Muslim-baiting, a Swedish political attack ad features a burqa-clad mob robbing money from an old lady with a walker.
Obviously, this ad is a testament to growing European fears of Muslim immigration -- but it's also a product of the global recession. As a counter shows the rapidly declining state budget, the elderly Swedish lady is overtaken by a throng of Muslim women, who are wielding baby carriages. The commercial ends ominously with one outstretched hand reaching for a lever that says "Pensioner," and another reaching for a lever that says (what Google Translate tells me is the Swedish word for) "Immigration." The clear implication is that there won't be enough money for both.
There shouldn't be any doubt that a dismal economic climate has exacerbated anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden. Sweden's far-right party secured 20 seats in the country's parliament in general elections over the weekend, the first time ever that it had won even a single seat.
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