Cheese war ends. Everyone wins.

Our long international nightmare is over. The U.S. and EU have reached an agreement to end the world's most entertaining trade dispute, which began with George W. Bush's lame-duck decision to raise import duties on Roquefort cheese:

The new US administration has now agreed to drop the import duty threat, due to come into force this week, and which would have affected to a lesser degree a range of EU products, from truffles and mineral water to chewing gum.

Under the provisional deal, the EU will keep the hormone-treated beef ban, which it claims poses a health threat, but will quadruple imports of non-hormone treated American beef in four years.

Cheese farmer and lefty icon Jose Bove (above) described the deal as evidence that the U.S. has "accepted that health is more important than trade," even though this is actually an expansion of trade and between all this beef and cheese, I'm not sure who's getting healthy. 

But in any event, kudos to negotiators for ensuring that neither American populism nor European ludditism will bring down the transatlantic alliance. Time for a celebratory cheeseburger.



How did Obama do on his first humanitarian crisis?

UN Dispatch's Mark Goldberg wrote for The New Republic yesterday that Sri Lanka -- the first humanitarian crisis to unfold entirely under the new administration -- has been handled more or less well. His point is an excellent one: the United States has pushed to delay an IMF loan to the country until certain conditions are met. "With this move, the Obama administration has, literally, put its money where its mouth is," Goldberg writes.

All true, and a good start. As Goldberg admits, it's just that: a start. Still, several points are left dangling. 

First, the Sri Lanka crisis didn't start during Obama's administration; it's been going on for literally decades. This most recent episode has been brewing since the government ended a 5-year truce with the Tamil Tiger rebels in early 2008. Since then, the government has pushed the war into a final phase, vowing to finish the job this February in an independence day address. But the short point is: the U.S., and everyone else, has had a long time to see the current crisis coming. It was no surprise -- or should not have been. 

The United Nations missed that chance, despite the strong statements coming from governments, on occasion. As Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group recently wrote for FP, the Security Council's "relative silence is a matter for growing shame with each passing day." Much of the hold up has come from lobbying to member states, by the government of Sri Lanka, he says. And that proves, "how much weight effective council action would have." In other words: the government was nervous for what could have been.

Finally, while the lack of IMF loan will hurt, we should be under no illusions that Sri Lanka cannot get money elsewhere. The country has recently turned away from its traditional creditors and looked to other sources of cash and military expertise - think China and Pakistan.

So how did Obama do? Yes, not bad. But the conundrum of Sri Lanka will take much more fixing.