Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights notable op-eds on major issues from the past week.

Hedging Against Democracy

Prompted by a recent New York Times article on the extent to which American companies and investors are involved in the creation and maintenance of China’s increasingly sophisticated internal surveillance system, the past week saw more than one noteworthy op-ed about the progressively capitalist nature of China’s big brother state.

Harold Meyerson mused in the Sept. 19 Washington Post that the “American economy may be teetering on the brink of a recession, but there’s an industry our hedge fund gurus believe has an almost limitless future: the Chinese police state.”

Meyerson summarized the Times article’s claims that 660 Chinese cities have begun installing high-tech surveillance systems, and that by one estimate, high-end surveillance will expand from a $500 million industry in 2003 to a $43 billion industry by 2010.

Explaining that China Security and Surveillance Technology, a company soon to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, “has received $110 million in convertible loans from the Citadel Group, a Chicago-based hedge fund, which it has used to buy up smaller Chinese surveillance companies,” Meyerson asserted:

Some Wall Street executives have even defended their investments by equating the Chinese surveillance system with the surveillance cameras of London and New York. To be sure, leading American companies have a long and sordid record of investing in totalitarian states, including Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and axis-of-evil Iran (hello, Halliburton). …Once China turned communist repression into an investment opportunity … capitalism responded as capitalism is supposed to respond: It wanted in. There are mega-bucks to be made, the hedge funds concluded, in hedging against democracy.


American-Made Big Brother

In a Sept. 18 piece posted on the Web site of The New Republic, Joshua Kurlantzick went a step further, arguing that “anyone shocked to hear that a Chinese surveillance company was raising capital in America just hasn’t been paying attention.”

“For years now, not only have big American Internet companies contributed to Internet censorship; smaller, lesser-known foreign firms have provided the technology that helped China, Saudi Arabia, and other authoritarian governments crack down on online dissent,” he wrote. “Like other search engines operating in China, Google has agreed to filter out websites Beijing does not approve, like ones criticizing the Communist Party, discussing the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, or featuring prominent figures critical of China like the Dalai Lama.”

“Others have gone much farther,” wrote Kurlantzick, who explained:

Yahoo reportedly gave the Chinese government personal information that may have been used to arrest Shi Tao, a leading Chinese journalist and activist. An Open Net Initiative study of Internet filtering suggests that Cisco Systems may have designed and developed a specific firewall for China.


“The stakes are much higher in closed societies like Saudi Arabia or China,” he went on. “In those countries, Internet-based phone services and chat services have become almost the only secure ways for activists to communicate with each other and with the outside world.”

China’s Military Modernization

A technological evolution of another sort is also afoot in Asia these days, according to Robert D. Kaplan, who wrote in the Sept. 21 New York Times that “while the American government has been occupied in Mesopotamia, and our European allies continue to starve their defense programs, Asian militaries — in particular those of China, India, Japan and South Korea — have been quietly modernizing and in some cases enlarging.”

Claiming that China’s “production and acquisition of submarines is now five times that of America’s,” Kaplan wrote that Beijing has also been focusing “on naval mines, ballistic missiles that can hit moving objects at sea, and technology that blocks G.P.S. satellites.”

“The goal,” according to Kaplan, “is ‘sea denial’: dissuading American carrier strike groups from closing in on the Asian mainland wherever and whenever we like.”

He mused further that:

The twin trends of a rising Asia and a politically crumbling Middle East will most likely lead to a naval emphasis on the Indian Ocean and its surrounding seas, the sites of the “brown water” choke points of world commerce — the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, the Bab el Mandeb at the mouth of the Red Sea, and Malacca. …To wit, China is giving Pakistan $200 million to build a deep-water port at Gwadar, just 390 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz. Beijing is also trying to work with the military junta in Myanmar to create another deep-water port on the Bay of Bengal. It has even hinted at financing a canal across the 30-mile Isthmus of Kra in Thailand that would open a new connection between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.


Less Opium in the Golden Triangle

Speaking of developments in Asia, Thomas Fuller wrote in the Sept. 16 New York Times that “after years of producing the lion’s share of the world’s opium, the Golden Triangle [Laos, Thailand and Myanmar] is now only a bit player in the global heroin trade.”

Posing the question to himself of “What happened?” Fuller explained:

Economic pressure from China, crackdowns on opium farmers , and a switch by criminal syndicates to methamphetamine production, appear to have had the biggest impact. At the same time, some insurgent groups that once were financed with drug money now say they are urging farmers to eradicate their poppy fields. As a result, the Golden Triangle has been eclipsed by the Golden Crescent — the poppy-growing area in and around Afghanistan that is now the source of an estimated 92 percent of the world’s opium, according to the United Nations.


“A striking aspect of the decline of the Golden Triangle is the role China has played in pressing opium-growing regions to eradicate poppy crops,” added Fuller, who noted that as “a major market for Golden Triangle heroin, China has seen a spike in addicts and H.I.V. infections from contaminated needles.”

Lebanon at Historic Crossroads

Away from Asia, there is a major election coming in the Middle East, according to Eli Khoury, who wrote in the Sept. 20 Boston Globe that “Americans would be wise to pay attention” later this month when “the Lebanese parliament is supposed to choose a new president in a region of the world where American soldiers are fighting and where American interests are inextricably tied.”

Noting that Lebanon “lives with interference by Iran and Syria … borders Israel … has a strong Hezbollah presence in the south, and an army that is fighting terrorism while also trying to spread its control over the country’s territory,” Khoury asserted that “today, Lebanon stands at a historic crossroads between being integrated into the international community or remaining under the influences of external forces.”

“In one sense, Lebanese citizens have already voted with their feet,” he argued, noting that “in the ‘Cedar Revolution’ of March 2005 over a million Lebanese marched to demand freedom from Syrian domination and control over their political lives.”

But Khoury maintained that:

At any moment, Lebanon could be dragged back into chaos or full-scale war. The parliamentary process could be delayed by political maneuvering or manipulation by any minority party that fears it can’t win. Violence and more terrorism may be part of the pre-election cycle. The United States and its European allies need to support Lebanon and protect the upcoming presidential elections from foreign intimidation, so that a freely elected president can consolidate Lebanese sovereignty, protect Lebanon from regional conflict, and secure Lebanon’s fragile democracy.


The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights notable op-eds on major issues from the past week.

Bin Laden’s New Image

The sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks prompted a surge of op-eds analyzing how Osama bin Laden’s image has changed since 2001, why he hasn’t been captured, and what the future may hold for him.

Fawaz A. Gerges argued in the Sept. 13 Christian Science Monitor that a recent bin Laden videotape showed how he is now “venturing into a new ideological terrain” and “blurring the lines between jihadist messianism and Marxist utopia, which might, in turn, throw his die-hard Salafi supporters off balance.”

In the tape, according to Gerges, bin Laden projects a younger look that past tapes. He also:

Gives his most ideological address since the early 1990s with an assault on capitalism and liberal democracy loaded with Marxist and socialist terms. Indeed, this new bin Laden sounds more like Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary, than some of his rifle-toting Al Qaeda cohorts. …He has exchanged his fatigues and Kalashnikov for a white robe, circular cap, and beige cloak, giving him an aura of clerical wisdom. The new bin Laden portrays himself as a spiritual figure, not a grizzled soldier. His gray beard is dyed black and trimmed neatly, which is actually an old tradition dating back to the birth of Islam; the prophet Muhammad reportedly dyed his hair and recommended, while at war, that his commanders and soldiers dye theirs to strike fear in the enemy.


Osama at Large

Ian Williams maintained in the Sept. 10 Guardian that “the latest OBL tape — which apart from its invocation to Islamic conversion could indeed read like a Guardian editorial on geopolitics — does raise the question of what he is still doing at large, with access to video cameras, hair dye and barbers?”

Williams went on to ponder:

Is it significant that OBL did not discourse on issues such as gay marriage, evolution, abortion and faith-based organizations, where his black heart beats in close harmony with those of the conservative right? Conspiracy theorists should be asking the question: “Objectively, who benefits from allowing this malevolent, self-confessed mass murderer to remain at large?”


Williams asserted:

On the realist side, the spectacular incompetence and mendacity of this White House is demonstrable. They did indeed get the wrong man and go after Saddam Hussein who had nothing to do with 9/11 — while letting the man in the turban escape.


Scarier Than Bin Laden

Bruce Hoffman, meanwhile, wrote in the Sept. 9 Washington Post that “it’s time to recognize the strategic vision that has driven and shaped the terrorist movement for the past six years.”

“We need to drop our preoccupation with Osama bin Laden, which is once again being fueled by his latest video,” wrote Hoffman. “Bin Laden’s days as the movement’s guiding star are over. The United States’ most formidable nemesis now is not the Saudi terrorist leader but his nominal deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.”

Hoffman asserted that al-Zawahiri “has not only revived the movement’s fortunes but has also made it once again the global threat poised to strike the United States that was depicted in the National Intelligence Estimate released in July.”

Also, according to Hoffman:

Over the past two years, the Egyptian terrorist has issued about 30 statements on a range of subjects … [and] overseen a quadrupling of al-Qaeda video releases … He may lack bin Laden’s charisma, but … thanks to Zawahiri, instead of al-Qaeda R.I.P., we’re facing an al-Qaeda that has risen from the grave.


Mexico’s Established President

Away from the subject of Osama bin Laden, Marifeli Perez-Stable caught our attention with her assertion in the Sept. 13 Miami Herald that Mexican President Felipe Calderón “deserves high praise for his part in bringing Mexico back from last year’s political brink.”

She explained:

Once in office, he deployed the military against organized crime. Even if controversial and with uncertain results, the decision earned him the majority’s respect. He also worked with Congress to pass the 2007 budget and a reform of the federal pension system. Mexicans once again have a resolute president.


Perez-Stable maintained that credit is also due elsewhere, including within the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). For instance:

The PRI — old fox that it is — rose from the ashes of the drubbing in last year’s presidential race. The PRI elected as its president Beatriz Paredes, a savvy and honest politician who has a good working relationship with Calderón.


But, still, “not all goes well in Mexico,” according to Perez-Stable, who noted that “for the second time in two months, the Popular Revolutionary Army attacked state-owned oil and gas installations.”

“Thankfully no one was hurt, but the economic losses are steep,” she wrote, adding that “Calderón must act to protect Mexico’s vital interests lest the guerrilla group resurface yet again.”

What Israeli Aggression?

Reflecting on the alleged Sept. 6 violation of Syrian airspace by Israeli fighter jets, Larry Derfner wrote in the Sept. 10 Jerusalem Post that “for once, Israelis seem to believe that Syria is telling the truth … that Syria fired at [the Israeli] jets but missed.”

“The reason Israelis believe the Syrian story is because if it wasn’t true, Israel would deny it,” wrote Derfner. “So Israeli leaders have nothing to say about the Syrian reports. This is the diplomatic equivalent of a wink. Everyone understands.”

“What is hard to understand,” he wrote, “is how the Israeli media can be so docile, so obedient, in the face of such a reckless Israeli act.”

Reflecting on what he’d seen on Israeli television, Derfner asserted:

None of the journalists, who clearly assumed that this incident had really taken place, thought it worth mentioning that Israel had just risked starting a war with Syria. None of them challenged Israeli officials on the wisdom of this. All they talked about was what Syria might do now, whether Syria would go to war. That Israel had just provoked Syria, had just escalated the conflict, was the elephant in the newsroom that they pretended not to see. …It’s almost surrealistic. It’s like there’s a conspiracy of silence. The people who are supposed to ask questions act as if they’ve been lobotomized. I feel a little bit like I’m living in a police state.


What would have happened if Syria had shot down one of [Israel’s] jets? We would have been at war with a country on our northern border that has biological and chemical weapons as well as lots of missiles — and Israel would be guilty of having provoked the war.


The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights notable op-eds on major issues from the past week.

The Stage Is Set

With the much anticipated September report due this week by U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the status of the Iraq war, there was little surprise last week’s opinion pages were dominated by claims of what’s gone wrong, what’s gone right and what the U.S. should do now in Iraq.

Leading the charge was Madeleine K. Albright, who homed in on the first of those three, writing in the Sept. 6 Washington Post that in Iraq, “the list of missions that were tried on but didn’t fit includes: protection from weapons of mass destruction, creating a model democracy in the Arab world, punishing those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and stopping terrorists from catching the next plane to New York. The latest mission, linked to the ‘surge’ of troops this year, was to give Iraqi leaders the security and maneuvering room needed to make stabilizing political arrangements — which they have thus far shown little interest in doing.”

The only option for improving things now is to pursue “coordinated international assistance,” wrote Albright who compared Iraq to Eastern Europe and asserted that the “Balkans are at peace today through the joint efforts of the United States, the European Union and the United Nations — all of which worked to help moderate leaders inside the region. A similar strategy should have been part of our Iraq policy from the outset but has never been seriously attempted.”

Posing the question to herself of whether such an initiative is viable, Albright offered the following:

Perhaps. The United Nations has pledged to become more involved. Europe’s new leaders — led by Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown — understand their region’s stake in Iraq’s future and seem willing to assist. The Saudi, Jordanian and Syrian governments all view Iraqi instability as a profound security threat. Turkish and Kurdish representatives recently signed an agreement to cooperate along their troubled border. Iran is the wildest of cards, but it would be unlikely to isolate itself from a broad international program aimed at reconciliation.


Al-Qaida In Iraq

Frederick W. Kagan aimed to counter Iraq war critics in an article published online from the Sept. 10 edition of The Weekly Standard, which focused on “al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)” and how to defeat it.

Kagan explained that “because the members of AQI are overwhelmingly Iraqis — often thugs and misfits recruited or dragooned into the organization (along with some clerics and more educated leaders) — it is argued that AQI is not really part of the global al Qaeda movement … it is said, the war in Iraq is not part of the global war on terror: The ‘real’ al Qaeda — Osama bin Laden’s band, off in its safe havens in the Pakistani tribal areas of Waziristan and Baluchistan — is the group to fight.”

“Over the past four years, the war in Iraq has provided abundant evidence to dispute these assertions,” wrote Kagan, who argued that:

AQI is not simply a local franchise of the global al Qaeda concept. Its leaders participate in the development of the global ideology … It sends aid to the global movement and asks for and receives aid from it. In particular, it receives an estimated 40 to 80 foreign fighters each month, who are recruited by al Qaeda leaders throughout the Muslim world, helped in their training and travel by al Qaeda facilitators, and, once in Iraq, controlled by AQI. Finally, as previously noted, the non-Iraqis who are its principal leaders were part of the global al Qaeda movement before coming to Iraq. There should be no question in anyone’s mind that Al Qaeda In Iraq is a vital and central part of al Qaeda, that it interacts with the global movement, shares its aims and practices, and will assist it as much as it can to achieve their common goals.


“AQI — and therefore the larger al Qaeda movement — has suffered a stunning defeat in Iraq over the past six months. It has lost all of its urban strongholds and is engaged in a desperate attempt to reestablish a foothold even in the countryside,” argued Kagan, who asserted that “AQI can again become a serious threat if America chooses to let it get up off the mat.”

The Partitioning of Iraq

A third take on Iraq was presented by Charles Krauthammer, who asserted in the Sept. 7 Washington Post that Washington has “not caught up to the next reality: Iraq is being partitioned — and, like everything else in Iraq today, it is happening from the ground up.”

Krauthammer explained:

1. The Sunni provinces. The essence of our deal with the Anbar tribes and those in Diyala, Salahuddin and elsewhere is this: You end the insurgency and drive out al-Qaeda, and we assist you in arming and policing yourselves. We’d like you to have an official relationship with the Maliki government, but we’re not waiting on Baghdad.

2. The Shiite south. This week the British pulled out of Basra, retired to their air base and essentially left the southern Shiites to their own devices — meaning domination by the Shiite militias now fighting each other for control.

3. The Kurdish north. Kurdistan has been independent in all but name for a decade and a half.

“As partition proceeds, the central government will necessarily be very weak,” Krauthammer wrote. “Its reach may not extend far beyond Baghdad itself, becoming a kind of de facto fourth region with a mixed Sunni-Shiite population.”

He concluded that a breakup of Iraq “is not the best outcome, but it is far better than the savage and dangerous dictatorship we overthrew. And infinitely better than what will follow if we give up in mid-surge and withdraw — and allow the partitioning of Iraq to dissolve into chaos.”

A Few Others

Here’s a short list of a few others among the more than a dozen op-eds on Iraq from the week:

The State of Iraq Update Chart
By Jason Campbell, Michael O’Hanlon and Amy Unikewicz in the Sept. 4 New York Times.
How I Didn’t Dismantle Iraq’s Army
By L. Paul Bremer III in the Sept. 6 New York Times.
The Least Bad Choice
By Roger Cohen in the Sept. 6 New York Times (TimesSelect).
Getting out of Iraq
By Jeff Danziger in the Sept. 4 Boston Globe.
The Tide Is Turning in Iraq
By Kimberly Kagan in the Sept. 4 Wall Street Journal (subscription required).
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
By Colin Kahl, Shawn Brimley in a Foreign Policy September Web Exlusive.

India’s Middle Class Failure

India was another topic that reared its head last week, with Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad’s September 2007 Prospect Magazine article claiming that India’s 200 million-strong middle class is largely uninterested in politics or social reform — and until it begins to engage in such, India is destined to suffer from a lop-sided modernization.

A few excerpts from Ram-Prasad’s indepth piece painted a picture of India often ignored by the English-language media:

The seven Indian Institutes of Technology rank near the top of global surveys, and job offers to graduates from the Indian Institutes of Management rival those to graduates of the famous US business schools; yet a third of the country is still illiterate. Three hundred million Indians live on less than $1 a day—a quarter of the world’s utterly poor—yet since 1985, more than 400m (out of a total population of 1bn) have risen out of relative poverty—to $5 a day—and another 300m will follow over the next two decades if the economy continues to grow at over 7 per cent a year.


Ten years after the buzz caused by the nuclear tests, the middle classes take India’s new status for granted; they simply assume it is India’s due to be treated as the “equal” of the US and the rest, and move on to talk of economic opportunities. This commitment to their own idea of India and their central role in its economic rise makes the middle classes sure of themselves. But at the same time, their sense of citizenship is weak: they do not, on the whole, extend a sense of solidarity to the poor; they often do not acknowledge the role of the state in their own rise or its capacity to solve any of the country’s problems; and they are, in general, politically apathetic.

Prosperous India has not yet provided sufficient social infrastructure to make the country less brutal for those at the bottom. This is partly because the state apparatus for tax collection was for a long time a shambles, and evasion the norm. (One welcome consequence of liberalisation and rapid growth is that the software and human resources for effective collection have improved.) But the economist Nimai Mehta argues that another reason for the poor fiscal performance of the state is the Indian people’s ingrained preference for private rather than public provision, a pattern evident since colonial times.


Hyderbad’s Terror

An alternative look at India was offered by Sudha Ramachandran, who wrote in the Sept. 7 Asia Times of a complex cocktail of realities emerging in the Indian economic powerhouse of Hyderbad, where massive success in recent years “has attracted engineers, scientists, management consultants and students like a magnet.”

“Intelligence officials say its contribution to India’s growing economic muscle is also its appeal to terrorists,” wrote Ramachandran, who cited twin bomb blasts that tore through an amusement park and an eatery in Hyderbad on August 25 as the second example in three months of the city is being “targeted by terrorists.”

“Hyderabad ranks third among Indian cities (outside strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast) in terms of the number of attacks it has sustained over the past five years,” he wrote. “Since 2002, 14 blasts have killed 258 people in Mumbai, while Delhi has seen seven blasts claiming 142 lives in the same period. Hyderabad has witnessed four attacks since 2005, the first in October that year, when a suicide attack was carried out at the Special Task Force headquarters in the city.

Ramachandran claimed that Pakistan-based jihadist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) “regard Hyderabad as Muslim land (about 40% of the city’s 7 million people are Muslim), belonging to the ummah (Islamic community) and in need of ‘liberation’ from ‘Hindu rule,’ and that the organization’s laders “have been setting up sleeper cells in Hyderabad since 1995, according to intelligence officials.”

“While Hyderabad’s global profile was no doubt a factor for whoever masterminded the terror attacks, there are several other considerations that have made it an attractive target,” he wrote. “Hyderabad’s Old City, where a quarter of the city’s population live in acute poverty, has pockets that are entirely Muslim and others with mixed Hindu-Muslim populations.”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights notable op-eds on major issues from the past week.

Headscarves and Military Uniforms;
What Gul Means for Turkey

The Aug. 28 ascension of Justice and Development Party member and former Islamist Abdullah Gul to the Turkish presidency (here’s a CNN report on it) prompted a barrage of op-eds about what the near and distant future will hold for Turkey, which enjoys a border with Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Claiming Gul’s election “marks a watershed in the country’s history,” Soli Ozel reminded us in the Aug. 28 Guardian how “in July, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) — religiously conservative but economically liberal — won a landslide in parliamentary elections called after the military balked at seeing Gul become president.”

“That victory,” asserted Ozel, “combined with Gul’s election, confirm the AKP’s emergence as a party of realignment, and that, despite an upsurge of xenophobic nationalism, Turks wanted to integrate with the European Union.”

According to Ozel:

The electorate also made it clear that it no longer wanted the military involved in domestic politics, rejecting the generals’ warnings that the AKP would lead the country into the darkness of theocratic rule. The fierce debate concerning the presidency underscored the symbolic significance of the post in Turkey’s domestic balance of power. The headscarf that Gul’s wife wears for religious reasons was seen as an assault on Turkey’s sacrosanct principle of secularism.


Headscarves aside, Ozel, who noted that “in times of peace, [the Turkish president] is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” maintained the “crisis over the presidential election was actually a crisis of the constitutional order installed by the military when it ruled from 1980-1983.”

“That constitution — unlike Ataturk’s — was written by and for the military on the assumption that the cold war would never end, and that the president would always be either a military person or someone close to the military,” he wrote, concluding that:

Many foreign commentators described the presidential and parliamentary elections as a contest between Turkey’s secular past and a putative Islamist future. However, the contest is more accurately seen as one between an open and an introverted Turkey; between civilian, democratic rule and military tutelage; and between a globalising and a protectionist economy.


Gul’s Election “a Joke”

Tulin Daloglu argued in the Aug. 28 Washington Times that the AKP’s victory “doesn’t negate the millions of protesters who demonstrated in order to try to prevent Mr. Gul and his wife, who wears a headscarf, from assuming office.”

“The protesters fear a president with a background in political Islam,” wrote Daloglu. “But they have to take this day as a joke, hoping that it will bring laughter of unity at the end. Yet they have reason to be concerned.”

Daloglu cited Turkey’s relationship with Israel as a particularly sensitive one, deserving of attention as the Gul presidency develops:

Turkish government officials have blindly refused to acknowledge that they need to watch what they say, lest their “declarations” touch off reactionary violence. Last week, the U.S.-based advocacy group the Anti-Defamation League announced that what happened to the Armenians at the end of World War I is “tantamount to genocide.” The group also made clear that they “[c]ontinue to firmly believe that a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.” Mr. Gul responded by saying that Israel would pay a heavy price if it does not renounce the ADL’s position.


Daloglu asserted that “Turks must not allow controversy over Armenian genocide claims to hijack their relationship with Israel.”

“The AKP must fight Turkish anti-Semitism,” he wrote. “Turkey must acknowledge that a good relationship with Israel is vital to its relationship with the West.”

Head to Head With the Generals

Writing in the Aug. 29 Daily Telegraph, Damien McElroy, homed in on the relationship between the Turkish presidency and the military, asserting that Gul, who served as Turkey’s foreign minister for the past five years, is “likely to find promotion to the nation’s presidency to be a bed of thorns.”

“Because Mr. Gul is a conservative Islamist, his elevation to the top office has been resisted at every turn by the generals,” wrote McElroy. “As late as Monday, General Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the general staff, had a signed statement posted on its internet site vowing to resist ‘centres of evil’ working to destroy the state’s secular principles.”

But, McElroy argued, while Gul’s tenure could revolve around his views on religion and the military, what may really matter in the end are his economic policies.

Both [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan] and Mr. Gul have risen to the apex of politics as representatives of a new, conservative merchant class in Turkey. They claim [their party] is an Islamic equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats. In five years, their economic management has brought inflation down from 70 per cent to 6.9 per cent. Turkey’s once crushing budget deficits are now statistically insignificant. As the power cuts that accompanied this summer’s heat wave showed, challenges for the future centre on privatisation and infrastructure development.


Is Benazir Bhutto Really
Reemerging in Pakistan?

Just as the straight news pages were attempting to hash out precisely what was going in talks between Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, the country’s exiled former prime minister (Note this New York Times report on the matter), a few key op-eds on the subject emerged in the U.S. and British press — one by Bhutto herself.

“In a perfect world, perhaps the military would not play a role in politics. But Pakistan is less than perfect in this regard,” Bhutto wrote in the Aug. 30 Los Angeles Times. “The security forces fundamentally have served as a political institution in Pakistan, ruling either directly, through generals, or indirectly, by manipulating and ultimately sacking democratic governments.”

Acknowledging that “some people have been surprised that I have been negotiating a transition to democracy and talking about the future of Pakistan with Musharraf,” Bhutto asserted that “on dictatorship, there can be no compromise. The parliament must be supreme. That’s why I have made it clear to Musharraf that my party, the Pakistan People’s Party, supports the constitution, which requires that the president be a civilian who is legitimately selected by the parliament and provincial assemblies.”

She explained:

After much negotiating, I announced on Wednesday that Musharraf had decided to resign as army chief. …Musharraf continues to enjoy the support of the international community and the armed forces of Pakistan. But such support is no substitute for the will of the people who are now disempowered and disenchanted. Growing poverty and unemployment make it clear that in the absence of democracy, the people’s needs cannot be met. I believe that unless the people of Pakistan are empowered through the ballot, extremists will continue to exploit this discontent to their advantage.


Bhutto “out of touch”

While it wasn’t until the next day that The New York Times reported Musharraf’s denial of such a development, Tariq Ali asserted in his own op-ed in the Aug. 30 Guardian that Bhutto “is sadly out of touch.”

“For a politician whose sycophantic colleagues boast that she is closer to the pulse of the people than any of her rivals, Benazir Bhutto’s decision to do a deal with Pakistan’s uniformed president indicates the exact opposite,” he wrote.

Ali asserted that:

Musharraf is now deeply unpopular [in Pakistan]. It is not often that one can actually observe power draining away from a political leader. And the lifeline being thrown to him in the shape of an over-blown Benazir might sink together with him. An indication that she was not completely unaware of this came a few days ago when she declared that her decision was “approved” by the “international community” always a code-word for Washington) and the Pakistan army (well, yes). In short, Pakistani public opinion was irrelevant.


He went on:

It should be acknowledged that Benazir Bhutto’s approach is not the result of a sudden illumination. There is a twisted continuity here. When the general seized power in 1999 and toppled the Sharif brothers (then Benazir’s detested rivals), she welcomed the coup and nurtured hopes of a ministerial post. When no invitations were forthcoming, she would turn up at the desk of a junior in the South Asian section of the State Department, pleading for a job. Instead the military charged her and her husband with graft and corruption. The evidence was overwhelming. She decided to stay in exile.


The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week In Review will return to this space next week. It is normally posted on the blog every Friday by World Politics Review Senior Editor Guy Taylor, who is on vacation this week.

Drawing from more than two dozenEnglish-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights ahandful of the week’s notable op-eds. You can read last week’s installation by clicking here. The installation from two weeks ago is here.

The columndraws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s MediaRoundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Sarkozy Helps France’s Wealthy

The first law passed by Nicolas Sarkozy’s government was a tax cut, which, according to Jordan Stancil’s assessment in an article posted on the Web site of The Nation on August 15, was “massive and unnecessary,” will go “mostly to the wealthy, [will] further degrade France’s public finances and probably lead to cuts in programs the majority of people rely on.”

Stancil asserted:

The centerpiece of the new law sets a cap on each household’s overall tax bill at 50 percent of income. This includes income taxes, property taxes, local taxes, the wealth tax and two taxes that were levied to shore up the social security systems. (This cap already existed, but it had been set at 60 percent.) This might sound reasonable, but according to the French government’s own estimates, very few people will benefit. In a total population of 62 million, there are only 234,397 households whose tax bill exceeds 50 percent of income. And 201,864 of these households will receive an average tax break of only 649 euros (or less than $900 at the current exchange rate of $1.37 to one euro).


Comparing the tax cut to cuts backed by the Bush administration in the United States, Stancil argued that “as with the Bush administration’s tax cuts, the big winners in France will be at the very top.”

South Africa’s Future Should Be Bright

John Hughes wrote in the August 17 Christian Science Monitor that he saw the following during his recent time in South Africa:

At [a public market]…white stall-holders wait upon blacks and whites alike. Black stall-holders wait upon blacks and whites alike as they dispose of the interracial detritus of South African commerce — old silver, used DVDs, painted ostrich eggs, beaded gourds, fake leopard-skin rugs. In a little cafe, blacks and whites share tables as they sip tea and coffee. The mood is relaxed, jovial.


“Welcome to the new South Africa. None of these interracial scenes could have taken place in the old South Africa with its strict policies of segregation,” wrote Hughes. “Today a black government rules a multi-racial country where white privilege is officially a thing of the past.”

“But,” he added, “if the words of Nelson Mandela, the extraordinary black leader who played the key role in bringing this about, are to hold sway, the white minority and the black majority will live in harmony and collaboration for the common good.”

Hughes explained:

The harmony for which Mandela yearned is not yet universally manifest. Says one Afrikaans-speaking editor: “There is still a lot of anger on both sides.” There are tensions and crime. But after an emotionally painful period of public confession and reconciliation, the cruelty and horrors of the apartheid years, which included the torture and murder of blacks targeted by white police executioners, has been succeeded at least by accommodation between the country’s different groups — the black majority, the English-speaking and Afrikaans-speaking white minority, as well as the Indian minority, and the mixed-race people referred to as “Cape coloreds.”


Mugabe Regime May Continue

In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, things might be getting worse, not better, according to Alec Russell, who asserted in the August 14 Financial Times (subscription required), that those who dare to believe the regime of Robert Mugabe has reached its tipping point “may yet be disappointed.”

Russell explained:

What is increasingly clear…is that the implosion of the economy may not in itself be enough to bring Mr. Mugabe down. A recent study by Professor Stephen Hanke of Washington’s Cato Institute highlights how the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s suffered from far worse hyperinflation. Mr. Milosevic still survived, in part by doing just what Mr. Mugabe has been doing: blaming his economic woes on the outside world. There are plenty of countries in Africa where the economy and infrastructure have been far more systematically destroyed than in Zimbabwe without causing regime change.


Apart from dying,” concluded Russell, “one of three things has to happen to Mr. Mugabe to bring his departure: a popular uprising, the application of irresistible international pressure, or a palace coup.”

Democracy Again Under Threat in Ukraine

Nina Khrushcheva argued in the August 14 Daily Star that while the campaign for Ukraine’s Sept. 30 parliamentary election is scarcely under way, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich is “already trying to steal it.”

“Yanukovich was the man who sought to falsify the result of the presidential election of 2004, inciting the Orange Revolution,” according to Khrushcheva, who explained that “a peaceful and honest result was reached in the end because Ukraine’s President Leonid Kuchma refused to heed Yanukovich’s call to use violence to defend his rigged election.”

“This time,” she wrote, “it appears that Yanukovich is prepared to do anything to remain in power.”

Pondering whether it may be necessary for Ukrainians to stage a second Orange Revolution to “shame Yanukovich (a twice convicted violent felon before he entered politics) to change course,” Khrushcheva maintained that “there is a person who might compel Yanukovich to retreat to democratic norms and thus hold off such protests: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.”

According to Khrushcheva:

It is certainly in Russia’s national interest to prevent chaos in the country’s big next door neighbor. But Putin’s idea of what constitutes Russia’s national interest makes that type of intervention unlikely. Weak neighbors are states that the Kremlin can control, so why not expand Russian power by letting Ukraine slide into protest and anarchy if by doing so it brings that country back under Putin’s thumb? …As is usual with this ex-KGB man, Putin is being cunning about Ukraine, but he is deluding himself if he thinks that siding with Yanukovich will bring back effective Russian overlordship of Ukraine.


Tyranny and Corruption or Climate Change?

In an August article posted on the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine Idean Salehyan wrote that it will be corrupt, tyrannical governments that are to blame for the coming era of resources wars — not changes in the Earth’s climate.

“According to one emerging ‘conventional wisdom,’ climate change will lead to international and civil wars, a rise in the number of failed states, terrorism, crime, and a stampede of migration toward developed countries,” wrote Salehyan. “United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for instance, has pointed to climate change as the root cause of the conflict in Darfur. A group of high-ranking retired U.S. military officers recently published a report that calls climate change ‘a threat multiplier for instability.'”

Many dire scenarios being predicted “may sound convincing, but they are misleading” and “irresponsible, for they shift liability for wars and human rights abuses away from oppressive, corrupt governments,” wrote Salehyan.

“Arguing that climate change is a root cause of conflict lets tyrannical governments off the hook. …That’s why Ban Ki-moon’s case about Darfur was music to Khartoum’s ears. The Sudanese government would love to blame the West for creating the climate change problem in the first place.”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

World Bank-Rolling Iran

Mark Kirk pointed out in the August 10 Washington Post that while both the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency have found Iran in breach of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the World Bank continues to fund projects in Iran.

According to Kirk, a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, the World Bank is presently funding “nine government projects in Iran totaling $1.35 billion — one of which operates in Isfahan, where Iran’s nuclear program is headquartered.”

“The United States remains the top investor in the World Bank, contributing $950 million in 2006 and $940 million this year,” wrote Kirk, who concluded that “one has to wonder why [Iran, which] exports 2.6 million barrels of oil a day needs World Bank development assistance.”

Mexico’s Growing Drug Mess

“Entire states fell under the influence of the drug lords” last year in Mexico, where, according to Ralph Peters’ assessment in the August 9 New York Post, “narcotraficante infighting took over 3,000 lives.”

“Imagine if our country were so ravaged by drug cartels that the president sent the military into a third of the states to break the terror,” wrote Peters. “That’s where Mexico is today.”

He argued that in response to the problem:

Mexicans elected a tough president, Felipe Calderon. And President Calderon took action, ordering the army into nine states and deploying troops to cities such as Tijuana and the run-down resort of Acapulco. But the drug lords are fighting back. Today, the level of violence transcends mere crime. Mexico faces a narco-insurrection. And its government needs help. The Bush administration is working with Calderon’s team to craft a counter-drug aid package that would provide surveillance equipment, transport aircraft and training. The program could be announced when the leaders of the U.S., Mexico and Canada meet in Quebec on Aug. 20. The finalized program will probably cost several hundred million dollars.


“Money well spent,” according to Peters.

Lesson From Colombia

Speaking of international narco-politics, Sue Branford argued in the August 9 New Statesman that “as the Bush administration increases pressure on Afghanistan to use extensive aerial spraying to destroy the opium crop in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai should heed the lessons from Colombia.”

Branford explained:

For the past seven years the US-funded “war against drugs” [in Colombia] has been symbolised by the picture of a single-engined plane swooping down over peasant farms and dousing crops with powerful defoliants. Now, after a largely wasted outlay of $4.7bn, coca crops are once again to be eradicated manually. This policy U-turn amounts to a public admission of what has long been obvious: Colombia’s anti-narcotics programme, Plan Colombia, has failed. In 2006, after the most intensive use of aerial spraying in the country’s history, the area under coca cultivation increased to 157,200 hectares, one of the largest ever recorded.


Furthermore, according to Branford:

Secrecy surrounds the exact chemical formula of the defoliant used, but it is believed to have been Roundup Ultra, mixed with other additives to increase toxicity. Elsa Nivia, director of the Colombian branch of Pesticides Action Network, has calculated that this chemical mixture was 104 times more toxic than the Roundup commonly used by gardeners. …The Colombian government has persistently refused to investigate the effect of their defoliant on the local population. Studies in Ecuador, however, show that families living near the frontier suffered long-term damage to their DNA as a result of defoliant blown over the border by the wind and the Ecuadorian government is suing Colombia in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.


Branford also noted that “coincidentally, the new U.S. ambassador in Kabul, William Wood, was ambassador to Colombia from 2003 to 2007. Claiming that aerial spraying worked in Colombia, he has even contracted the same private contractor, DynCorp, to repeat the job in Afghanistan.”

Darfur Peace Without Western Intervention?

“Peace and some respite for Darfur’s displaced millions seem closer this week than they have for a long time,” according to Jonathan Steele, who wrote in the August 10 Guardian that “the breakthrough is due not so much to the latest UN resolution to create a larger foreign peacekeeping force as to the success of talks between the rival rebel groups.”

“They seem to have agreed on a common platform to put to the Khartoum government in full-scale negotiations within the next few weeks,” wrote Steele. While his article included a thorough breakdown of the rival groups and what’s at stake for them, it was also packed with some eye-popping assertions about the conflict and how it and other wars, including that in Afghanistan, are perceived in the West.

For instance, he wrote that:

The Darfur crisis has suffered from two problems. One is the exaggerated and sometimes almost hysterical tone in which it tends to be discussed. It is not “the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today”, as was claimed even by Britain’s usually cautious new prime minister last week. Iraq, where 8 million people need emergency aid, more than 3 million have fled from their homes in the last two years and about a thousand are dying of violence every month, is more grim. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, in spite of a fragile peace deal, as many as 1,200 people are estimated by humanitarian agencies to be dying every day. In Darfur, 2 million people have been displaced and up to 200,000 may have died. This does not mean Darfur is not a huge tragedy, but that the situation there has changed. The problems of 2003 and 2004, when the Sudanese airforce was regularly bombing villages, are not the same now. Far more civilians are dying from Nato airstrikes in Afghanistan. Critics who demand that French or U.S. planes shoot down Sudanese military aircraft should consider calling for a no-fly zone in Helmand province.


Make Them Pay to Drive in the City

Cameron Munro argued in the August 7 Washington Post that the “congestion charge” on motorists in central London “has brought substantial benefits to those who live and work in London — whether they drive or take mass transit — and it could do the same in traffic-clogged cities in the United States.”

The way it works, according to Munro:

London drivers are charged the equivalent of $16 per day for traveling into the center of the city between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. They can pay the charge by phone, on the Internet and in many stores. They can even set up accounts so they don’t have to remember to pay the charge every day they travel into the zone. …[The] charge, which began in 2003, doesn’t need big toll plazas. Instead, the system is enforced using some 700 cameras across 200 sites in the charging zone. …Life for those working and living inside the London zone has improved through the reduction in traffic and lowering of dangerous pollution, which exceeds accepted health standards in central London and many U.S. cities.


With a congestion charging proposal currently pending for New York City, Munro argued that “if it goes into effect in New York City and is as successful there as it has been in London, other congested cities across the United States might adopt similar plans.”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Reviewis posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozenEnglish-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights ahandful of the week’s notable op-eds.

What Bush could learn about the Middle East from Napoleon, Peru’s economic inequality, Japan’s historic election, Poland’s identity crisis and more.

Demands on Peru’s Poor

Writing in the July 30 Miami Herald,Michael Shifter described the “profound social divisions” afflicting Peruwhere President Alan García has just completed the first year of hisfive-year term.

“García can at least have thepeace of mind that his second term marks a vast improvement over thefirst,” wrote Shifter, who asserted:

Peru’s economy is not only undercontrol but booming, growing at more than 8 percent annually.Insurgencies that had wracked the country no longer pose a seriousthreat. Even the poverty levels that rose sharply under García’s firstgovernment are slowly falling. Yet, just as García’s first presidencyilluminated the most extreme of Latin America’s problems in the late1980s, today his administration provides a lens through which to viewthe major challenge now confronting the region: economic inequality….The demands and expectations of the poor are rising dramatically, andgovernment institutions are woefully incapable of handling them.


Poland Is “Confused”

Poland these days is “confused,” according to Dominique Moisi, who wrote in the August 1 Daily Starthat the country “boasts one of the highest levels of popularacceptance of the EU among all member countries, yet is the place wheredefense of the ‘national’ interests is practiced most fiercely.”

He elaborated:

To understand what went wrongwith Poland, a comparison with Spain might be useful. In the nineteenthcentury, Europe’s southern and eastern extremities were united bycommon decay. Poland had disappeared as an independent nation, thevictim of its powerful neighbors’ greed; Spain was a country that nolonger mattered. This dual decline was a subject frequently discussedby historians across the continent. They generally emphasized thefailure of both countries to adjust their political systems to therequirements of the times.


Furthermore, according to Moisi, Spain and Polandtoday “both appear to be experiencing a renaissance, thanks to theframework of European unity. Their economies are booming. Democracy hasbeen restored after half-century of dictatorial disruption. Yet thebuoyant self-confidence of today’s Spain is completely absent fromPoland.”

Bush Could Learn From Napoleon

Richard Bulliet compared George W. Bush to Napoleon Bonaparte in the August 2 International Herald Tribune,writing that “both men launched spectacular attacks on Arab countries,won stunning initial victories, and then became bogged down in ahopeless military occupations.”

“If Bush hasthe wisdom to do what Napoleon did, he may yet be remembered as aleader of historic stature,” wrote Bulliet. “All he has to do is cutand run.”

Bulliet explained:

If Napoleon had nevergone on to become the Emperor of France and conquer most of Europe, hisrole in Middle Eastern history would still be celebrated. Even today,most historians date the beginning of the region’s “modern” history to1798. …If the Napoleonic past has a lesson for Bush’s future, it isthat regardless of American planning, the regional struggle followingthe American withdrawal will determine the future of the region. Butthis does not preclude the realization of some of Bush’s dreams ofvictory. In fact, it will be surprising if regional responses topost-withdrawal instability do not include openings toward democracy insome countries, and toleration of multiple ethnic and religiousinterests in others.


According to Bulliet, Napoleon’s finalmessage to Bush would be: “You’ve already made history. Now get out ofthe way and let it happen.”

Japan’s “Historic” Election Results

The result of Japan’s recent parliamentary elections was “historic,” according to Daniel Sneider, who noted in the August 1 Christian Science Monitorhow for the first time since the conservative Liberal Democratic Partywas formed in 1955, an opposition party “has become the largest partyin the upper house.”

“The powerful messagedelivered by Japanese voters has significant implications not only forJapan but also for the rest of the world, not least for its close ally,the United States,” Sneider wrote. “The election result revivesmomentum in Japan toward creation of a viable two-party system,potentially ending the conservative postwar monopoly on power.”

“Japanesevoters expressed deep anxiety about the impact of economic change upontheir treasured social order,” he went on. “They embraced the campaignof the Democratic Party (the main opposition) against growing incomeinequality and the failure of the state to take care of an agingpopulation.”

Musharraf’s Fight for Survival

Randeep Ramesh argued in the August 2 Guardianthat while it appears Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s days inpower are numbered, the “military dictator remains the best bet forpeace in the region.”

“The bloody showdown atthe Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), the suicide bombings in the capitalIslamabad, the popular support for the chief justice, and the risingdiscontent with the general’s writ all point to the end of this phaseof military rule,” Ramesh wrote.

But for the moment, he argued, Musharraf still holds the keys to the lock on the Pakistan’s regional political strategy. He explained:

What is being worked out now inPakistan, sometimes smoothly but mostly chaotically, is an internalconsensus on governance. There’s no doubt that a military government inPakistan can find political partners from its opponents to legitimiseitself again. Delhi remains silent on this process, knowing itsintervention will only make matters worse.


Furthermore, Ramesh asserted, while “the ruggedranges of the Afghan border remain in the west’s sights, Pakistan’s’core issue’ is the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.”

“Indiaand Musharraf’s Pakistan are close enough to do a deal,” he wrote. “Theproblem is one of trust. Pakistan has not shut down its anti-Indianmilitant organisations and the Indian army remains entrenched. TheIndian government concedes that jihadi infiltration from PakistaniKashmir has dropped and the Indian state has been noticeably quieter inthe past few months. But there’s no rush in New Delhi for conflictresolution.”

TheCommentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekdaymorning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for freeby registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Dawn of the Migration Age

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon argued in the July 10 Guardian that “we should welcome” a new era of mobility, which has the potential to bring millions out of poverty worldwide.

Noting that, at the opening of the 21st Century, it has become “commonplace to say that we live in a globalised world,” the secretary general wrote:

Less well understood is that globalisation is taking place in stages. We are in the second: the age of mobility. . . . As we enter the age of mobility, people will cross borders in ever greater numbers in pursuit of opportunity and a better life. They have the potential to chip away at the vast inequalities that characterise our time, and accelerate progress throughout the developing world. To take just one example: last year migrants sent home £131bn (about $266 billion USD), three times all international aid.


He went on to argue that rather than “looking at potential developmental gains from migration, governments have been slow to adapt.”

“The result is accelerating illegal migration, social tension, discrimination, loss of faith in government and empowerment of criminal networks,” he wrote. “Earlier eras witnessed migration on a similar scale. At the turn of the 20th century, approximately 3% of the world’s population was on the move.”

Breaking Point of China’s Communists

Tom Plate argued in the July 13 Japan Times that “for all its wealth production, China has now spawned a titanic income gap between rich and poor, an urban-rural cleavage wider than its awesome Three Gorges Dam and a bubble economy that looks to be at some point inevitably puncture-worthy.”

According to Plate, the “ability of the Communist party to ride out the rapid and wild rise of China is far from certain.”

His article analyzed what he described as a heated debate about the fate of the China’s communists occurring inside and outside the country:

In France, for example, a major philosophical clash has occurred with a sophisticated ferocity that perhaps could only take place among the French. At its simplest level, it pits the opposing views of famous French philosopher Francois Jullien against his foremost critic, the French-Swiss scholar Jean-Francois Billeter. The core of their semi-civilized clash involves the former’s view of the essential Confucian superiority of the “People’s Republic of Confucius, Sunzi and Laozi” — as he might reverentially put it — and the latter’s view that any reference to Confucian ideology is little more than a transparent attempt to justify the party’s imperial rule.


Billeter worries that the mythification of Chinese rule beclouds the West’s understanding of China’s fundamental realities. Professor Henry Zhao of Sichuan University quotes Billeter in the March-April edition of the London-based, intellectually zany New Left Review as emphasizing the urgency of the current situation: Although “in the past the Europeans and the Chinese lived apart, this ancient separation is no more. Today we are facing the same historical moment, and should act together and understand each other.”


The return of Confucian themes in China and in academic writing about China is, “beyond doubt,” writes Zhao in a deeply penetrating analysis, “ideological in its agenda, an attempt to fill the vacuum of values in modern-day China. Spurred by China’s increased economic strength, [Confucian] ‘fever’ will develop rapidly.”


One-Party Monopoly Coming to an End

Maybe by coincidence, Isabel Hilton argued in the July 12 Guardian that the number of people in China speaking out against local tyrannies and corruption has begun to surpass the government’s ability to silence or control its critics.

Tangentially, Hilton noted that, two years ago, the “Chinese government published a white paper on democracy that opened with the stirring proposition that ‘democracy is an outcome of the development of political civilisation of mankind. It is also the common desire of people all over the world.'”

“Earlier this year,” she observed, “the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, announced that ‘democracy, law, freedom and human rights’ were not exclusive to capitalism.”

Hilton noted, however that “the white paper went on to explain that ‘democracy with Chinese characteristics’ had been the [Communist] party’s gift to the Chinese people and there is little sign that this has changed.”

She also pointed out that: “On June 25, Hu Jintao, the party general secretary, told an audience at the Party School, the communists’ most important thinktank, that ‘greater participation’ by the people was desirable — as long as it did not jeopardise the party’s rule.”

Government In Denial

Suggesting America’s leaders are in denial about the danger, Norman Ornstein’s June 12 Washington Post piece argued that no branch of the U.S. government is presently prepared for a decapitating strike.

“The recent car-bomb threats in Britain were stark reminders that terrorists continue to probe for ways to attack us — and not every attempt will fail or be repelled,” wrote Ornstein. “That this danger extends to the United States was made clearer in May when the White House announced National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 to create a national continuity policy — ensuring that federal agencies could still operate, with clear lines of authority, in the event of a devastating surprise attack on Washington.”

He went on to assert:

During the Cold War, elaborate top-secret plans existed, including bunkers for the president, vice president, Supreme Court justices and members of Congress. If nuclear missiles were launched by the Soviet Union, there would be 30 to 90 minutes’ notice to evacuate top officials by plane, train or automobile. On Sept. 11, 2001, the era of notice preceding attacks ended. This underscored the fact that none of our branches of government had plans to keep operating if hit in a serious way. An attack on Congress that killed or incapacitated a large number of members would mean no Congress for months. Each house needs half of its members to be present for a quorum to do any official business. The House of Representatives can replace deceased members only by special elections that take, on average, four months. The Senate, under the 17th Amendment, allows states (usually governors) to appoint replacements to fill vacancies, but neither house has a mechanism for replacing incapacitated members.


The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds. Asian Economies Boom, Democracy Waits In a June 29 Bloomberg News column, William Pesek noted how 10 years on since Asia’s financial crisis, the “region is certainly back,” with many saying the “crisis made Asia more resilient.” As a result, Pesek, who homed in on China’s “rising global stature,” wrote that “it’s doubtful many officials in Beijing regret ignoring the U.S.’s democracy-is-best message.” “What may be surprising, though, […]

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

The Qaddafi Saga

John K. Cooley argued in the June 22 Christian Science Monitor that despite Col. Moammar Qaddafi’s abandonment of Libya’s secret WMD programs, Western governments still need to insist the Libyan leader prove his good faith about democratic and judicial reform.

Citing recent coziness enjoyed between Qaddafi, the Bush administration and outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cooley asserted that “there are dark aspects to this saga.”

He explained:

Blair’s welcome of Qaddafi back into the “respectable” community of nations, following President Bush’s decision last year to resume full U.S.-Libyan diplomatic relations, allows Qaddafi, as a new soldier in the global “war on terror,” to proceed ruthlessly against domestic opponents. … During past months, [Human Rights Watch], Amnesty International, and similar groups have insisted that hundreds of political opponents of Qaddafi remain incarcerated and are often tortured. Mr. Bush and other Western leaders have joined Bulgaria in urging release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who have been jailed since 1999, tortured, and twice sentenced to death for allegedly deliberately infecting 426 Libyan children with HIV-AIDS — a charge branded by leading international experts as false and a coverup for bad conditions in a Benghazi hospital.


“Qaddafi could make an excellent start by releasing the unfortunate medics and publishing facts about the scores of his opponents who have been jailed or ‘disappeared,'” wrote Cooley.

“Catastrophe” In Palestine

Separating the West Bank and Gaza into disconnected political entities run respectively by Fatah and Hamas “is a calamity,” according to Rami G. Khouri.

Writing in the June 20 Daily Star of Beirut, Khouri asserted that the rush by the United States, Israel and Europe to resume aid to the emergency Fatah government set up in the West Bank by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will “turn the calamity into a full-blown catastrophe.”

Khouri explained how “the Palestinian people are now divided into six distinct communities, located in Gaza, the West Bank, Arab East Jerusalem (under varying degrees of Israeli occupation and control), refugee camps throughout the Arab world, in Palestinian communities in the Middle East outside the camps, and in the global diaspora.”

“This worsening fragmentation of the Palestinians is certain to lead to greater radicalization and more proficient resistance, which will spill over into other societies in the region, and perhaps globally,” he wrote.

“Al Qaida Brand Name”

This so-called “greater radicalization” is already being realized by some, according to Rita Katz and Josh Deven, who wrote in the June 22 Boston Globe that as “the Lebanese Army continues to battle Fatah al-Islam, a jihadist group operating in the Nahr Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, questions are being raised about the group’s relationship to Al Qaeda and whether it is an official part of Osama bin Laden’s network.”

But Katz and Deven argued that “while Al Qaeda does provide logistical and financial support to jihadist cells and continues to serve as the inspiration for countless jihadist groups across the globe, bin Laden does not allow any group to carry the brand name ‘Al Qaeda’ without his approval.”

“The path to receiving acceptance from Al Qaeda’s leadership can take several months,” they wrote, citing as an example the slow process through which the Algerian jihadist group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, became recognized by al Qaida’s leadership as an official branch of the mother organization. (Click here for a related World Politics Review analysis on the subject).

“The reason for this delay is to protect the value of the ‘Al Qaeda’ brand name, which continues to carry the most weight in the global jihadist community,” wrote Katz and Deven. “Should Al Qaeda prematurely allow a group to adopt its name, that group may embark on actions contrary to Al Qaeda’s ideology that could damage its reputation and embarrass its leaders.”

Israel’s Emergency

Taking into account the approaching 2008 U.S. presidential election, Dan Ben David bluntly claimed in the June 19 edition of Haaretz that President George W. Bush “will have to decide whether to attack Iran within the next 12 months.”

“If he attacks, Israel is guaranteed a ballistic shower from Iran, Lebanon, Gaza, and possibly from Syria and the West Bank as well,” wrote David. “If Bush chooses not to attack, then the Israeli government will have to decide during the next 12 months if the country is capable of carrying out a military operation against Iran.”

From the Israeli perspective, he mused:

If it is determined that [Israel is] incapable of implementing an effective operation, then Israel will have to immediately begin preparing for a new age in which our enemies will possess a strategic capability that will greatly reduce Israel’s national security maneuvering room — not to mention the possibility that this threat will actually be realized. If Israel’s government decides that the country is able to stop, either temporarily or permanently, Iran’s nuclear program, then it must prepare in advance for the heavy price that we will have to pay — in blood and in physical damage, as well as economically and diplomatically.


Leader of Some Nicaraguans

Observing in the June 21 Miami Herald that almost six months have passed since Daniel Ortega assumed the presidency of Nicaragua, Marifeli Perez-Stable argued the Sandinista boss’ return to power “should not be viewed in the same light as the advent of Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa.”

“Unlike the Andean populists, Ortega did not win on a wave of popular anger against traditional politicians and their parties,” Perez-Stable wrote. “The comandante and his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) are, after all, part of the establishment in Nicaragua.”

Perez-Stable explained that three factors weighed the election in Ortega’s favor:

• The threshold to avoid a second round was lowered from 45 percent to 40 percent or no less than 35 percent with a five-point margin. Ortega garnered just under 38 percent but bested Eduardo Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) by nine points.
• The Liberal camp split between the dissident ALN and Arnoldo Alemán’s Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC). Montealegre and PLC candidate José Rizo jointly reaped 55 percent.
• The FSLN’s well-oiled party machinery and a hungry base charged by the lowered threshold for a first-round win also served Ortega well.


Asserting, however, that “old habits die hard,” Perez-Stable added: “Ortega and Rosario Murillo — his wife and de facto co-president — have cloaked their policies in secrecy. Venezuela’s aid, including oil at subsidized prices, is not included in the budget and, therefore, Ortega’s inner circle will dispense about $300 million annually in the shadows.”

China and Global Warming

Isabel Hilton argued in the June 21 Guardian that China, which has recently emerged as the world’s biggest polluter, will only act on climate change if the West first leads by example.

“China has been able to avoid taking a forward diplomatic position on climate change as long as George Bush’s US, by far the biggest per capita emitter and, until now, the biggest overall, was acting as the spoiler for global mitigation efforts,” wrote Hilton. “Why should a developing country, even one aiming to be the next global power, volunteer for the frontline of the fight when the world’s richest and most technologically advanced country would not even join the army?”

Noting how — with so much carbon put into the atmosphere by the developed world’s own own industrialization — there is now no margin for China to repeat the pattern of rapid dirty growth followed by leisurely clean-up, Hilton wrote that “it is an unenviable position for China, and one for which the rest of the world must take a large share of responsibility.”

She argued that, for those living in the developed world, there are two possible responses to China’s emergence as the world’s biggest polluter:

Blame [China] for the reckless pursuit of its own short-term interests, regardless of the cost to the planet; or to acknowledge that, historically, we created most of the problem, that most of the goods made in China are consumed in the industrialised world, that the aspirations of people in China to live more prosperous lives are legitimate, and that it is incumbent on us, morally and practically, to put our money where our mouth is. This means drastically reducing our own emissions and helping China with the finance and technology required to move to a sustainable, low-carbon economic system.


The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

China’s Expanding Military

Noting how “China’s defense spending has been on the rise for more than 15 years,” Gary Schmitt asserted in the June 14 Washington Post that Americans “don’t know the strategic ‘why’ behind this buildup.”

“As China adds hundreds of advanced fighters; builds scores of new submarines, frigates and destroyers; modernizes and expands its strategic nuclear arsenal; and fields hundreds of new theater-range missiles,” wrote Schmitt, “the argument is that China is bent on building up its military capabilities to unprecedented levels because it sees the United States spending more on its military than it has since World War II.”

While he claimed “there is some truth in that,” he wrote that:

The fact is that the Chinese military buildup really began after the demise of the Soviet Union — that is, precisely when China had the least reason to worry about its defense needs. And the buildup continued during a period when the United States was cutting its own defense budget by significant amounts. Moreover, no other Asian regional power was putting forward double-digit defense increases. … Of course, since Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. defense spending has skyrocketed. But the vast majority of that increase, as the Chinese well know, has gone toward fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


The China-Myanmar Relationship

Build-ups aside, Larry Jagan argued in the June 13 Asia Times that Chinese fears about a “growing influence of the United States” in Asia, have prompted Beijing to recently strengthen its alliance with the “internationally shunned military regime” currently ruling neighboring Myanmar.

However, while there “has been increased diplomatic and business contact between the countries,” Jagan noted that “on the political front, irritations remain, with Beijing quietly pressing Myanmar to introduce concrete political reform as soon as possible.”

“China’s greatest fear remains that Myanmar is extremely unstable and poses a security risk, especially along its southern border,” he wrote. “More than a million Chinese — farmers, workers and business people — have crossed into Myanmar in the past 10 years and are working and living there. The Chinese authorities fear that any upheaval in Myanmar would result in a mass exodus of Chinese back across the border, creating increased industrial and social unrest in their sensitive border regions.”

Change Near For Bhutan

In nearby Bhutan, meanwhile, change is coming whether the people like it or not, according to H.D.S. Greenway, who wrote in the June 12 Boston Globe that “the only trouble with the recent mock elections in the Himalayan Kingdom … is that most Bhutanese don’t want democracy.”

“They want their king to be in charge,” wrote Greenway. “Most Bhutanese trust their king, and will eventually be willing to go along with whatever his majesty decides is best for them. And the king wants democracy.”

Greenway offered a rich history of the Kingdom since British rule, and explained that:

In the two mock elections, Bhutanese were given a choice between Dragon Red, Dragon Blue, Dragon Green, and Dragon Yellow. Voting red meant favoring industrial development, green the environment, blue a free and fair society. But voting yellow meant that you favored Bhutanese tradition, which is monarchy, not democracy. Not unexpectedly, Dragon Yellow won both times. It will take a lot of sweet talking by [the country’s current monarchy] to get Bhutan’s citizenry to want anything other than their king and his rule over them. But for better or worse, democracy is on the way.


Indonesia, Middle East Peacemaker

John Hughes argued in the June 13 Christian Science Monitor that “the most populous Islamic country in the world, Indonesia, is emerging as a would-be peacemaker in the troubled Middle East and a moderating counterbalance to jihadist extremism.”

“In the world scheme of things, Indonesia is not a political heavyweight,” wrote Hughes. “But with a largely Muslim population of about 240 million, it is forging a significant example of how democracy and Islam can successfully coexist.”

Citing recent remarks by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, who indicated a desire to his country to be more involved in solving Middle East problems, Hughes noted that “the first major test of this new policy of involvement will come in August when Indonesia attempts a conference of reconciliation between the competing Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah.”

He explained:

With its approach to internal political problems, Indonesia typically adopts the practice of mushiwara, the art of bringing everybody together to make decisions by consensus, rather than determining winners and losers. Thus the conference will include an array of interested scholars and political figures from the United States and Europe to participate in the discussions. If a satisfactory decision by mushiwara could erase the divisions between the Palestinian factions, it might breathe a little new life into the frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process. This would enhance Indonesia’s credibility as a potential interlocutor in Islamic affairs.


Palestine Beyond Civil War

Indonesia certainly has it’s work cut out for it, since, according to Daoud Kuttab’s assessment in the June 15 Daily Star, Gaza has “apparently moved beyond civil war.”

Mahmoud Abbas, who took over as president of the Palestinian Authority two and a half years ago, after the death of Yasser Arafat, has “has tried mightily to lead the Palestinian people with civility, adherence to democratic principles, and disdain for violence,” wrote Kuttab, who argued that Abbas “never had a chance.”

“Palestinian rivals, both from his own Fatah party and from Hamas, as well as the Israelis, perceived Abbas’ civility as weakness,” Kuttab wrote. “Abbas introduced a totally different style of management from that of Arafat. …Dressed in a suit and tie, Abbas introduced professional Western-style management to the presidency, but had no idea what to do with grassroots militants.”

“In his attempt to counter Arafat’s political corruption and micromanagement, Abbas lost whatever chance he had to maintain the loyalty of the Fatah leadership, newly appointed PA officials, security personnel, and, most importantly, local militants.”

Apartheid Still Polarizes South Africa

“Despite impressive economic indicators, South Africa continues to suffer from the legacy of apartheid,” according to Rasna Warah, who observed in the June 11 Daily Nation (Kenya) that “the country ranks as among the most unequal societies in the world, with the richest 10 per cent of its population hogging 45 per cent of the country’s income.”

Noting a “lingering mistrust between the different races,” Warah argued that “change is clearly not happening fast enough for South Africa’s Black majority.”

“As one South African told me,” he wrote, “‘when people are given free housing, free water and free education, they want more — they want a car, a nice job and all the other things that apartheid denied them, and they want them now.'”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week in Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Bargaining With Russia to Contain Iran

Claiming “relations between the United States and Russia have hit their lowest point since the Cold War,” Joseph S. Nye Jr. asserted in the June 8 Boston Globe that the “growing tension has real and dangerous implications for US security: Washington is struggling to get Russia’s help in sanctioning Iran for its nuclear program.”

“The latest International Atomic Energy Agency report paints a bleak picture: Iran is making faster progress than expected toward uranium enrichment. And our options are limited,” wrote Nye. “Diplomatic efforts to tighten UN sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program can only succeed if Russia agrees not to wield its veto in the Security Council. Russia is torn between its interests in non proliferation, its commercial interests in trade (including equipment for nuclear reactors), and its irritation with the United States.”

He went to argue that the recent Russian-U.S. tensions “create an opportunity” for the United States, which “should offer Russia a grand bargain: We would delay our plans for missile defense in Eastern Europe, while the Russians would agree to back stronger sanctions against Iran.”

Why China Won’t Save Darfur

In a June Web Exclusive posted this week by Foreign Policy, Morton Abramowitz and Jonathan Kolieb noted how China — with its oil ties to the Sudanese regime and its resistance to U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Khartoum — is a convenient “whipping boy” for critics observing the Darfur crisis.

“Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney have come out in recent weeks to criticize the Chinese government for not responding to the cries of Darfur’s people, zeroing in on the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” wrote Abramowitz and Kolieb.

“But threatening a ‘Genocide Olympics’ alone will not bring peace (or peacekeepers) to that troubled region,” the two argued, asserting that “no amount of criticism will convince Beijing to pursue a coercive strategy and a nonconsensual deployment of U.N. peacekeepers that Khartoum rejects.”

The reason, they claimed, is that “China’s multibillion dollar investments in Sudan’s petroleum industry are a much-needed source of energy for its mushrooming economy. Beijing may make tactical moves to pressure Sudan, but it will not choose human rights over oil, a matter of paramount national interest.”

U.S. and India to Cut Behind-the-Scenes G-8 Deal

While a long-anticipated and potentially controversial deal between the United States and India to share nuclear materials is stalled, Manik Mehta claimed in a June 6 World Politics Review commentary that both countries “appear hopeful that the issue is going to get a renewed push from the highest political level this week when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President George W. Bush meet on the sidelines of the Group of 8 summit.”

Mehta argued that both sides want an agreement, since for the Bush administration, “the deal will be a visible achievement in an otherwise scant foreign policy record, as it galvanizes a strategic partnership with India” and “for India, the deal opens the door to the world’s exclusive nuclear club, to which it had been denied entry despite its de facto nuclear status.”

Chávez No Enemy of Free Speech

Bart Jones asserted in the June 4 Christian Science Monitor that while Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s refusal to renew the license of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) might seem to justify fears that he’s on a crusade to crush free speech, in reality, the “case of RCTV — like most things involving Chávez — has been caught up in a web of misinformation.”

“While one side of the story is getting headlines around the world, the other is barely heard,” wrote Jones, explaining that after Chávez was elected president in 1998, RCTV management, consisting of members of the country’s “fabulously wealthy oligarchy,” became focused on “ousting a democratically elected leader from office.”

Jones offered a bit of recent history that, he claimed, is largely being ignored by the mainstream media’s coverage of RCTV’s closure by Chávez’s government:

RCTV’s most infamous effort to topple Chávez came during the April 11, 2002, coup attempt against him. For two days before the putsch, RCTV preempted regular programming and ran wall-to-wall coverage of a general strike aimed at ousting Chávez. A stream of commentators spewed vitriolic attacks against him – while permitting no response from the government. Then RCTV ran ads encouraging people to attend a march on April 11 aimed at toppling Chávez and broadcast blanket coverage of the event. When the march ended in violence, RCTV and Globovisión ran manipulated video blaming Chávez supporters for scores of deaths and injuries.


Legal Mess at Guantanamo

Homing in on what she termed the latest “major setback” to the Bush administration’s push to try Guantanamo Bay prisoners via a special U.S. military-run war crimes tribunal, Rosa Brooks asserted in the June 8 Los Angeles Times that behind the recent dismissal of two cases before the tribunal “lies a major dispute about the status of the Guantanamo detainees.”

Brooks explained:

When Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, it only gave the commissions jurisdiction over “alien unlawful enemy combatants.” The two suspected Al Qaeda members whose cases were at issue this week, Omar Khadr and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, had previously gone before Guantanamo’s Combatant Status Review Tribunals, but those tribunals had merely determined that they were “enemy combatants,” not “unlawful” enemy combatants. As a result, declared Army Col. Peter E. Brownback III and Navy Capt. Keith Allred, the military commissions lacked jurisdiction over them.


“In 2001, the administration made a fateful decision to treat terrorism suspects as ‘enemy combatants’ in the ‘war on terror’ rather than trying them as criminals in civilian courts,” claimed Brooks. “This decision led to the current military commission meltdown.”

She went on to assert that the “Bush administration has long been fond of tossing around the phrase [unlawful enemy combatant], but until the 2006 military commissions law, it had zero legal meaning.”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Brazil’s Sugar-Cane Revolution

Brazilian President Lula da Silva argued in the May 31 Guardian that “developing countries cannot be expected to share an equal burden in offsetting the environmental impacts mostly caused by richer countries, currently still responsible for 65% of overall greenhouse gas emissions.”

Noting that his own country’s current “energy matrix is 45% renewable, against a worldwide average of 14%,” Lula asserted that Brazil is actually “determined to be even more ambitious.”

“We have been reducing our greenhouse gases emissions for over 30 years by substituting fossil fuels with sugarcane-based ethanol. This has led to a dramatic fall in domestic petroleum consumption and pollution. Vehicles currently topping sales in Brazil are ‘flex-fuel,’ which means that they can run on petrol, ethanol or any combination of the two.”

Claiming “Brazil is open to requests for technical cooperation in biofuels production and marketing,” Lula stressed the “revolution will only come about if ethanol and biodiesel are freely traded internationally as energy commodities. In order to make Brazil’s biofuels model widely available, rich countries must open up their markets to developing countries by eliminating agricultural subsidies and other protectionist barriers to biofuels imports.”

Combination Punch To Democracy in Asia

Writing in the May 31 International Herald Tribune, Philip Bowring zeroed in on two recent developments, which he claimed have delivered huge blows to liberal, plural democracy in Thailand and Malaysia: The dissolution of Thai Rak Thai, the party of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed as prime minister of Thailand by a coup last September, and the decision in Malaysia to deny a woman the right to convert from Islam to another religion.

Bowring asserted the Malaysia ruling “will be seen in most of the rest of the world as an example of Muslim arrogance, intolerance and obscurantism, which are particularly out of place in a country where more than 40 percent of the population is not Muslim (and non-Muslims are a majority in some states).”

As for the decision in Thailand by a constitutional tribunal to dissolve Thai Rak Thai, Bowring noted that “Thaksin without doubt abused his power and was more adept than anyone at Thai money politics. His attempt at populist authoritarianism certainly needed reining in.”

“But,” he argued, “the coalition of military, royalists, senior bureaucrats and some self-proclaimed democrats are not merely attempting to prevent Thaksin’s return to power via the ballot box. They have produced a draft new constitution that limits the power of the executive and expands the role of non-elected senators and judiciary officials at the expense of elected members.”

The “Weakness” of Americans in Iraq

The next few months are critical to Iraq, according to Roland Wilson, who observed in the May 31 Times of London that “for the past year, security concerns have demanded priority. Now politics has to catch up.”

“Agreements between sectarian and ethnic leaders on dividing Iraq’s future oil revenue, allowing Baathists back into work and rewriting parts of the Constitution to address the grievances of Sunnis who virtually boycotted the original drafting — all of these would help solidify the U.S. security surge, which has made some gains while being apparently powerless to stop brazen kidnappings like that of the five Britons this week,” wrote Wilson.

Wilson, who is The Times’ foreign editor, offered some rich narrative observations from a recent visit he made to Baghdad:

The mood among the Iraqi politicians, coalition forces and Western diplomats appeared at best uncertain. Only the Peruvian soldiers who man checkpoints gave nothing away; others let their body language do the talking. Hussein al-Falluji, an MP from the largest Sunni bloc, says: “When I sit with the Americans, I feel a kind of weakness [from them]. When I look in their eyes I feel that they are not the same as in 2003. From the inside they feel like they are failing here.” …Meanwhile, street-level Shia leaders breathe fiery resistance. “If the occupiers stay here, we will not develop for 100 years,” says a commander of the Mahdi Army who helps to control much of what goes on in the volatile slum of Sadr City.


Is This a Hostage Crisis in Iran?

With news that Iran has formally charged three Americans as spies and propagandists — click here for my own WPR story on the matter — Michael Ledeen suggested in a column posted at National Review Online on May 31 that American journalists and politicians have “totally missed a headline.”

Ledeen pointed out that while the press has homed in on the case of Haleh Esfandiaria, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, who along with Parnaz Azima, a journalist for the U.S. government-backed radio Farda, and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant working for George Soros’ Open Society Institute, was charged by Iran, journalists are ignoring the bigger reality that “there are now five American hostages in Iran.”

The other two, according to Ledeen, are Ali Shakeri, a founding board member at the University of California, Irvine’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, and Robert A. Levinson, a former FBI officer reportedly investigating tobacco smuggling on behalf of a private client.

“Each case has been largely treated by itself, almost as if it were an oddity, something requiring a special explanation, instead of another piece in a luminously clear pattern whose meaning should be intuitively obvious to us all,” wrote Ledeen, whose column titled “The Invisible Crisis,” was topped by the ominous question: “What if Iran took hostages and no one noticed?”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Africa’s secret prisons

Writing in the New Statesman on May 21, Christopher Thompson claimed that the United States has “quietly opened” a War on Terror front in East Africa, specifically through the use of undocumented Ethiopian jails for “‘rendition’ and interrogation of terror suspects” rounded up in the region.

“Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing the exact number of prisoners. They are kept in secret detention that bears all the hallmarks of a Guantanamo-type policy: cross-border transfers without judicial proceedings, military tribunals, abusive conditions and the prospect of indefinite imprisonment,” wrote Thompson, whose piece cited Human Rights Watch as its main source.

“There are reports that western intelligence agencies are taking advantage of these conditions — and, by extension, Ethiopia’s poor human-rights record — to conduct clandestine interrogations,” he wrote.

Iran’s Pursuit of WMD

Bronwen Maddox reminded us in the May 24 Times of London that Iran has “smashed through yet another deadline without a flicker of a response to demands that it halt its nuclear program.”

“The test of whether the world really wants to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons comes now,” wrote Maddox, who homed in on influence France and its newly elected President could have over the situation in the weeks to come.

“Efforts in the coming days by the U.S. and Britain to rally support in the United Nations Security Council for a third, harsher set of sanctions against Iran will be helped by the tough talk from President Sarkozy of France,” he claimed. “In his first detailed comments on the stand-off since taking office, Sarkozy said that the notion of a nuclear-armed Iran was unacceptable. He added that “one should not hesitate to toughen the sanctions.”

With the nuclear issue in the backdrop, Shaul Bakhash offered an intense personal account in the May 25 Los Angeles Times of his wife’s incarceration in Tehran. Haleh Esfandiari, a duel Iran-U.S. citizen and the director of the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, has been in custody since May 8 in Tehran.

Bakhash’s op-ed offered this description and theory about Iran’s motives:

Since her incarceration 17 days ago, Haleh has been allowed only one-or two-minute phone calls with her mother. She speaks as if a minder is present. No visits are allowed, no legal representation. With so little contact, I have every reason to assume the worst: that she is subject to blindfolding, solitary confinement and harsh, even brutal interrogation calculated to extract a false confession. Some suggest that hard-liners wanted Haleh in custody to block next week’s U.S.-Tehran talks. Others say the government wants to trade her for Iranians held in Iraq. This is mere speculation. The only explanation I’ve been given came in a statement issued Monday by the Ministry of Intelligence, a fantastical accusation that reveals the imaginary web Tehran wants to weave to entrap my wife and others. It goes like this: American think tanks such as the Wilson Center are advancing a U.S. government plan for a “soft toppling” of Iran, creating “links” between Iranian intellectuals and U.S. institutions and forming “informal communication networks” that can then be used “against the sovereignty of the country.”


Thailand’s Constitutional Crisis

With Thailand’s a new draft constitution — drawn up by the junta of military generals in power since last September’s coup — set to be put to a national referendum at summer’s end, Thitinan Pongsudhirak asserted in the May 24 Wall Street Journal that a “happy ending looks less likely as the document’s contents are scrutinized and opposition from the Thai public mounts.”

“The central premise of the new constitution is unmistakable: It is designed to prevent the monopolization of Thai politics that the country experienced under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s five-year rule and to shift political power from the parties, politicians and the electorate to the military, the bureaucracy and the monarchy,” Pongsudhirak wrote. “The Thai people are already voicing their objections. Street protests have grown in the face of increasing military clampdown. Pro- and anti-Thaksin forces both oppose the new charter, lining up against the coup, the military and the interim government and giving rise to persistent rumors of an incumbency coup and Prime Minister General Surayud Culanont’s resignation or termination by Council for National Security (the main organ of the junta).”

The “Red Ghosts” of Poland

Timothy Garton Ash claimed in the May 24 Guardian that Poland has made a “complete mess” of dealing with its communist past. “Poland’s latest episode,” according to Ash, “its so-called lustration law, introduced by the country’s rightwing, nationalist prime minister and president, the near-identical twins Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski, who came to power on a promise of finally cleansing the country’s public life of the red poison.”

“The new Polish law was very broadly and very badly drawn,” asserted Ash. “Among the categories of people to be lustrated were all journalists and academics. A procedure was introduced by which everyone affected had to submit a declaration saying whether they had consciously and secretly collaborated with the communist security services.”

Noting, however, that large parts of the law were recently struck down by Poland’s constitutional court, Ash added that “Poland today, a member of Nato and the EU, with independent media, a booming economy and a constitutional court strong enough to strike down a bad law, is better placed to weather the storm than it would have been in the autumn of 1989.”

Venezuelan Media Fight

Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos argued in the May 25 Miami Herald that “Hugo Chávez is nearing the end of his campaign to stifle independent media — not due to a change of heart, but because through the years he has been singularly successful at cutting off dissenting voices in Venezuela.”

“If he succeeds in his latest ploy, another will fall silent in the coming days,” wrote Lantos, referring to Chávez’s recent refusal to renew the license of “the country’s oldest and most popular station, Radio Caracas TV, a source of radio programming for 76 years and television for 53.”

Noting the roster of critics of this impending move already includes the secretary general of the OAS, the Inter-American Press Association, the National Association of Newspapers of Brazil, Reporters without Borders, The Committee to Protect Journalists, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, and the Congress of Chile, Lantos urged “regional leaders such as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and others to galvanize a single voice to echo the sentiments already issued by Chile’s Senate, which expressed its ‘strong rejection’ of the plan to squash RCTV.”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

February’s bilateral agreement between the United States and North Korea to push Pyongyang toward giving up its nuclear programs is now on the verge of collapse, according to John Bolton, who reminded us in the May 18 Wall Street Journal that “the first step, 60 days after ratification, was to be that North Korea ‘will shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment’ the Yongbyon nuclear facility, and readmit inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

“The 60 days came and went, and indeed, another 35 days have come and gone,” Bolton wrote. “No IAEA inspectors have been readmitted, and not even Pyongyang claims that it has “shut down” Yongbyon. Instead, observers — especially Iran and other nuclear weapons aspirants — have witnessed embarrassing U.S. weakness on a supposedly unrelated issue, unmentioned in the Feb. 13 agreement.”

That issue, according to Bolton, is North Korea’s demand that some $25 million of its frozen assets be released. “While the Bush administration denies a direct link, the North Koreans have said publicly that they will not comply with the bilateral agreement until the [funds] are safely under their control,” he wrote. “This obvious quid pro quo is not only embarrassing, it sets a dangerous precedent for other regimes that would blackmail the U.S.”

U.S. diplomacy is also on the edge when it comes to Russia, according to Clifford Kupchan, who argued in the May 15 Boston Globe that Vladimir Putin’s recent attacks on U.S. policy expose just how “resentful of the United States Moscow has become.”

“Moscow elites are infused with ‘petro-confidence’; high oil prices and strong economic growth have put a spry spring back in their step,” Kupchan eplained. “They feel empowered to redress fundamental grievances. Russians believe they have nothing to show for years of pro-U.S. policy, but instead have been rewarded with a policy of neo containment.”

To fix the situation, Kupchan asserted “the United States needs to fundamentally alter its conception of Russia. Moscow is resurgent on key diplomatic issues and Russian business is now influential across the globe. Washington should view Russia as a major non aligned power — more like China or India than a poor second-tier disciple.”

Diplomatic strides have been made, meanwhile, among African nations to confront the crisis in Somalia, but, according to Jackson Mbuvi’s piece in the May 17 Daily Nation (Kenya), the coalition of countries eager to stop the bloodshed in Mogadishu has been hamstrung by a variety of obstacles:

To start with, Ethiopia, though it did a fantastic job in routing the [Union of Islamic Courts], bungled on the transition programme. Apparently, the Ethiopians underestimated the ability of the Islamists to regroup, and sent back home two-thirds of the contingent that defeated the militants. …As for Uganda, a 1,500-strong contingent was dispatched to Mogadishu all right, but for the wrong reason. It was sent on a peace-keeping mission when there was not yet any peace to keep! …The case of the other three in the “coalition-of-the-willing” — Ghana, Malawi and Burundi — is equally pathetic. Much as they are willing to help, they are handicapped in terms of resources. …The last in the coalition, Nigeria, has a unique problem. It has the capacity to send troops to Mogadishu, but it won’t do so because Abuja is unhappy that Ethiopia is the country calling the shots in the Somalia affair.


On to Pakistan, where, according to Manjeet Kripalani’s commentary in the May 16 International Herald Tribune, a “lawyers’ protest against the unconstitutional dismissal of the chief justice of the Supreme Court in March has become a nationwide movement.”

“The country’s military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, must be afraid,” wrote Kripalani. “In the eight years that he has ruled Pakistan, mostly as a key ally in Washington’s ‘war on terror,’ there has not been such a sustained anti-Musharraf, anti-military movement.”

Kripalani added: “The latest protest movement is no ordinary swelling of public anger over the low quality of life. It is about something more lofty — the sanctity of the Constitution, which has been flagrantly abused by Musharraf’s government.”

Writing in the May 16 Telegraph (London), Isambard Wilkinson agreed that “Pakistan is in the throes of a ruthless power struggle. The question on most Pakistani lips is whether or not the bluff former commando will survive the most serious challenge to his eight-year rule.”

“In the manner of many Mogul rulers, Musharraf appears to have become cocooned from reality by the sycophants of his court. Since the publication of his bombastic biography last year, he has displayed a hubris of the type that presages a fall,” wrote Wilkinson.

Wilkinson noted that the Islamist threat in Pakistan, which has received a great deal of attention in the Western press, and which Musharraf has used to justify many of his government’s moves over the past eight years, is right now the least of Pakistan’s problems.

The same apparently can’t be said about London, where, according to Christopher Hitchen’s feature, “Londonistan Calling,” in the June issue of Vanity Fair, the move “from cricket and fish-and-chips to burkas and shoe-bombers” has occurred in a single generation.

Hitchen’s piece, which outlines the rise of British jihadists on the international scene, opens with a rich description of how the corner of London where he grew up has changed:

In my lost youth I lived in Finsbury Park, a shabby area of North London, roughly between the old Arsenal football ground and the Seven Sisters Road. It was a working-class neighborhood, with a good number of Irish and Cypriot immigrants. Your food choices were the inevitable fish-and-chips, plus the curry joint, plus a strong pitch from the Greek and Turkish kebab sellers. …Returning to the old place after a long absence, I found that it was the scent of Algeria that now predominated along the main thoroughfare of Blackstock Road. This had had a good effect on the quality of the coffee and the spiciness of the grocery stores. But it felt odd, under the gray skies of London, to see women wearing the veil, and even swathed in the chador or the all-enveloping burka.


The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

With the United States deep in battle against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and “fearing the next terrorist attack” on its own shores, Lorenzo Vidino posed the following in his May 9 Boston Globe commentary:

“Why not empower moderates within the Muslim world? Why not intervene in what is often defined as a civil war for the soul of Islam in support of those who espouse positions that are compatible with our national interest?”

“Throughout the Muslim world many courageous intellectuals, clerics, and activists are struggling to make their message heard, campaigning for the diffusion of the values of tolerance and democracy within Islamic societies and among Muslims in the West,” Vidino wrote. “It is in the West’s best interest to support these voices of reason, as they represent the best antidote to the radical ideology that is generating most of the terrorism and violence throughout the world.”

Vidino’s assertions dovetailed with an argument by Daniel Pipes, who opened a May 9 piece in The Jerusalem Post with the following about a recent interaction he had with a reader:

“‘Moderate unicorns,’ huffed a reader, responding to my recent plea that Western states bolster moderate Muslims. Dismissing their existence as a myth, [the reader noted] that non-Muslims ‘are still waiting for moderates to stand and deliver, identifying and removing extremist thugs from their mosques and their communities.'”

Pipes asserted that, in fact, recent events in Pakistan and Turkey “prove that moderate Muslims are no myth.”

He explained:

In Pakistan, an estimated 100,000 people demonstrated on April 15 in Karachi, Pakista’s largest city, protesting plans of a powerful mosque in Islamabad, the Lal Masjid, to establish a parallel court system based on Islamic law, the Shari’a. “No to extremism,” roared the crowd. “We will strongly resist religious terrorism and religious extremism,” exhorted Altaf Hussain, leader of the Mutahida Qaumi Movement. In Turkey, more than a million moderate Muslims in four marches protested the bid of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to take over the presidency of the republic, giving it control over the two top government offices (the other being the prime ministry, currently filled by Recep Tayyip Erdogan).


This battle between moderates and fundamentalists is certainly also underway in Palestine, where, according Frida Ghitis’ May 9 assessment for World Politics Review, violence in the Gaza Strip has gone on unabated despite a unity deal signed under Saudi auspices in February by Palestine’s two main rival factions, Hamas and Fatah.

“The Gaza Strip, which Israelis evacuated almost two years ago, is the scene of almost daily murders, kidnappings and shootouts, for reasons ranging from personal feuds to religious zealotry. Children are dying on a regular basis, killed not only by stray bullets, but sometimes targeted as proxies for their parents,” Ghitis wrote. “The lack of media coverage is the result of two factors. First, working in Gaza has become increasingly dangerous for foreign journalists. Second, and probably most importantly, the violence against Palestinians is not being perpetrated by Israelis.”

“The unity deal known as the Mecca Agreement [between Hamas and Fatah]…barely eases the enmity between the individuals who signed it,” she added. “Not only are Fatah and Hamas still bitter rivals. Hamas, which leads the Palestinian government, is itself deeply divided. The Hamas signatories to the Mecca deal, who reject Israel’s right to exist, now look like some of the most moderate in that Islamic movement.”

Speaking of Israel and how it is perceived by moderates, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora noted in the May 11 New York Times that “almost a year has passed since Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon, time enough to draw lessons from the conflict and reflect on its consequences.”

Siniora highlighted the recent emergence of the “Arab Peace Initiative, which was introduced by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by all the Arab countries during the March Arab League summit in Riyadh. “It offers Israel full recognition by the 22 members of the Arab League in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders, thus allowing the Palestinians to create a viable independent state on what is only 22 percent of historic Palestine,” he wrote. “This is a high price but one the Arabs are willing to pay, as it is the only realistic path to peace that conforms to all United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions addressing the conflict, and ensures the right of return of the Palestinian people.”

“The Arab states are not seeking to wipe Israel off the map,” Siniora added. “Rather, we are seeking the legitimate goals of an armistice, secure borders and the ability of all of the region’s people to live in peace and security.”

The fate of peace and security is also on the minds of many in France at the moment, as Bronwen Maddox queried in the May 9 Times of London: “How long can Nicolas Sarkozy go before provoking a riot?”

“No time at all, if you count the nights of post-election violence,” Maddox wrote, although he adding that “Sarkozy has made much of the changes he intends to make in his first 100 days.”

Maddox asserted that if Sarkozy “divides his list into the easy and the controversial, he can get some way down it without anticipating news pictures of riot shields and burning cars.”

“The most popular, inevitably, will be his tax-cutting plans. Even those who are suspicious of his presumed attack on France’s ‘social safety net’ may not object to his plans to pare away wealth and inheritance taxes, and some corporate taxes,” wrote Maddox. “His plans for tougher sentences for repeat offenders and tighter criteria for immigrants wanting to bring their families to France may also not face much organized opposition, although those who object will do so passionately.”

Tensions are boiling in Southeastern Europe, meanwhile, as the secessionist region of Kosovo says it will declare its independence from Serbia by the end of May. In addition to Serbia’s preemptively negative reaction to this, Hurst Hannun explained in the May 7 Christian Science Monitor just how complicated the secession could be.

Noting how “both Serb and Albanian leaders have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague,” Hannun offered the following:

Since the UN protectorate over Kosovo was created in 1999, there is little evidence that the Albanian majority in Kosovo is willing or able to protect the small number of Serbs who remain in the territory, most of them in protected enclaves. What, then, to do? Rather than dictate separation, the only course consistent with both international law and long-term stability in the Balkans is to continue to press for a negotiated settlement between Kosovo and Serbia. Unfortunately, the one option that might encourage such a settlement is partitioning Kosovo, which has been inexplicably rejected by international mediators from the beginning. …Ceding the northern part of Kosovo to Serbia would enable most Serbs now in Kosovo to remain within Serbia, and it may be acceptable to Kosovar Albanians if it is part of a final settlement that includes full and unconditional independence. Of course, those Serbs who remain scattered throughout Kosovo would be at risk, but their small numbers would constitute a minimal threat to the new state.


Damir Cosic, an occasional contributor to World Politics Review in Sarajevo, reminded us in a May 8 posting on this blog that what happens with Kosovo will also reverberate through the whole Balkan region. With Serbian Radical Party Deputy Tomislav Nikolic, a.k.a. “The Undertaker,” tapped speaker of Serbia’s parliament this week, Cosic explained:

“In short, if Kosovo is allowed to secede, the Radical Party will most likely respond by a) pushing parliament to deny Kosovo’s legitimacy (at least in terms of political rhetoric) by forever calling it an occupied territory of Serbia, and b) by using the development as a justification for a political push to absorb into Serbian sovereign territory an area known as the Republic of Srpska. The RS is currently part of Bosnia, though it is populated largely by ethnic Serbs.”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

As news broke of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s “impromptu 3-minute discussion” with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Ghassan Atiyyah’s commentary in the May 4 Daily Star asserted that the much anticipated conference of the region’s foreign minister’s “could be a turning point that leads all sides toward concerted action.”

In addition to using the conference to demonstrate a “new commitment to sustained, high-level engagement and effective regional diplomacy,” the United States, according to Atiyyah, should “make clear that the American military presence in Iraq is also part of the agenda.”

“Washington needs to generate new ideas to turn around the worsening crisis in Iraq,” he wrote. “There is no way to satisfy the expectations of all sides without declaring definitively that the US will withdraw: not precipitously, but responsibly.”

With that “crisis” on just about everyone’s mind as the Sharm el-Sheikh talks convened, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State John D. Negroponte perhaps unsurprisingly had this to say in the May 4 Wall Street Journal:

The Iraqis have come a long way in what has been a short time for them. Pressing them to continue moving ahead on national reconciliation and reform is well-justified. But imposing fixed deadlines would be ill-advised. …Fixed deadlines would empower the obstructionists, stiffening their resolve to resist and delay by showing them where to concentrate their efforts. It would also weaken the moderates who — forced to face a near-term future without us — would hedge their bets and be less willing to broker hard political compromises. This could provoke even greater violence and insecurity, the opposite effect of that presumably intended by those advocating deadlines. That is why President Bush just issued only the second veto of his administration.


One thing sure to come up at Sharm el-Sheikh is Turkey’s view of the situation in northern Iraq. Meanwhile, inside Turkey, according to Amir Taheri’s op-ed in the May 3 New York Post, things are in crisis mode since the nation’s highest court recently “blocked Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) from the ballot in the coming presidential election.”

“Ever since the AKP won control of the parliament and government four years ago, its opponents have warned that the crypto-Islamist outfit is pursuing a hidden agenda to destroy the nation’s 83-year-old secular and republican political system,” Taheri wrote.

Noting how, in Turkey, the government currently “owns some 80,000 mosques, appoints all preachers and approves all sermons,” Taheri asserted that the “AKP wants to wrest control of mosques, religious shrines and endowment businesses from the state.” While at first, this may appear as a shift toward Western-style secularism, the AKP’s real goal, he argued, is to “transfer these assets to private foundations controlled by Islamists.”

“If such a scheme succeeds, AKP would secure a permanent base from which to challenge the state when other parties are in power,” Taheri wrote. “Aware of the Europeans’ illusions about secularism, AKP has persuaded the European Union that all it wants for Turkey is a Western-style democratic system based on separation of mosque and state.”

It’s no wonder then, young Turks, according to Karabekir Akkoyunlu’s piece in the May 2 International Herald Tribune, are “to put it mildly, interested in the result of the French presidential election: Will it be won by Nicolas Sarkozy, an opponent of Turkey’s membership in the European Union, or by Ségolène Royal, who is more open to the idea of Turkish entry?”

“Either way, the new occupant of Élysée Palace will have to cope with a rapid short-term decline in relations between the two republics — a decline that is worrying to European-minded Turks of all ages,” wrote Akkoyunlu.

He cited Turkey’s recent suspension of talks with the French gas company, Gaz de France, over the Nabucco pipeline project that would carry Caspian energy to Europe, and the recent move by Turkish authorities to make it harder for French planes to use their country’s airspace, as “the latest symptoms of Turkey’s official dismay over a law passed by the French Parliament last year that makes it a criminal offense to deny that the Ottoman Armenians suffered genocide in 1915.”

On to the Horn of Africa, where, according to Afyare Abdi Elmi’s commentary in the May 1 Boston Globe, the United States has “inadvertently stepped into a local, tribal, and regional political quagmire.”

Citing recent clashes between Ethiopian troops and Somali resistance groups that killed more than 1,000 civilians and displaced more than 350,000 residents of Mogadishu, Elmi wrote that “the European Union has reacted to this carnage and it is investigating whether war crimes were committed by the Ethiopian forces and Somali government militias.”

“The United States, however, is on a different page,” according to Elmi, who argued that when the Union of Islamic Courts (a collaboration of Islamist militants) wrestled control of Mogadishu from U.S.-backed warlords in June 2006, “the Bush administration — using the war on terrorism as justiciation — supported the Ethiopian occupation, arguing that the Islamists were an emerging threat to the US interests.”

“But approaching the complex and multilayered Somali conflict in this simplistic way and linking it to the war on terror was a mistake,” Elmi wrote. “The resistance groups — clans, business groups, and Islamists — are challenging the occupying Ethiopian troops and the warlord-government in a variety of ways. Recent events in Mogadishu and Kismayo indicate that ignoring the grievances of stakeholders in Somalia will only perpetuate the conflict.”

Andrei Lankov, meanwhile, wrote in the May 3 Wall Street Journal that “if you thought October’s North Korean nuclear test would cool Pyongyang’s relationship with its southern neighbor, you thought wrong.”

“Far from isolating Kim Jong Il’s regime, the test failed to have any impact on the view of North Korea in Seoul,” Lankov asserted, adding that “nowhere is this more pronounced than on the campaign trail leading to national elections scheduled for December.”

“The left-leaning ruling Uri Party’s preference for rapprochement is well known — President Roh Moo-hyun has been an enthusiastic practitioner of his predecessor’s ‘Sunshine Policy,'” he wrote. “More notable, however, has been the right-leaning opposition Grand National Party’s apparent embrace of a warmer tone toward Pyongyang, too.”

Elsewhere in the Far East, William Pesek, writing for Bloomberg News on May 4, outlined how unrealistic it is to think that Asia might be anywhere near integrating its economies the way Europe has in recent years.

“Asia has a lot of work to do to get to a point where replicating Europe’s single currency and its level of economic integration is even a possibility,” Pesek wrote, noting that an immediate challenge is “proving how far Asia has come from 1997’s financial crisis. The hot money that fled the region during the turmoil is returning and Asia needs to prove its financial systems are sound and transparent enough to handle the inflows this time around.”

Furthermore, he wrote, Europe’s road to the euro took about three decades of planning, all of which occurred “well after World War II and in an environment of relative trust.”

“Asia is enjoying nothing like that. Its three biggest economies — Japan, China and South Korea — are barely on speaking terms amid differing versions of what happened six or seven decades ago,” Pesek added. “Recent meetings between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao were steps in the right direction, yet their countries have squandered many opportunities to join forces.”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Despite the wars, oil and endless Western punditry over its geopolitical significance, Edward Luttwak argued in the May cover story of Prospect Magazine that the Middle East is less relevant today than ever, and it would be best for everyone if the rest of the world learned to ignore it.

“Strategically, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been almost irrelevant since the end of the cold war. And as for the impact of the conflict on oil prices, it was powerful in 1973 when the Saudis declared embargoes and cut production, but that was the first and last time,” wrote Luttwak, who’s article included statistics showing how “global dependence on middle eastern oil is declining.”

As for the conflict’s political significance, he had this to say:

Yes, it would be nice if Israelis and Palestinians could settle their differences, but it would do little or nothing to calm the other conflicts in the middle east from Algeria to Iraq, or to stop Muslim-Hindu violence in Kashmir, Muslim-Christian violence in Indonesia and the Philippines, Muslim-Buddhist violence in Thailand, Muslim-animist violence in Sudan, Muslim-Igbo violence in Nigeria, Muslim-Muscovite violence in Chechnya, or the different varieties of inter-Muslim violence between traditionalists and Islamists, and between Sunnis and Shia, nor would it assuage the perfectly understandable hostility of convinced Islamists towards the transgressive west that relentlessly invades their minds, and sometimes their countries.


Yet, when it comes to bloodshed and civil war in Iraq, according to Hussein Agha’s assessment in the April 25 Guardian, the last thing the Middle East’s main players want is for U.S. troops to pull out.

“Overt political debate in the Middle East is hostile to the American occupation,” wrote Agha, but real intentions are different. “States and local political groups might not admit it — because of public opinion — but they do not want to see the back of the Americans. Not yet.”

“For this there is a simple reason: while the U.S. can no longer successfully manipulate regional actors to carry out its plans, regional actors have learned to use the U.S. presence to promote their own objectives,” he wrote. “Quietly and against the deeply held wishes of their populations, they have managed to keep the Americans engaged with the hope of some elusive victory.”

It is unclear the extent to which this applies to the relationship between Turkey and the United States, which is “approaching a critical strategic crossroad” with the war in Iraq serving as “the most immediate bone of contention driving [the two countries] apart,” wrote Rajan Menon and S. Enders Wimbush in the April 24 Washington Post.

“The Iraq war has put new energy into the third rail of Turkish politics: the Kurdish question. Ankara fears not only that the American-led intervention cannot hold Iraq together, but that it is a powerful stimulant for its breakup, which will result in an independent Kurdish entity in northern Iraq, bordering Turkey’s Kurdish population,” the two wrote. “Turkey’s experience fighting Kurdish separatists and terrorists is long, bitter and bloody. Consequently, there is no resonance at any point on Turkey’s political spectrum, or even in private discussions, for allowing something resembling a Kurdish state to emerge on the ruins of broken Iraq.”

In an April 26 piece in World Politics Review, Handan Satiroglu elaborated on the impact of the Kurdish question in Turkish politics:

” . . . many Turks question whether Washington’s inadequate action against the PKK is a ploy to dislocate the entire Middle Eastern region. Turkish media is saturated with provocative articles and conspiracy theories about the pro-American activities of Kurds in northern Iraq, as well as stories about clandestine American and European funding of the PKK activities. The notion that the United State’s new Middle Eastern project entails the formation of an independent Kurdish state that encompasses Turkey’s southeastern border is widespread.”


Wars certainly have a nasty habit of oozing across boarders. At least that’s been the case with Sudan, according to Andrew England, who wrote in the April 26 Financial Times that “what started in 2003 as a rebellion against the iniquities of Khartoum’s rule by a limited number of black African ethnic groups in western Sudan has now escalated into a proxy war between Sudan and neighboring Chad, and is in danger of spreading to other states in the region.”

“The fighting in Darfur has spilled into the Central African Republic, another impoverished, unstable state that borders Darfur and south-eastern Chad, acting as a convenient stepping-stone from one country into the other,” wrote England. “Eritrean support for the rebels in Darfur has added to the volatile mix, as does Libyan influence, as rival regimes seek opportunities to destabilize one another.”

The situation surrounding the flow of aid to another African country, Uganda, is about as complex, according to a piece in the April 25 International Herald Tribune by Diego Angemi, Jessica Oyugi, Imran Aziz and Timothy Kyamukama.

“Vast volumes of money are currently flooding Uganda,” they wrote. “However, instead of representing prioritized contributions to sustainable change, funds are simply fueling an ‘aid industry’ of fragmented assistance.”

“Over the past two years, 18 donor agencies have been directly involved in supporting the Ugandan health sector through no less than 111 projects at a cost of between $280 million and $300 million. Hardly peanuts. Yet out of these 111 projects, only two were specifically earmarked for regional referral hospitals.”

Their article offered this touching, and troubling, description:

Our journey started in Sipi Falls, one of Uganda’s best-kept secrets at the foothills of Mount Elgon. Having left the town of Mbale and proceeding towards Kampala, we saw a young boy lying unconsciously by the side of the road. We turned the car around to assist as a crowd gathered. In the confusion and anger at the apparent hit-and-run accident, we found the mother and, together with a neighbor, put the child in our car and rushed back to Mbale. The boy was unconscious, clearly battling for his life. …We hoped that our personal and professional contacts developed over years of working for the Ministry of Finance, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Mulago Hospital and the Infectious Disease Institute would help us save the boy’s life. Our hopes were shattered. At the casualty wing of the [Mbale Regional Referral Hospital, one of 11 regional hospitals in Uganda] the medical staff was apathetic. There was no oxygen, no blood pressure monitor, not even a basic flashlight. No medical officer was present. When the boy died, the hospital staff seemed more concerned with disposing of the body than with the fact that a young life had just ended before us.


Meanwhile, something strange is going on in the global opium market, according to Antonio Maria Costa, who noted in the April 25 Washington Post that while annual demand for opium is approximately 4,500 tons, last year a record 6,100 tons were produced in Afghanistan alone.

“Heroin prices should, in theory, be plummeting. But they are not. So what is going on?” queried Costa. “Are farmers stockpiling the drug? Unlikely. … Why would poor farmers sit on more than $1 billion worth of stock when they are struggling to make ends meet and common sense suggests that prices could easily fall?”

Costa asserted “there may be a more sinister explanation for why the bottom has not fallen out of the opium market: Major traffickers are withholding significant amounts.”

“Drug traffickers have a symbiotic relationship with insurgents and terrorist groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. . . . Opium is the glue that holds this murky relationship together. If profits fall, these sinister forces have the most to lose. I suspect that the big traffickers are hoarding surplus opium as a hedge against future price shocks and as a source of funding for future terrorist attacks, in Afghanistan or elsewhere.”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

An analysis by Salah Hemeid in this week’s Al-Ahram Weekly asserted that “a key Sunni Arab insurgency group in Iraq has called on Osama Bin Laden to step in and discipline his Al-Qaeda associates” from another group called the “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia Organization.”

“The growing tension was triggered by a power struggle between Al-Qaeda and powerful Sunni tribal leaders angered by the terror group’s indiscriminate killing of civilians and radical interpretation of Islam,” wrote Hemeid. “Sunni tribesmen have been increasingly keen to expel foreign fighters from areas under their control and Internet postings by Iraqi groups disclose a deep rift among even the most radical Sunni groups, linked under the umbrella organisation the Islamic State of Iraq.”

Division between Muslim moderates and extremists was a recurring them in the week’s op-eds. Away from the Middle East, Calvin Sims wrote in the April 15 New York Times of the big questions presently facing Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation: “Can Islam and democracy co-exist? And what would such a democracy look like?”

“The fastest-growing Muslim movements, in fact, are moderate and outspoken in their promises to compete only through democratic processes,” wrote Sims, whose reporting was also featured in “Struggle for The Soul of Islam: Inside Indonesia,” a documentary broadcast this week on PBS.

“But there is also fear that the global rise of militant fundamentalism has begun to change Indonesia. With democracy’s arrival, radical Islamists were allowed to return from exile, where the former military government had sent them,” he wrote. “That was followed by the terrorist bombing of a nightclub on the predominantly Hindu island of Bali in 2002, in which 200 people died, then by other bombings in Jakarta and Bali, again.”

Extremism of another sort captured the focus of Nickolai Butkevich’s in the April 17 Jerusalem Post. He claimed that this week’s brief “detention of chess champion and opposition politician Garry Kasparov in Moscow may be the Russian government’s biggest miscalculation yet in its burgeoning campaign to stifle political dissent.”

Butkevich argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to step down after presidential elections next year, spent the early part of his rule “constructing a nascent dictatorship” within which reliable information about what is really happening in Russia is now scarce.

“Kremlin officials and their political allies are beginning to believe their own propaganda about conspiracies against Russia abetted by human rights NGOs and liberal politicians,” Butkevich wrote. “Unfortunately for the Kremlin, Kasparov’s detention is likely to backfire, as it will likely only increase his popular support among the large numbers of Russians who, despite their generally warm feelings toward their president, are increasingly dissatisfied with how his government is addressing Russia’s daunting economic and social challenges.”

Things in Russia might be shade brighter than in, say, the former Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan, where according to Joshua Foust’s assessment in World Politics Review on April 18, newly elected President Gurbanguli Berdimuhammedov faces “some serious choices.”

The first is how closely he’ll stick to his election promise of keeping former President Sapurmurat Niyazov’s dictatorial policies in place. Foust argued that “there are many encouraging signs that President Berdimuhammedov will open his country to the outside world.”

He believes the change of leadership “represents a huge opportunity” for the United States and Europe to gain access to Turkmenistan’s natural gas.

“A joint consortium between U.S. and European energy companies to bring Turkmenistan’s natural gas exports to the rest of the planet would have a major impact not only on each domestic market involved, but also on Russia’s ability to coercively use its energy resources,” Foust wrote. “If there were an alternative to Gazprom gas in the region, Gazprom would have far less flexibility in demanding increased prices from its wayward former vassals.”

On to greater Europe, where, as Michael Young mused in the April 19 Daily Star (of Beirut), Jacques Chirac will be emptying the closets at the Elysée Palace this week ahead of the first round of France’s presidential election next Sunday.

“Chirac’s final act, however, may be to see through a major endeavor of his in recent months: ensuring that a tribunal is formed to sentence those responsible for the assassination of his late friend, [former Lebanese Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri,” wrote Young.

Young explained:

By next week we should know better whether the tribunal will be created under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. Much will depend on the impressions that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov and UN Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel take home with them after their visits to the region this week. Chirac’s departure is accelerating what happens in New York, partly because he has good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and could help reassure the Kremlin; partly because the transfer of power to a new French president could delay the tribunal approval process, which senior UN officials, the United States, and France don’t want to see happen.

Guy Sorman, meanwhile, delivered some sobering commentary in the April 20 Wall Street Journal on China, which is preparing to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. The thrust of Sorman’s piece was that, despite Western media claims to the contrary, “the 21st century will not belong to the Chinese.”

“True, 200 million of China’s subjects, fortunate to work for an expanding global market, are increasingly enjoying a middle-class standard of living,” he wrote. “The remaining one billion, however, are among the poorest and most exploited people in the world, lacking even minimal rights and public services. The [Communist] Party, while no longer totalitarian, is still cruel and oppressive.”

Sorman backed his argument with this illustration of China’s AIDS crisis:

When Bill Clinton visited Henan in 2005 to distribute AIDS medicine, for example, the Party prevented him from visiting the worst-off villages. Instead, in Henan’s capital city, he posed with several Party-selected AIDS orphans as the cameras clicked. It was an elaborate public-relations charade: China, with the West’s help, was tackling AIDS! Had Mr. Clinton been given a tour by Hu Jia, a human-rights activist, a far grimmer picture would have emerged. … Mr. Hu and I traveled to one of the villages that the former president missed: Nandawu, home to 3,500 people. It’s not hard to visit — you can get past the police checkpoint at the village’s entrance by hiding under a tarpaulin on a tractor-trailer, and the police fear AIDS too much to enter the village itself. What I saw there, however, will remain with me forever. The disease inflicts at least 80% of the families there; in every hovel we entered an invalid lay dying. Most of the sufferers had no medicine. One woman put a drip on her sick husband, a man who has been bedridden for two years and who is covered with sores. What did the bottle contain? She didn’t know. Why was she doing this? “I saw in the hospital and on television that sick people had to be put on the drip.”


The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

A great deal is at stake as the African powerhouse of Nigeria heads into nationwide elections this week, and so far initial indications “have not been promising,” according to John Ghazvinian’s April 12 assessment on the Web site of The Nation.

“President Olusegun Obasanjo, a darling of Western business interests, has appeared reluctant to leave office,” Ghazvinian explained. “At its nominating convention in December, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chose a relative unknown — Katsina governor Umaru Yar’Adua, a staunch Obasanjo loyalist — as its presidential candidate, bypassing several far more prominent figures in the party.”

“Regardless of who ultimately takes control,” he added, “the biggest challenge to Nigeria’s long-term success and stability will remain the ongoing struggle for control of the country’s formidable oil revenue, and the stubborn insurgency it has created in the oil-rich Niger Delta.”

Across the South Atlantic, a power grab of another sort continues in Ecuador, where, according to Mary Anastasia O’Grady’s piece in the April 9 Wall Street Journal, a “modern day plunder frenzy” is pitting “President Rafael Correa, an outspoken admirer of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, against members of Congress who wish to preserve the country’s institutional balance of power.”

Despite objections from Ecuador’s legislature, a nationwide referendum scheduled for April 15 to decide whether the country wants to elect a constituent assembly with “full powers,” is “likely to go forward,” according to O’Grady.

“A ‘yes’ vote would mean that the assembly would not only be charged with drafting the new law, but also be given authority to dissolve Congress, remake the courts and end term limits for the president,” she wrote. “At stake is the future of democracy, with 13 million Ecuadoreans facing the prospect of life under a soft dictatorship allied with the Venezuelan strongman.”

The mudslinging continued, meanwhile, from both sides of the isle in the debate over the U.S. occupation of Iraq, with Democrat Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slamming Vice President Dick Cheney in the April 12 Los Angeles Times.

“It is incredible that more than four years after the invasion, the vice president is still trying to convince the public that Saddam Hussein’s regime was connected to Al Qaeda and that Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq was evidence of a connection,” wrote Levin. “While the vice president doesn’t say directly that there was a tie between the two, his clear purpose is to blur the line between Al Qaeda — the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks — and the Iraqi dictator in order to justify the war in Iraq.”

“The vice president has made so many outlandish statements,” added Levin, “that the country barely raised an eyebrow at his false statement last week.”

While the political fight over the war’s origin continues, others are focusing on Iraq’s future, and proposing some pretty novel ideas about how to bring stability out of chaos. In the April 11 Boston Globe, Boston University’s Laurence J. Kotlikoff floated the following idea:

“The Iraqi government should institute a draft of all Iraqi men between the ages of 18 and 35. This is the demographic most responsible for the violence. The removal of these 3 million men from the cities and countryside to army barracks would likely bring an immediate end to Iraq’s horrific nightmare. Any men older than 35 suspected of involvement in terrorist or insurgent acts would also be enlisted in the Iraqi army. The role of the enlarged Iraqi army would not involve bearing arms or training in the use of arms. Rather the role would be to reconstruct the country. All army units would be assigned specific reconstruction tasks and be jointly commanded by a Shia, a Sunni, and a Kurd who would make unanimous decisions. … Were the United States to pay 3 million Iraqi soldiers $10,000 yearly, the bill would be $30 billion. This is a small amount relative to the savings it would accrue from leaving the country. …Eventually, the country’s oil revenue would be used to cover these premium payments to Iraqi soldiers.”


Robert D. Kaplan’s April 10 piece published on the Web site of The Atlantic took stock of the U.S. government’s efforts to rebuild Iraq. Kaplan honed in on the failure of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq — essentially combined civilian-military units backed by the U.S. State Department to conduct humanitarian and development operations in remote locations across the war torn nation.

Used first in Afghanistan, Kaplan asserted the “PRTs got rave reviews from the media and for good reason. They were established in the parts of Afghanistan where security was decent, if not great, and where development was nil, giving American amateurs the chance to win over the local population by building water wells and one-room schoolhouses from scratch.”

“Unfortunately, Iraq is not Afghanistan,” he added. “Not only is security non-existent, but Iraq’s infrastructure is far more complex than Afghanistan’s. Thus, Iraq needs real experts and a supple bureaucracy — both in the Green Zone and in Washington — to help it out of its decrepitude. But both of these are lacking.”

Finally, Sabastian Mallaby reminded us in the April 13 Washington Post that “in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was a new recognition that poor countries could harm rich ones: Weak and failing states could incubate disease, crime, environmental degradation — and terrorism.”

“But that healthy recognition is fading, and the World Bank, which ought to be a powerful voice against complacent backsliders, is muted by scandal,” he wrote.

Mallaby offered this synopsis of the scandal surrounding former deputy defense secretary and current World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz:

“Kevin Kellems, an unremarkable press-officer-cum-aide who had previously worked for Wolfowitz at the Pentagon, pulls down $240,000 tax-free — the low end of the salary scale for World Bank vice presidents, who typically have PhDs and 25 years of development experience. Robin Cleveland, who also parachuted in with Wolfowitz, gets $250,000 and a free pass from the IRS, far more than her rank justifies. Kellems and Cleveland have contracts that don’t expire when Wolfowitz’s term is up. They have been granted quasi-tenure. Then there is the matter of Shaha Riza, a long-standing bank official who is Wolfowitz’s romantic partner. She went on paid leave (seconded to the State Department) after Wolfowitz arrived; her salary has since jumped from $133,000 to $194,000. When questions were first asked about Riza’s rewards, a spokesman declared that the matter had been handled by the bank’s board and general counsel, implying that the bank president himself had not been responsible. But the truth was that Wolfowitz had been closely involved, as a contrite Wolfowitz admitted [on April 12].”


The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

After last week’s New York Times piece by Nicholas D. Kristof made the case for U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney being a spy for Iran, Iason Athanasiadis drew attention in his March 29 World Politics Review exclusive to similarly tongue-in-cheek claims in the Israeli media that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be working for Israel.

Athanasiadis’ WPR piece, written from Tehran, examines Iranian foreign policy and chronicles his own experiences living there the past three years, including recently when some Iranians observing Ahmadinejad’s combative stance toward the United States joked their president “must be a CIA plant.”

David Ignatius opined in the March 30 Washington Post that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard might have captured 15 British sailors and marines last week because “the Guard’s commanders wanted some bargaining chips” to get back five Iranian intelligence operatives captured by U.S. troops in January in Iraq.

Then again, wrote Ignatius, “there are larger forces at play. The Revolutionary Guard was targeted in the U.N. sanctions enacted last weekend against Iran’s nuclear program — which, as it happens, is run by the Revolutionary Guard. The elite military group may have wanted to retaliate by imposing its own brute sanctions against Britain, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.”

To the south and west of Iran, policy makers and analysts in “the Arab world have little confidence that the current U.S. troop surge in Iraq will do much more than — at best — postpone a complete political-security breakdown in Iraq, which, they fear, could then spread across the Middle East,” according to Helena Cobban’s piece in the March 29 Christian Science Monitor.

“The continuing social and political catastrophe in Iraq has sent shock waves throughout the other Arab states, too,” she wrote. “In Cairo, senior analysts at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies talked about how Arabs had long viewed the Iraqi state as a bulwark against the extension of Iranian power from the east. But, now, with that bulwark largely destroyed, they saw Iran’s influence extending deep into Iraq and directly threatening the stability of many other Arab states, especially in the Persian Gulf.”

It is clearly evident, meanwhile, that “the Cuban Revolution is fading without its leader, Fidel Castro,” wrote Erneido Oliva in the March 27 Miami Herald. “The future of Cuba looks very dreadful. No one wants to see or encourage a mass exodus from Cuba, and it would be a great tragedy for Cuba if it happens,” wrote Oliva. “However, many international analysts have predicted that in a moment of desperation, thousands of Cubans could decide to revolt or take to the sea seeking a better life.”

Changes are also underway is one of the world’s other water-locked nations, on the opposite side the planet, where “barely half a year into his premiership, Japan’s Shinzo Abe is provoking anger across Asia and mixed feelings in his countyr’s key alley, the United States,” according to Francis Fukuyama’s assessment in the March 27 Daily Star.

“A number of American strategists are eager to ring China with a NATO-like defensive barrier, building outward from the US-Japan Security Treaty. Since the final days of the Cold War, the US has been pushing Japan to rearm. . . . America should be careful about what it wishes for.”

America should also be careful about torturing men detained in the war on terrorism, according to a March 28 International Herald Tribune op-ed by Tara McKelvy.

She quoted former interrogator Tony Lagouranis, now bouncer at a bar in Chicago, who said “coercive techniques, including the use of dogs, waterboarding and prolonged stress positions were employed on the detainees.”

The interrogator told McKelvy that “Prisoners held at Al Asad Airfield, about 110 miles northwest of Baghdad, were shackled and hung from an upright bed frame welded to the wall in a room in an airplane hanger.”

“The results of the hangings, shacklings and prolonged stress positions — sometimes for hours — were devastating,” wrote McKelvy. “‘You take a healthy guy and you turn him into a cripple, at least for a period of time,’ Lagouranis told me. ‘I don’t care what Alberto Gonzales says. That’s torture.'”

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every week day morning in WPR’s Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Harsh Mander argued this week in The Times of India that little positive response has been made by the Indian government during the five years since mobs of Hindus fatally attacked the Muslim minority in Gujarat state in 2002.

“Several thousand people have still not returned to their original homes and are losing hope of doing so in the future,” wrote Mander. “Many have moved out of the state, others have bought or rented homes in the burgeoning Muslim ghettos that offer sectarian security, and around 30,000 who have not returned to their homes are living in 81 makeshift relief colonies that the state government refuses to acknowledge, let alone equip with basic human facilities.”

Unrelated but nearby, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is “likely to weather the storm created over the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and will find more reasons to tighten military control over Pakistan, at least until the elections are successfully organized in November,” according to Wilson John’s assessment in the March 22 Washington Times.

John argued that while “some major towns have been witnessing street protests, mostly by lawyers and some political party activists, since the March 7 suspension there are no signs of either rival political parties joining ranks to oppose the general or the Bush administration being willing to part ways with him.”

Peter Brookes claimed in the March 19 New York Post that “recent military news out of China includes double trouble.”

“Beijing announced a jaw-dropping 18 percent jump in its defense budget — 5 percentage points more than last year’s alarming rise — at the yearly meeting of the National People’s Congress,” wrote Brookes, who claimed “China’s military buildup has focused on developing capabilities that are best suited to take advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses — rather than one of trying to counter its obvious strengths.”

The United States is pushing geopolitically sticky military strategies of its own, in Europe, according to Polish Senator Radek Sikorski’s op-ed in the March 21 Washington Post.

“The U.S. proposal to place radar and interceptor sites for a new missile defense system in Central Europe — respectively, in the Czech Republic and Poland — may generate a new security partnership with the countries of the region,” Sikorski wrote. “Or it could provoke a spiral of misunderstanding, weaken NATO, deepen Russian paranoia and cost the United States some of its last friends on the continent.”

Meanwhile, the United States and its friends are determined “to create an independent state of Kosovo,” according to Svante E. Cornell and Michael Jonsson’s piece in the March 22 International Herald Tribune.

What’s being pushed for, the two argued, “looks set to become a heavily criminalized state in the heart of Europe, with far- reaching implications.”

Legacy groups of the Kosovo Liberation Army “have created a major problem,” wrote Cornell and Jonsson, who claim UN police privately acknowledge “that they they and the multinational forces in Kosovo have become reluctant to target former KLA members involved in organized crime.”

It was also a week of notable U.S.-centric opinion pieces.

The New York Times carried a column on March 20
by Nicholas D. Kristof, who made the case that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney might actually be a spy for the Iranian government:

If an 18-year-old American soldier were caught slipping obscure military paperwork to Iranian spies, he would be arrested, pilloried in the news media and tossed into prison for years. But in fact there’s an American who has provided services of incalculably greater value to Iran in recent years. So you have to wonder: Is Dick Cheney an Iranian mole?


The Washington Post ran an anonymous op-ed by “John Doe” on March 23, claiming to be a first hand account of the extent to which the Bush administration is attempting to use executive power to silence people:

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information.


With the FBI’s dirty laundry getting aired at a U.S. Congressional hearing during the week, the Los Angeles Times ran a piece on March 21 by Jon You, a former Bush administration Justice Department official who helped craft the original Patriot Act, who perhaps surprisingly argued that the FBI should be dismantled:

More than five years after 9/11, the United States still has a long way to go to create an effective and efficient antiterrorism agency. …The FBI has become overgrown and unwieldy. Like a bloated corporate conglomerate, the FBI cannot execute its core missions with focus and flexibility. The FBI is rife with mismanagement. In recent years, it has lost weapons and laptop computers and has been unable to complete a $170-million computer system to manage cases.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

This could be the end for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, not because he’s 83, but simply, according to Ben Macintyre’s assessment in the March 17 Times of London, because of his regime’s sloppily managed torture recently of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

“All tyrannies have a tipping point, a moment when the power of the dictator crumbles and he reads the writing on the wall,” wrote Macintyre. “Usually, that point is marked by a symbol, an image, an event that seems to capture the weakness and barbarity of the despot … For Mugabe, the symbolic image that marks the end may be the photograph of Tsvangirai, emerging from police captivity, head gashed and face swollen, and his wrist broken.”

Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko lobbied in the March 15 Wall Street Journal to be considered for membership in the European Union, writing in a carefully worded piece that “membership of the EU remains our ultimate goal, but it is not an end in itself.”

“Ukraine’s desire to meet the Union’s Copenhagen criteria for membership is driven primarily by an internal desire to create a stable, prosperous and democratic society,” Yushchenko wrote. “We therefore need to focus on the substance of reforms and integration and not become preoccupied with the end point. If we get the substance right, the rest will take care of itself. This should be the basis of a breakthrough in the EU-Ukraine agenda.”

J. Alexander Their and Scott Worden offered a rare glimpse in the March 13 Christian Science Monitor of Afghanistan’s internal wrangling over the issue of amnesty for Taliban members.

“Last Saturday, the lower house of the country’s parliament passed a bill that encourages all factions, including the Taliban, to join in a process of national reconciliation. In return, these groups and individuals would be immune from prosecution for atrocities committed before joining the process,” wrote Their and Worden. “Although President Hamid Karzai successfully negotiated a crucial amendment to protect the rights of victims of war crimes, the new amnesty law still favors the powerful warlords who sponsored the bill.”

The two added that: “International experience has shown that amnesty has not worked to promote reconciliation where potentially guilty parties have simply tried to evade accountability. … In Afghanistan, lack of accountability continues to erode support for the government and creates fertile ground for the insurgency.”

There was much written of the Pentagon’s mid-week release of a transcript of Khalid Sheihk Mohammed’s confession. But the one piece that really jumped out appeared on the Web site of Time on March 15 by Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer, who wrote of “a major flaw” in the Pentagon’s marketing strategy of releasing such a transcript.

“On the face of it, KSM, as he is known inside the government, comes across as boasting, at times mentally unstable. It’s also clear he is making things up,” wrote Bear. “I’m told by people involved in the investigation that KSM was present during Wall Street Journal correspondent Danny Pearl’s execution but was in fact not the person who killed him. There exists videotape footage of the execution that minimizes KSM’s role. And if KSM did indeed exaggerate his role in the Pearl murder, it raises the question of just what else he has exaggerated, or outright fabricated.”

Much also got written of Iraq and the American public’s short attention span for it, including WPR Contributor Neil Shea’s March 16 reaction to the Pentagon’s long-anticipated acknowledgement — made in a March report to Congress — that “some” of the violence in Iraq could actually be described as “civil war.”

“Perhaps official adoption of the term ‘civil war’ will shake the public out of its complacency,” pondered Shea, who added that “there are many reasons to doubt it.”

David Ignatius also touched on the short attention span issue in his March 16 Washington Post column about the retirement of U.S. Central Command head Gen. John Abizaid, whom Ignatius described as “an intellectual who thought more deeply about the strategic issues involved in what he liked to call the ‘long war’ than almost anyone else in the U.S. government.”

“How do you win a ‘long war’ against Islamic extremism if your country has a short attention span?” queried Ignatius. “That’s an overarching concern for Abizaid regarding a conflict in which time — not troops, not tactics — is the true strategic resource. ‘The biggest problem we’ve got is lack of patience,’ he says. ‘When we take upon ourselves the task of rebuilding shattered societies, we need not to be in a hurry. We need to be patient, but our patience is limited. That makes it difficult to accomplish our purposes.'”

But troops are a great strategic resource, and we should be thinking of ways to improve their depth and value, according to Max Boot and Michael O’Hanlon, who argued in a piece posted on the Web site of the Armed Forces Journal for the creation of “a U.S. foreign legion.”

“By inviting foreigners to join the U.S. armed forces in exchange for a promise of citizenship after a four-year tour of duty, we could continue to attract some of the world’s most enterprising, selfless and talented individuals. We could provide a new path toward assimilation for undocumented immigrants who are already here but lack the prerequisite for enlistment: a green card. And we could solve the No. 1 problem facing the Army and Marine Corps: the fact that these services need to grow to meet current commitments yet cannot easily do so (absent a draft) given the current recruiting environment,” wrote Boot and O’Hanlon.

“Not only would immigrants provide a valuable influx of highly motivated soldiers,” the two went on, “they would also address one of America’s key deficiencies in the battle against Islamist extremists: our lack of knowledge of the languages and mores in the lands where terrorists reside. Newly arrived Americans can help us avoid trampling on local sensitivities and thereby creating more enemies than we eliminate.”

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday.Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outletsworldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notableop-eds.

The price of truth continues to rise. Bush should be thinking Brazil, Brazil, Brazil. Egypt could soon end up run by the Muslim Brotherhood. Sunni Muslims aren’t going to buy U.S. claims that Iran is out to get them. The African Union should be done away with. And don’t blame China for the currently plunging world markets.

Coming on the heels of reports that Russian journalist Ivan Safronov was working on a sensitive story about Russian weapons sales when he fell to his death from a fifth-story Moscow window, Harold Evans’ piece in the March 8 International Herald Tribune offered some staggering statistics on the danger faced by journalists in today’s world.

“The International News Safety Institute, a coalition of media organizations, press freedom groups, unions and humanitarian campaigners dedicated to the safety of journalists and media staff, calculates that if we include all news media personnel — translators, fixers, office staff, drivers — no fewer than 1,000 have died in the last 10 years,” wrote Evans.

The majority “are planned assassinations,” he wrote, adding “almost eight out of 10 of the killers have never been investigated, let alone prosecuted, convicted or punished.”

With George W. Bush off to Latin America, Eric Farnsworth’s piece in the March 8 Christian Science Monitor called on the U.S. President to strengthen ties with Brazil, South America’s largest country, which is “certainly showing that it is ready for a stronger relationship with the U.S.”

“For example, by voluntarily giving up its nuclear program, Brazil turned swords into plowshares,” wrote Farnsworth. “As Iran’s nuclear ambitions continue unabated, active partnership with Brazil within the International Atomic Energy Agency, if pursued, could directly assist the global effort to deny Iran’s ability to acquire nuclear weapons.”

Farnsworth also offered some sobering big-picture analysis of the geopolitical situation in Latin America, or at least the way it’s being perceived by U.S. observers:

On the left, critics suggest that the war in Iraq and perceived US neglect of Latin America since 9/11 explains and even justifies the anti-US wave that is sweeping parts of the region. As a result, we should expect little in terms of cooperation to achieve US goals in the hemisphere. On the right, the view is that Latin Americans themselves have made little progress in developing their own economies and institutions and that the region has little to offer the United States. Therefore, the region justifiably has been ignored in the face of numerous competing global priorities. Both views are wrong. In fact, the ability of the US to address the significant global challenges it faces would be directly enhanced by closer coordination with willing partners in Latin America.


Timothy Garton Ash reminded us in the March 8 Los Angeles Times that someday soon, someone — perhaps his son Gamal, or perhaps someone from the Muslim Brotherhood — will succeed Egypt’s 78-year-old President Hosni Mubarak.

“Whatever happens in the transition from Hosni Mubarak over the next decade — whether we get President Mubarak II, or a candidate supported by the military, or someone else — I would bet on one thing,” offered Garton Ash: “The Islamic component in the legitimating god mix of Egyptian politics is likely to grow stronger.”

“For many of those who live 10 to one room in the poorer quarters of Cairo, the great myth remains that of the Muslim Brotherhood, with its brilliantly simple slogan, ‘Islam is the solution,'” he wrote. “As long as it is banned, the Brotherhood does not need to demonstrate how exactly Islam is the solution. It can hardly be expected to produce detailed, specific policies, let alone to deliver on them. In fact, the Mubarak regime is performing a great service to the Brotherhood by continuing to persecute it. Trying to strangle Islamism, it feeds its growth.”

If only it were so simple in Iraq, where, according to Azzam Tamimi’s assessment in the March 7 Guardian, Sunni Muslims are unlikely to bite on suggestions from the Bush Administration that Iran is their real enemy.

According to Tamimi: “It is widely believed in the region that the meeting in Jordan on 20 February between Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, and the intelligence chiefs of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates was aimed at preparing the ground [for an invasion of Iran].”

“The role of Washington’s friends in the region would be to portray Iran as the real threat to both Arabs and Sunnis,” Tamimi wrote, adding that “if Iran is attacked, it is highly unlikely that the Sunnis will be indifferent; just as they stood by Hizbullah last summer, they will stand by Iran. The attempt to create a US-Sunni alliance has already failed to convince most Sunnis that Iran — rather than the US — is the real enemy.”

Drawing on polling data, Peter Kiernan made a similar case in World Politics Review March 1.

On to Africa, where, according to Sanou Mbaye’s piece in the March 8 Japan Times, “antagonism between the blacks of sub-Saharan Africa and the inhabitants of the Continent’s north remains a reality that impedes the prospect of any union between them.”

“Northern hostility, separatism and racism toward the southerners are at the center of this split,” Mbaye wrote. “However, in our current era of political correctness, outright separation between the north and the south remains unmentionable.”

It follows that “the African Union needs thorough rethinking,” according to Mbaye, who wrote that “it is worth remembering that the people who were instrumental in establishing the best and most enduring union of states in history, the United States of America, were political activists, not heads of states.”

It is a misleading assumption, meanwhile, to think that China set off the ongoing route in global stock markets, according to Philip Bowring, who explained in the March 5 International Herald Tribune that “China was actually not the first of the big bull markets to hit a wall.”

“That distinction is held by Mumbai, whose stock index has fallen 15 percent since an all-time high last month,” wrote Bowring, who added that “India’s markets could have fallen much further than China’s without attracting much international attention.”

“With the world so sharply focused on China, the 9 percent drop of its markets in February was widely perceived as the culprit for the general downturn,” he wrote. “In fact, it was just a reminder of how far other markets have risen in the past year. The China market could be stabilized soon without others following suit — or vice versa.”

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

In this week’s review: Despite the 2008 Olympic games, human rights improvements in China won’t come easy; the outlook for the Darfur Peace Agreement is bleak; opponents of U.S. foreign policy are using the courts to frustrate American aims; three views on what Iraq needs; and the rise of new great powers pose a challenge to the international system.

With the 2008 summer Olympics fast approaching, China “knows that the eyes of the world are increasingly turning” its way, according to a March 2 Japan Times piece by Frank Ching.

As a result, wrote Ching, “many people hope that the overall human rights situation in China will improve” as was the case “in South Korea in the wake of the Seoul Olympics of 1988.”

But it won’t happen easily, he wrote, explaining that it recently took intervention by Hillary Clinton to convince Chinese authorities to allow 79-year-old AIDS activist Gao Yaojie to travel to the United States to receive a human rights leadership award. During the 1990s, Gao exposed how HIV spread in China through illegal blood sales. She had been blocked from leaving the country from 2001 through this year.

“If China wants to be viewed as a responsible, sophisticated country, mature enough to host the Olympic Games, it should demonstrate this,” wrote Ching. “Otherwise, once the Games are over, there will have been no change within China, and no change in its international image.”

The situation in Sudan’s Darfur region has gotten no better despite an attempt at a peace deal last year. “There is, for the moment, nothing to expect in Darfur except more death, more destruction, more rape and more pressure on the rapidly dwindling band of humanitarians struggling to save lives in areas far outside the war zones,” wrote Julie Flint in the March 2 Daily Star (of Beirut).

“For the first time since the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed in Abuja, Nigeria, in May last year — an agreement forced to a hasty conclusion that left it incomplete and so ensured its failure — those who would bring peace to Darfur are finally acknowledging that the agreement cannot work as it is and needs re-examination,” wrote Flint. “The bad news . . . is that there is no coherent plan for how to go about ‘modifying’ the peace agreement.”

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey wrote in the Feb. 28 Washington Post that an Italian court’s announcement last month that it will move forward with the indictment and trial of 25 CIA agents charged with kidnapping a Muslim cleric “serves as a wake-up call to the United States.”

Rivkin and Casey observed that “overseas opponents of American foreign policy are increasingly turning to judicial proceedings against individual American officials as a means of reformulating or frustrating U.S. aims.”

“Action to arrest this development is needed,” wrote Rivkin and Casey, both of whom served in the U.S. Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. “Congress should make it a crime to initiate or maintain a prosecution against American officials if the proceeding itself otherwise violates accepted international legal norms.”

Many op-eds during the past week focused on what the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress is doing to affect change in the Bush administration’s approach to the war in Iraq.

“Despite the earlier pledge of congressional Democrats not to challenge funding for the war in Iraq this year, key members of the House and Senate are considering robust and binding responses to the conflict — most specifically to President Bush’s surge strategy,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon in the March 1 Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

“Congress is within its constitutional rights to do so. But in its understandable response to a failing mission and an impatient American public, its approach is unproductive,” he wrote. “Rather than force a showdown with Mr. Bush this winter and spring, Congress should give his surge strategy a chance — while preparing for the real fight this fall.”

Andrew J. Bacevich appeared to agree, although he took things a step further, writing in the March 1 Boston Globe that “rather than vainly sniping at President Bush over his management of the Iraq war, the Democratic-controlled Congress ought to focus on averting any recurrence of this misadventure.”

“Decrying the so-called ‘surge’ or curbing the president’s authority to conduct ongoing operations will contribute little to that end,” Bacevich wrote. “Legislative action to foreswear preventive war might contribute quite a lot.”

Henry Kissinger, meanwhile, argued in the Feb. 25 International Herald Tribune that “the time has come to begin preparing for an international conference to define the political outcome of the Iraq war. Whatever happens, a diplomatic phase is necessary.”

“A call for an international conference would be an important step in dealing with a striking anomaly of contemporary international politics,” wrote Kissinger, who served as U.S. Secretary of State some 30 years ago under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. “America is widely condemned for its conduct of the Iraq war, while no country has been prepared to participate in a serious exploration of the political implications of foreseeable outcomes.”

His op-ed was full of sweeping assertions. For instance:

If America fails to achieve its immediate objectives — if terrorist camps or terrorist regimes emerge on the soil of Iraq, backed by its huge oil resources — no country with a significant Muslim population will be able to escape the consequences: not India, with the second largest Muslim population in the world; not Indonesia, with the largest; not Turkey, already contending with incursions from the Kurdish portion of Iraq; not Malaysia, Pakistan or any of the countries of Western Europe; not Russia, with its Muslim south; nor, in the end, China.


Speaking of India and China, Daniel W. Drezner writes in the newly released March/April edition of Foreign Affairs that the 21st Century will be far different from the 20th, when the “list of the world’s great powers was predictably short: the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, and northwestern Europe.”

“China and India are emerging as economic and political heavyweights: China holds over a trillion dollars in hard currency reserves, India’s high-tech sector is growing by leaps and bounds, and both countries, already recognized nuclear powers, are developing blue-water navies,” Drezner wrote. “The National Intelligence Council, a U.S. government think tank, projects that by 2025, China and India will have the world’s second- and fourth-largest economies, respectively. Such growth is opening the way for a multipolar era in world politics.”

He added:

This tectonic shift will pose a challenge to the U.S.-dominated global institutions that have been in place since the 1940s. At the behest of Washington, these multilateral regimes have promoted trade liberalization, open capital markets, and nuclear nonproliferation, ensuring relative peace and prosperity for six decades — and untold benefits for the United States. But unless rising powers such as China and India are incorporated into this framework, the future of these international regimes will be uncomfortably uncertain.

Commentary Week in Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Blogs are challenging the mainstream media and, in some parts of the world, that’s good thing. Expect the unexpected in the French presidential race. The British drawdown in Iraq is no surprise. Syria is “just as complicit as Iran,” and the Cold War is over, so let’s have a toast.

Writing in the Feb. 21 Guardian, Simon Tisdall offered an insightful update on the French Presidential race: Despite a strong poll lead, right-leaning French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy “remains entirely capable of blowing the race.”

“After several months of all-out campaigning, polls suggest the lower-profile, centrist candidate, François Bayrou, has more credibility with many voters than the volatile, fast-talking frontrunner,” wrote Tisdall. “A lack of really bold new ideas coupled with doubts about his proposed €30bn (£20bn) in extra spending and tax cuts has reinforced suspicions that Mr Sarkozy is a second-hand car salesman masquerading as a man of destiny.”

Kenneth Ballen drew attention in the Feb. 23 Christian Science Monitor to the eye-popping results of a recent survey: “Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria.”

“The survey, conducted in December 2006 by the University of Maryland’s prestigious Program on International Public Attitudes, shows that only 46 percent of Americans think that ‘bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians’ are ‘never justified,’ while 24 percent believe these attacks are ‘often or sometimes justified,'” Ballen wrote.

“Do these findings mean that Americans are closet terrorist sympathizers?” he asked. “Hardly. Yet, far too often, Americans and other Westerners seem willing to draw that conclusion about Muslims. But these stereotypes, affirmed by simplistic media coverage and many radicals themselves, are not supported by the facts — and they are detrimental to the war on terror.”

The media is becoming anything but simplistic in Russia, where, according to Anna G. Arutunyan’s assessment in the Feb. 22 Nation, “bloggers are becoming a lively alternative to the mainstream media.”

“Walk into a typical Moscow newsroom and chances are good that half the people in your field of vision will be logged on to Zhivoi Zhurnal, the Russian incarnation of the American blog-hosting service LiveJournal,” Arutunyan wrote. “The question is whether the site represents an electronic upgrade of the traditional political discourse that once flourished in Soviet-era kitchens or an entirely new platform for grassroots organizing.”

The same question is being asked in the Middle East, where “with the introduction of the Internet in the intellectually sheltered countries of the Arab world, blogging is now challenging Arab rulers,” wrote Esraa al-Shafei’s in the Feb. 22 Daily Star.

“Blogging has become an essential communication strategy for many frustrated Arabs who use blogging as a tool to promote democratization,” al-Shafei wrote.

Regardless of political movements in the Middle East, Farid N. Ghadry announced in the Feb. 20 Washington Times that Syria “is just as complicit as Iran in moving forward hostile activities specifically designed to kill Americans.”

“The recent implication of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Qods Force in facilitating the movement of deadly weapons and ‘super’ IEDs specially designed to inflict maximum casualties and penetrate armor speaks to only one half of the real story,” claimed Ghadry. “Regional intelligence services and inside sources from within Sunni officer corps opposed to the [Bashir] Assad regime have identified major foreign-fighter training camps in northern Syria and just outside Damascus overseen by Syrian Military Intelligence and run by former Iraqi Ba’athi Generals and senior Saddam Fedayeen commanders.”

The British pullout from Iraq, meanwhile, “may seem like the death knell of the so-called coalition of the willing and a severe blow to American hopes,” wrote Bartle Breese Bull in the Feb. 22 New York Times.

“It seems the British never intended to ‘win’ the war in southern Iraq,” wrote Bull, an editor at Prospect Magazine who occasionally contributes to World Politics Review. “The British withdrawal from Iraq began almost immediately after the invasion. The British presence in the south, which was 46,000 troops in April 2003, has been under 10,000 since May 2004.”

“Americans must bear in mind that the situation in the south is very different from Baghdad and the Sunni triangle,” he wrote. “In bloody Anbar Province the game is changing, and an American presence is helping convince local tribes to turn against the bleak worldview offered by Al Qaeda. In Baghdad, residents frequently express a wish for the Americans to return after they have declared a neighborhood cleared and moved on (as the current initiative in the capital is supposed to do).”

Finally, Paul Kennedy said in the Feb. 18 Los Angeles Times what U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates really meant last week when he “responded to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s polemical attack on the United States by remembering the 50-year Cold War as a ‘less complex time’ and saying he was ‘almost nostalgic’ for its return.”

“The Cold War, although unpleasant, was inherently stable,” wrote Kennedy, explaining that, indeed, Washington and Moscow “possessed masses of nuclear weapons aimed at each other’s biggest cities, but the reality is that they were constrained by a mutual balance of terror.”

“Today’s global challenges, from Iraq to Darfur to climate change, are indeed grave and cry out for solutions,” Kennedy went on. “But humankind as a whole is a lot more prosperous, a great deal more free and democratic and a considerable way further from nuclear obliteration than we were in Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy’s time.”

“We should drink to that,” he wrote.

Commentary Week in Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Normally, in our Commentary Week in Review, we highlight five notable op-eds from the week, on the theory that a review of the world’s opinion pages can’t hope to be comprehensive, but can merely highlight a few interesting or excellent examples among the very diverse smorgasbord of subjects and points of view that are covered each week in newspapers and magazines from New York and Washington to Mumbai, Bangkok and Tokyo. But occasionally, the clear emergence of a pattern among foreign-affairs-related opinion pieces warrants a different approach.

This week was one of those weeks. Three subjects emerged as dominant — Iran, Russia, and Israeli-Palestinian peace. Of the 96 pieces we linked to in the commentary Media Roundup, more than a third addressed themselves to one of those three subjects, and each subject accounted for at least 10 of the 96 pieces. That kind of domination, of course, hasn’t been unusual for one subject in particular — the Iraq war — but it is unusual when three subjects other than Iraq each get so much play in a given week.

Russia, driven by President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 9 speech in Munich, in which he unleashed a barrage of rhetorical jabs at U.S. foreign policy, was the most-covered subject this week, accounting for 12 of the 96 pieces we featured, almost all of them critical of Putin’s speech. Below are what we judge to be the most notable among them:

Russia Feels Muscular, But It’s Also Destroying Trust By: Joseph S. Nye | The Daily Star
Unilateral Force Has Nothing to Do With Global Democracy By: Vladimir Putin | The Guardian
A Shot Across the Bow in Munich By: Nikolas K. Gvosdev | The National Interest
Putin: The Louse That Roared By: Max Boot | Los Angeles Times
Vladimir Putin is Being Shortsighted in the Middle East By: Yulia Tymoshenko | The Daily Star
The Putin Doctrine By: Charles Krauthammer | The Washington Post

Iran takes second place, accounting for 11 opinion pieces in our roundup this week. The dominant theme was that Iran is in a weaker position, due to economic woes and internal power struggles, than it lately has appeared. Many also noted the success of non-military instruments of power in applying pressure to the Iranian regime, and called for more of the same. Here’s a sampling:

Who Will Blink First, The U.S. or Iran? By: Michael Young | The Daily Star
U.S. Financial Squeeze on Iran Yields Results By: Simon Tisdall | The Guardian
Iran’s Nuclear Web By: Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin | The New York Times
The War of the Persian Succession By: Michael Ledeen | National Review
Fight Iran With a War of Ideas By: Azar Nafisi | Los Angeles Times
It’s Not Too Late to Stop Iran By: Gareth Evans | International Herald Tribune

After last week’s Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah, and ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s planned visit to the Middle East, where she will seek to define a “political horizon” for the Palestinian people, Israeli-Palestinian peace garnered its share of ink this week. It accounted for 10 of the opinion articles we featured. Most were skeptical of the prospects for peace in that long-troubled part of the world, and dubious about this latest U.S. diplomatic push:

Peace In Palestinians’ Hands By: Frida Ghitis | Miami Herald
Political Horizon: Enticing and Elusive By: David Makovsky | International Herald Tribune
Statehood for Palestine? Take a Good Look By: Jeff Jacoby | The Boston Globe
Mecca Opens the Way for Europe By: Henry Siegman | International Herald Tribune
The Art of the Possible Peace By: Dennis Ross | The Washington Post
The Hot-Air Summit By: Aluf Benn | Haaretz

To browse the full aggregation of opinion links compiled by World Politics Review over the past seven months, visit the Media Roundup archives. Or, search the archives on the Media Roundup page.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Will the United States bomb Iran? Is that exactly what Iranian hard-liners want? Those questions and others, including ones on Sri Lanka’s civil war, Pakistan’s Taliban collusion and global warming, made their way into opinionated print the week of Feb. 4 through Feb. 9.

Noting the Bush administration is “beating the drums of war with Iran,” Lenoard Weiss and Larry Diamond wrote in the Feb. 5 Los Angeles Times that “war is not yet justified” because “Iran is still years away from being a nuclear threat, and our experience with ‘preventive war’ in Iraq should teach us a thing or two.”

Weiss and Diamond acknowledged that under the 1973 War Powers Act President Bush could start bombing and have up to 90 days before being required to get congressional authorization. But they asserted “nothing prevents congress from using its power to prevent an American attack.”

“Congress should not wait,” they wrote. “It should hold hearings on Iran before the president orders a bombing attack on its nuclear facilities, or orders or supports a provocative act by the U.S. or an ally designed to get Iran to retaliate, and thus further raise war fever.”

It’s a fever already infecting key players in Iran, according to another piece this week, which Diamond also coauthored, this time with Abbas Milani and Michael McFaul for the Feb. 6 Christian Science Monitor. The authors claim “Iran’s reactionaries are pining for war.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “is neither the most powerful official in Iran nor is he loved by the Iranian people,” they wrote, adding “the real kingpin in Iran is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and his failing health has launched a succession struggle.”

“After a year of rising stardom,” asserted Diamond, Milani and McFaul, “Ahmadinejad is starting to lose in this power struggle” and “to reverse his waning popular support. . . . He knows there is only one thing that could bring the people back to him — a U.S. military attack on Iran.”

In the Feb. 5 Washington Post, Jackson Diehl wrote of a behind-the-scenes political clash of another sort. In Pakistan, where five years on since the Sept. 11 attacks, President Pervez Musharraf “is still promising a moderate and tolerant regime — but there are still reports that his army is quietly helping the Taliban.”

According to Diehl, the Bush administration recently asserted it doesn’t support legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives to “condition future aid to the Pakistani military on Bush’s certification that Pakistan ‘is making all possible efforts to prevent the Taliban from operating in areas under its sovereign control.'”

“In private, the Bush administration has been urging Musharraf for some time to come to terms with Pakistan’s moderate democrats,” wrote Diehl. “They’ve been asking him for years to stop allowing sanctuary for the Taliban. He’s not responding. So what’s wrong with congressional conditions? They might just produce what’s been missing from Musharraf the past five years: results.”

Amit Sexana wrote in the Feb. 9 Times of India that, indeed, Pakistan has not handed over Osama bin Laden, the Taliban still trains in the country’s northwest and jihadis still infiltrate Kashmir. But Sexana also raised the important question: “Why assume all this would not have happened if Pakistan had been a democracy?”

“Islamists are on the rise in Pakistan. Democracy would lend strength to these forces,” Sexana wrote, adding that — at least as far as neighboring India is concerned — Musharraf deserves some credit: “With the opening up of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, people-to-people contact between the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir has increased dramatically. Support for terrorism has ebbed.”

Terror has evidently not ebbed off India’s southern tip in Sri Lanka, however, where, according to Jonathan Steele’s piece in the Feb. 9 Guardian, “kidnappings and disappearances, apparently by the police and allied forces, have resumed in Colombo.”

Civil war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam “has made more than 200,000 people homeless in the past year, almost as many in the same period as in Darfur, which gets 10 times the international attention,” wrote Steele, who claimed Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s efforts to “use war to disarm” the Tigers is “absurd.”

Steele observed: “Although the EU listed the Tigers as a terrorist organization last year (a badly timed and stupid move), it still urges the new government to go on talking [with the Tigers]. So does the U.S., in spite of its war on terror. The Tigers are not Muslim. They have a local, not global, agenda, so any attempt to link them with an anti-western jihad is laughable.”

Speaking of “global” agendas, Daniel Schorr reminded us in the Feb. 9 Christian Science Monitor that President Bush, in his State of the Union address last month, “went out of his way to stress that the challenge of global warming would be met by new technologies.”

“He was undoubtedly aware that soon afterward would come a report by a distinguished international panel of scientists saying that global warming is here and now, and primarily caused by human activities,” wrote Schorr, whose article noted just how hot the rhetorical war over global warming has become.

“Some advocacy groups have disclosed that the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which receives funding from Exxon Mobil, offered scientists $10,000 each to contribute essays critiquing the international study,” he wrote.

For the full aggregation of opinion links compiled by World Politics Review over the past seven months, visit the Media Roundup Archives. Or, search the archives on the Media Roundup page.

Commentary Week In Review

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week’s notable op-eds.

Peel the lid off China’s activities in Africa, ponder what happened to the anti-ballistic missile treaty and laugh at the witty battlefield lingo being tossed around in Iraq. Jan. 28 through Feb. 2 was a diverse one in the opinion pages.

Anene Ejikeme highlighted an astounding statistic in the Feb. 1 Christian Science Monitor: “Overall trade between Africa and China grew more than 50 percent in 2005 to $42 billion. . . . A recent study indicates that China has overtaken Britain to become Africa’s third-most important trading partner (after the U.S. and France).”

China’s growing presence in Africa, according to Ejikeme, can be explained by a desire to “secure access to the raw materials it needs to feed its roaring economy. Take oil. Fifteen years ago China was self-sufficient in oil. Today, it has become the world’s second-largest importer of oil, a need that will accelerate, as experts predict that by 2020 there will be 140 million private cars in China.”

“If African states want to be equal partners in the emerging Africa-China relationship, they need, ironically, to rip a page from the European imperialist handbook,” Ejikeme wrote, adding that for starters, “African heads of state need a Pan-African summit in Africa to decide on some ground rules for Africa-China cooperation.”

An entirely different summit, and one of perhaps much greater importance, is needed between the world’s nuclear powers, according to Mikhail Gorbachev, who noted in the Jan. 31 Wall Street Journal that “the goal of the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons has been essentially forgotten.”

“Military doctrines of major powers, first the U.S. and then, to some extent, Russia, have re-emphasized nuclear weapons as an acceptable means of war fighting, to be used in a first or even in a ‘pre-emptive’ strike,” the former Soviet leader and cold warrior wrote. “We must put the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons back on the agenda, not in a distant future but as soon as possible.”

Gorbachev calls “for a dialogue to be launched within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, involving both nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states, to cover the full range of issues related to the elimination of those weapons.”

For starters, Russia and the United States might try a bit harder to work together, as Yuri Ushakov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, wrote in the Feb. 1 Los Angeles Times. From the battle against extremism to the proliferation of WMDs, the two countries “face numerous dangers and challenges that demand cooperation.”

“But at the moment, frankly, our relationship is not easy,” wrote Ushakov. “Especially troubling now is a tendency in U.S. public discourse to blame Russia first. Just recall how rapidly, without even examining the evidence, everybody began attacking Russia after the incident of polonium poisoning in London. In an instant, the image of a KGB-style Russia was re-created.”

On the subject of Iran, Ushakov explained that Russia believes a “solution should be reached through negotiations with Tehran and not through isolation or confrontation.”

“As for Iraq,” he wrote. “I hope many still remember our advice to the United States four years ago.”

Judging from that last remark, it almost sounds like Ushakov is extracting some sort of joy from the chaos that has become of Iraq — a chaos, or whatever one may call it at this point that apparently prompted Republican U.S. Senator Richard G. Lugar to assert in the Jan. 30 Washington Post that the United States now needs “to recast the geo-strategic reference points of our Iraq policy.”

President George W. Bush’s current troop escalation plan is merely “an early episode in a much broader Middle East realignment that began with our invasion of Iraq and that may not end for years,” according to Lugar, who claimed that “nations throughout the Middle East are scrambling to find their footing as regional power balances shift in unpredictable ways.”

“As the president’s Baghdad strategy goes forward, we need to plan for a potent redeployment of U.S. forces in the region to defend oil assets, target terrorist enclaves, deter adventurism by Iran and provide a buffer against regional sectarian conflict,” Lugar ventured. “In the best case, we could supplement bases in the Middle East with troops stationed outside urban areas in Iraq.”

You may be wondering just how those troops stationed at those potential bases in rural areas would spend their time. One thing is for sure, according to Austin Bay’s piece in the Jan. 28 Los Angeles Times, there would be plenty of newly invented “war-fighter slang” being bandied about. “Soldier slang,” wrote Bay, “has a peculiar appeal.”

“Ali Baba: Slang for enemy forces. Originated in the Persian Gulf War. . . . Beltway clerk: A derisive term for a Washington political operative or civilian politician. . . . Bilat: A bilateral conference between coalition military units and local people. (“We’re going on a bilat to discuss the security situation with Haji.”) . . . Blue canoe: Slang for a portable toilet.”

For the full aggregation of opinion links compiled by World Politics Review over the past seven months, visit the Media Roundup Archives. Or, search the archives on the Media Roundup page.

Commentary Week In Review

The WPR Commentary Week in Review is posted every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights the week’s notable op-eds.

Though some claimed President Bush attempted to duck the issue in his State of the Union address, the Iraq war continued to dominate op-eds from Jan. 21 through Jan. 26. The Chinese satellite blast certainly made a good showing though, and various other often-ignored corners of the world were examined in opinionated print this week — namely Kosovo and Ecuador.

Philip Bowring’s Jan. 21 piece in the International Herald Tribune claimed that China’s cosmic blast “could be the start of a new space race similar to that which followed the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 or the missile race of the 1980s, which ultimately bankrupted the Soviets.”

“Future historians,” Bowring mused, “may well see Beijing’s use of a missile to destroy an old weather satellite as having more lasting global impact than the Iraq war.”

Perhaps. But for now Iraq seems the only thing on everyone’s minds — at least the minds of those in power in the West. In Slate on Jan. 24, Fred Kaplan lamented the “dispiriting” nature of Bush’s State of the Union address. To the extent he “talked about the war, his words were at best puzzling, and at worst, maddening,” Kaplan wrote.

Kaplan said Bush “once more fell short” of making a case for the war, let alone for an expanded number of armed Americans in Baghdad. “One reason he can’t argue for it is that it’s not clear he understands it,” seethed Kaplan. “He still seems to view the ever-mounting violence as reflecting a struggle between good and evil, freedom and tyranny. He fails to grasp the sectarian nature of the fight. (Does he really believe that the Shiites and Sunnis are the same—or that, besides the small minority of al-Qaida, they’re “totalitarian” in nature?)”

Speaking of fights of a sectarian nature, Michael Young pointed out in the Jan. 25 Daily Star that “for the third time in almost a year Lebanon has averted a civil war, but we’re nearing the end of the rope.”

Young’s piece was full of speculation about what cards the Iranians, Syrians and even the Saudis are now playing in an attempt to avert such catastrophe, but its most noteworthy assertion was that “the last six months have been a period of meltdown for Hizbullah.”

“The party has been neutralized in the South, at least for the moment; its reputation in the Arab world lies in tatters because it is seen as an extension of Iran,” wrote Young. Few Lebanese, other than Hizbullah’s own, believe that its insistence on participating in the political process means respect for the latter’s rules, free from foreign interests; and none of [Hizbullah leader Hasan] Nasrallah’s political rivals trust him anymore.”

One wonders, meanwhile, what foreign interests are influencing Ecuador’s new president, Rafael Correa, who, as Carlos Alberto Montaner observed in the Jan. 23 Miami Herald, “has declared himself a disciple of Hugo Chávez.”

“In addition to describing himself as a socialist, Correa says he’s a nationalist, an indigenist and a fervent Catholic. He definitely does not like free trade with the United States, plans to repudiate the foreign debt (something Argentina did recently, with impunity) and will try to link his country’s economic fate to Mercosur,” wrote Montaner. “Most of his compatriots will probably join him in the adventure. Ecuador is a country where a substantial part of the population is very poor. The promise to rapidly create a wealthy and egalitarian society usually is tremendously seductive in that type of environment.”

Finally, Jonathan Steele asserted in the Jan. 26 Guardian that any further delay by Serbia and the international community to recognize the independence of Kosovo will invite bloodshed. “Remember Kosovo, the small province of Serbia that sparked the first shooting war in Nato’s 50-year history? Astonishingly, it is almost eight years since U.S. and British bombers went into action over Belgrade, and the problem has still not been solved,” wrote Steele.

“On Kosovo, the EU is more important than the UN. If the EU holds firm when its foreign ministers meet next month it can salvage the situation by . . . declaring it will recognise Kosovo,” he claimed, noting that “much will depend on Germany,” since “as current president of the EU, Germany has a chance to show leadership.”

“Many Europeans charge Germany with helping to precipitate the Balkan wars of the 1990s by hasty recognition of Croatia,” concluded Steele. “It would be ironic if Germany over-compensates now by delaying the recognition of Kosovo, and thereby precipitating Balkan violence again.”

Commentary Week In Review

The WPR Commentary Week in Review is posted every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights at least one notable op-ed from each day of the week.

Jan. 15 through Jan. 19 was another week dominated by op-ed articles on crisis in the Mideast and Iraq and what the United States should do now, and how the whole mess is affecting the geopolitical strategies of countries across the world. But first, a couple of nuggety pieces about other parts of the world.

For instance, Alexandra Starr argued in the Jan. 15 Los Angeles Times that the power of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may be overblown, since the last Venezuelan President whose appeal depended on high oil prices saw his power crumble when prices dropped.

“Like Chavez, former President Carlos Andres Perez demanded autocratic powers, nationalized key industries and flexed his muscle on the international stage when he was first elected to a five-year term in 1973,” wrote Starr. “High oil prices helped persuade Venezuelans to look past Perez’s selfaggrandizing tendencies. . . . Memories of the go-go ’70s helped Perez win a separate term in office in 1988. During that second tenure, however, oil prices were at a low point, and Perez found that even his vaunted charisma could not save him from being prematurely forced from the presidency.”

Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote in the Jan. 17 Washington Times that “it’s no longer politically incorrect to be skeptical about Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”

“The 1990s, following the fall of communism and implosion of the Soviet Union, was a gradual descent into anarchy, not the fast ascent to market economics and democratic capitalism perceived by many experts in the West,” according to de Borchgrave. “Russia’s new oligarchs plundered the country, siphoning out an estimated $220 billion, which went into everything from French Riviera mansions to numbered accounts in the world’s principal tax havens. . . . Russian citizens still hold $219.6 billion in bank accounts abroad – an amount greater than all bank deposits in Russia, even exceeding Russia’s annual budget.”

Several of the week’s other leading op-eds went to great lengths to explain what has become of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Some focused on the behind-the-scenes power plays tied to President George W. Bush’s push for more troops. “The ‘surge’ idea was developed and promoted at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think-tank that has long served as neo-con central,” wrote Gideon Rachman in the Jan. 15 Financial Times. “The neo-cons, like President Bush, are getting another throw of the dice in Iraq.”

Rachman’s piece was peppered with other interesting claims:

“The neo-cons that mattered most in shaping the ‘war on terror’ served in the Pentagon and the White House,” he wrote. “Journalists are [also] a vital part of a neo-con network that formulated and sold the ideas that took the U.S. to war in Iraq and that is now pressing for confrontation with Iran. The links between journalists, think-tanks and decision-makers in the neo-con world are tight and there is plenty of movement from one area to the other. For example, David Frum, a former journalist, served as a White House speech-writer and helped coin the most famous over-simplification of the Bush era – the phrase ‘axis of evil.’ He is now at the AEI.”

Jimmy Carter had more to say about his new book “Palestine Peace Not Aparheid,” and the public relations fallout surrounding it — 14 members of the Carter Center’s board resigned this week. In the Jan. 18 Washington Post, Carter wrote that he fears the fallout will detract from valuable recommendations for peace made by the book. He asserted that “the clear fact is that Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighboring occupied territories and permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights.”

“The premise of exchanging Arab territory for peace has been acceptable for several decades to a majority of Israelis but not to a minority of the more conservative leaders, who are unfortunately supported by most of the vocal American Jewish community,” the Democrat and former U.S. President wrote.

Simon Tisdall, meanwhile, observed in the Jan. 19 Guardian that “suddenly everybody has a Middle East peace plan. After six futile, blood-filled years of maintenance diplomacy, the Bush administration is finally injecting a little energy into its mediation efforts.”

“Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, who holds the EU presidency, has succeeded in resuscitating the so-called Quartet – the negotiations oversight group comprising the UN, US, Russia and EU. . . . The Saudis are pushing a new version of their 2002 initiative. Linking Arab assistance in stabilizing Iraq to progress in Palestine. . . . Israel’s Labor party leader and defense minister, Amir Peretz, meanwhile, has his own ideas . . . [and] to confuse matters further, France, Italy and Spain jointly produced a five-point blueprint last month. It appears to seek to fudge the previously unanimous western demand that Hamas, Palestine’s ruling party, recognize Israel’s right to exist.

“But,” wrote Tisdall, “like French president Jacques Chirac’s aborted bid to launch a unilateral diplomatic opening to Iran, this attempt at Mediterranean moderation is not going anywhere.”

Perhaps we’ll have to wait until next week to find out if he’s correct.

Commentary Week in Review

The WPR Commentary Week in Review is posted every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights at least one notable op-ed from each day of the week.

This week, commentary about Bush’s mid-week speech to the U.S. public on Iraq strategy dominated the opinion pages. On Sunday, John McCain tried to set to the tone for the week’s debate on Iraq with an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Send More Troops.”

“Contrary to popular notions that U.S. troops are getting ‘caught in the crossfire’ between Sunni and Shiite fighters and are therefore ineffective in suppressing the incipient civil war, the record of U.S. troops in stopping sectarian violence is excellent,” McCain wrote. “Where American soldiers have deployed to areas in turmoil, including Baghdad neighborhoods, the violence has ceased almost immediately. Similarly, the Marines in Anbar province report substantial progress in reducing the nonsectarian, al-Qaeda-based violence that is the predominant cause of instability there.

“There are two keys to any increase in U.S. force levels: It must be substantial, and it must be sustained. During my recent trip, commanders there spoke to me of adding as many as five brigades (brigades consist of 3,500 to 5,000 troops) in Baghdad and one or two in Anbar province. This is the minimum we should consider.”

On Monday, another former U.S. military man and presidential candidate, retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, weighed in against the idea that a surge of U.S. forces in Iraq will make much difference. Instead, in his Washington Post piece, Clark advocated for an invigorated diplomatic effort:

“Dealing with meddling neighbors is an essential element of resolving the conflict in Iraq. But this requires more than border posts and threatening statements,” Clark wrote. “The administration needs a new strategy for the region, before Iran gains nuclear capabilities. While the military option must remain on the table, America should take the lead with direct diplomacy to resolve the interrelated problems of Iran’s push for regional hegemony and nuclear power, the struggle for control of Lebanon, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Isolating our adversaries hasn’t worked.”

Tuesday’s most noteworthy opinion essay examined another Middle East conflict, the one between the Israelis and Palestinians. Like so much debate about that conflict, former Clinton administration Middle East envoy Dennis Ross focused on history. Specifically, Ross took issue with former President Jimmy Carter’s depiction of Clinton administration peacemaking efforts in Carter’s recent book.

“. . . since the talks fell apart, there has emerged a mythology that seeks to defend Mr. Arafat’s rejection of the Clinton ideas by suggesting they weren’t real or they were too vague or that Palestinians would have received far less than what had been advertised. Mr. Arafat himself tried to defend his rejection of the Clinton proposals by later saying he was not offered even 90 percent of the West Bank or any of East Jerusalem. But that was myth, not reality.

“Why is it important to set the record straight? Nothing has done more to perpetuate the conflict between Arabs and Israelis than the mythologies on each side. The mythologies about who is responsible for the conflict (and about its core issues) have taken on a life of their own. They shape perception. They allow each side to blame the other while avoiding the need to face up to its own mistakes. So long as myths are perpetuated, no one will have to face reality.”

Outside of the Middle East, the most ubiquitous issue in this week’s opinion pages was the conflict in Somalia. Wednesday saw the publication, in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, of one of the few op-eds that took a positive view of U.S. involvement in Somalia, and in particular this week’s U.S. bombing of al-Qaida targets in the African nation. Con Coughlin called the bombing a welcome victory in the war on terror:

“Given the remoteness of the target attacked on Sunday by a US Special Forces AC-130 gunship, it could be several weeks before American commanders will be able to confirm the casualty account from Sunday’s surgical strike,” Coughlin wrote. “But having waited nearly five years for an opportunity to target the most deadly al-Qa’eda terror cell operating on the African continent, American commanders were last night quietly confident that they had struck a major blow against the organisation’s operational effectiveness.”

. . .

“Initial reports suggest that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the mastermind of the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassy bombings, was killed in the raid, together with several other key al-Qa’eda figures.

“But more importantly for the Americans, and all those other countries, such as Britain, that are deeply involved in the global terror war, the very fact that al-Qa’eda terrorists and their Somali allies have been forced to undertake a hasty retreat from the Somali capital represents a significant victory in the coalition’s attempts to keep the curse of militant Islam at bay.”

On Thursday, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, John K. Cooley took a more circumspect view of U.S. military involvement in the Horn of Africa:

“The [Pentagon’s] new African Command has other backup base facilities that could support regional war operations. But sending quantities of the overstretched US military forces in support of any Somali or other African government is something Washington should most definitely not do.

“Instead, Washington should work with all of its African and European allies to support African peacekeepers. It should keep its promises of renewed economic and humanitarian aid, and do everything possible to discourage new proxy wars in Africa.”

But the op-ed pages on Thursday were dominated by another, even more controversial, subject involving the U.S. military. Days before the fifth anniversary of the opening of terrorist detentions centers at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, anti-Guantanamo activists seemed to have waged a coordinated public relations campaign via U.S. newspaper opinion pages.

To wit: “A Voice from Gitmo’s Darkness,” by Jummah al-Dossari in the Los Angeles Times; “Trapped at Guantanamo” by Melissa Hoffer in the Boston Globe; and “Shut Down Guantanamo,” by Helena Cobban in the Christian Science Monitor, all of which appeared on Thursday.

Hoffer’s piece provides a sample of the flavor of all three:

“No matter how hard one wishes, the bars of a steel cage do not stop time. No one is more aware of this fact than Lakhdar Boumediene, Mohammed Nechla, Mustafa Ait Idir, Hadj Boudella, Belkacem Bensayah, and Saber Lahmar — six Bosnian Algerian men imprisoned at Guantanamo whom my colleagues and I have represented since July 2004, in a habeas corpus case, Boumediene v. Bush, challenging their detention . Today marks the fifth anniversary of the date the United States first began to fly plane loads of prisoners to Guantanamo. Our clients arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.

“This time last year, Hadj’s 6 -year-old daughter, Saaima, died of congenital heart failure. He had not seen her since the fall of 2001, when he and the other five men were arrested by Bosnian authorities under pressure from the United States, which asserted that they were involved in planning terrorist activities in Bosnia. After a three-month investigation, the Bosnian federal prosecutor recommended to the Bosnian Supreme Court that all six be released. But again under heavy pressure from the United States, the Bosnians caved, and as the men were released from a jail in Sarajevo, the Bosnians turned them over to the United States. Hooded, shackled, and packed into waiting cars while their horrified families watched, they began the sickening odyssey that continues today.”

Finally, on Friday, the wave of commentary about Bush’s Iraq strategy finally built to its full power. Opinions about the new strategy differed of course, as did assessments about whether the strategy could even be called “new.”

Anthony Cordesman, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s respected military analyst, weighed in with a point-by-point breakdown of Bush’s speech in the New York Times. Cordesman said the speech “raised more questions than it answered.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski identified “Five Flaws in the President’s Plan” in a piece in the Washington Post, though he said the speech “provided a more realistic analysis of the situation in Iraq than any previous presidential statement.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Rudy Giuliani and New Gingrich argued the United States’ focus should be on “Getting Iraq to Work.”

Finally, writing in The Guardian, Simon Tisdall predicted that if the new plan for Iraq doesn’t work, the president will blame Iran:

“If George Bush’s remodelled strategy for halting the Iraq disaster fails to work, it is becoming clear where the US administration will point the finger of blame: Tehran. For some months Washington has been moving aggressively on a range of fronts to “pin back” Iran, in Tony Blair’s words. But Mr Bush’s Iraq policy speech on Wednesday night marked the opening of a new, far more aggressive phase which could extend the conflict into Iranian territory for the first time since the 2003 invasion.”

Commentary Week In Review

Saddam Hussein hangs, the U.S. military shifts left, Lebanon’s Democracy is so fragile, and Somalia is on the brink. . . . The World Politics Review Commentary Week in Review is posted by noon every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights one op-ed for each day of the past week and aggregates other noteworthy pieces from the week.

Jan. 1 through Jan. 5 was dominated by analysis of Saddam’s execution. Mark Bowden led the way, arguing in the Jan. 2 Wall Street Journal that one of the better allies in promoting the idea of a unified Iraqi state “was none other than Saddam, who may have died the last true believer in a multiethnic, nonsectarian Iraq.”

In “So, Saddam Is Dead . . . But the way of the world remains Saddam’s,” Bowden quoted a hand-written letter Saddam purportedly released from prison in the days before his hanging. Saddam “addressed the Iraqi people as one, and encouraged them to rise up against the American occupiers. ‘Do not trust those who speak of Shias and Sunnis,’ he wrote. Except for the part about attacking Americans, it might have been written by one of the Pentagon’s propaganda contractors.”

“Despite Saddam’s Death, Iraq Is No Closer To Unity,” Shlomo Avineri’s piece in the Jan. 3 Daily Star of Beirut, argued that for Iraq’s “Shiite majority, long brutally oppressed by the Baathist regime and all previous Sunni-dominated Iraqi regimes, Saddam’s death symbolizes their attainment of political hegemony.”

“To the Sunni minority, pushed from power by the American invasion and giving vent to their frustration with daily attacks on the Shiite population and their holy sites, Saddam will remain a hero for a long time to come,” Avineri wrote. “The Kurds – who, like the Shiites, were victimized by Saddam for decades – quietly cling to their de facto independence in the north, making sure that they will never again come under Arab rule.”

“A Crucial Time for Saving Lebanon’s Fragile Democracy,” Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) piece in the Jan. 4 Boston Globe, explained that “In Lebanon, Iran has seized the opportunity to win over the population by channeling some $500 million in reconstruction funds through Hezbollah — over twice as much as we have. In fact, Iran is doing more in rebuilding Lebanon than Washington is doing in rebuilding New Orleans.”

“We must change this dynamic by dramatically increasing economic assistance — and pressing others in the international community to do the same,” Kerry wrote. “We must redouble our efforts to strengthen the Lebanese military, which has earned the trust of the people but lacks the strength to confront Hezbollah.”

“Weaning The Military From The GOP,” Rosa’s Brooks’ Jan. 5 piece in the Los Angeles Times drew attention to “one of the most potentially significant stories of recent years.”

“The Military Times released its annual poll of active-duty service members, and the results showed something virtually unprecedented: a one-year decline of 10 percentage points in the number of military personnel identifying themselves as Republicans. In the 2004 poll, the percentage of military respondents who characterized themselves as Republicans stood at 60%. By the end of 2005, that had dropped to 56%. And by the end of 2006, the percentage of military Republicans plummeted to 46%.”

According to Brooks, “The drop in Republican Party identification among active-duty personnel is a sharp reversal of a 30-year trend toward the “Republicanization” of the U.S. military, and it could mark a sea change in the nature of the military — and the nature of public debates about national security issues.”

Other noteworthy Op-Eds from the first week of 2007:

Somalia’s New Conflict Rooted In Old Ties
By: H.D.S. Greenway | The Boston Globe | Jan. 2

These Shameful Events Have Humiliated The Arab World
By: Ghada Karmi | The Guardian | Jan. 2

A New Beginning For Turkmenistan

By: Nurmuhammet Hanamov | The Washington Post | Jan. 3

Western Intervention in Middle East a Lost Cause
By: Ammar Abdulhamid | The Times of India | Jan. 3

After Saddam, Sunni-Shiite Thirty Years’ War?
By: Iason Athanasiadis | World Politics Review | Jan. 4

Bolstering U.S.-Russia Ties
By: Edward Lozansky | The Washington Times | Jan. 5

Thailand’s Year of Living Dangerously
By: Thitinan Pongsudhirak | Asia Times | Jan. 5

For more visit the World Politics Review roundup archives.

Commentary Week In Review

Saddam Hussein hangs, the U.S. military shifts left, Lebanon’s Democracy is so fragile, Somalia is on the brink … The World Politics Review weekly roundup is posted by noon every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column identifies a leading Op-Ed for each day of the past week and aggregates other noteworthy pieces from the week.

Jan. 1 through Jan. 5 was dominated by analysis of Saddam’s execution. Mark Bowden led the way arguing in the Jan. 2 Wall Street Journal that one of the better allies in promoting the idea of a unified Iraqi state “was none other than Saddam, who may have died the last true believer in a multiethnic, nonsectarian Iraq.”

In So, Saddam Is Dead . . . But the way of the world remains Saddam’s, Bowden quoted a hand-written letter Saddam purportedly released from prison in the days before his hanging. Saddam “addressed the Iraqi people as one, and encouraged them to rise up against the American occupiers. ‘Do not trust those who speak of Shias and Sunnis,’ he wrote. Except for the part about attacking Americans, it might have been written by one of the Pentagon’s propaganda contractors.”

Despite Saddam’s Death, Iraq Is No Closer To Unity, Shlomo Avineri’s piece in the Jan. 3 Daily Star of Beirut, argued that for Iraq’s “Shiite majority, long brutally oppressed by the Baathist regime and all previous Sunni-dominated Iraqi regimes, Saddam’s death symbolizes their attainment of political hegemony.”

“To the Sunni minority, pushed from power by the American invasion and giving vent to their frustration with daily attacks on the Shiite population and their holy sites, Saddam will remain a hero for a long time to come,” Avineri wrote. “The Kurds – who, like the Shiites, were victimized by Saddam for decades – quietly cling to their de facto independence in the north, making sure that they will never again come under Arab rule.”

A Crucial Time for Saving Lebanon’s Fragile Democracy, Democratic Senator John F. Kerry, of Massachusetts piece in the Jan. 4 Boston Globe, explained that “In Lebanon, Iran has seized the opportunity to win over the population by channeling some $500 million in reconstruction funds through Hezbollah — over twice as much as we have. In fact, Iran is doing more in rebuilding Lebanon than Washington is doing in rebuilding New Orleans.”

“We must change this dynamic by dramatically increasing economic assistance — and pressing others in the international community to do the same,” Kerry wrote. “We must redouble our efforts to strengthen the Lebanese military, which has earned the trust of the people but lacks the strength to confront Hezbollah.”

Weaning the military from the GOP, Rosa’s Brooks’ Jan. 5 piece in the Los Angeles Times drew attention to “one of the most potentially significant stories of recent years.”

“The Military Times released its annual poll of active-duty service members, and the results showed something virtually unprecedented: a one-year decline of 10 percentage points in the number of military personnel identifying themselves as Republicans. In the 2004 poll, the percentage of military respondents who characterized themselves as Republicans stood at 60%. By the end of 2005, that had dropped to 56%. And by the end of 2006, the percentage of military Republicans plummeted to 46%.”

According to Brooks, “The drop in Republican Party identification among active-duty personnel is a sharp reversal of a 30-year trend toward the “Republicanization” of the U.S. military, and it could mark a sea change in the nature of the military — and the nature of public debates about national security issues.”

Other noteworthy Op-Eds from the first week of 2007:

Somalia’s New Conflict Rooted in Old Ties
By: H.D.S. Greenway | The Boston Globe | Jan. 2

These Shameful Events Have Humiliated The Arab World
By: Ghada Karmi | The Guardian | Jan. 2

A New Beginning For Turkmenistan
By: Nurmuhammet Hanamov | The Washington Post | Jan. 3

Western Intervention in Middle East a Lost Cause
By: Ammar Abdulhamid | The Times of India | Jan. 3

After Saddam, A Sunni-Shiite Thirty Years’ War?
By: Iason Athanasiadis | World Politics Review | Jan. 4

Bolstering U.S.-Russia Ties
By: Edward Lozansky | The Washington Times | Jan. 5

Thailand’s Year of Living Dangerously
By: Thitinan Pongsudhirak | Asia Times | Jan. 5

For more visit the World Politics Review roundup archives.

Commentary Week in Review

Editors Note: In addition to publishing our own news and commentary articles, World Politics Review tracks news and commentary in major English-language print media. Our Media Roundup, published every weekday by 8:30 a.m. Eastern, links to each day’s must-read news and commentary articles. Today, Guy Taylor, our international news editor, files the first installment of what will become a regular look back at the week in opinion. To follow the news and commentary from the mainstream media, register and sign up to receive an email alert when the Media Roundup is published each morning. To look back at the news […]

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