Al-Bashir Among Friends

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir certainly thumbed his nose at the International Criminal Court (ICC) with his whirlwind round of whistle-stops in Egypt, Eritrea and Libya last week. Now in a further bit of political theatre, he is in Doha, Qatar this week, along with most — but not all — of the leaders of the Arab League. Notably absent is Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, who is still fuming with the Qataris over disagreements surrounding the recent Gaza crisis and also by the fact that the Iranians were invited. Al-Bashir’s presence in Doha will also be something of an embarrassment for […]

Sarkozy’s African Diplomacy

PARIS — French President Niocolas Sarkozy made a whistle-stop at the Congolese parliament yesterday, in the midst of his three-nation tour of Central Africa. Last January, he ruffled feathers in Kinshasha by suggesting that Congo needed to share its mineral wealth with Rwanda as a step towards bringing peace to the Kivu region. This time around, he soothed Congolese egos by praising President Kabila’s breakthrough peace initiative with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, which has resulted in a significant decline in violence in the region. He also suggested that Congo, with all its mineral wealth, could play a regional the leadership […]

Liberia’s ‘Guarantors of Instability’

MONROVIA, Liberia — I haven’t read Paul Collier’s new book, “Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places,” but I did catch Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth’s review in the Sunday Times. Sitting here in Monrovia, a chill went up my spine, because according to Roth/Collier, Liberia has many of the elements that are guarantors of instability: a weak press, poor performing legal structures, ineffectual civic institutions, high levels of corruption and extreme poverty. There is no doubt that the Sirleaf government is legitimate, even in the eyes of its harshest critics. Its big test, however, will come […]

A 2008 report entitled “World at Risk” garnered global headlines when it warned that, “It is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.” The report (.pdf), issued by a bipartisan committee established by the U.S. Congress, argued that biological rather than nuclear weapons presents the greatest near-term international terrorism danger. The warnings of the U.S. Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism were underscored by subsequent media reports that dozens of members of Al-Qaida in the Lands of the […]

U.S. Liberians Rejoice, Their Countrymen Worry

MONROVIA, Liberia — While steering us through the melee of downtown traffic yesterday, a Liberian friend who runs a local NGO casually remarked that if the United States were to relax its visa restrictions, everyone in Liberia would pack their bags and head Stateside. I think he was only half-kidding. While there have been some positive signs of development — newly paved roads, more businesses and that most potent sign of economic empowerment, sushi bars — the situation for most Liberians seems pretty precarious. Last Thursday, Ellen Margarethe Løj, the U.N. special representative for Liberia, painted a pretty cautionary picture […]

CONGOLESE COURT’S MAI MAI CONVICTION DRAWS APPLAUSE — A Congolese military court found Mai Mai commander Gedeon Kyunga Mutanga and 20 of his men guilty of charges that included crimes against humanity on March 5. The landmark conviction has drawn applause from the rights community as a significant step towards bringing accountability to the war-ravaged country. The court also found the Congolese government liable for failing to disarm the Mai Mai and awarded financial compensation to dozens of victims, setting an important precedent for the scope of responsibility in human rights cases. “This trial has shown the important role that […]

Liberians Tune Into China

MONROVIA, Liberia — One of the most interesting developments in post-war Liberia over the past three years has been the emergence of the Chinese presence. In addition to building themselves a lavish new embassy, the Chinese have been making major investments in education and infrastructure. On the way in from the airport last night, I passed several road crews working under flood lights, each with a nattily dressed Chinese foreman guiding the effort. Another of their more visible projects is a $4 million investment in the rebuilding of the Liberian government’s radio broadcasting network. In exchange for all the new […]

The Limits of Globalized Solutions?

In a piece over at Foreign Affairs’ revamped Website, Rawi Abdelal and Adam Segal echo what I’ve been saying about the impact of the global financial crisis on this round of globalization. Namely, that as big as the economic challenges of the crisis are, the political challenge it presents might be bigger: The current crisis has caused the destruction of value, the contractionof capital, a decline in consumption, and an increase in unemployment.But its ultimate impact may be even more pervasive, because the crisishas further undermined the political legitimacy of the free movement ofcapital, goods, and services. The legitimacy problem […]

Politics of Division Roil African Countries

Things are moving quickly in Madagascar as the military has effectively taken control of the government. The next step is uncertain but it is clear that while opposition figure Andry Rajoelina talks democracy he is also willing to let the military rather than the electorate put facts on the ground. The question is whether supporters of President Marc Ravalomanana are going going to accept the military’s action or will Madagascar be in for Kenyan and Zimbabwean type political showdowns? Meanwhile, in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, confrontations between the country’s two main political parties sparked a day of violence. […]

Will the worldwide recession actually benefit Chinese arms exports? That’s what WPR managing editor Judah Grunstein speculated last week, citing Chinese defense companies’ ability to reproduce foreign weapons systems and then sell them on third-party markets at lower prices than the original. It is too early to identify a clear trend, but not premature to consider potential unwelcome scenarios. The tremendous diplomatic exertions that the United States and Israel are making to keep Russia from selling its S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran or Syria, for instance, will matter little if China chooses to sell them its HQ-9 surface-to-air […]

Madagascar’s Real-Life Blood Feud

Most Americans know about Madagascar, located in the Indian ocean off the coast of Africa, from the eponymous Disney animal movie featuring the feuding lemurs and fossas. Indeed, the fauna of the world’s 4th-largest island is spectacular. The human side of Madagascar, on the other hand, is not such a fun place these days. In what is amounting to a blood feud in which over 100 people have died, President Marc Ravalomanana refuses to cede power to Andry Rajoelina, the upstart former mayor of Antananarivo, the island’s capital. (Rajoelina is also a former DJ and media owner.) For the moment, […]

Many of America’s actions in its post-9/11 campaign against al-Qaida have served to increase Muslim and Arab radicalism, rather than to dampen it as intended. The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the detainment of captured terrorists at Gitmo and subsequent revelations regarding the use of water boarding and other torture techniques all served to amplify negative perceptions of the United States in the Islamic world and facilitate the radicalization of potential recruits for the terrorists’ cause. But two recent developments have led many Americans to believe that al-Qaida and the threat it posed might be on the verge of […]

Photo: An Iraqi woman walks to the Rusafa polling station carrying an Iraqi flag, Dec. 15, 2005 (Defense Dept. photo by Jim Garamone).

The Iraq War will surely stand as the greatest of foreign policy mistakes — a failure, and a tragic one, as no shortage of commentators have called it. What makes it more tragic is that it needn’t have been so. Whether or not one was firmly against the war from the start, the verdict on Iraq will ultimately be characterized by an unusual mix of anger, ambivalence, and, perhaps most of all, confusion. From the beginning, Iraq wasn’t just about a war. It raised a series of questions that many of us still have trouble answering. If the war was […]

When Barack Obama became the new U.S. president, one of the primary concerns for many observers was restoring America’s image in the eyes of the world. During the eight years of the Bush administration, the favorability ratings of the United States had declined dramatically. Nowhere was the U.S. image more negatively viewed than among publics in Muslim-majority countries. Anti-Americanism had intensified in the Arab world, and spread from Nigeria in West Africa to Indonesia in the Far East. Despite the administration’s vigorous efforts to win Muslim hearts and minds through innovative public diplomacy, when former president Bush left office, U.S. […]

Development by Assassination in Guinea-Bissau

Reporting from Guinea-Bissau in Tuesday’s NY Times, Lydia Polgreen cites an anonymous diplomat to the effect that as far as the locals are concerned, the tit-for-tat killings of the president and the head of the Army last week may “be the best shot at stability that Guinea-Bissau has had in a long time.” That is an astounding assertion. How bad must a country be for the killing of its two most powerful figures to be a cause for optimism? But Guinea-Bissau is no ordinary place. Ranked fifth from the bottom in terms of poverty and with no natural resources to […]

COIN: The Not-So-Good, the Bad and the Beautiful

Last week I mentioned that COIN offers a vision of war that is more intellectually satisfying and morally palatable. Today over at Small Wars Journal (.pdf), Jason Fritz takes that a step further and calls it more aethsetically pleasing — to its proponents. It’s an interesting framing of the COIN vs. Conventional debate, where the zealots on either extreme of the spectrum are actually blinded by the beauty of their ideal method of warfare. Here’s Fritz: . . . Multi-agency counterinsurgency doctrine provides a holistic governmentsolution for socio-political-economic problems. It is government at itsbest — various agencies working together to […]

Turkey: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

A few interesting Turkey headlines are floating around the news today. First, there’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit and accompanying announcement that President Barack Obama will make a stopover in Ankara in April. Both stories play to the “Turkey as essential mediator” meme that I’ve done my part in amplifying. Interestingly enough, the Obama visit will bookend his European tour, and the White House has taken pains to distinguish it from his “search for a Muslim capital” schtick. That should provoke some tea-leaf reading about whether the visit is meant to signal American support for Turkey’s E.U. candidacy, since […]

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