The international spotlight might be focused on the Obama administration’s efforts to change the tone of its dealings with Iran. But while global attention concentrates on the new U.S. approach, Iran’s regional relations with countries in the Middle East and beyond are undergoing a dramatic transformation, with repercussions that reach across the globe. A growing number of Arab countries have engaged in open diplomatic confrontation with Tehran. To compensate for the loss of friends in its own neighborhood, Iran has increasingly forged ties with leftist governments in Latin America, using its growing presence there to find novel ways to help […]

Global Health Crises: Avoidable vs. Unavoidable

The swine-flu pandemic seems like the kind of story that essentially reinforces everyone’s pre-existing point of view. Alarmists get very alarmed. Non-alarmists get very non-alarmed. I’m no exeception. Oddly enough, although I tend towards apocalyptic alarmism in all sorts of scenarios involving the breakdown of social order, I’m less responsive to alarmism over global pandemics. My hunch is that this particular one will get worse before it gets better, that it’s impossible to know how much worse, and that following every single new outbreak across the planet is more of a job for the WHO than for me. So I’ll […]

Cyber War Powers Act?

I read this NY Times article on cyber warfare with interest, if not alarm. By nature, I prefer the “wondering monk” approach to security — i.e., accumulate nothing that anyone else would value and avoid attachments to physical locations — to the fortress mentality. As a locksmith once told me, locks serve mainly to reassure those who install them, and to deter bumbling amateurs. Professionals get in to where they want to go. So rest assured, our systems will be hacked, and even if they aren’t, any secrets that appear on our computer screens are vulnerable to side-channel leaks. On […]

The release of previously classified, Bush administration legal opinions analyzing whether “harsh” interrogation techniques would violate legal prohibitions against torture has reopened a moral and ethical debate about the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It is certainly appropriate to question whether the measures adopted were consistent with the traditions of the nation, or whether they would even work. But there is no criminal charge for acting immorally, for making decisions contrary to our country’s principles or for choosing an ineffective intelligence gathering technique. At its core, then, the underlying issue that advocates for the criminal investigation and […]

The World Health Organization on Monday raised its alert level for swine flu, edging the body closer to declaring a flu pandemic, while the death toll in Mexico, where the disease originated, neared 150. Half a dozen countries, including the United States, have identified swine flu cases, likely vectored by air travel. Governments across the planet are bracing for a full-blown pandemic that could claim thousands of lives. Among U.S. agencies, the Pentagon could arguably play a leading role in combating the disease. Recent emphasis on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief has prepared the military for a global public health […]

John Woo on U.S. Military Adventurism

First thing I thought after catching John Woo’s new mega-period epic, Red Cliff, this weekend was, I wonder why I haven’t read any clever blog reviews discussing the film’s obvious subtext on America’s recent military adventurism yet. A few google searches later and I learned that the film not only hasn’t yet been released Stateside, it’s got no U.S. distributor. That, folks, is crazy. Either someone in Hollywood is really stupid, or someone in China is really greedy. (With regard to this movie, I mean.) To put it very simply, this is a great martial arts war flick, with a […]

Obama’s 100-Day Dash

I’m not going to have a whole lot to say about President Barack Obama’s first hundred days in office, since we invited an impressive group of foreign policy luminaries to do that for us in next Tuesday’s feature issue. But I will say this: Getting people with a hardened negative opinion about the U.S. to withhold judgment and instead pay attention to the message coming out of Washington is, in itself, a tangible result: – U.S., Cuban diplomats meet? Check.– Evo Morales impressed? Check.– Syria less mistrustful? Check.– Hamas keeping its ear to the ground? Check. Now, if you look […]

China Really Will Keep Rising

As I mentioned in the previous post, China’s hole card is its cash reserves. And as this NY Times article on China’s dealmaking in South America makes clear, in a time of global economic distress, that’s still a pretty sweet hole card: In recent weeks, China has been negotiating deals to double adevelopment fund in Venezuela to $12 billion, lend Ecuador at least $1billion to build a hydroelectricplant, provide Argentina with access to more than $10 billion inChinese currency and lend Brazil’s national oil company $10 billion.The deals largely focus on China locking in natural resources like oilfor years to […]

The Military-Civilian Development Nexus

This hasn’t been a particularly good week for anyone concerned by the creeping militarization of foreign policy in general, and development aid in particular. When President Barack Obama announced his Afghanistan strategy last month, a lot was made about the “diplomatic surge” element — roughly a thousand civilian posts to boost development work in the country. I remember thinking at the time that an increase of 1,000 civilians didn’t stack up so well with the increase of 21,000 troops that was announced at roughly the same time. But at least it was a start. Only trouble is, the NY Times […]

QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa resoundingly won re-election with an unprecedented first-round victory in Sunday’s elections. Running on the Alianza PAÍS (Country Alliance) ticket, Correa took an estimated 54 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, Lucio Gutiérrez, finished with an estimated 31 percent. Under new electoral rules, a candidate needs either more than 50 percent of the vote, or more than 40 percent with a 10 percent margin over the second-place candidate, to avoid a run-off election. Exit polls also gave Correa a majority — if slimmer than the one he currently enjoys — in the Legislative […]

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — With a U.S military air base in the Ecuadorian coastal city of Manta scheduled to be shut down later this year, it looks increasingly likely that Colombia will step in as a new host for U.S. military assets in the region. Newly re-elected Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa (see Henry Mance’s WPR Briefing) has refused to renew Washington’s decade-long lease when it expires in November, arguing that the presence of U.S troops undermines the country’s sovereignty. With Washington looking for a new hub for its counternarcotics operations in Latin America, speculation has been rife in recent months about […]

Few took issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bold assertion on Wednesday that the Pakistan-based Taliban pose a “mortal threat” to the United States. The stakes, of course, are high. The Taliban provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks, and could very well be doing so now. Since fleeing Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion in 2001, they have mounted stubborn insurgencies on both sides of the border that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan’s tribal areas, and have now established footholds in formerly secure parts of Pakistan. The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed power makes […]

Music Diplomacy

I originally thought of this week’s selection — posted a day late — in relation to the elections going on in South Africa. But then Hampton’s post from yesterday made me think of it from a different angle. Ina lot of ways I agree with Hampton that any attempt to punish theuse of torture would risk being both compromised by politics andhampered by the complexities of parsing who should be held responsiblefor what. That’s what I was referring to when I saidthere would be weaknesses to both criminal prosecutions and a truthcommission. In other words, I acknowledge the possibility that […]

The Torture Memos

Torture. It’s tough enough to compose the word on the keyboard without having to put it in the same sentence as the United States. But it seems increasingly clear that the United States did practice torture as part of official policy. The case made in these two Wall Street Journal articles contesting that conclusion (here and here) essentially rests on the idea that a perfect simulation of torture — one that creates the psychological effect on the victim that he is in fact being tortured — can somehow be distinguished from the act itself. But that argument would make mock […]

IQUITOS, Peru — JUSTICE FLOWED SMOOTHLY FOR FUJIMORI: Here in northern Peru, the compact, luxury cruise ship Aqua glides through the brown waters of the Amazon River, escorted by pink dolphins and serenaded from the surrounding rain forest by birdsong and chattering monkeys. Because this is the high-water season, the typical shoreline lies up to 35 feet below the fast-flowing river surface. While other parts of the globe safeguard every drop of their precious water resources, the Amazon will have discharged millions of tons of fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean by June, as it does every year. Deep in […]

The most publicized image manipulation during President Barack Obama’s recent world travels involved Hugo Chávez, who managed to get a front-page handshake with his North American counterpart and later launched an anti-American book to the top of the best-seller list by theatrically handing it to Obama before the cameras. But the most wounding moment came earlier, during the G-20 summit in London, when Obama — perhaps unintentionally — snubbed the President of Argentina. During the gathering of world leaders, Obama walked in the Argentine’s direction, offering a wide smile and an outstretched hand in preparation for a handshake. President Cristina […]

As the IMF and the Joint World Bank-IMF Development Committee meet in Washington this weekend, they will undoubtedly be discussing what most Americans are only dimly aware of: The recession is a global national security problem. The American people must understand that the economic crisis will be manifested not only in lost jobs and incomes — it will be felt in enhanced dangers to U.S. national security and homeland security. In February, Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis C. Blair told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence the top national security threat facing the U.S. is the economic crisis. “Besides […]

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