Buy Your Ambassadorship Right Here!

Ready for a Friday flash quiz? Name the U.S. ambassador to: a) Israel. b) Afghanistan.c) Iran. (Answers below.) Can’t do it? Don’t worry, you are not alone. These hard-working diplomats are seldom in the news and hardly known outside State Department circles. In recent years around 70 percent of U.S. ambassadors have risen through the ranks of the State Department, many having begun their careers in the Peace Corps or issuing visas at U.S. Consulates abroad. There is, however, another group in the pack, namely the “political” appointments. These are high-profile business people or celebrities who come by their posts […]

In its spring issue, the venerable Washington Quarterly asked what has become a perennial question, and the central theme of “Under the Influence”: Is the United States entering an age of decline or renewal? But while everyone agrees on the question, it seems that no one can make up their minds on the answer. At first glance, recent events seem to point to the former, or decline. The financial crisis has not only hobbled the U.S. economy, but has discredited the free-market messages it has long propagated abroad. Years of war without decisive victory in Iraq and Afghanistan has added […]

When Major Power Interests Attack

I’m probably going to regret saying this, but this, from Nikolas Gvosdev’s brief post about China’s growing irritation with North Korea, brought another strategic relationship to mind: “How Beijing may reorder its strategic priorities based on how Pyongyang’s actions affect its key interests is fascinating.” Of course, I’m talking about the U.S. and Israel. (Let the wild rumpus and angry e-mails begin!) It might have had something to do with having just read Laura Rozen’s revealing piece on how deadly serious the Obama administration is about Israel freezing its West Bank settlements. There’s also this Le Monde interview with Justin […]

Sotomayor and International Relations

Okay, there’s not much there. But with reference to Andrew Bast’s WPR column from two weeks ago, which discussed the ways in which the Supreme Court is increasingly an IR arena, there are two thought-provoking elements introduced by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s Nuyorican heritage. (And yes, as a New Yorker, you know I’m going to put NY before Borinquen.) First, the fact that she’s considered the child of an immigrant, even though Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. So this idea that using the Spanish pronounciation of her name is somehow un-American is the equivalent of saying that using the […]

On June 7, voters in tiny Lebanon will go to the polls. On the surface, the result of the parliamentary elections might seem to make almost no difference at all. But in the peculiar Middle East laboratory that is Lebanon, the outcome of the vote will represent a barometric reading for the entire region. In the end, it may ultimately have serious repercussions that reach beyond the byzantine mechanics of Lebanese politics. Some might consider the elections inconsequential, because the two main factions of Lebanese politics have essentially agreed to grant each other veto power over major decisions. The outcome […]

During the Cold War, U.S. military forces operated in big, firepower-heavy formations, designed to fight equally big and powerful Soviet formations — or what the Pentagon calls “peer” opponents. Times have changed, but the military hadn’t — until now. In recent months, reformers have successfully fought for sweeping changes to military force structure. The changes are meant to boost the Pentagon’s ability to fight in low-intensity, “persistent” conflicts, as opposed to the short, high-intensity major conflicts expected in the recent past. In addition to the structural changes, persistent conflicts demand new ways of thinking about — and training for — […]

Last week was a busy one for Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In one week, the Brazilian leader visited China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, on a tour intended to strengthen Brazil’s diplomatic and economic ties with those three nations. The three days Lula spent in China, from May 19-21, received more attention than the other legs of the trip, in large part due to the close economic ties between the two nations. Spurred by a mutual demand for each others’ exports — with China seeking Brazilian raw materials, and Brazil seeking Chinese manufacturing — China is now the […]

New York and Washington may be separated by only a few hundred miles, but in the last few weeks, they have appeared to be light years apart on arms control and nonproliferation issues. In New York, representatives of more than 100 countries worked from May 4-15 to prepare for next year’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference. Buoyed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s April pledge to seek a world free from nuclear weapons, their work was marked by a spirit of cooperation and compromise that had been noticeably absent during the eight years of the Bush administration. They approved an agenda […]

It would be nice to think that, when President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, the U.S. leader had a long-term strategy for peacemaking: one that had emerged from months of careful analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the government’s best minds. But though that thought would be nice, it would probably be wrong. There is, in fact, very little long-term strategic planning being performed at the highest levels of U.S. foreign policymaking. The office best known for strategic thinking — the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff — has plummeted in influence and prestige since […]

‘Gran Torino’ and the Long-Term Impact of War

I just saw Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” over the weekend, and I immediately wondered, upon leaving the theater, how it managed to get left out of the recent blog discussion about movies dealing with international relations. The movie examines the long-term effects of war, as reflected in its impact on individuals, but also on the movement of peoples and, by consequence, on culture and society. The Korean War haunts Eastwood’s Walter Kowalski to the point that he conflates his entire reality through the warped and distorted lens of his own prejudices. His life spent working in a Detroit car-manufacturing plant […]

Ted Turner: Philantropy 101

How does a man decide to give away a billion dollars? At a recent Washington benefit gala for Refugees International, the privately funded relief organization, CNN founder and owner Ted Turner sat on a stage and revealed how he came to the aid of the United Nations. His short, revealing monologue — surely a classic in the annals of philanthropic decision making — is reproduced here, more or less verbatim: “I thought, what could I say [about the United Nations] that would really have an impact? Why don’t I give the United Nations a million dollars? I always thought a […]

When the global financial contagion kicked in last fall, the blogosphere was quick to predict that a sharp uptick in global instability would soon follow. While we’re not out of the woods yet, it’s interesting to note just how little instability — and not yet a single war — has actually resulted from the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression. Run a Google search for “global instability” and you’ll get 23 million hits. But when it comes to actual conflicts, the world is humming along at a level that reflects the steady decline in wars — by 60 […]

For more than half a century, the United States has held the reins of the world’s most powerful economic institutions. By design, Washington has long dominated decision-making at both the International Monetary Fund and at the World Bank — responsible, respectively, for big loans to states and economic development. At the same time, domestic institutions within the U.S., like the Treasury Department, have also exerted significant influence in the economies of foreign lands. The ideology underpinning much of this leverage — based on free markets and limited government intervention — was for a long time known formally as the Washington […]

Since the eruption of the global financial crisis last fall, the world’s three largest economies — the United States, Japan, and China — have become very generous toward countries in need of cash, opening up a bevy of new bilateral currency swap arrangements. At first glance, this may seem to be a positive example of great-power cooperation in the face of a collective threat: The world’s economic powers are working together to provide liquidity to a global economy dying of thirst. A closer look, however, reveals that the intentions of the parties in question may be far more self-interested than […]

The Recurring Logic of Torture

I had no intention of commenting on the speeches made by President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday. I haven’t read the transcripts, and I’ve only seen short clips of the video. Most people have already made up their minds on this, and neither Obama, Cheney, or myself is likely to convince anyone to change their judgment. But there are a few things that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere. First of all, the degree to which Cheney’s battle has become a personal one to resurrect his reputation. By all accounts, Cheney got spooked on 9/11. Should history […]

At the London G-20 Summit in April, British prime minister and host Gordon Brown asserted that “The Washington Consensus is over.” With the struggling U.S. economy pulling much of the world down with it, the “Anglo-Saxon model” is now deemed flawed. Dirigiste tendencies are in, with U.S. President Barack Obama embracing a government-funded “stimulus” package whose numbers are well in excess of his high-spending predecessor. Washington itself is moving away from the formula — consisting of fiscal discipline, market-set interest rates, competitive exchange rates, liberalisation of trade and investment regimes, deregulation and privatisation — to which it lent its name. […]

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