August 24, 2009
SYDNEY, Australia--The hardest slogan to sell in politics is: "Things could have been a whole lot worse." No wonder President Obama is having trouble defending his stimulus plan. If governments around the world, including our own, had not acted aggressively--and had not spent piles of money--a very bad economic situation would have become a cataclysm. But because the cataclysm was avoided, this is an invisible achievement. Many whose bacon was saved, particularly in the banking and corporate sectors, do not want to admit how important the actions of government were.
Khamenei vs. Khomeini
August 20, 2009
During his August 3 speech formally endorsing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned protesters that “by imitation of Ayatollah Khomeini, they cannot deceive people.” Khamenei was mocking the opposition’s claim to be to reviving “the values of Ayatollah Khomeini”--the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Khamenei’s predecessor as Supreme Leader. Ironically, Khamenei made this statement while seated below a large, framed picture of Khomeini. This scene provides a stark illustration of the fact that politics in Iran are largely defined by attempts to claim Khomeini’s legacy.
Webb To Burma
August 14, 2009
Maybe the most remarkable part of the story about Jim Webb's trip to Burma--the first member of Congress to visit there in over a decade--is that the American Embassy has no idea yet if he's actually met with the Burmese Prime Minister since, as the AP story puts it, "communications between Yangon and Naypyitaw were unreliable." More on the extreme strangeness of Naypitaw--which seems to be a cross between Brasilia and Pyongyang--can be read here. --Jason Zengerle
Depressing Signs From The Subcontinent
August 05, 2009
The New York Times had a dispiriting story this morning about the latest diplomatic negotiations between India and Pakistan. After months of tension over the attacks in Mumbai last November, in which gunmen from Pakistan rampaged through India’s financial capital and killed more than 160 people, the two sides seemed open to the possibility of resuming full-blown talks. Instead, the mere suggestion of a thaw in relations has been met with fierce public and political resistance in India, providing a nagging reminder of the enormous internal obstacles that both countries face in overcoming their
Dennis Ross On Bibi: "an Impulsive Lack Of Judgment"
August 03, 2009
Obama's point man on Iran, Dennis Ross, recently visited Israel, just one among a cadre of Obama officials to trek there this summer in an effort to get the peace process moving. As Bill Clinton's chief Middle East peace negotiator, Ross is no stranger to Jerusalem, and his visit inspired me to check his 800-page account of those years for insights about the current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Ross's book, The Missing Peace, paints a rather unflattering portrait of Netanyahu, whose first term as prime minister ran from June 1996 to July 1999.
July 28, 2009
Jerusalem, Israel Are we in the early stages of an American-Israeli crisis? Or are the growing and public disagreements between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government over settlements and Jerusalem merely arguments "within the family," as President Obama insisted in his recent meeting with American Jewish leaders? According to one poll, only six percent of Israelis consider Obama a friend. That perception of hostility is new. Israelis welcomed Barack Obama when he visited here in July 2008 and many responded enthusiastically to his election.
An Answer To The Gridlock In Iraq?
June 25, 2009
Legal changes have been slow to come in Iraq, with legislation moving through the parliamentary system at a snail's pace--or not at all. Bills intended to aid the weak economy have been held up in parliament for years, while laws regulating the oil industry and banning official corruption remain notably absent. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki recently began lobbying for a switch to a presidential system of government, which he said would be more efficient and democratic than the current parliamentary system. Iraq experts said they could see why he'd want this change.
What We Can Do In Iran
June 16, 2009
Massive cheating or not? A new kind of coup d’etat or not? How do we interpret this strange election whose results were announced by the press affiliated with the secret services and militia--even before the polls were closed? Considering the absence of international observers, considering that the election officials demanded by Ahmadinejad’s rivals were chased from polling places with billy clubs, and considering the climate of terror in which the whole process was steeped, it is hard to come down on one side or the other with much certainty. Nevertheless, three things are quite clear. The fi
June 03, 2009
Earlier this spring, Nawaz Sharif threatened to topple Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's government. Since taking power in September, Zardari had been promising to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice of the supreme court, whom Pervez Musharraf had sacked on March 9, 2007. But Zardari, who feared that Chaudhry would try to either curb executive power or dredge up corruption cases, balked repeatedly. This annoyed Sharif--and many of his fellow countrymen--to no end.
The Black Widower
March 18, 2009
Last fall, during Asif Ali Zardari's first foreign trip as head of state, the Pakistani president met with Sarah Palin in New York City. The meeting occurred amid Palin's other campaign cameos with U.S.-friendly world leaders, most of whom could manage little more than an awkward grimace amid the onslaught of flashbulbs. (Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo reportedly flat-out refused to meet her.) But Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto and oft-described playboy, looked delighted as he greeted--and then charmed--the vice-presidential candidate.