Thailand

Return to Paradise

At night, the waterfront road at Patong, the most famous beach on the island of Phuket in southern Thailand, resembles a slightly seedy Riviera. All along the strip, paunchy foreign men toss down beers at open-air bars or wander into back alleys with male and female Thai prostitutes. Neon-lit fast-food joints and massage parlors throb with Thai and foreign customers.

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Thai Con

The world had barely begun to grasp the magnitude of the tsunami on December 26 when Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's prime minister, dashed to the island of Phuket to survey the damage and meet local officials. By the next day, Thailand's six TV channels were broadcasting constant images of Thaksin comforting distraught residents of a Thai fishing village battered by the wave. In one clip—which aired repeatedly—Thaksin walked through the wreckage, his arm wrapped protectively around the shoulders of elderly villagers as a young woman ran toward them, arms outstretched, for a hug.

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After

The Bangkok airport's Burger King normally isn't that crowded in the morning. Most Thais seem to prefer the nearby food court, which serves Thai rice soups rather than heavy egg-and-biscuit American breakfasts. But, on Monday morning last week, the day after a massive tsunami swamped Thailand and the rest of Southeast and South Asia, the area around Burger King is packed. Several Thai monks, dressed in the simple orange and saffron robes of the Buddhist clergy, their heads shaved completely bare, are surrounded by locals and foreigners.

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The Bill Clinton Show

My Life By Bill Clinton (Alfred A. Knopf, 957 pp., $35) Click here to purchase the book. Bill Clinton used to tell us that he wanted to feel our pain, even though he often gave us one. In this characteristically garrulous volume of almost one thousand pages, he tells us all about his own pain.

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The Ungreat Washed

The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad By Fareed Zakaria (W.W. Norton, 286 pp., $24.95) I. Midway through Fareed Zakaria’s attack on democracy, one realizes that his animus toward popular government is not only theoretical but also personal, and in some ways it is even quite understandable.

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After the Tsunami

Until the East Asian miracle went up in a cloud of smoke, most East Asian specialists and comparative political scientists were optimistic about the prospects for democracy in the region. That's because nearly everyone subscribed to the “modernization thesis” first proposed by Stanford University Professor Seymour Martin Lipset in 1959. According to this thesis, economic development produces a new urban middle class--professionals, entrepreneurs, managers, and so on--motivated to challenge authoritarian rule.

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 I. In January, as the value of the Mexican peso plummeted, President Clinton, Majority Leader Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed to a U.S. Treasury plan guaranteeing $40 billion of new loans to the Mexican economy. The loans, it was hoped, would stop the peso’s fall and also save the investments of American banks and mutual funds that had bought high-interest Mexican bonds after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As Congress began debating the deal, hundreds of CEOs and business lobbyists led by John W.

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The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and Modern Conscience by William Shawcross (Simon and Schuster, 464 pp, $19.95) Great human disasters, natural or manmade, put bureaucrats to a test not only as public officials but as human beings. Normally insulated from the consequences of their actions by layers of government, and accustomed to the abstractions of statecraft, they suddenly are forced to deal with a problem in which every action (or inaction) can have an immediate effect on whether people will live or die.

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Continuing American participation in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) militates against prospects for any effective reassertion by Congress of its foreign policy role in Southeast Asia. Yet the Senate still displays a remarkable complacency toward the survival of SEATO. Though recently dormant, that old treaty is still alive, operative and available as an instrument for further presidentially initiated intervention.

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Colonel Robert B. Rheault, the former commander of the Special Forces in South Vietnam, seems destined to be the Army's equivalent of Commander Bucher of the ill-fated Navy ship Pueblo. Commander Bucher and his men were captured by the North Koreans, held prisoners and maltreated, then released only to be subjected to a court of inquiry and almost court-martialed.

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