Whatever Kim Jong-Il’s death meant for the people of North Korea, it did not change the fundamental strategic interest that the United States has in the country. The paramount issue for Washington remains assuring that Pyongyang never uses its nuclear arsenal, and that it never leaks or gifts its weapons material and technology to other nations or terrorists. But if Washington’s basic strategic posture remains, it should consider revising its current non-proliferation policies in the wake of Pyongyang’s change of leadership.
One evening recently in Rangoon, my friend Ko Ye (not his real name) arrived at the apartment where I was staying, brandishing the latest issue of the weekly newspaper he runs. It was, he announced with great fanfare, a landmark edition: For the first time ever, government censors had allowed him to run a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s most prominent dissident, on the cover. The edition also included other previously banned topics: political analysis of U.S. relations with Burma and an article about Martin Luther King that contained the taboo phrase “human rights” in the headline.
On December 29, the White House announced that it was sending nearly $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, part of a $60 billion package—the largest arms deal in history. President Obama has come a long way since his 2008 declaration that “nothing is more important than us no longer borrowing $700 billion or more from China and sending it to Saudi Arabia.” Apparently it was the borrowing part that really irked him—not the arming of a gender-apartheid, theocratic dictatorship. The justification for the arms sale is simple.
Let us stipulate some ugly facts up front. Iraq remains a weak state. The political institutions are—charitably—immature. The business climate is not overly attractive and corruption is endemic. Were it not for oil, there would be no real economy. There is a serious terrorism problem. Relationships with all the neighboring states are problematic. Sectarian divides remain tense, with some key fault lines unresolved. The country’s armed forces remain incapable of defending its international borders.
As American troops withdraw from Iraq, anyone searching for rays of progress amid the country’s miasma of corruption, sectarian strife, and political stalemate might look to the foothills of Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan. There, rising rapidly out of some 400 dusty acres, is a gleaming constellation of glass, steel, and Jerusalem stone that is the new campus of American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). The venture, which now educates some 500 Iraqi students on the American model, is a sign of Iraqi Kurdistan’s evolution toward a modern, flourishing society.
Our very last troops in Iraq have left for home. And, of course, Iraq is no longer ruled by the Ba’athist tyrant who murdered so many people both within his own country and in Iran that he should be counted in the bloody second circle right behind Hitler and Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.
Write it down. Write it. With ordinary ink on ordinary paper; they weren’t given food, they all died of hunger. All. How many? It’s a large meadow. How much grass per head?
The death of North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il, marks the end of his 17 years of strict control over the starved and crumbling state. While his eccentricities were often worthy of parody—the overblown legend involving new stars and double rainbows pronouncing his birth, thousands of books penned, and one strikingly good round of golf—his reign was marked more distinctly by the extreme suffering of the North Korean people.
The following essay is based on the laudatio given by Jacques Rupnik in October 2009 on the occasion of the awarding to Václav Havel of an honorary doctorate from Sciences Po. The text, which originally appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Commentaire, was translated from the French by Catherine Temerson. It is a great honor and deeply gratifying to be speaking here in praise of President Václav Havel. It is a privilege that is not without hidden difficulties, however.
A few weeks ago, a wolf in sheep’s clothing prowled the White House lawn. The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Washington, D.C. to sign a boring trade agreement with President Barack Obama. The details of the deal aren’t important—they’re so staid and sensible that I’ll leave it to the reader with a masochistic bent, or severe insomnia, to Google them. A quick glance at their mildly laudable contents will probably reinforce the American predilection to view Canada as a sleepy enclave of bureaucratic good government and tepidly left-wing policies.