Afghanistan Dispatch: Permanent Recess
March 31, 2011
Oqa, Afghanistan—After many day-long camel treks to petition the provincial government in Mazar-e-Sharif, the hardscrabble men of Oqa at last secured a promise: The government would send a teacher to their desert hamlet of penniless carpet weavers, barefoot firewood gatherers, and two score clay homes. Elated, the men pitched in to buy a blackboard and some chalk and dragged them into the only space that could pass as a classroom: the doorless anteroom of Oqa’s sole mosque, an oblique and teetering shape the villagers themselves had hand-molded of tumbleweed and mud. That was four years ago.
Where Is The Outrage?
March 30, 2011
For 42 years, the world did business with Muammar Qaddafi, even as it knew about the brutality he was inflicting on his own people. Too often, there was no outrage in the West about Qaddafi’s crimes. Now, if the same pattern is not to be repeated in Iran, one must ask: Where is the outrage about that country’s endemic brutality and its kleptocratic theocracy?
March 29, 2011
Chiang Mai, Thailand—Burma’s political isolation doesn’t make it immune from nature. Thursday’s major earthquake, of 6.8 magnitude, struck the northeast of the country, in Shan State. Preliminary reports put the death toll at more than 150, and there are reports of widespread destruction of buildings, bridges, and roads, including 250 houses and Buddhist monasteries destroyed. Given the rugged terrain and poor communication resources, it may be some time before the real human and material toll is known.
Some Questions About Obama’s Speech
March 28, 2011
We have found much to like in President Obama’s actions over the past week. He acted to stop a looming slaughter in Libya—a decision that, based on the number of lives it likely saved, must now be judged a clear success. Moreover, the air campaign against Qaddafi has significantly weakened one of the world’s most brutal dictators, providing momentum and hope to the rebels who are fighting to unseat him. This has not just been a hopeful development for Libya; it is also a hopeful development for the entire Middle East.
Obama and American Power
March 28, 2011
Presidents and secretaries of state have not always come entirely clean in explaining why they were doing things, especially military actions. They tend to leave out key motives: Think of Ronald Reagan invading Grenada in 1982 to save medical students who unaccountably found themselves in danger; George H.W. Bush conjuring up Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait, but not mentioning Iraqi control of global oil; or George W.
An Obama Doctrine?
March 28, 2011
When it came to foreign policy and national security, George W. Bush was a "big idea" president. Whether one agreed or disagreed with them, overarching concepts and a defined perspective on history drove his decisions. So far, Barack Obama has not been a big idea president, at least in foreign and national security policy. His instincts have been more those of a lawyer, charting a careful course through specific challenges and gravitating to a middle path which minimized risk.
Sphinx, Lies, and Audiotape
March 26, 2011
Cairo, Egypt -- On a hot July evening this past summer, toward the end of our interview, Aref Desouki, vice-chair of a faction of the liberal Ghad Party, suddenly got defensive. After dodging questions about Egyptian State Security’s infiltration of his party, the bespectacled, cane-carrying mathematics professor wanted to emphasize that political conspiracies aren’t unique to Egypt. “You are controlled in the U.S. by an underground government,” he said, completely seriously. “A secret government that is related to the Zionists and the Jewish-Christian Zionists.
A Modest Proposal in Defense of Free Speech
March 25, 2011
On December 12, 2010, a suicide bombing was committed in central Stockholm by an Islamic terrorist who denounced the Swedish government for its “foolish support for the pig Vilks.” Vilks was the conceptual artist who had, in 2007, depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a “roundabout dog,” familiar to tourists as a street display in Sweden.
March 24, 2011
It may have come as a surprise to many people that Germany—the lynchpin of the NATO alliance on the European continent and a close ally of the United States since 1949—voted to abstain from the U.N. resolution authorizing force against Muammar Qaddafi. The country was a staunch advocate of humanitarian intervention in the Balkans, and it is most definitely not led by a government of leftists who are given to denunciations of American imperialism.
Japan Dispatch: What Tokyo Fears
March 24, 2011
Radiation in Tokyo has not reached anything like harmful or even worrisome levels. And, although packaged foods have largely disappeared from convenience stores and some supermarkets, fresh food continues to be widely available. Indeed, there may be too much of it. The chef at the sushi shop where I had lunch on Friday complained that he couldn’t sell all the fish he had stock-piled—people were going home early rather than stopping by for a couple of beers and a round of nigiri-zushi before heading for the station. But this crisis threatens Tokyo’s inhabitants in more subtle ways.