Barack Obama may have mangled a few Indian words in his address to India’s parliament today, but he got the important things right. Stating the obvious is often berated as a platitudinous impulse, but in some cases it can be a virtue, particularly when your audience is of a thin-skinned kind that actually craves the obvious.
Last Tuesday, in a Moscow courtroom, Mikhail Khodorkovsky—former oil magnate and the once the wealthiest man in Russia—delivered a remarkable speech. Khodorkovsky has been in prison since 2003 and he now faces additional charges that could force him to stay in jail for many more years. In his speech, Khodorkovsky offers a narrative of how any semblance of liberal government was snuffed out in Russia during recent years—and explains how his own fate has become part of this depressing story.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that leveled much of Port-au-Prince last January 12, there was a great deal of talk among the great and the good that this time it was going to be different. Not only would the Haitian capital be rebuilt and its 600,000 homeless housed once more, but at long last the major international donors would not leave once this (in reality, appalling) status quo ante had been restored.
Is Yemen the new Pakistan, which was the new Afghanistan, which was the new Saudi Arabia, which was the new Egypt for jihadists seeking to strike the West? The recent attempted cargo-plane bombing certainly gives credence to those who fear that Yemen is the Al Qaeda hub most likely to kill us. Yet even though Yemen has many of the component parts that make for an ideal holy warrior laboratory, Pakistan still has a clear jihadist edge—philosophically and operationally—over what’s developing in the land once called Arabia Felix. But let us not belittle Yemen’s possibilities.
Not so long ago, few Americans, very much including policy wonks and military officers, knew anything about Yemen. Government officials couldn’t even find it on a map, though it was right there, sprawling across the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yet over the past year or so, a flood of reports were splashed across America's front pages, cautioning that Yemen was on the verge of being transformed into the next Afghanistan—a place where Al Qaeda could live, train, even thrive and plot with impunity. On Christmas day 2009, a Yemeni trained terrorist tried to detonate a U.S.
This is not a fantasy. The Nigerian Secret Service found in a ship bound from Iran to wherever, with a stop-over in Lagos, 13 containers of weapons about which the bribery bureaucracy had begun to fake papers. Where do you think they were going? To Disneyland? Here’s the report by Barak Ravid in today’s Ha’aretz. Please take notice Jimmy Carter, eminence gris of the Elders. Or maybe the senile.
When a story about survival and life wipes another story about disaster and death off the news channels and front pages, it should be a cause for joy. The fate of the Chilean miners terrified, excited, and finally exhilarated billions of people like nothing else I can remember for years. It was the ultimate human-interest story, the happy ending beyond Hollywood’s most frantic dreams. No one planned that this should eclipse the death of Linda Norgrove, the 36-year-old British—more exactly Scottish, from the beautiful Hebridean island of Lewis—aid worker.
Can history come to an end? Arthur Danto has written of art entering a “post-historical” phase; he believes that the history of modern art as moving toward a state of abstraction has been fulfilled—indeed, internally exhausted. Since the 1960s, this particular “narrative,” as he calls it, has come to an end, even as the art world continues to exist, even to flourish. Although I don't like the phrase “post-historical,” I think Danto is right. I had not, however, considered this idea in relation to history understood in its traditional sense as the actions of great men and nation building.
Barack Obama faces no more important foreign policy decision during his presidency than whether to take military action against Iran’s nuclear program (a decision that also includes whether to give a green light to Israel to do so). Among the possible consequences of a military strike, we must consider a long-term, inconclusive war with Iran, a wider conflict across the entire Middle East, the destabilization of moderate regimes in the region and an increase in terrorism around the world.
Arriving in Kabul the first thing that hits you is the aura and aroma of dust. It covers the capital city in a hazy sheen and, more to the point, in a distinct and powerful odor. Considering that Kabul reportedly has one of the highest percentages of atmospheric fecal matter in the world it's the sort of smell that, at least initially, strikes you in the face. It offers a useful preview of the more powerful smack of gloom that seems so evident in Afghanistan today.