World

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.

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Don't Mess With Yemen

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.

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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.

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No More Arcs

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.

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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.

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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.

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The man tells me that the severed head is Kyrgyz. The video, relayed to me on the small screen of his mobile phone, is blurry and the sound quality is poor. But I can nonetheless decipher what is happening. A group of men are playing a macabre combination of soccer and field hockey with the detached cranium, shouting excitedly throughout as they kick and smack it with sticks. The clip lasts no more than 20 seconds. We’re standing in an alleyway off a major thoroughfare in Osh, a 3,000-year-old city located in southern Kyrgyzstan, the hustle of a bazaar only steps away.

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Has the United States stopped playing the Great Game in Central Asia? In the wake of the destabilizing violence that occurred in Kyrgyzstan this summer, that seems to be the case. The Obama administration reacted slowly when at least 300 people were killed in inter-ethnic fighting in June and Kyrgyzstan seemed on the verge of spiraling out of control.

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Silencio

A friend of mine is an investigative reporter with a national Mexican newspaper. He has been covering crime and corruption for decades. But the last time I saw him, he was not at ease. We met recently for coffee at a busy Mexico City restaurant, and while we talked his eyes darted to the next table, where a man with a military crew cut sat alone in a puffy black jacket, conspicuously not eating. Was the guy scoping out my friend, who had covered the December 2009 marine operation that killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva, one of Mexico’s most powerful drug kingpins?

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