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.
Only the U.S. Military Is Hopeful About Afghanistan
October 12, 2010
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.
Dispatch From the Knife’s Edge
October 11, 2010
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.
The End of the Great Game
October 06, 2010
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.
October 05, 2010
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?
Another Momentous Anniversary
October 05, 2010
[Guest post by Noam Scheiber:] Yesterday I wrote about the second anniversary of the Wall Street bailout. I figured I'd stick with the anniversary motif, but of an altogether different kind. It turns out today is the 80th anniversary of the disaster involving the British airship R101, which preceded the Hindenburg explosion by several years and actually claimed more lives.
A Child Bride in Sudan
October 04, 2010
Khartoum—Amira* is the attractive 16-year-old daughter of an Iraqi mother and Sudanese father. She spent the first ten years of her life in Iraq, where her family lived in an apartment in a multi-story house in Baghdad, just around the corner from her grandmother.
The Spine-Chilling Emptiness of Afghanistan's Voting Booths
October 01, 2010
On election day, a pack of bone-thin, restless dogs wandered into the main polling center in Sheikhabad, a town in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province. A pair of Afghan policemen tried to chase them away, but the determined bunch kept returning, looking for a shady redoubt from the morning sun. Eventually the police relented, and the dogs settled down for a nap. The canines were the only visitors there for hours—not a single person had come to vote.
The Firing of Moscow’s Mayor Could Actually Make Russia More Democratic
September 30, 2010
Tired of the famous Churchillian formula about how hard it is to understand what goes on in the Kremlin (it’s a riddle, a mystery, an enigma, etc.), the American diplomat Chip Bohlen reportedly once joked, “No, it’s not—it’s a secret.” A crucial distinction, confirmed by President Medvedev’s dramatic firing of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov on Tuesday. It would be nice, of course, to know whether the decision really put Medvedev at odds with his predecessor and patron, When Putin said in August that those who demonstrate without a permit deserve a good beating, he was explicitly backing Luzhkov.
Why Are Chinese Millionaires So Stingy?
September 29, 2010
On Wednesday, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett hosted a dinner for China’s billionaires. The pair, fresh off successful efforts to persuade Americans to leave their fortunes to charity, hoped to start a wave of philanthropy in China, which now has the second largest number of billionaires. Gates and Buffett described the event as “a private gathering to discuss philanthropy development.” Xinhua, Beijing’s official news agency, earlier this month reported that only two of the approximately 50 invitees had accepted.