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Jonathan Power: Absolutely Nothing in the News

The serious newspapers I read used to take me an hour to get through. These days it is fifteen minutes. Nothing much is happening, at least in foreign affairs. Iraq has all but disappeared from the front page. Afghanistan and Pakistan still remain; but even so, investors continue to up their investments in Pakistan, presumably judging that the conflict is over-hyped. The argument with Iran over whether it is building nuclear weapons drags on, despite the forgotten report of the CIA two years ago that found that it probably was not. (Not to mention that the West and Russia look a bit silly when they turn a blind eye to Brazil for doing exactly the same as Iran.) More recently there's Iran’s suggestion that it might ship some of its used uranium to Russia to be converted into fuel to provide medical isotopes, or else to import from Europe enriched uranium instead of manufacturing its own. So this conflict should now be relatively easy to wrap up. What else is there? Georgia is out of the picture; Chechnya was long ago. The Russians and the Americans sweet talk each other. Now that Washington has decided to abandon its ill-judged anti-missile system in Eastern Europe, the Russians have switched off their angst and are happily agreeing to the first major nuclear arms cuts in nearly a decade. China is now part of the “system.” The priorities are economic growth, dealing with financial imbalances, and, unfortunately, keeping the lid on dissent at home. It has made peaceful settlements of its border disputes with Laos, Russia, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and is working on its age old dispute of border demarcation with India. Its bitter clash with Taiwan, which commentators once called the most explosive issue on the map, is now quiescent. Japan and China are finally getting on fine. Add to this that India’s reflexive anti-Americanism is dead and buried—thanks to President George W. Bush’s decision to lift the embargo on nuclear materials. North Korea is isolated, even from its old mentor China. Who on earth is it going to use its two or three nuclear weapons against?

Federico Manfredi: A Cairo Moment for Kandahar

Last January, I argued on the pages of World Policy Journal that the United States should end its war against the Taliban and focus on Al-Qaeda instead. The Obama administration should negotiate directly with the moderate factions of the Taliban movement, I said, offering them a gradual withdrawal of all foreign troops and greater political inclusion in exchange for the termination of all their ties to Al-Qaeda. In March President Obama declared himself willing to negotiate with Taliban moderates, and since then, the notion that the Taliban do not pose a direct threat to the United States has slowly begun to sink in. Last week a senior White House official said that President Obama sees a role for the Taliban in Afghanistan’s future. Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban said in a statement that they have “no intention of harming other countries” and that they are fighting solely “for the independence of Afghanistan.” Obama should continue this conversation because it could potentially split the Taliban movement along the lines of moderates and radicals. This would make it much easier for the United States to engage the former while isolating the latter. A major impediment to dialogue is that many Afghans remain cynical and deeply conflicted about U.S. policy in the region. A political analyst from Kandahar (whose assessments are generally sound and often prescient) recently told me that he believes that the United States wants to establish a permanent military presence in Afghanistan to keep China out of Central Asia. He also reiterated the oft-repeated Pashtun complaint that the United States is propping up a puppet government made up of Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks to sideline the Pashtun people, ensuring that Afghanistan remains weak and divided. Obama must dispel these myths once and for all, and the best way to go about this delicate task would be for him to give a speech in Kandahar.

THE INDEX — October 21, 2009

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