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David A. Andelman: The Metropolitan Opera in the Service of Putin?

David A. Andelman Throughout the Nazi era in Germany, while Hitler and his minions were in the process of enslaving much of Europe, Wilhelm Furtwaengler served as chief conductor of the renowned Berlin Philharmonic, bringing his baton and his fabulous ensemble into the service of the propaganda machine of the Third Reich. Now, it seems, Valery Gergiev, longtime principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera and now the London Symphony, is performing the same service for his masters in Moscow. As the Associated Press reported Thursday morning in a dispatch from Georgia, “Valery Gergiev, who is Ossetian, was to lead a requiem concert for the dead in the devastated central square [of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali] Thursday night, part of an effort to win international sympathy and support for Russia's argument that its invasion of Georgia was justified.” Okay, so Valery Abisalovich Gergiev is Ossetian. Wilhelm Furtwaengler was certainly German. Yet Furtwaengler had a far more compelling motive to sweep his baton into the services of Hitler and the Nazis than Gergiev does bringing his to bear in the service of Vladimir Putin. At the start of the Nazi era, with the Weimer Republic in the grip of a crushing economic meltdown, the once proud Berlin Philharmonic, had become, quite frankly, flat broke. The livelihood of Furtwaengler’s 80-plus musicians, indeed the survival of their families, some of them at the time Jewish, were at the mercy of the hyperinflation that was sweeping Germany at the height of the Great Depression. Without question, Furtwaengler sold out. And his reputation, eventually, indeed that of his great institution, suffered for decades as a result. Should Gergiev pay no less a price? It is, after all, Putin who’s accusing the democratically elected government of Georgia of “ethnic cleansing.” It’s Russian tanks that have dug into hillsides and roadblocks across the borders of this tiny, independent nation—an action that should be no less abhorrent than Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland which then, weeks later, was to include all of Czechoslovakia. Gergiev has certainly been in Putin’s hip pocket for much of his career. Each is godfather to the other’s children. Putin, at least indirectly, placed him at the helm of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, the pinnacle of the Russian musical establishment. Until now, this profoundly interlocking relationship could be ignored in the West. After all, Russia was all but an ally. Putin and President George W. Bush were great pals. They rode in the same golf cart together. No longer. Now, suddenly, the West is searching frantically for a means of sending a message to the Kremlin.

Jonathan Power: From Lagos with Love...to Georgia

Jonathan PowerKosovo, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Chechnya, the Bakassi Peninsula. All disputed territories but only one (the last named), a sizable oil-rich wedge of land lying between Nigeria and Cameroon, has been taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for adjudication. Why not the others? To my mind, I can think of no good reason apart from, in the latest conflagration, hubris on the Russian side and an inflated sense of self-importance on the Georgian side, partly borne of America’s encouragement. Six years ago, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (on whom I reported for the summer issue of World Policy Journal) was confronted with growing tensions with neighboring Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula, long ruled by Nigeria. In a show of restraint, he decided to resist the advice of his minister of defense, who pushed for a military solution, and turned the dispute over to the ICJ. Local newspapers ridiculed Obasanjo and public opinion was nationalistic, but he held his course and did so even when the court ruled in Cameroon's favor. Yesterday, Bakassi was formally turned over to Cameroon. Unlike South Ossetia, there was something to fight over—large quantities of oil—but Nigeria swallowed its pride. This doesn't happen as often as it should, but it does happen.

Paul Blustein: Avoiding the Bilateral Blitz

Paul BlusteinNow it’s more urgent than ever. The multilateral trading system needs support. And one of the best signals the United States could send would be to propose a moratorium on bilateral trade deals of the sort the Bush administration has pursued in wretched excess. These deals offer paltry advantages, and have major drawbacks, as I argued in an article for the WPJ’s special trade issue. The urgency stems from the collapse on July 29 of negotiations aimed at securing an agreement in the Doha Round of global trade talks. Those negotiations dragged on for nine days at the World Trade Organization’s Geneva headquarters, only to end in yet another in a series of breakdowns—this time, over whether developing countries could raise emergency tariffs to protect their farmers. Never mind which countries deserve the most blame for the latest fiasco; there has been plenty to spread around since the talks were launched in the Qatari capital of Doha in 2001. The important point is that the debacle increases the risk that the WTO’s authority will undergo a significant erosion in years to come. Minimizing threats to the WTO’s authority ought to be a top priority of trade policy, because as I contended in my article, the WTO plays a crucial role in fostering global economic stability. The WTO’s centrality to the trading system is already under some doubt, thanks to the proliferation in recent years of bilateral and regional trade agreements. So the global trade body is facing a double whammy in the aftermath of the Doha Round failure.

Shaun Randol: China Cracks the Door

MacBain On August 8, China will fling open its doors to the world’s finest athletes and welcome, for the first time, a global Olympic audience. Yet, while the world’s attention is distracted by the glint of gold medals in Beijing, Chinese officials are doing whatever it takes to ensure that only the high polish of the Olympic spectacle makes it out through tightly controlled (i.e. censored) television, print, and online media. In light of the recent protests in Tibet, a catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan Province, bus bombings in Kunming and Shanghai, and terrorist attacks in Xinjiang Province, Chinese officials are determined to build a façade of control—and cohesive national pride—lest unsightly and embarrassing political demonstrations be broadcast around the world. From banning select foreign entertainers to jailing Beijing dissidents, liberties are systematically being curtailed in what was once hoped to be China’s great coming out party. To their credit, in expectation of public protests of one kind or another, officials have set aside three city parks in Beijing where demonstrators can air their grievances—a highly unusual gesture from the authoritarian government. There is a catch, of course. “The police will safeguard the right to demonstrate as long as protesters have obtained prior approval and are in accordance with the law,” said Liu Shaowu, director of Olympics security, during a news conference. According to the law, citizens (it is unclear how internationals figure into this mix) must apply for a permit, in person, five days in advance of the scheduled protest. The application requires detailed information, including the topic of dissent, slogans to be used, and the expected number of demonstrators. Moreover, protests that are disruptive of “national unity,” “social stability,” security, or that advocate for ethnic minority separatism (read: Tibet, Xinjiang) will not be approved. Despite the obstacles, could we see some action in the parks? Quoted in the New York Times, human rights lawyer and advocate Xu Zhiyong said, “As a first step toward opening up space for dissent, it is appropriate.... There should be many people who are willing to use this space, petitioners and people who have experienced injustice.” It will take a clever protest application, however, or outright subversive action, to hold a demonstration that does not violate the government’s tightly scripted rules. Protesting on issues such as pollution, political prisoners, religious freedom (Falun Gong), Tibet, Xingjian, shoddy construction of schools in Sichuan’s earthquake zone, democracy, freedom of speech in general, corruption, land rights, and other issues will, in all likelihood, be denied their moment in Beijing.

Louise Blouin MacBain: Security for Rich & Poor

MacBainFrom the forthcoming Summer 2008 issue of World Policy Journal. Many of you are presently suffering from sharp increases in food prices. The main cause of this increase is here to stay since it results from structural changes in the demand for farm products. Reducing farm subsidies and tariffs should help create more room for your own farmers to export thus helping raise their revenues. It should also ensure a better connection between supply and demand. If anyone still wonders why agricultural subsidies and production systems need reform and why this is crucial for Africa, just look in the news everyday! —World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy, addressing the African Union Conference of Trade and Finance Ministers, April 3, 2008 In mid-July 2008, trade representatives from World Trade Organization (WTO) member states began meeting in Geneva in an attempt to make a breakthrough towards completing what has been seven years of negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda. There had been political commentary on Doha that was skeptical about the success of the agreement; Barack Obama’s economic policy advisor, Jason Furman, for example, has told the media that it is impossible for the candidate to have an opinion on an agreement “that doesn’t exist.” Still, there is a growing consensus among trade representatives such as Peter Mandelson of the European Commission and Susan Schwab, the U.S. Trade Representative, suggesting that while many complex steps still need to be taken in order to complete Doha, a deal in 2008 must be made. Indeed, the need is critical and immediate, not only to help alleviate the pressure brought on by the spike in global commodities—oil and foodstuffs—and lift African economies out of poverty, but also as a symbol that nations can work together to address global issues. The fundamental purpose of Doha was not just to create clearer and fairer conditions of global trade, but also to open up new opportunities for growth and development in the world’s most impoverished areas. In turn, millions would be lifted from poverty. Inextricably linked to Doha’s goal of alleviating poverty was the strong desire among WTO members to issue a global response to what were perceived as the imbalances between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, that have been key drivers of terrorism and global conflict. Doha, while idealistic in its goal, set out in 2001 to develop a new platform for global cooperation that would depart from traditional aid and development programs. These have tended to see money simply flowing from rich to poor nations—if at all—usually with strings attached. Instead, this new platform has sought, by liberalizing trade barriers across the globe, to allow impoverished nations a vehicle to develop their own independent economies and stand on their own feet. Doha had, and continues to have, the profound ambition of restoring dignity to the world’s impoverished. Moreover, any Doha trade liberalization also stands to benefit rich nations such as the United States and those that comprise the EU, who are now more than ever relying on exports to maintain economic dynamism and growth.

Vladimir Kvint: Russia Looks to 2020

Vladimir KvintAfter the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its disappearance from the political map of the world, the Russian central planning system was abolished. It was an inevitable and positive result of 70 years of brutal dictatorship. However, the complete destruction of a planning system was one of many mistakes made during the transition from a centralized system to a free market economy. Until 2008, the Russian government did not have a long-term plan or vision. Learning from the Soviet experience, other countries like France, Italy and Germany have used planning systems in their national policies with varying levels of success. Planning systems have also been developed in several emerging market countries. At the beginning of the 1990s, when I worked at Arthur Andersen, I participated in the analysis of Malaysia's 2020 strategic plan. Seventeen years later, a program with the same horizon is being developed in Russia. Here is my take on it.

Belinda Cooper: Obama in Berlin

Belinda CooperBERLIN, GERMANY—Barack Obama has come and gone, but excitement remains, along with sober analysis. Obama was again on the front of every newspaper the day after his appearance, and most of the coverage and photos were flattering. (In a recent New York Times op-ed, Susan Neiman refers to Spiegel Magazine’s sardonic cover, but Spiegel is always sardonic and condescending, about everyone; it’s hardly representative.)German newspapers in Berlin. The day of the speech, people were already making their way to the Siegessäule hours before Obama was scheduled to take the stage. The crowd was international and ethnically mixed, and largely young. The mood was not so much passionate as curious. One longtime American resident of Berlin called it an anti-Bush demonstration of a sort (though with many people waving American flags) I asked an Eritrean friend I met on the way, who’s lived in Berlin for years and is now a German citizen, what people were saying about Obama. He told me everyone likes him, but they don’t believe Americans will actually elect him. That is, indeed, a concern; many people have asked me whether I really think he has a chance. Obama’s speech touched on many of the points Germans, especially younger people, are most interested in, but he also alluded to some issues they are not excited about. Back where I was standing, there was little applause for his call for more German troops in Afghanistan or his praise for NATO. To me, his rhetoric about the Cold War and the airlift came across as clichéd and somewhat condescending, but not everyone saw it that way; the airlift still means something to Berliners, particularly older ones. He received a great deal of applause when he spoke of Darfur, several times, and Zimbabwe; of ending the Iraq war and eliminating nuclear weapons; of climate and the environment; and of breaking down barriers between races and religions. Still, Obama’s rhetoric is American, for example in its tendency towards what one commentator called “light and darkness metaphors,” and sounds strange to German ears. One young woman I spoke to afterwards found the speech superficial (“bullshit” was one of her adjectives). And others have made the same arguments as Roger Cohen in the New York Times—that it was abstract and feel-good. The staging of an American campaign is equally alien. In a poll by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the day of his appearance, a majority of respondents nationally felt either that too much fuss was being made, that Obama was using Berlin for his campaign, or that European expectations of him were too high. Most people seemed quite aware that the speech was, in fact, aimed more at the U.S. then at Germany. But many commentators, as well as listeners, found substance in the speech nevertheless. Obama’s admission that the U.S. has made mistakes, for example, and his acknowledgment that many Europeans see the U.S. as a cause of the world’s problems, meant a great deal.

Shanker Singham: Free Trade Doesn’t Hurt Middle Class

Shankhar Singham Whether you call this a war on the middle class, as Lou Dobbs has, or whether you accept the notion that the middle class are facing lower real wages (inflation adjusted and taking into account healthcare and pension costs), many commentators have painted a very bleak picture of what the US middle class is currently experiencing. In other Western countries similar arguments are being made.

Shanker Singham: Busting a Free Trade Myth

Shankhar SinghamCritics of free trade generally complain that income disparity in the world has vastly increased—that globalization has led to vast and growing inequalities. The larger question is whether inequality is the right measure of progress. It is not. Inequality, either within a country or between countries, is the wrong yardstick with which to measure progress. The proper benchmark is whether the lot of the poor is improving. And here the data is unequivocal. By all measures of mortality rates and health standards, billions of the world’s poor have been lifted out of poverty by rising global growth.

Álvaro Baltodano: Nicaragua Surges On Free Trade

Gen. BaltodanoNicaragua has entered a period of economic liberalization and integration to global markets in order to stimulate and develop its national economy. Currently, we have signed free trade agreements with the United States, Dominican Republic and Central America (DR-CAFTA), Mexico and Taiwan. Nicaragua is also in the process of negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union, and is discussing preferential market access with Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil, in order to become a key export platform to the markets of North and South America.

Belinda Cooper: Letter from Berlin

Belinda CooperBarack Obama will speak to an anticipated crowd of 100,000 people in Berlin tonight, and the city is brimming with anticipation. Pretty much every newspaper and magazine has featured him on its cover or front page. A few weeks ago, the story was where he would speak. At the Brandenburg Gate? Angela Merkel (Christian Democrat) opposed a foreign politician making a campaign speech at such a historic site; her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democrat) didn’t see the problem; and Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit (Social Democrat), seemed to be looking forward from the start to a photo op with Obama anywhere in the city. But the Obama campaign, loath to create friction, decided on a different location: the Siegessäule or Victory Column. Not that the Siegessäule doesn’t have its own issues: as many have pointed out, it’s a monument to Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria and France, and the Nazis liked it too; they even made it taller. Berlin’s like that, though—there’s hardly a spot in the city without some problematic history, be it Prussian, Nazi or Communist. It’s sometimes hard to remember, with surveys showing a majority of Germans opposing Bundeswehr participation in Afghanistan, but Germans weren’t always pacifists...

Alon Ben-Meir: Mediating the Nuclear Impasse

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir Iran’s insistence on enriching uranium in defiance of three UN Security Council resolutions, combined with a bevy of antagonistic threats aimed at Israel’s existence has created an explosive recipe that may well precipitate a horrifying regional conflagration. For Iran’s own best interests, its contentious leaders would be well advised to tone down their anti-Israeli threats, which have not been taken lightly thus far, and find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. The recent Israeli air force exercises and American naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, which were countered by Iran’s test-firing of a variety of missiles, have only heightened an already tense atmosphere. It is now critical to look at who might be in a position to defuse the tension and restore some stability to a volatile region already battered by a devastating war in Iraq. At this point, Turkey has made itself well positioned geopolitically to play such a significant role. The fact that the Bush administration has shifted policy after nearly three decades and agreed to participate in the international talks with Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva may well open the door for future direct talks to be facilitated by the Turks.

Mira Kamdar: The Most Corrupt Democracy

Mira KamdarAs India’s parliament debates whether or not to approve the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement today, more than the fate of the deal itself is at stake. The fate of India’s government, a coalition of multiple political parties headed by the Congress Party, and the political future of the country hangs in the balance. One thing is not in doubt: India may well be the most openly corrupt democracy in the world.

Michele Wucker: Citizenship and the Veil

Michele WuckerIn the uproar over France's denial of Faiza Mabchour’s citizenship application over her wearing of the niqab, many commentators have found it easy to condemn France for being racist/religionist/whatever-ist you want to call it. But the reality is that people are uncomfortable with people who look different—and societies adopt clothing as a political tool for many different purposes and in many different contexts. In a delicious irony, as American pundits were wringing their hands over France and the veil, a small Illinois town passed a law banning baggy pants that reveal underwear—a case of preventing (mainly) men from revealing too much, as opposed to punishing a woman for revealing too little. Many Westerners—and yes, even we New Yorkers who believe ourselves to be sophisticated and tolerant—would be deeply uncomfortable when faced with the prospect of more and more people on the street whose faces we cannot see. It is folly to ignore that visceral reaction. How can France address the deep-seated fears about the niqab? The answer turns out to be the same as the answer to how it can protect Muslim women’s rights and French values.

Alon Ben-Meir: Israeli-Syrian Negotiations

Dr. Alon Ben-MeirBy all accounts, the Israeli-Syrian indirect negotiations through Turkish mediation are going well, and the fact that a fourth round of talks is scheduled for the end of July suggests that both sides expect to make further progress. The reports from Damascus and Ankara, however, indicating that Syria will not enter into direct negotiations with Israel before the advent of new American administration show an obstructive apprehension on the part of the Syrian government. Indeed, Damascus should not only agree to direct negotiations with Israel—as Turkish officials strongly recommend—but time has come for it to make a bold move toward the Israelis. A high level meeting, for example, between Israel and Syria can change overnight the dynamic of their negotiations and dramatically increase the Bush administration's stakes in its successful outcome.

David A. Andelman: The Dalai Lama vs. Palestine?

David A. Andelman, EditorSOUTHAMPTON, NY—For many American Jews there is the apparent moral conundrum—how do you support Tibet (the Dalai Lama) over China without supporting Palestine over Israel? Simple. In this equation, Israel is the underdog—at least when it comes up against the combined might of the Arab world and the (real or imagined) nuclear power of Iran just around the corner. I'm not saying that this is an equation that I can even entertain. Still, this was the nature of part of the discussion around the dinner table Saturday night at Louise MacBain's place in Southampton. Louise, who three years ago launched the extraordinary Global Creative Leadership Summit and called together a few of us for the weekend to brainstorm this Fall's session, invited a couple of high-powered investment types to join us for dinner on Saturday. Both, with their wives, happen to be committed Zionists, though in deference to the clearly off-the-record nature of the evening, I'll refrain from identifying them. The context is the fact that Louise, who’s an extraordinary entrepreneur in her own right with her stable of art publications including Art+Auction and the landmark ArtInfo.com, has also taken up the cause of China and its efforts to reach some form of modus vivendi with the Dalai Lama and return peace to Tibet. Recently, she returned from a round of shuttle diplomacy between Lhasa and Beijing. "I want only what is best for the Dalai Lama and his spiritual foreigners," she says most diplomatically, "and to embrace the reasonable demands of China as well." She's also quite committed to bringing all sides together in Palestine and Israel as well, along with close friends James Wolfensohn and Mortimer Zuckerman. But more about them in a moment. Above all, Louise believes in communication—all sides talking to each other, removing barriers to free movement of people, ideas and goods (so she's a big free-trade and Doha advocate as well). Inevitably, the talk on Saturday turned to Israel and Palestine. But only after we had thoroughly explored Louise’s recent efforts in China and Tibet where she travelled to gain support for an international fund administered by her Foundation for the cultural preservation of Tibet—a fund that would complement China’s already existing $70 million investment into the preservation of the region’s cultural heritage. She believes fervently that the Dalai Lama and China should sit down and talk, work out their differences and move on to peace and development for the benefit of the Tibet Autonomous Region. She is persuaded that the Dalai Lama and his supporters have been somewhat outrageous in their demands—which appear to amount to a takeover of a quarter of the territory of China itself, or “Greater Tibet” as it is often put. Her guests were as reluctant to spring to China's defense as they clearly were to spring to the defense of the Palestinians.

Joshua Miller: Capitulation to Terror is Shortsighted

Joshua MillerAt an international boundary between two countries that do not have diplomatic relations, recently fought a war and have a bitter history of violence, one might expect to find fortified gun emplacements, concertina wire, and the deep diesel rumble of idling tanks. But the Rosh Hanikra border crossing that sits at the juncture of Israel, Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea is an exquisite, peaceful corner of the Middle East. Set atop chalk cliffs overlooking the sea, and situated next to a vast array of grottoes formed by millennia of water lapping at the rocks, Rosh Hanikra (Hebrew for head of the grottoes) is a national park, a popular tourist attraction, and is even occasionally a location chosen by Israeli couples for their weddings. Sitting at the local restaurant, looking out at the Mediterranean, it’s almost possible to forget that one is at a military site.The border crossing between Israel and Lebanon. A line of buoys in the sea, marking the official border between Israel and Lebanon, stretches out from the shoreline to the horizon. In the distance, one can often see Israel Defense Forces (IDF) naval gunships assiduously patrolling the demarcation line. But in the early morning hours of April 22, 1979, there was only one ship moving along this coast, a small rubber skiff that had left from Tyre, Lebanon and was headed for Nahariya—an Israeli city of 50,000 people four miles south of Rosh Hanikra. After pulling the boat up on the beach in Nahariya, its four occupants, PLO terrorists led my a young man named Samir Kuntar, killed a policeman who had come upon them. They entered a nearby apartment building, waking a young Israeli couple, Danny and Smadar Haran, and their two children. Hearing gunshots, Danny helped Smadar and their two-year-old daughter, Yael, into a crawlspace in their bedroom. He was headed for the door with their other daughter, four-year-old Einat, when the terrorists burst into the Haran’s apartment. Suspecting there were more than two people in the apartment, the terrorists spent a few minutes searching for the other occupants. Trying to keep her two-year-old from making a noise and giving away their position, Smadar kept her hand over her daughter’s mouth, accidentally suffocating her to death. In a Washington Post op-ed, Smadar described what happened next:
“…the terrorists took Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, according to eyewitnesses, one of them shot Danny in front of Einat so that his death would be the last sight she would ever see. Then he smashed my little girl's skull in against a rock with his rifle butt. That terrorist was Samir Kuntar.”
Last week, on June 29, the Israeli cabinet, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, agreed to release Samir Kuntar (who is currently serving four consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison), four other Lebanese nationals, and the remains of Hezbollah fighters killed in the 2006 Lebanon War in return for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud “Udi” Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. For Israel, this was a decision with far-reaching implications. Capitulation to terrorist demands has dire consequences.

Belinda Cooper: Crucial Questions About Torture

Belinda CooperLast week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg announced a decision in a German case, Gäfgen v. Germany, that is relevant to the “war on terror,” even though the case itself had nothing to do with terrorism. In 2002, a German law student, Magnus Gäfgen, kidnapped and killed an 11-year-old child. In the course of subsequent ransom demands, he was caught by the police, who, at the time, believed the child was still alive. Under orders from a superior, a police officer threatened Gäfgen with great pain if he didn’t tell them where the boy was (they were prepared to follow through on the threat, though this never happened). Gäfgen thereupon confessed, and the boy’s body was found. Later, after being informed that the coerced confession could not be used against him, he repeated it. The German courts found him guilty, based on the later confession; Gäfgen then appealed to Strasbourg, claiming his rights to freedom from torture and fair trial had been violated. The police officer and his superior, meanwhile, were found guilty of coercion and instruction to coerce. Because their motive was saving the child’s life, however, and the situation was one of great pressure, the German court found mitigating circumstances and suspended their sentences—in effect finding them guilty but refraining from punishing them. The case set off a countrywide debate in Germany about the legitimacy of torture, obviously playing into broader concerns with the use of torture in the “war on terror” and the revelations from Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay.

David A. Andelman: The UN Befouls Lac Léman

David A. Andelman, EditorGENEVA—Here on the glistening shores of Lac Léman, large chunks of what should be the best of the United Nations are quietly being taken hostage. Perhaps it’s the DNA of failure that’s embedded in the walls of the old Palais des Nations where the League of Nations once met, without a single American delegate, and failed to prevent the rise of Nazism, Krystallnacht, the Holocaust and ultimately the Second World War. More likely, it’s some instinct of bureaucrats. Once they get their hands on a sinecure of mediocrity, they’re inclined to do their damndest to hang onto it, no matter how grotesquely distorted it becomes thanks to the single-mindedness of a small minority of the world that believes more passionately that their religion, their political system or simply their right to rule should hold sway. As any UN guide will explain to his or her captive audience of international tourists, the UN center in Geneva is devoted largely to humanitarian, social and economic issues, leaving politics, diplomacy and the preservation of peace to the more accomplished diplomats back in the Secretariat building on the East Side of Manhattan. So it’s here, especially in the critical human rights area that things have gone so badly wrong. Ruth Wedgwood, an independent human rights expert in Geneva for the past five years, a member of World Policy Journal’s editorial board, and a brilliant professor of international law and diplomacy at The Johns Hopkins University in Washington, writes that “regional politics still drags like a befouled trawler net across the ideals of the United Nations organization.” What she means, and what apparently caused the resignation of the brilliant and effective UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Canadian jurist Louise Arbour, is the fact that the 132 members of the so-called Group of 77 “southern states” representing the developing world, and most specifically its 56-member Islamic subset, have effectively hijacked the entire human rights process and used it as a mechanism to beat up on Israel and its “treatment” of Palestinians. There’s been no mention of Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, where Judge Arbour previously served as chief prosecutor for war crime trials. Nor, indeed of most of the other most egregious violators of human rights of their own or neighboring citizens, particularly in the third world.

Alon Ben-Meir: Israel's Peace Offensive

Dr. Alon Ben-MeirIsrael's recent peace offensive may have been motivated in part by personal or domestic politics, but the driving force to negotiate is part and parcel of a much larger plan. As the dynamics in the Middle East shift in response to Iraq war backlash, and as Iran develops its nuclear program, Israel has finally conceded that peace with Syria is the key to rapprochement with the rest of the Arab world, including the Palestinians. If comprehensive peace with Syria can be reached, Israel will be better poised to successfully negotiate with Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, and will be better equipped to deal with Hezbollah and Hamas—all which will become extremely important as Israel gears up to face Iran. Israel has planed to engage Syria in peace talks for more than a year. I have been privy to some of the indirect talks between the two sides, and know first-hand that Israel would have commenced these talks much earlier had it not been for objections from the Bush administration.

Benjamin Pauker: Talking to Our Enemies

Ben Pauker, Managing EditorThe savvy early adopters that read our nascent blog in its first few days last week might have noticed a curious banner advertisement, supplied by Google, along the right-hand side of our homepage. It was hard to miss. Framed in black, the ad set photographs of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Barack Obama side by side, above the question: “Is it OK to Unconditionally Meet With Anti-American Foreign Leaders?” Below were two buttons: “Yes” and “No.” But the advertisement offered only the illusion of choice; neither button worked and a click sent one directly to a page on John McCain’s website. While the World Policy Journal has always been a magazine of opinion—both left, right, and center (mostly left and center, to be fair)—the World Policy Institute, both the home and publisher of WPJ, is a “progressive” institution, and decidedly non-partisan. Not to mention that, as a registered non-profit, the Institute is prohibited from supporting political campaigns. The ad is now gone, banished from our site. But there’s a much larger question lurking here behind McCain’s ad: when did the notion of “meeting” become such a scarlet letter? And how has active, engaged—dare we say preemptive—diplomacy with those who oppose us become tantamount to weakness? This controversy began as an internecine war, touched off by Obama’s answer to a question posed to the candidates in the July 2007 YouTube debate. Asked whether he would, in the first year of his presidency, meet “without preconditions,” with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea in order to “bridge the gap that divides our countries,” Obama responded affirmatively. In what was perhaps a gut response, Obama recalled that both JFK and Reagan had met with their Soviet counterparts—not because they trusted them or doubted the very real danger that Moscow posed—but because negotiation, in and of itself, opened a door to the possibility of progress. Senator Clinton was quick to pounce, calling Obama naive, even reckless, and this line of attack has been gleefully inherited by the Republican nominee. It will no doubt intensify through November.

David A. Andelman: Swiss Bear Arms...At a Medieval Wedding

Davis Andelman, EditorFRIBOURG, SWITZERLAND—This weekend, Cyrill and Maureen got married. It was a three-day affair, with medieval theme, each of the more than 400 guests wearing medieval garb, eating and drinking and carousing much as Swiss knights and their ladies (with a few monks and William Tells thrown in) might have done seven or eight centuries ago. But the ceremony and all that surrounded it was much more than that—a tribute to how far Switzerland and China, indeed Europe and Asia, have come in the days since Marco Polo first returned from the Orient in the year 1295 and brought back word of a mighty and mysterious kingdom on the other side of the world. Cyrill Eltschinger, it seems, is Swiss to the tips of his gauntlets, while Maureen Yeo is Chinese—tracing her lineage back five centuries or more. Cyrill and I first met last year after our books, Cyrill’s Source Code China: The New Global Hub of IT (Information Technology) Outsourcing and my own, A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today were both published, two weeks apart, by Wiley, and we were invited to speak at the Outource World convention at New York’s Javits Center. I was then at Forbes, and Cyrill was and remains CEO of IT United, one of the leading information technology companies in China, and is based in Beijing where he first met Maureen three years ago. Some months after Cyrill and I had met at the Javits Center, having moved to World Policy Journal as editor, I received an e-mailed invitation to come to Fribourg and Neuchatel in June for their wedding. The only catch? We had to come garbed. Chain mail and a Swiss cavalier’s cap for me, two elegant gowns for my lady (aka wife Pamela). Fribourg itself, beyond being the hometown of Cyrill, was a totally appropriate spot for this unusual ceremony. It is a bilingual city divided down the middle by an invisible, but quite real line—the northern half lies in the German-speaking portion of Switzerland, the southern half in the French portion. France and Germany united again in the heart of Europe.

Kate Maloff: Carla Bruni v. the American First Lady

Kate MaloffIt’s rare that the French provide us with the watercooler stories we cherish here in the States—à la the Spitzer downfall and the Lewinsky travails of a decade earlier. Rather, the land of amour tends to stay unruffled when it comes to matters of the heart, or the bedroom. How refreshing it is then to recount the Israeli visit earlier this week by supermodel emeritus-turned-French First Lady Carla Bruni. What a splash she made as she disembarked to the stares of Shimon Peres and his giggling ministers, some of whom no doubt were struggling not to recall her scandalous nude pictures. This light-hearted arrival was bookended by a less jocular finale when an Israeli border policeman committed suicide at the Sarkozys’ farewell ceremony. Regarde la Presidente as she pushed Sarko aside and bolted for safety—designer pumps and all—back up into their waiting Airbus! But Sarko and Bruni’s antics reveal larger trends about the French psyche, and how we all perceive what a First Lady should be. Though the French were initially turned off by their new president’s infantile need to be perceived as alpha male, Sarkozy’s popularity rates are steadily increasing. But is this because—or in spite—of Bruni? Despite her foibles and quasi-sordid background, at day’s end, Carla Bruni is to the French no more than casual fodder for occasional jokes. The French—and I’d posit the Europeans in general—have been able to regard their leading ladies with an air of frivolity and with properly managed expectations. By tracing the tenures of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, and examining the recent rhetoric surrounding Michelle Obama, the polarity between the Europeans’ and Americans’ perception of the first lady appears radically different. In most circles, gender equality is a battle that’s been fought and won; race relations, civil liberties, and immigration debates spark far more fireworks today. Then why is America’s first lady stuck in the 1950s?

Belinda Cooper: In Turkey, History as Gov't Property

Belinda CooperLast week, Turkish publisher Ragip Zarakolu was convicted by a Turkish court of “insulting the state,” a crime under Article 301 of the Turkish criminal code. Zarakolu was sentenced to five months in prison, which was then commuted to a fine. His crime: publishing a Turkish translation of a British book on Armenian-Turkish reconciliation that included discussion of the Armenian genocide. Turkey not only officially denies that the early-twentieth century killings of Armenians was genocide, something most serious scholars have long acknowledged; since 2005 the government has attempted to punish those who assert that it was, including a long list of journalists, authors and publishers. Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, now a Columbia University professor, was perhaps the most famous name to be charged under this law (the charges were ultimately dropped); Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist who was later murdered by a Turkish nationalist, had been convicted under the article, though his conviction was overturned. For Zarakolu, this was not the first time he had been prosecuted on similar charges, including “insulting or belittling” Turkish state institutions.

Benjamin Pauker: Soccer Wars...and Peace?

Ben Pauker, Managing EditorFor those of you not passionately following the Euro 2008 soccer tournament (which every four years pits Europe’s top 16 national teams against one another), let me be the first to tell you that the semifinals have arrived. There are two big games over the next couple of days, but something feels slightly off. The streets of London won’t fall eerily silent as Brits pack the pubs, the Champs Elysees won’t be thronged with reveling Parisians, and there’ll be no splashing about in Rome’s Trevi fountain: Europe’s traditional powers have all been knocked out. England didn’t even place high enough in qualifying to make the tournament. Instead, the final four teams remaining in Euro 2008 are Turkey, Russia, Spain, and Germany. Pardon the crude turn of phrase, but Europe’s outliers, once knocking at the door, have let themselves in, looked through the fridge, and sat down at the table. In some ways, soccer—particularly in Europe—has been an acute barometer of politics and demographics, if not an agent of change itself.
Texas A&M University

 

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