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WORLD POLICY ON AIR

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Jonathan Power: Do a Deal on Kashmir

With parliamentary elections behind it, India shouldn’t be back at square one in its quest to settle the bitterly divisive issue of Kashmir, one that has led to three full-scale wars with Pakistan and that nearly brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear combat.

India missed its great opportunity to resolve the burning dispute with Pervez Musharraf before he was overthrown from the Pakistani presidency last year. According to the British and American diplomats I talked to 18 months ago in New Delhi and Islamabad, a deal was tantalizingly close. One British ambassador told me that India had to make very few concessions to strike a final deal and that the main barrier to the agreement was merely “psychological.”

If Musharraf wasn’t prepared to give away the store, the Pakistani compromises came close to it. But despite the seemingly friendly diplomacy of Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the unwarlike prime minister Manmohan Singh and, in the background, (another peace-loving figure) the chairwoman of the Congress Party Sonia Gandhi, India couldn’t bring itself to go the extra mile.

Observers had different explanations for Indian intransigence: that Musharraff was trying to force the pace; that the Indian army, the intelligence services, and senior bureaucrats in the foreign ministry were resisting an accord; that the leadership had not made an effort to educate the electorate as the Pakistan government had done; that the prime minister was weak and only focused on the economy; that his (successful) attempt to lower the grinding poverty in the rural areas was also a preoccupation; that the time consuming nuclear deal with the U.S was critically important; and that India rather liked the status quo, since stubbornness fitted in with its self-image of being the subcontinent’s super power.

There was also the failure of the Bush administration—it pushed a deal through Congress that lifted the long-standing embargo on selling nuclear materials and reactors to India—that was, in Singh's words, “loved” by his country. America could have used the muscle afforded by the nuclear deal to instead help push India to sign on to Musharraf’s magnanimous offer.

THE INDEX — May 26, 2009

Leaders of the Taliban insurgency are

Mira Kamdar: "Our Man in Kerala" — World Policy Journal and India's 2009 General Elections

Mira KamdarLong-time World Policy Journal editorial board member Shashi Tharoor has been elected to India’s parliament in the country’s fifteenth general election.  Running from his home town of Thiruvananthapuram, Tharoor garnered a historic margin of victory of more than 100,000 votes. “I am truly humbled by the extraordinary level of trust the voters of Thiruvananthapuram have placed in me, and I am conscious that now is when the real work begins,” wrote Tharoor, a man on the move, from his Blackberry. Tharoor’s success helped the Congress Party, on whose ticket he ran, win a landslide victory. Trouncing predictions of a fractured and fragile coalition as the most likely outcome of an election in which more than 400 million of India’s 700 million-plus eligible voters cast ballots in five phases over one month, India’s grand, old Congress Party won outright 262 of the 272-seat majority required to form a government. The stunning victory by the party that came to power with the birth of the Republic of India more than 60 years ago has left both India’s Left and Right in tatters.

. Such a clear mandate by a party that has positioned itself as a force for religious tolerance and economic growth tempered by concern for India’s very poor majority has been hailed by business leaders around the world as a welcome outcome. India’s stock exchanges shot up on the news. But as Tharoor points out, Congress has little time to waste on celebration. India is facing a gauntlet of serious challenges, and the ability of the new government to chart a course through a widening wealth gap, a deteriorating environment, a growing water and agricultural crisis, and hemorrhaging cities—while dealing with a region fraught with conflict and insecurity—is not made easier by the current global economic and climate crises.

Caroline Stauffer: Cambodian Justice — Too Little, Too Late

Wednesday, May 20, marks the annual "Day of Anger" for Cambodians remembering the victims of the brutal five-year reign of the Khmer Rouge. The five defendants to be tried in Phnom Penh are accused of crimes against humanity relating to the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodian lives in 1975-79. It has been more than three months since the ceremonial start of the trials in Cambodia on February 17, intended to bring the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders to justice. Witnesses were first called on March 30 and have only recently begun their testimony. Civil war ended in Cambodia in the 1990s, and Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot died a decade ago. Justice is only now being sought, some 30 years after the Killing Fields era. At this rate, it might be another 30 years by the time closing arguments roll around. International news reports from the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia in February focused on the historic nature of the Khmer Rouge trials, but most articles mentioned the word "corruption" in their leads, if not in the headlines. Disputes between the international and Cambodian judges who sit on the hybrid United Nations/Cambodian tribunal still remain unresolved, and charges of corruption are now coming from both sides. The Phnom Penh Post reported “a complete breakdown of trust between the two sides” on May 13. The international judges hope to try even more Khmer Rouge members—something the Cambodian side of the court will not permit. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was, coincidentally, a lower-level Khmer Rouge officer until 1977, has said that more trials could send the country back into civil war. Funding for the tribunal from international donors is mostly frozen in a trust fund held by the United Nations Development Program, pending a commitment from Phnom Penh to ensure that proceedings will be free and fair—and that someone besides the Cambodian government can hear complaints. Frustrated by Hun Sen's intransigence, Australia took the rogue step of calling for the release of its donations in April, a request the UNDP denied. The trials likely would not have started at all without a $200,000 bailout from Japan to pay Cambodian staff. Japan then went even further, upping its investment in the court with a $4.17 million donation in April.

Jonathan Power: Talking to Sonia Gandhi

I walk up Sonia Gandhi’s driveway, past guards toting Uzi machine guns, and can’t help thinking that when I came to interview Indira Gandhi (Sonia’s mother-in-law) on the eve of her great comeback and massive electoral win in 1980, I walked up to her front door and knocked. There were no guards and only one servant to let me in. Only four years later, however, Indira would be assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards as revenge for ordering the army’s attack on Sikh freedom fighters holed up at Amritsar’s Golden Temple. I am ushered into Sonia’s office. She barely acknowledges my presence. “Buon giorno,” I say. There is no reply. I have been warned that she is cold. She doesn’t offer me a hand, but walks over and asks me to sit down. Sonia is the Italian-born widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was cruelly blown to smithereens by a female Tamil terrorist, a member of the now-defeated Tamil independence struggle in neighboring Sri Lanka. (It was the Tamils who invented both the suicide bomber and its female variant.) Since 1998, Sonia has held the presidency of the Indian National Congress Party, though she rejected the offer of the post of prime minster in 2004. “Do you mind if I begin with a personal question?” “Yes,” she says. I pause, then continue: “Wasn’t it difficult to decide to go into politics, knowing the dangers and the terrible toll it has taken on your family?” “I am at peace about that,” she replies. “I have thought it through.” Then she suddenly interjects, “I hope this isn’t an interview. I just want us to get to know each other a bit.” I remind her, perhaps a bit defensively, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (also a leader of the Congress Party) had arranged the introduction and said I could conduct an interview. We continue, but I put down my notebook and lapse into a gentler, more conversational style. “Why did the pull of politics overcome your inhibitions?” I ask.

Michael Deibert: The Final Testament of Rodrigo Rosenberg

“Good afternoon,” the video begins, featuring a man in a drab suit directly addressing the camera. “My name is Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano, and unfortunately, if you are watching the message, it is because I was assassinated by President Álvaro Colom.” So begins the final testimony of Guatemalan attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg, who was shot and killed on Sunday in the country’s capital, Guatemala City. In the video, which was recorded only days before his slaying, Rosenberg goes on to accuse not only the Guatemalan president of complicity in his yet-to-come demise, but also the president’s wife, Sandra Colom; the president's private secretary, Gustavo Alejos; and a businessman, Gregorio Valdez. Rosenberg, a respected lawyer, states in the video that he will be killed because of his professional work on behalf of Guatemalan businessman Khalil Musa and his daughter, Marjorie Musa, both of whom were gunned down in Guatemala in March. Rosenberg states that the elder Musa was unaware, when named by Colom to the board of directors of Guatemala’s Banco de Desarrollo Rural S.A. (Rural Development Bank, popularly known as Banrural), that the body was being used as a center for the laundering of drug profits, the deviation of public funds, the siphoning off of state coffers on behalf of the president’s wife, and other nefarious activities.

Jonathan Power: Legalizing Poppy Growing in Afghanistan

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine who lived 460-357 B.C., concluded that diseases were naturally caused and were cured by natural remedies. Opium, he wrote, was one of the latter. But he was also of the opinion that it should be used sparingly and under control. If only our governments today could take such a sanguine and informed view of the use of opiates in medicine today. No one needs a more enlightened attitude than the Western forces now operating in Afghanistan where they are committed to destroying the peasants’ main source of income. The tough, no nonsense, eradication program has done as much as Western military action to push country people into the Taliban camp. The West has long been shooting itself in the foot. Both the former president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf and the wise senior statesman and former finance minister Sartaj Aziz, who probably knows more about the economics of agriculture in Pakistan than anyone else, have told me that it would be more sensible for Western governments to help buy the poppy crop. This would solve two problems in one blow. First, it would help deal with the world-wide shortage of medical opiates which, according to the World Health Organization, are causing a “global pain crisis.” In Africa hundreds of thousands of people are dying in agony for lack of pain relief. Second, it would prevent the opium farmers of Afghanistan being driven into the arms of the Taliban.

Micah Albert: Quenching Yemen's Thirst

I'm headed down to Bab al Mandeb—a narrow strait, spanning only 12 miles from the Middle East to Africa—to spend an afternoon with Abdalla Abrahem, a fisherman. He has spent is life trawling these narrow waters, but now he's forced to venture ever further afield, near Somalia and Djibouti, to support his family. Earning, at best, $10 a day, Abrahem lives along the arid Red Sea coastline in the small village of of Dobaba (pop. 600), a community in dire need of food assistance. I arrived in this area after a three-hour drive from Taiz, about 70 miles away from the coast, descending down more than 4,000 feet through a lush, winding canyon dotted with palm trees and camels. By the end of the journey, the temperature must have increased by at least 30 degrees. Upon arrival, it's shocking to see that a human life actually exists in the middle of this unforgiving landscape. Families try to scrape by on the wind-swept plain. It’s one thing to not have enough to eat, but another thing all together to have to buy your own water. Yemen isn’t just food insecure, it also faces a water crisis. Yemenis consume 2.8 billion cubic meters of water annually, but the nation's aquifers supply only about two-thirds of that. Yemen imports the rest. The western part of the country, where nearly 90 percent of the population lives, is expected to run out of water entirely in only ten years. In search of water, Yemenis are drilling deeper and deeper. The average depth of a well in the village of Dobaba is nearly 1,000 meters—compared with only 40 meters only two decades ago. Nothing about this village is sustainable; but  few can afford to travel the long distance to Taiz. And they can't pick up and move to the city, because their skill sets revolve around the sea.

David A. Andelman: The Political Undertones of Roxana Saberi's Release

A global campaign mounted for weeks by diplomats, statesmen, scholars, and scores of her fellow journalists finally paid off early Monday when Roxana Saberi walked out of the doors of Evin Prison in Tehran and, accompanied by her father, headed for the first leg of her journey back to her home in the United States. I was one of those who pitched in as a member of the Leadership Council of the Committee to Protect Journalists that was seeking her freedom. Indeed, the CPJ pulled out all stops—enlisting an international legal team at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton under the direction of James C. Goodale, journalists, and organizations across Europe and the Middle East—in an effort to help the Iranian leadership understand how counter-productive the actions of their legal system would be at a time when the United States is doing its best to open a constructive dialogue with the government in Tehran. Part of this involved a host of direct and indirect points of contact. For myself, I refused to appear again on Press-TV—the Iranian version of France 24, Voice of America, or other government-owned broadcast outlets—until Roxana was freed and allowed to leave Iran. Clearly stung by this one-man effort, one senior producer for Press TV observed that my boycott would be “counter-productive at this time when the two governments are trying to open a dialogue.” I pointed out that even more counter-productive were the actions against Roxana, a professional journalist thoroughly innocent of the charges brought against her—who, in contravention of every known international juridical standard, was hustled through a judicial proceeding in a single day, sentenced to eight years in prison, and never allowed to examine any of the evidence against her, or allowed to confront any of her accusers. Indeed, the entire process, cloaked in mystery, was a most unfortunate demonstration of how strained the quality of justice, let alone mercy, remains in many of the darkest corners of the world—especially Iran.

Micah Albert: Reporter’s Notebook — The First Taste of Yemen

I arrived in Yemen yesterday ruminating on somewhat contradictory mental snapshots of the country. It’s the place where Noah’s Ark was launched and Osama bin Laden’s father was born. It is a country where Westerners are kidnapped by tribesmen (but rarely harmed), where suicide bombers struck the USS Cole in 2000, where young women lower the blinds and cast off their abayas to dance and chew qat [a mild stimulant derived from a shrub] with their friends.

Inhabited almost since the dawn of humanity, Yemen is, in many ways, the birthplace of all our lives. The sons of Noah knew it as the land of milk and honey, Gilgamesh came here to search for the secret of eternal life, wise men gathered frankincense and myrrh from its mountains and, most famously, a woman known simply as the Queen of Sheba said Yemen was her home.

I have come to Yemen to report on many things, but the overarching, pressing story is food security. Though the global food crisis dropped from the front pages of newspapers a year ago, the reality of food shortages and alarming malnutrition rates has not subsided—in fact, it has worsened.

I hope to shed light back on this urgent issue and potentially return some media attention to this topic while traveling as a photojournalist with the World Food Programme (WFP) as they begin a $30 million emergency food operation to assist 600,000 people here.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and trouble is brewing for this Gulf nation. The oil sector provides 90 percent of export earnings but what little oil they have is running out. Meanwhile, Yemen seems headed for a multifaceted crisis; it is grappling with high levels of poverty, rising unemployment, catastrophic nationwide water shortages, and the fertility rate is booming. As to the link between poverty and food security, the following statistic highlights the depth of the problem:in Yemen, the average family spends 65 percent of their yearly income on food. In the United States, it's less than 9.5 percent.

The Index — May 7, 2009

There was a break in the curfew imposed in Pakistan's Swat valley today allowing thousands to flee the region as government aircraft and helicopters attacked various Taliban

Jonathan Power:The Man Closest to Medvedev

Talking to Igor Yurgens is probably as close to talking with Dmitri Medvedev as one can get without interviewing the Russian president himself. His influence is regarded by those who follow the inner workings of the Kremlin as immense. By disposition a liberal academic, committed to the rule of law, he runs his own think tank which gives him the research and intellectual firepower to influence his close friend. Yurgens had something to do with clearing the path for the president to give his first on-the-record interview to the remarkably brave and independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, which had four star reporters, including Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down between 2001 and 2009. I recently interviewed Yurgens and we talked about Georgia, where the Russian army defeated Georgian forces that precipitated an unnecessary war last August by invading its neighbor, the pro-Russian mini-state of South Ossetia. I've long maintained that although Russia was acting within its rights in repulsing the unprovoked Georgian attack, it used a sledge hammer to kill a wasp. The Russian military used tactics that not only overwhelmed the Georgian army but created extensive destruction and civilian suffering. They seemed to be unnecessarily brutal. "Yes, maybe the Russian reaction was too heavy," replied Yurgens. "And there was no attempt at public relations before the event to explain what and why the Russians were doing. But then we always make the mistake of being too heavy handed. But if Medvedev hadn't given the order to intervene—and remember the military had worked themselves up—Medvedev would have been a lame duck president for the rest of his term." Within a couple of days of the invasions, Yurgens rushed to Washington for back-channel talks with the U.S. State Department. He told me that he "felt deceived by [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice. The U.S. did know a week before the invasion, because the Russians made sure that the 800 American soldiers stationed in Georgia were not in the way in case we had to intervene. Also both American and Russian intelligence could see and follow the movement of the Georgian army. So the U.S. had the opportunity to intervene and tell the Georgians not to go ahead with their planned attack on South Ossetia." "But by then within the administration, opinion, including that of [President George W.] Bush and Rice, who a month before had publicly warned the Georgian leader [Mikhail] Saakashvili not to initiate a war, had shifted in [Vice President Dick] Cheney's direction. I got this impression from Bill Burns, who I've known for a long time, the number two in the State Department and a very informed ex-ambassador to Moscow." "Cheney, in effect, undermined Bush and Rice. He knew that right-wing academics, ex-American diplomats and others, who journeyed to Georgia in the preceding weeks, had dropped hints to Saakashvili that if it came to a showdown Bush and Rice would be compelled to support the Georgians, despite their earlier warnings. Saakashvili was emboldened to do what he had long planned. He thought he could get away with it. And he thought by poking us in the eye he would strengthen his weakening position at home, where he was becoming less democratic and more ruthless by the day." Back home in Moscow, Yurgens says that Medvedev wants to heal the breach with both the European Union and America. Medvedev "likes" the new U.S. president, Barack Obama, who has assumed power "with new ideas," and thinks that if "our institutions [change] then we won't depend on the subjective," Yurgens said.

Michael Deibert: A Note on Violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University

In early 2007, while reporting on the conflict in India-controlled Kashmir, I sat at a small tea shop in Srinagar discussing the political trajectory of this troubled region with two friends—a Kashmiri attorney named Malik Aijaz Ahmad and a student named Idrees Kanth. I saw in Kashmir, as I have in other countries such as Haiti and Côte d'Ivoire, how the majority of the populace was caught in a vicious war of attrition between opposing sides with very little recourse or protection. Witnessing the situation in Kashmir led me to write my first long-form feature for World Policy Journal, the flagship publication of the New York-based World Policy Institute, where I have recently been named a senior fellow. During my time in India, I also became aware of the country’s complicated religious and ethnic dynamic. On one hand, this saw frequent and repeated episodes of discrimination and violence against the country's Muslim minority, including the murder of some 2,000 people—the vast majority of them Muslims—in a bout of ethnic cleansing in the state of Gujarat in early 2002. On the other hand, representatives of the Muslim community in India could also often behave in ways that reeked of intolerance, such as when members of the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) political party, including Indian lawmakers, attacked the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen as she attempted to speak at a book release event in the city of Hyderabad in 2007. A recent email from Idrees, studying at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, demonstrates vividly to me that these tensions evident in Indian society as a whole do not shy away from rearing their heads even in a university setting. If communal violence, such as that which India witnessed in Gujarat in 2002, is also allowed to flourish in places of higher learning such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, it is a worrisome sign for a country that this month undertook another exercise in its vast experiment with democracy.

Jonathan Power: Where To Go on Holiday.... Travel Tips from a "Mad Dad"

My eighteen-year-old daughter asked me recently about where she can safely travel when she finishes school in June and starts a three-month holiday before going to university in September. “The Muslim countries or Japan,” I replied. She was quite taken aback. At school her friends talk about the United States, Australia, Thailand, or South America. But I emphatically said, “no, I don't want you to go there,” and then explained why her mother and I felt so strongly. I pulled out the figures from the new 2009 United Nations World Development Report, which compares murder rates from all the countries.  Every country—apart from those in the European Union—measure rape, theft, break-ins, and other crimes in different ways. Some figures are accurate, some seem like they've been drawn out of a hat. But most countries report their murder rate pretty accurately. There may be under-counting  in places with civil strive, as in Sri Lanka, where murder and the killings of war can blur into each other. Yet, even in most difficult cases, like Russia, press reports can help balance the official figures. To cut a long story short, I would gladly let her go to Egypt, which has the world's lowest murder rate—at 0.4 per 100,000 population, although Japan  closely follows at 0.5. Other Muslim, mainly Arab, countries follow next, all with less than 1 murder per 100,000 people: the United Arab Emirates, including Dubai and Oman at 0.6;  Saudi Arabia at 0.9; Bahrain at 1; and Jordan at 0.9. Indonesia, with all its political troubles, has but 1.1 murders per 100,000 citizens. Outside the Arab countries, the Scandinavian countries are the safest. Norway and Denmark come in at 0.8 and Iceland at 1. Sweden breaks the Scandinavian success rate with a poor 2.4, but in Europe, Holland and Ireland score well too. So, daughter: there's the list that I approve—and that your mother has been persuaded to approve. Ironically, for us, many of countries with high murder rates are of a Christian heritage—the United States at 5.6 murders per 100,000; Mexico at 13; Russia at 19.9; South Africa at 47.5; and Colombia at a staggering 62.7. We can put India on the positive side of the ledger: it's a big, very diverse country, and parts of it, like West Bengal and its capital, Calcutta, are very safe despite its rating of 3.7 murders per 100,000 population. You might argue that I've underestimated, bent, or stretched the statistics—everyone knows there have been many killings of tourists in Egypt—because I'm not including terrorist killings. Egypt although, I admit, has real risks. So let's strike that out. (It reminds me of Northern Ireland during the "troubles," when it had the lowest crime rate in Europe but the fighting was pretty horrendous.) Your “mad dad” has been to them all, I know, but journalists are stupid and take too many risks.

Obama’s First 100 Days — William M. LeoGrande: Cuba

William M. LeoGrande’s article “Engaging Cuba: A Roadmap” appeared in the winter “Dear Mr. President” issue of World Policy Journal. His grade for the new administration’s first 100 days follows this update.

As the Fifth Summit of the Americas approached in April, President Barack Obama faced rising pressure from Latin American leaders to make good on his campaign promise to initiate a new policy of engagement with Cuba. Just before the heads of state convened in Trinidad, the White House announced an end to restrictions on Cuban-American remittances and travel for family visits.

These moves fulfilled the explicit campaign promise Obama made in Miami on May 23, 2008, but disappointed those who hoped the president would also rollback Bush-era restrictions on educational and cultural travel for all U.S. residents. By delaying a broader liberalization of travel, Obama left people-to-people engagement more hamstrung than it was under President Bill Clinton—hardly the sort of change in Cuba policy that Obama (as candidate) led everyone to expect.

The one innovation in the president’s first sally on Cuba was licensing U.S. telecommunications companies to provide cell phone, telephone, internet, satellite radio, and television service on the island—if the Cuban government will allow it. If Cuban President Raúl Castro accepts the offer, Obama can claim a policy success for reducing the communist government’s information monopoly, thereby justifying additional increments of change.

If the Cubans refuse, Obama can point to their lack of cooperation as a reason for doing little or nothing. During his pre-summit visit to Mexico, the president called his initiative “a show of good faith,” adding that he would now look “to see whether Cuba is also ready to change. We don't expect them to change overnight. That would be unrealistic. But we do expect that Cuba will send signals that they're interested in liberalizing.”

Raúl Castro responded at a pre-summit meeting in Venezuela, saying, “we have let the American government know both in private and in public,” that Cuba was willing to open a dialogue on all issues.

“Whenever they want to talk about them: human rights, the freedom of the press, political prisoners, everything, everything, everything they would like to talk about," Castro said. "But on an equal footing with absolute respect for our sovereignty and for the right of the Cuban people to their self-determination.”

On the one hand, this sounded promising. Fidel Castro had always insisted that Cuba would never negotiate its internal politics with Washington, so Raúl’s explicit willingness to put human rights and democracy on the agenda seemed like a breakthrough. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Castro’s comments as “a very welcome gesture.”

But read in context, Raúl’s remarks were not quite so encouraging. Most of his speech recited in detail the history of U.S. aggression against Cuba. He ended with the proposal Cuba would free “the so-called dissidents and patriots” who were “on the U.S. payroll,” in exchange for release of the five “heroes”—five Cuban intelligence agents serving long sentences in federal prison. Fidel weighed in on April 22, in one of his written reflections, that Obama had “without a doubt misinterpreted Raúl's statements,” implying that while Cuba might be willing to talk about a broad agenda, the government was still unwilling to concede anything on its domestic politics.

Obama’s Cuba initiative created a great media stir in the United States, with headlines proclaiming a fundamental change in Cuba policy when, in fact, the actual change was quite modest. The Obama team seemed to think their Cuba initiative would take the heat off the president at the Summit. They were wrong.

Heads of state across the region pointedly insisted that a new approach to Latin America ought to begin with an end to the embargo against Cuba, while Obama reiterated his commitment to “a new beginning” of engaging with Cuba “on a wide range of issues.” But even he seemed to recognize that the rest of the hemisphere didn't regard merely liberalizing Cuban-American travel and remittances as much of a change.

Obama now faces a dilemma. The media hype surrounding the summit raised expectations that Obama will really break with the past and bring U.S. policy toward Cuba into the twenty-first century. Yet Obama keeps insisting that Cuba must make domestic political concessions—the issues on which the government is least likely to budge. The reverse is also true: Cuba offers to free political prisoners, but only if Washington releases the Cuban Five—the issue on which Obama is least likely to budge.

Washington and Havana are at risk of hitting an impasse before they even get started.

The limits to what is possible will not be known for certain until the two sides begin to talk directly and privately. Presumably, the next step is to open a dialogue, most likely at a relatively low diplomatic level, on the issues Obama himself mentioned at the close of the summit—migration, drug trafficking, and political issues. Progress on issues of mutual interest could come quickly thus building momentum for engaging tougher ones. But “we're not going to change that policy overnight," Obama said, trying to dampen expectations at the summit.

The Obama team appears to have decided to proceed cautiously on Cuba, taking small incremental steps, then pausing to take the political temperature at home while gauging Cuba’s response. Some progress can be made in this fashion and, to be fair, some already has been made. But such gradualism is hardly a new strategy; Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both tried it and neither could sustain the early momentum.

More importantly, Obama promised a fundamentally different approach toward Cuba—a policy of engagement rather than isolation and hostility. “We've been engaged in a failed policy with Cuba for the last 50 years,” Obama declared during the presidential campaign. “And we need to change it.”

So far, Obama has not lived up to his own rhetoric. He has yet to make a dramatic break with the policies of the past. In fact, his approach thus far has been less open than that of either Carter or Clinton. Bold in so many other areas of domestic and foreign policy, President Obama is in danger of getting stuck in the tangled morass of U.S.-Cuba relations. Ten presidents before him have tried in vain to untie this Gordian knot. Will Obama have the courage to just cut it?

For his first 100 days, he deserves a grade of…

Jodi Liss: Breaking the "Resource Curse" by Getting Contracts Right

Many countries in the developing world look to energy and mining to bring in foreign investment. The contracts that these countries sign with extraction companies often offer lop-sided terms when it comes to money, transparency, information, or in certain cases, environmental protection to the host country—all of which heighten the problems of the resource curse. The International Senior Law Project (ISLP) is a non-profit organization which volunteers world-class legal counsel globally on economic development, human rights, and access to justice. The group works with governments who need their services but are too poor to pay, and partners with large established non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to bring their skills to developing world civil society groups. They also offer commercial law skills training. They have worked on projects to deal with extraction related problems in several poor countries, including in Mongolia and Liberia. ISLP’s roster includes about 600 lawyers from the United States, Canada, and other countries. Jean Berman, the executive director, says, “We’ve been very lucky in finding the perfect lawyers for the situation.” Joseph Bell is the Secretary of the Board for ISLP.  He is also a senior law partner at Hogan and Hartson, and chair of the Advisory Board at Revenue Watch Institute, an NGO which works to counter the resource curse. His background is in commercial and regulatory practice, focusing on energy and mining. Recently, he led the ISLP team(s) that renegotiated several important contracts between the government of Liberia and interested multinational corporations, resulting in a great improvement of terms for the government. The following is an interview with him on negotiating with extraction companies for the world’s poorest countries. - - - - Jodi Liss (JL): What problems do developing countries face when negotiating contracts with these huge multinational corporations? Joseph Bell (JB): There’s the problem of asymmetry—in knowledge, information, capacity—between the government and the company. Some countries recognize this and hire outside counsel, which sometimes can help. JL: Do these countries have the existing legal frameworks to guide these contracts?

The Index — April 30, 2009

Once again, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa ruled out a ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) i

Obama’s First 100 Days — John Delury: North Korea

John Delury’s article “North Korea: 20 Years of Solitude” appeared in the winter “Dear Mr. President” issue of World Policy Journal. His grade for the new administration’s first 100 days follows this update.

President Barack Obama’s policy team is making inroads on a less hostile, more direct relationship with states like Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba. The manifestations may look ad hoc—a friendly video message; conference sideline handshakes; partial lifting of travel restrictions; dispatch of envoys to a rarely-visited foreign capital. But the sum total indicates a new spirit animating American foreign policy toward troublesome, alienated, or “rogue” countries. A kind of axis of engagement seems to be taking shape.

There is one noticeable exception: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), a spoke in the wheel of George W. Bush’s "axis of evil." One hundred days into the Obama Age, it hardly feels like the beginning of a new era in U.S.-North Korea relations. Considering the extremely narrow channels of communication between the two countries, there is ample room for misunderstanding, conflict, and perception gap, even in so short a time. Foreign policy elites in Washington and Pyongyang may be telling themselves very different stories of what’s happened since January.

How would North Korea’s ruling elite evaluate Obama’s first 100 days, and what questions are they asking themselves about this new American leader?

Transition politics and envoy diplomacy in the early days of the Obama administration may have sent Pyongyang the signal that any new departure in U.S.-North Korea relations, for better or worse, will come at North Korea’s initiative. In fact, day one of the Obama era was a disappointment for the DPRK since the president’s inauguration team snubbed an unusual North Korean request to send an envoy to the inauguration ceremony. The rejection barely made headlines and it seemed prudent at the time for a young progressive president to not appear coddling of tyrants.

But in retrospect, the White House may have squandered an easy opportunity to give face to Pyongyang, opening the door for engagement and respect, without giving anything concrete away. Pyongyang showed initiative in wanting to send an emissary to witness the historic moment of Obama’s inauguration; Obama’s team may have mistaken this opportunity for one of many to come, rather than for the litmus test that—in the eyes of Pyongyang—they failed.

From Pyongyang’s perspective, the second negative indicator was the relative delay in appointing a special representative on the North Korean issue.

Two days after inauguration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden personally announced, with great fanfare, the appointment of a special envoy for Middle East peace and special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan. But a special representative for North Korean policy was not announced for another month, during which time North Korea experts warned of the importance of staying ahead of North Korea diplomatically, and obviating Pyongyang’s need for attention-grabbing brinkmanship.

The appointment of Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, a highly-respected diplomat who had recently traveled to Pyongyang, was itself second-guessed, even in South Korea, for the fact that he was keeping his day job as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. At the time of his appointment as Af-Pak rep, Richard Holbrooke was serving as chairman of the Asia Society—where I work—and it would have been inconceivable that he carry on in that capacity. The delayed appointment of a half-time envoy to North Korea must have had a deflating effect for anyone high-up in Pyongyang who hoped for “change.”

The third sign to Pyongyang that there was nothing terribly new in Obama’s approach to the peninsula was Clinton’s Asian tour.

The Secretary sent well-crafted, friendly, and respectful bilateral messages in Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing. East Asia lauded her trip as a resounding success. But one casualty of her astute bilateralism was the message received in Pyongyang. Clinton met with the families of abductees in Japan and ruminated on the death of Kim Jong Il with reporters on her flight to Seoul—stepping on two “third rails” of North Korean diplomacy. Emphasizing the importance of Japan and South Korea—both of whose governments are locked in hostility with North Korea—Clinton’s trip did little to assuage North Korean insecurities, or generate optimism about a new relationship with the United States.

Yet, Washington, already suffering Pyongyang fatigue from the back and forth of the Six Party Talks, tells a very different story. The North Koreans just don’t seem ready to be engaged. If this were a schoolyard fight, the State Department spokesman would be forgiven for crying out—“but he started it!"

Not long into the new president’s term, satellite imagery detected suspicious activity at the rocket launch site on North Korea’s northwest coast. Pyongyang announced plans on February 24 to launch a satellite rocket, which three of the six parties immediately pre-condemned as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution banning the DPRK from activities related to its ballistic missile program.

Three weeks later, Pyongyang announced it had taken legal steps to make its satellite launch fully compliant with international laws and norms governing the use of space (I argued that Obama cut his losses, defuse the tension, and not let the launch derail peninsula diplomacy).

Washington tried to stay cool, even as its main allies in the region, Tokyo and Seoul, threatened to punish North Korea for a launch. In the immediate lead-up to the launch, Obama’s deputies offered carrots and sticks—National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair called for “international opprobrium,” while Bosworth held out the bait of “direct talks” if Pyongyang would call off their launch at the last minute.

Of course, the North Korean government went ahead with its launch, timed to tear at the coattails of Obama’s Prague speech on nuclear arms control. The president cited North Korea’s actions as evidence of the need for an enhanced non-proliferation regime:

“Just this morning, we were reminded again of why we need a new and more rigorous approach to address this threat. North Korea broke the rules once again by testing a rocket that could be used for long range missiles. This provocation underscores the need for action—not just this afternoon at the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response—(applause)—now is the time for a strong international response, and North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons. All nations must come together to build a stronger, global regime. And that's why we must stand shoulder to shoulder to pressure the North Koreans to change course."

The president’s language indicates that he gets what the North Koreans are after—security and respect. But it’s too bad Obama’s attention was drawn to North Korea in the context of missile and nukes, reinforcing the narrow definition of the problem, which virtually ensures there will be no solution (standing “shoulder to shoulder to pressure the North Koreans” is a sure way to ensure anything but their changing course).

Obama has a rather unique intuition about conflict resolution, a subtle grasp of the ways history and ideology can imprison individuals and communities in mutual contempt, whereas recognizing the validity of conflicting values can lead to reconciliation and progress. Those instincts would serve him well if applied to the deep sources of conflict on the Korean peninsula. But with the domestic economy teetering and the Taliban on the outskirts of Islamabad, Obama probably just wishes Pyongyang could hang tight for a bit.

He might also be calculating that it would be prudent to focus his engagement capital on those “pariah” states that are somewhat less provocative. Does trying to bring North Korea into the unofficial "Axis of Engagement" jeopardize efforts elsewhere, leaving Obama open to attack for being too soft? Where is the domestic constituency in the United States that would support forward-looking American initiative? Why antagonize Tokyo and Seoul with proactive engagement toward the DPRK, when Pyongyang seems to be flouting UN authority? And is there anyone in Pyongyang capable of requiting American engagement, or is a sickly Kim Jong Il increasingly captive to a hard-line military oligarchy with no interest in economic and political opening?

These are among the questions Obama is likely asking himself, in so far as he has time and inclination to mull over the Korean peninsula at all.

The central argument of my World Policy Journal “Letter to the President” was that Obama should focus on finding a proactive and creative way to solve the underlying problem with North Korea: its isolation—political, economic, and cultural—from so much of the world community, and its abnormal and antagonistic relations with the United States. He and Clinton certainly have the requisite talent and knowledge on their foreign policy team to devise a comprehensive strategy of engagement but the mission needs to be defined as such.

American foreign policy has the great capacity to initiate a change of course and transform its relationship with an adversary. To wait for Pyongyang to initiate the change is futile, dangerous and tragic. It’s up to Obama to turn things around.

For his first 100 days, he deserves a grade of…

Obama's First 100 Days — Federico Manfredi: Afghanistan

Federico Manfredi's article “Rethinking U.S. Policy in Afghanistan" appeared in the winter “Dear Mr. President” issue of World Policy Journal. His grade for the new administration’s first 100 days follows this update. In his first 100 days, President Barack Obama has been on the right track in dealing with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has emphasized that the main interest of the United States in the region is making sure that Al Qaeda cannot attack the United States, its interests, and its allies, thus returning a sense of purpose to a mission that was sinking under the weight of nation building and counterinsurgency. Secondly, while the previous administration illogically handled U.S. policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan separately, Obama chose to integrate the two, given that the Taliban insurgency has been spilling back and forth across a border that is poorly marked and practically impossible to monitor. This move will certainly increase coordination between Washington, Kabul, and Islamabad. Even more importantly, Obama has declared himself willing to reach out to the moderate factions within the Taliban movement and has stressed that the United States must devise a sound exit strategy rather than follow the current pattern of perpetual drift. For all these reasons, Obama deserves praise, especially since he faces opposition in Washington from people who do not understand the realities on the ground in Pashtun territories and still see negotiating with the Taliban as anathema. While Obama has already passed the challenging stage of telling the American people that he is willing to negotiate with the Taliban, he has yet to deliver the message in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama should address the Pashtun people clearly and directly, spelling out the security interests of the United States and making a careful distinction between those Taliban whose main concern is Pashtun self-rule and those who support international terrorism. But Obama must also make it clear that he understands the interest of traditional Pashtun communities, and those of the Taliban militants that control them—which are quite different from the interests of Al Qaeda. The Taliban movement is not monolithic, and if Mullah Omar and other radical commanders are not interested in dialogue, others will step in to fill their shoes. Most importantly, the Pashtun people would recognize that Obama offered the Taliban a reasonable deal, and the stubbornness of those who refuse to negotiate would only undermine their popular support and isolate them politically. The time is ripe for a bold new approach to counterterrorism, one that stresses knowledge and reasoning over impulsiveness and military bravado. Convincing the Taliban that it is in their interest to halt their insurgent campaign and turn against Al Qaeda will not be an easy task. But this would be the most reasonable policy the United States could adopt to stabilize both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and thus undermine Al Qaeda’s presence in the region. For his first 100 days, President Obama deserves a grade of...
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