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THE INDEX — August 7, 2009

Turkish President Recep

THE BIG QUESTION — August 4, 2009

THE BIG QUESTION is a new multimedia project on the World Policy Blog.

Peter Wilson: A Chávez/Obama Showdown?

Peter WilsonU.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick Duffy resumed his post in Caracas last month after being expelled by President Hugo Chávez in 2008. But he better not unpack his bags just yet. Rising tensions between the two countries are growing again, making a fresh rupture possible. There are two flash points threatening to bring promises of better relations tumbling down. One is Colombia; the other is Chávez's moves against the country's press. Both pose challenges to U.S. president Barack Obama's policy of seeking a less confrontational accommodation with Chávez. Colombia, for now, is drawing most of the attention. Chávez has yet to explain how anti-tank arms acquired by the Venezuelan Armed Forces in 1988 ended up in the hands of Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Colombia said last week that three of the weapons had been confiscated last year when a FARC camp had been overrun. Colombian officials have repeatedly accused Venezuela of providing assistance to FARC, which is classified by both the U.S. and European community as a terrorist organization. Until now, they lacked a "smoking gun," directly linking Venezuela to the rebel group.

THE INDEX — July 31, 2009

A spokesman of the Nigerian national police on Friday said that "life is back to normal" after Muhammed Yusuf, the leader of the so-called "Nigerian Taliban", was

THE BIG QUESTION — July 30, 2009

THE BIG QUESTION is a new multimedia project on the World Policy Blog.

Jonathan Power: Russia, Europe's Other Half

Read it for yourself, and don’t dismiss it, as most western commentators have. The Pan-European Security Treaty, proposed by Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, is worth a read. Doubtless it can be modified, improved and ambiguities removed. But it makes a lot of sense, and it would be another step forwards to what the last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, urged—the creation of a “European house”, that contains Russia as one of its inhabitants. Only those “with one foot in the Cold War,” to quote President Barack Obama on the eve of his recent visit to Moscow, should find it objectionable. Indeed, play down Bolshevism and the Cold War. The moment communism, the Cold War and all its baggage were over, Russia itself quickly revived. This was, after all, a period of only 70 years in Russia’s long history—which began even before Prince Vladimir, its ruler, accepted Orthodox Christianity for himself and for his people a thousand years ago. It is 500 years since Byzantium Orthodoxy handed over the torch of the Church’s leadership to Russia. When Constantine in 326 AD moved the throne of the Roman emperor to Constantinople and took his newly adopted Church with him, the city became the headquarters of the Christian faith and its patriarch. When it was overrun by the Ottomans in 1453, the only place for both the spirit and the headquarters of the Church to move to was Orthodox Russia and the Slavic lands.  The “legitimate Church” was now the heritage of Russia. And 1453 was also the end of the Roman Empire. The consequences for Europe have been immense. The cushion of Orthodoxy in Russia saved Europe from the full impact of the eastern nomads and Islam. A Muslim Russia would have meant a very different history for the West. In 1767, the Empress Catherine categorically stated that “Russia is a European state.” In his ambitious study of Europe, Norman Davies wrote that “Fears of the ‘Bear’ did not prevent the growth of a general consensus regarding Russia’s membership in Europe. This was greatly strengthened in the nineteenth century by Russia’s role in the defeat of Napoleon, and by the magnificent flowering of Russian culture in the age of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, and Chekov.” Indeed it is clear that when it comes to the proficiency in all the arts, Russia has no peer in Europe. Even in the worst of times under Soviet totalitarian rule many individual Russians, not only Gorbachev, in their hearts wanted a European identity—not difficult to believe among those who were conscious of the natural links of their country’s artistic talents and their (repressed) Church. The end of the communist dictatorship enabled Russians and many of the other peoples of the former Soviet Union to greet, in Vaclav Havel’s phrase, the “Return to Europe."

Maria Repnikova: Patriotic Eclipse

As much coverage as the recent solar eclipse received in the Chinese and the international media, relatively little attention (if any at all) has been devoted to this occasion as a nationalist spectacle in China. Having observed the eclipse at the Tiananmen Square on Wednesday morning, I was struck by the degree to which the celebration of an astrological event became so interwoven with an apparent celebration of China. On Wednesday morning, July 22, Tiananmen Square, the scene 20 years ago of what's known here as the June Fourth Incident, and elsewhere as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, one of the largest and most violent protests against the communist government, was overrun last weekend by spectators—cosmopolitan but most certainly with the majority still coming from China. For the latest event, however, tour groups, photographers, families, students—all occupied the square in anticipation of a full solar eclipse, which takes place only once every 500 years. The eclipse was scheduled to peak at 9:20 AM, but photos were already being snapped as of 8:30. Mothers brushing their daughters’ hair, young couples, old people in wheel chairs—all ensured that what was happening on the ground was a spectacle worth taking in. Most notable, however, was the number of Chinese flags in the crowds, the marching party youth, and the extent of security personnel present in the Square on that morning. Couples holding hands were holding flags in their spare hands, while posing for photos. Kids raised the flags over their tiny heads, posing for their parents, and even some foreigners held onto the flags in an attempt to better blend into the crowd.

Ruthie Ackerman: Liberia's Difficult Path Toward Reconciliation

Ruthie Ackerman's Rebuilding Liberia, One Brick at a Time was published in the Summer 2009 issue of World Policy Journal. The blog post below addresses recent developments in Liberia, including the trial of former president Charles Taylor at the Hague and the implication of current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Recently in Liberia, the nation's Truth and Reconciliation Commission shocked foreign observers by implicating President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, widely admired in the United States and in the international women's community, in the destructive 14-year civil war. It recommended that she be banned from holding public office for 30 years. The TRC’s final report recommends nearly 100 names for prosecution, including Sirleaf, who, ironically, set up the commission when she took office in 2006, outraging many of her supporters as well as the warlords who took part in the conflict. The TRC believes Sirleaf did not show remorse or give a full account of her involvement with former president Charles Taylor, whose defense has begun at The Hague for war crimes against the citizens of Sierra Leone. In contrast, warlord-turned-preacher Joshua Milton Blahyi, better known as “General Butt Naked,” was judged to show sufficient remorse for killing up to 20,000 people and was left off the TRC’s prosecution list.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Many Liberians are angry at what seems like arbitrary justice. And anger can easily bubble over into violence. The problem is that the peace in Liberia is fragile—for example, sexual violence against women is as high as it was during the war—and the uncertainty and chaos caused by the TRC’s recommendations may foreshadow even more trouble ahead. After the commission recommended that Sirleaf be barred from office at the end of her tenure in 2011, commissioners began receiving death threats. Nimba County Senator Prince Johnson, a former warlord of the rebel group Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, reportedly warned of violence if there are any attempts to arrest him based on the TRC’s recommendations. Leymah Gbowee—who was recognized with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her efforts organizing the women’s protests that played a central role in ending the Liberian civil war—says the report has a lot of potential to wreak havoc on the country. But she does not think Sirleaf will step down as president, something her critics are urging her to do. “She’s a fighter and I think she will work through her mandate,” says Gbowee, who is the star of Abigail Disney’s award-winning documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” “The worst case scenario,” Gbowee believes, “is that as a result of the report she wouldn’t seek a second term.” In order to write its final report, the TRC statement takers traveled around Liberia for three years, hearing the testimony of more than 22,000 people affected by the civil war, which left a quarter of a million dead, millions displaced, and a majority of the women raped. Yet even the commission acknowledges that the public is likely to be disappointed, in expecting “that the TRC will produce a one-size fits all remedy to decades of injustice and violent armed conflict in a neatly bow-tied end product.” The next step is to create a separate human rights commission responsible for implementing all the TRC’s recommendations, including investigating individuals further and following through with prosecutions. Even in the best of circumstances none of this will happen immediately. Nor should it. The TRC act calls for a quarterly report on the progress of the implementation of its recommendations. But they are only recommendations. The commission itself cannot decide if an individual has committed a crime, or even award reparations. That would require a go-ahead from the government, and it is unclear whether the political will exists.

THE BIG QUESTION — July 23, 2009

THE BIG QUESTION is a new multimedia project on the World Policy Blog.

Charles Cogan: The End of "Solutions of Facility"?

One of the meanings of “facility” in English is now rare: “a tendency to be easygoing, yielding, etc.” But in French, "facilité" is very much a live word. “Solutions of facility,” which Charles de Gaulle inveterately decried, means taking the easy way out. This the United States has done with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli “peace process” for the last 40-plus years, indeed since the Six Day War of 1967. Bland statements to the effect that the international community does not recognize the annexation of Arab East Jerusalem, or flaccid pronouncements that the building of settlements in the Arab West Bank are “unhelpful” for the peace process, have essentially been all that Washington has been able to muster by way of reining in its Middle East ally. Is this now changing? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has remained—so far—very much on Barack Obama’s playbook, has described the president’s position in categorical terms: “He wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though he has now accepted—grudgingly and with caveats—a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, nevertheless cannot accept ruling out “natural growth” in settlements. After all, babies are babies! They keep coming!

THE INDEX — July 22, 2009

Venezuelan officials have rejected an expulsion order issued on Tuesday by Honduras’s interim government, which gives Venezuelan diplomats until Friday to  leave the country.

James D. Zirin: Global News on the Internet — Always a Free Lunch?

The contours of the global media market have undeniably changed. There is too much evidence to deny it. Print journalism is on its way out, taking its place alongside the one-horse shay. Online news and comment is in. In America, the venerable Christian Science Monitor now publishes its weekday editions online with a weekly print version claimed to have “unique” content. Seattle’s Post Intelligencer recently closed its printing presses in favor of an exclusively online edition. The two jointly operated Detroit dailies, the Free Press and the News, just ended home deliveries on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and directed doorstep readers to their respective web sites. Globally, but for a few South American and Asian markets, newspapers continue to cut back or close. In England, just this month, owners slated nine local newspapers for closure, and South Africa’s oldest independent paper, Grocott’s Mail, has shuttered its press room. Web journalism has become the order of the day. Gone soon will be the tactile experience of the daily newspaper. Web-based editions of five daily newspapers, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today and the Financial Times are offered on Amazon’s Kindle at heavy discounts off the newsstand price, and others will likely soon follow suit. The digital generation simply doesn't do "tactile." The reasons for all this, as everyone knows, are economic. Paid circulation for print is down; just as advertising revenues are down. This may be a result of the global downturn, which has caused many advertisers to slash budgets. But it is in large measure, as well, a tribute to the loss of readers to the Internet. Moreover, no one knows how effective print advertising  really is. A classified want ad in a small community newspaper may produce the desired responses, but the ad will cost more in print than a free posting on Craigslist. The undeniable reality is that national bread-and-butter advertising is better targeted on the Net. As John Wanamaker, father of the department store and of modern advertising famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Wanamaker’s statement may not apply to click-and-pay business models on the Internet where effectiveness of the advertising dollar is much more predictable, and ads  are much more sharply targeted to customers  according to geographic location, buying propensities or affluence.

Heidar Gudjonsson: What is the way out for Iceland?

With its currency down over 70 percent in two years, with 90 percent of its financial sector collapsed, and with its stock index down 95 percent over the same period, what can Iceland do? The political discussion has been confusing at best, and the chaos in the economy is not helping.  Iceland was hit with a triple crisis: first a currency crisis that started in 2006, then a financial/economic crisis that started in October 2008, and finally a political crisis as of this year. The public is angry and confused, but there is a clear lack of leadership and constructive debate within the country. Some people argue that joining the European Union would be the only way out. After Iceland joins the EU, some of the government would be effectively outsourced and a new currency could be introduced by joining the European Monetary Union (EMU).  What this argument overlooks is the time factor. Negotiations with the EU would never take less than one year. Then all the existing 27 members of the Union would need to approve Iceland as a new member. There is currently a waiting list, and Iceland could not be fast-tracked to the front of that list. In fact, given the many problems that the EU is having as it is, the process may take three to four years, at best. To join the EMU, Iceland would need to fulfill the Maastricht criteria of low and stable inflation. But here the track record of Iceland is anything but impressive, having consistently volatile and high inflation of at least twice the criteria, over the internationally low inflation period of past two decades. Iceland would also need to have a very low budget deficit, something the current leftist government is hardly going to meet (the target is below 3 percent but the current deficit is 10 percent). The last big obstacle is government debt.  With the current IceSave agreement, which the government is pushing the parliament to approve, the Maastricht target would be impossible to reach for the next decade or so.

THE INDEX — July 20, 2009

Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamic militants released a statement on Monday direct

Clinton Speaks, The World Reacts

Today our editorial team looks at responses from global media to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Belinda Cooper: Letter from Berlin — Just the Usual Economic Woes, Plus Culture

At the train station near where I stay in Berlin, there’s a snack vending machine, one that I can only imagine here in Germany. In among the colorfully-packaged chocolates and chips waiting in neat lines, there’s a row of thin, yellow booklets, each one different, that you can buy for one euro. Press the button, and out comes literature—stories and poems, mainly by little-known authors, published by SuKultur, a small Berlin publishing house. Some of them are quite good. That's commuting in Berlin: You can buy a snack, or literature. Reading material was pretty important on the train this past week, because the S-Bahn (Berlin’s overground city train, a part of the German national railway system that also receives subsidies from the city government) was unusually crowded and uncomfortable—a result of an inspection that found many of the cars’ wheels in urgent need of repair and immediately took hundreds of them out of commission. They had been neglected, it seems, due to cost-cutting measures: a reduction in personnel and equipment aimed primarily at increasing the railway’s profitability. This time it wasn’t Berlin’s fault, but the city is chronically short of money and is also saving where it can. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, West Berlin was a paradox—a heavily subsidized showcase for capitalism—and it’s never quite seemed to get the hang of frugality since the subsidies ended. As the S-Bahn’s top managers were being fired, the papers were reporting that Berlin was about to increase its outlays for culture by 16 million euros (certainly a lovely commentary on priorities). I can’t speak for Frankfurt, where the stock market is, or for the industrial centers of western Germany, where plants are closing or going to government-subsidized, part-time work, but in the capital of Berlin, which has little industry to speak of and has been claiming bankruptcy for years, no one’s really talking about the economy. (A friend who has recently traveled in western Germany assures me that the situation is no different in cities like Hamburg and Munich.) There are various theories about this, but to me, it’s not too hard to explain. As we’ve all heard by now, Germany actually has a social safety net. Despite reductions in recent years, it’s still the case that no German has to go without health insurance after losing a job, people’s pensions are not privatized, and since Germans tend to rent rather than own—a result of tenant-friendly laws and good public housing—there isn’t much danger of losing your home. People are not suffering personally any more than usual, unlike Americans. The social welfare system works, so far.

THE INDEX — July 15, 2009

Former president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, confessed to giving over $15 million to his one-time spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, as a gesture of appreciation for his work during the last days

THE BIG QUESTION — July 14, 2009

THE BIG QUESTION is a new multimedia project on the World Policy Blog.

Azubuike Ishiekwene: A Letter from Nigeria to Barack Obama

Mr. President, long after you have returned to the White House and forgotten your visit to Ghana, we Nigerians will still be asking ourselves, why Ghana?

You attempted to answer the question before your trip in an interview, noting that Ghana had become the continent’s role model—committed to the rule of law, stability, and accountability. You repeated this point during your visit on Saturday and drew upon the historic role and heritage of Ghana during the era of slave trade and the colonial period.

There was indeed a time when most black migrants were thought to be from Ghana. Thanks to the abundant gold in what was then known as the Gold Coast and the formidable roles of Kwame Nkrumah, W. E. B. Du Bois, and other leading lights of the struggle against colonial rule and racism, Ghana was what your predecessor, George W. Bush, might have called the “nation of Africa.”

But Ghana had its dark periods too, of course. For many years, Ghana was a specter of the sort of tyranny that you described in your address to the country’s parliament. But it’s a different story today; no one can deny that.




Nauru: A Cautionary Tale 


Vlad Sokhin documents life in Nauru, a tiny, once-wealthy Pacific island where land has been stripped bare and the hulking shells of the phosphate mining industry have been left to rust.

Those the Jasmine Revolution Forgot 


Photographer Nicholas Linn and writer Sam Kimball capture the struggles of the Tunisian underclass following the 2011 Revolution. 

Tough Love: Las Amorasas Más Bravas 


Bénédicte Desrus and Celia Gómez Ramos explore Casa Xochiquetzal, a shelter in Mexico City that allows sex workers to age with dignity.

Iran's House of Strength 


Jeremy Suyker penetrates the tight-knit community of zurkhanehs, traditional rooms for training warriors dating back to the Persian Empire, and the modern efforts to preserve this Iranian cultural heritage. 


Bolshoi Babylon 


Director Nick Read examines the dysfunction that led to an attack on Sergei Filin, artistic director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, before Russian President Putin stepped in to restructure the Bolshoi’s leadership.



When the Senate Worked for Us:
New book offers untold stories of how activist staffers countered corporate lobbies in the U.S.

MA in International Policy and Development
Middlebury Institute (Monterey, CA): Put theory into practice through client-based coursework. Apply by Feb. 1.

Millennium Project’s State of the Future 19.0: Collective Intelligence on the Future of the World


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