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Jonathan Power: Europe, The Great (Christian) Republic?

Since the European Union parliamentary elections some two weeks ago, Europeans have been putting themselves through a bout of navel gazing and introspection. People are asking what exactly is the purpose of the European Parliament when every country has its own legislatures, both national and local? Why did a record low number of voters turn out? Why did eastern Europeans—only recently liberated from the yolk of dictatorship which denied them the vote—cast fewer ballots than anyone else (with only a couple exceptions)? Why do the British talk as if membership to the European Union is a yoke around their necks? More broadly, what is Europe? Writing in 1751, Voltaire described Europe as “a kind of great republic, divided into several states, some monarchical, the others mixed but all corresponding with one another. They all have the same religious foundation, even if it is divided into several confessions. They all have the same principals of public law and politics unknown in other parts of the world.” In a way that Charlemagne, Voltaire, William Penn, and William Gladstone—the early advocates of European unity—could only dream, a united Europe has become a reality with half a billion members.

Azubuike Ishiekwene: Echoes of 1979 in Iranian Protests

Thirty years after the Shah was overthrown in a revolution, Iran is embroiled in an upheaval that appears to be threatening the grip of the Ayatollah over the country. There are striking ironies between what happened in 1979 under the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and what is happening today under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the incumbent supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The way the Shah fell out with his Western allies, especially the United States, over arms build-up in the mid-1970s, has eerie parallels to the way the mullahs in Tehran have fallen out with Washington over Iran’s nuclear weapons program, among other issues. What has been dramatized today as the Iranian Revolution, Part II, is a delicate, almost inscrutable power game, fueled by suspicions and deep-seated mutual distrust on both sides. It wasn’t always like that. At the height of the love affair between Iran and the West in the 1950s up through the 1970s, the Shah could do no wrong. To fend off any possible communist incursions, the United States poured millions of dollars into Iran to shore up the Shah. The oil windfall of the late 1970s, brought on by the Arab-Israeli war, was also a blessing to Iran. The Shah took advantage of the profits to rebuild his country and a new middle class was born. The downside of the boom, of course, was that it created in the Shah a new taste for luxury and power beyond the pale. He went to extraordinary lengths to sustain his appetite. He created the SAVAK, a special (and much loathed) security and intelligence force, trained and backed by the United States, which helped him to rule with an iron fist and isolated him from the people. Washington did not seem to mind, at least not in the early stages of the Shah’s neurosis. A blog by Jeb Sharp on Iran-U.S. relations quoted Henry Precht, the young American intelligence officer who managed arms sales between the United States and Iran under the Shah, as saying, “They promised the Shah that he could buy whatever he wanted and no one would quibble with him. Everything up to but not including nuclear weapons. So, that was my marching orders, facilitate, don’t get in the way of this process.... Then came the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Oil prices rose dramatically. Suddenly, the Shah was flush with money. He bought massive quantities of the most high-tech weaponry money could buy. US officials were unsettled by the consequences of their bargain.” Eventually, the Shah’s opulent lifestyle and tight hold on power through the security forces isolated the middle class, sidelined the communists and the mullahs, and narrowed the political space. Moreover, Pahlavi's new hunger for high-tech military weapons—some argue that he laid the foundation for Iran’s nuclear program—isolated him from his Western allies, especially from Washington. By the time he was overthrown in 1979, he was a sad, broken man; betrayed and completely on his own.

David A. Andelman on

"The real roots of many major recent and current political events - the convulsions surrounding Iran's Islamic regime, the bloody troubles in neighbouring Iraq, the ethnic cleansing and mass murders i

THE INDEX — June 26, 2009

Sources from Lebanon's anti-Syria March 14th coalition revealed that their leader, Saad Hariri,

Think You Know Iran?

World Policy Journal's Ben Pauker gets on The Daily Show (see 3:45) and makes America look good in the process.

Jodi Liss: Omar Bongo and the Big Vegetables

Every student of International Relations Theory 101 gets treated to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Parable of the Stag Hunt. You remember the tale: two hunters are sent into the woods looking for a stag to feed their starving village. To bag the animal, they must independently choose to work together or each can choose to snare a rabbit for themselves (which can be accomplished alone). In the end, they choose the lesser task: feasting as the villagers starve, foregoing the uncertain rewards of cooperation for more immediate, assured ends. Rousseau’s parable illustrates the all-too-prevalent triumph of self-interest over group loyalty. But it's also a perfect metaphor for corruption. Omar Bongo, the president of Gabon died last week. Few in the West had heard of him until his obituary appeared on the front page of The New York Times. Gabon is a small but oil-rich country on the Atlantic coast of Africa, and Bongo, who ruled for 41 years, was one of the smoother, most clever oil despots the world has ever seen. He sustained his power not by overt violence but by co-opting enemies and, allegedly, running a network of spies and informants. Gabon is a former French colony, and Bongo played on that nation's guilt and need for oil to keep in the West's good books. He and his family amassed a fortune on what should have been a civil servant’s salary. No one was fooled. Everyone knows Bongo’s story is scarcely unique in the developing world. Yet what Omar Bongo did is almost beside the point—it’s what he didn’t do in 41 years that matters. Simply put, he didn’t bother to create a functioning country. For years, we've heard the truism that developing countries needed Western aid to build successful economies. But has it worked? Despite billions in loans and gifts to developing nations, poverty is still rampant, especially in Africa. Since the beginning of the Cold War, international aid was often a fig leaf for payoffs and bribes to dictators to keep them in one camp or another. Rarely did the money spent trickle down to the people who needed it most. Economists now debate whether the West should continue to lend or give aid money to developing countries in the hopes that it will eventually help matters, or whether it just abets corruption and makes things worse. But dozens of countries haven’t truly needed aid....

David A. Andelman: The Stoning of Neda S.

If you’d like to know the kind of people who voted for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran, there’s no better example than the villagers—the husband, his sons, and the citizens—of the remote stone-walled hamlet of Kupayeh who populate the vivid, at times horrifying, film called “The Stoning of Soraya M.” Opening Friday across the United States, its arrival could not come at a more opportune moment, for gathered within this tale are all the characters whose today’s real-life homologues are parading across the world’s television screens (at least those outside Iran, where anything remotely accurate is being purged). There’s Ayatollah Ali Khameini, masquerading as the venal, crooked mullah of the village, newly released from a felony stretch he was serving in jail after the Shah was overthrown and Islamic justice returned with the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini. Clearly, he sees the Koran he clutches in his crooked paw as his path to wealth, power, and, whenever he can, illicit sex extorted from any woman who seems sufficiently vulnerable or gullible. There’s Ahmadinejad, in the form of Kupayeh’s mean-spirited, opportunistic mayor with a vicious streak—frightened of his own shadow and so easily intimidated by the local mullah and a husband who by day serves as a prison guard with all the lethal tools of power at his control and at night pursues the 14-year-old daughter of a death-row inmate.

Belinda Cooper: Revolution Redux?

I’ve been watching the news from Iran and thinking about East Germany, where in 1953, workers rose up in a popular rebellion that was rapidly and violently suppressed. Afterward, the head of the East German authors’ guild reprimanded the East German people for losing the government’s confidence. In response, poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht famously wrote, “Would it not be easier...for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?” It’s amazing how well Brecht’s words could be applied to Iran’s leaders today. The 1953 uprising failed, but in 1989 (twenty years ago this year) East Germans—along with people all over Eastern Europe—successfully took to the streets and brought down their leaders and a whole system. While living in West Berlin and working with East German dissidents in the two years leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was able to share some of the excitement of those days, so at least some of what’s happening in Iran feels familiar. Of course, Iran isn’t Eastern Europe and comparisons are facile. But dictatorial regimes share many features—not least of which is discomfort, even shock, when their citizens begin to show signs of independent thought. Condescending paternalism is a common trait of leaders who believe they know what’s best for their unruly children. Part of that shock comes from finding their own words used against them. The Iranian regime, like East Germany's government, supports its claim to power with the language of popular revolution (more credible in Iran than in Germany, where the popular revolution never actually happened, but was nevertheless part of the Soviet-imported mythology). People have grown up hearing the slogans of revolution, have watched them be perverted, sometimes even cynically have used them to get what they want, and are now learning to turn the catch-phrases around to their own purposes. In East Germany, demonstrators took up the chant “We are the people!” echoing and inverting the government’s constant invocation of the will of “the people.” In the same way, Iranian demonstrators have co-opted revolutionary slogans and behavior, like nighttime chanting from the rooftops and the color green. It’s hard for a regime to claim that protesters using its own symbols and slogans are counter-revolutionaries or traitors. And it also reflects the fact that, at least at first, most demonstrators are not trying to change the system, but to force it to adhere to its own promises. It was not until the Wall fell that the tenor of the demands of East Germany’s protesters changed, from reforming the East German system to reunification with the West (at which point, the slogan changed to “We are one people!”). For now, most Iranians aren't demanding a fundamental change of system, but the right to have their ballots counted. But the language and symbols come later. First, people have to come together.

THE INDEX — June 24, 2009

Two officials at the Iranian embassy in London

Amy Bracken: Haitians in Limbo

The Obama administration is trying to figure out what to do with the 30,000 Haitians slated for removal from the United States. Plans to deport them are under review, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—and they should be, as Haiti is unprepared for an influx of arrivals. Already the poorest, least-developed country in the hemisphere, Haiti was pummeled by four devastating storms last August and September. Several hundred people died, a million more were made homeless, and $1 billion was drained from the already feeble economy. With only five months in office, the Obama administration already has plenty on its plate, so it’s no surprise the Haitian migration question is not yet resolved. It is worth pointing out, however, that the action the administration has taken thus far invites the worst possible outcome. Haitians are being deported back home at a rate of more than 100 per month, at a time when the U.S.-funded program charged with helping them resettle is on hold. The four-month hiatus that halted deportations immediately following last summer’s hurricanes and tropical storms ended late last year, and deportees began to arrive in Port-au-Prince on commercial flights in December. In the first four months of 2009, 91 undocumented immigrants arrived back on Haitian shores. In April, 175 persons—most of whom were convicted of non-violent crimes in the United States—were flown in on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flights. More than 300 Haitians have already been returned so far this year and Washington has no plans to shelve the biweekly ICE flights. According to a study released by a Haitian human rights organization, most criminal deportees left Haiti before the age of eight and lived in the United States for 20 to 40 years. Many no longer have close relations in Haiti and do note speak Creole, the national language. Deportees often consider themselves to be more American than Haitian, and most were legal residents in the United States. Haitian criminals may deserve little sympathy, but their forced return can cause great problems for themselves, their families, and their communities. Criminal deportees (even after non-violent convictions) are stigmatized in Haiti and face huge hurdles in seeking employment and housing. Some wind up on the streets, some develop drug and alcohol problems, some return to lives of crime, and many, unable to find work, become burdens on their families still in the United States. This vicious cycled has not gone unnoticed by international bodies. The United Nations Development Program funded a pilot program within the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to help deportees resettle in Haiti in 2006. Later, the U.S. State Department assumed financial responsibility for the IOM program, under which new arrivals would be registered and offered counseling, education, and employment assistance. More than 1,000 people were served by the program; some now have their own businesses. But funding to help new arrivals was provided only through March 2009. One month later, ICE flights had resumed, and deportee support had dried up. IOM officials in Haiti say they are hoping for more funding to assist the hundreds of people they expect to arrive this year. As of now, however, there are no plans to redirect money back to the program, a State Department spokeswoman said. Meanwhile, there are some unlikely people doing what they can to help those without support: former criminal deportees themselves.

Kenneth Weisbrode: Why Foreign Policy Slogans Matter

So much has been written about the decline of American power that the adherents to the idea keep turning to new ways to describe the phenomenon. Now, it is not the case that America is declining, per se, but that other powers are rising. This variation may be true, whatever the political reality is on the ground. The ways by which so-called declinism affect the collective mindset is another matter. Already we see the emergence of a more subtle and broad-minded American approach to global issues. Some would say this is a consequence of an America in decline or in the words of Dick Cheney—a finite, "existential" power. That is—so far as power goes—use it or lose it. In truth, the opposite tends to be the case. When a nation relies on its existing power to get its way, that power strengthens in direct proportion to the extent to which it is not used, or at least not used badly. Weakening or insecure powers, like Wilhelmine Germany or the United States of the late 1960s and early 1970s, tend to crave the appearance of power for its own sake while becoming badly demoralized in the process. Today, we measure power at face value for what it is without much reference to abstractions. In retrospect, abstractions—like Francis Fukuyama's case for the end of history (one that he now claims only made sense at the time)—would seem to be a luxury of what the French blithely called a "hyperpower," or a hegemon.

THE INDEX — June 12, 2009

Japan’s interior affairs and communications minister, Kunio Hatoyama, announced his resignation today after a feud with P

Charles Cogan: A Modest Proposal

The irony—and the tragedy—is that the solution to the Arab-Israeli problem has been known for the last 40 years. Always, the answer is the same, as shown in the following commentary from The Economist in May 2007: “To arrive at peace, Israel would have to give up the West Bank and share Jerusalem; the Palestinians would have to give up their dream of the right of return and assure the security of Israel as a Jewish state. All the rest is detail.”

There is one detail that should be added to this tableau: the settlement must be accompanied by an international security force, including American and European troops. It would be unthinkable, given Israel’s territorial exiguity, that an international force run by troops from the West would not remain for many years in order to protect against Arab irredentism and Israeli expansionism.

Allowing the Palestinians to return to Israel, even in small numbers, would have a harmful effect on the state of Israel and on the future of that country. Just as the Germans are not going to return to East Prussia, and Mexico is not going to retake California, the Palestinians should not expect to return inside the armistice lines concluded as a result of the 1948–49 War.

The Six Day War of June 1967 constituted a clear break in American policy towards Israel. Before then, American aid to Israel was not excessive. Afterward, the situation was completely reversed, notably in the War of 1973 when the United States, faced with a desperate situation in Israel, sent in extremis and in plain sight a massive resupply of arms and ammunition into Lod Airport, in Tel Aviv, putting paid to the already tattered image of American even-handedness in the Middle East.

For Israel too, 1967 constituted a break with the past.

Jonathan Power: Can Obama Marry the History of Islam with the Politics of Today?

Dante’s portrayal of Muhammad in hell is one of Western literature’s most egregiously racist, not to mention blasphemous, offerings. It leaves Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” in the shade. Still, until the post-September 11 anti-Muslim backlash and Germany and France’s block on Turkey’s accession to the European Union, there might have been good reason to think that the West was slowly, but surely, getting over its long-rooted prejudice.

Under President George H. W. Bush and his successor, Bill Clinton, America began its earnest attempts, after years of neglect, to woo the Arab peoples. George W. Bush undid all that. Now, in his masterful speech at the University of Cairo, President Barack Obama has not just turned the clock back to better days; rather, he has pushed it forward as fast as anyone could have imagined a year ago. It was a personal triumph for Mr. Obama and, judging by the audience’s reaction and that of millions of Muslims around the world glued to their television sets, a triumph for all living Muslim people. At last, the West’s most important leader has put them on parity with Christian and Jewish peoples. The Muslims themselves may never have doubted the profound intrinsic qualities and virtues of their faith, but Westerners long had. Indeed, Obama’s speech was as much aimed at a home audience as it was to the Islamic world.

David A. Andelman: Strawberries Beneath the Chadors

The pair of Iranian women, clad head-to-foot in black chadors are sitting on the floor in the ante-room waiting patiently, hopefully, desperately for the audience with their president that they hope might lift a tiny corner of the curtain of poverty that had enveloped them. Hours had passed and they are becoming increasingly frustrated. “I swear on the Koran, I can’t afford strawberries,” moans one. “I swear on the Koran, my child wanted strawberries. I had to save three weeks to buy them.” “You have to put on a strong face for your children,” says her friend. “Like a movie actress.” Then it all begins pouring out. The frustration, the panic, the desperation. Three weeks to wait for strawberries, and then $4 a kilo. I wait three weeks to go to the government subsidized store. It’s cheaper. Bananas are $2 a kilo. No milk, no yogurt, no meat. What should we eat? Yesterday, I was on the bus. Someone had bought some meat. And I wanted it. I asked her 'how much'? She bought it for $17. That little meat in her hand cost $17. We are retired with just $200 a month. So Mr. Ahmadinejad, what should we eat?” This dialogue was at the heart of an extraordinary documentary record assembled by the international filmmaker Petr Lom, whose “Letters to the President” will be shown on June 10 on HBO. That’s two days before voters will go to the polls in Iran to elect their new president, or re-elect the incumbent. The documentary revolves around one central component of the re-election strategy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—the letters that two million or more people have sent, e-mailed, or simply flung at him in his barnstorming trips around the nation. Nearly all the letters have one overwhelming theme: help me. I have no money, no job, my family is in desperate straits. Few receive any help or even real encouragement. Most will receive a reply. In a handful of cases, there is money attached. But for most, it is like the lottery. A few win. Most lose. But will hope spring eternal?



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.



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New book offers untold stories of how activist staffers countered corporate lobbies in the U.S.

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


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