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Alon Ben-Meir: Mediating the Nuclear Impasse

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

Mira Kamdar: The Most Corrupt Democracy

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

Michele Wucker: Citizenship and the Veil

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

Alon Ben-Meir: Israeli-Syrian Negotiations

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

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

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

Joshua Miller: Capitulation to Terror is Shortsighted

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

Belinda Cooper: Crucial Questions About Torture

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

David A. Andelman: The UN Befouls Lac Léman

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

Alon Ben-Meir: Israel's Peace Offensive

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

Benjamin Pauker: Talking to Our Enemies

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

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

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

Kate Maloff: Carla Bruni v. the American First Lady

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

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

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

Benjamin Pauker: Soccer Wars...and Peace?

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

David A. Andelman: Iraq According To Its Sheikhs

Davis Andelman, EditorWelcome to the debut of The World Policy Blog, what we at World Policy Journal believe will be a whole new way of looking at the globe – not from an American perspective of “foreign” being everything outside the United States, but a world in all its variety and fascination, how nations, regions, and people interact among themselves. Our goal is to build a community of informed individuals who will come together here to exchange views or simply absorb interesting, perhaps controversial, but always provocative takes on events or trends that are shaping the world where we live – a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of human beliefs and emotions. As a first step, today, I’d like to tell you, the members of this community (simply by virtue of your coming here to read our thoughts and observations – we will never require you to identify yourselves) about a gathering at World Policy Institute last week. We had a visit from 11 Iraqi sheikhs and provincial governors, representing critical regions in this war-torn nation.
Texas A&M University

 

PORTFOLIO


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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