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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...

Obama's First 100 Days — Stephen Schlesinger: The UN

Stephen Schlesinger's article "A New Administration and the UN" 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 has dramatically re-established American relations with the United Nations in his first 100 days. His acclaimed multilateral outlook on international relations, his willingness to listen to foreign leaders rather than lecture them, his admission of "mistakes" by the United States on issues like torture, the economy, the Iraq war, and other global matters—and his general popularity around the world—have created an entirely new atmosphere in the United Nations building. In the seventh week of his administration, he held his first meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the White House, a cordial and highly supportive event. Then, with several specific steps, Obama made crystal clear his re-engagement with the world body: First, he approved the United States joining the newly created Human Rights Council rather than staying outside of it, in order to reorient the body toward its goal of enforcing the essential civil rights for citizens in all states. Second, he asked Congress to appropriate $836 million to pay up our peacekeeping obligations which we have shamefully refused in the past to fulfill. Third, he made a new commitment to helping stop climate change—a key issue at the UN these days. Fourth, he reversed by executive order the Bush administration policy of denying U.S. funds to family planning programs at the UN's Population Fund. Fifth, he renewed and expanded funding to both UNICEF and UNESCO, both organizations long neglected by Washington in the past. Sixth, he publicly endorsed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, among other crucial UN treaties, and pledged to participate vigorously in the UN's upcoming 2010 review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the latter of which the previous administration disparaged. Seventh, he publicly embraced the Millennium Development goals, which Bush viewed with disdain. Obama, however, did duck out of the Durban conference on racism and he has so far not said much about the International Criminal Court. Additionally, he has not been heavily proactive on the Darfur crisis, as of yet. But, in my view, for his first 100 days, he deserves a grade of...

Mira Kamdar: The Clash Over Kashmir

Mira Kamdar, a senior fellow with the World Policy Institute, talked to MTV Iggy about the ongoing dispute over Kashmir and why the conflict is more about territory than religion.

David A. Andelman: Pakistan on the Brink?

World Policy Journal hosted a group of top CEOs from leading Pakistani companies, as well as American companies with large Pakistani subsidiaries, and several members of the United States embassy in Islamabad, including the dynamic new ambassador, Anne W. Patterson. The goal of the delegation was to persuade American investors and the media they read, that there is a continuing story of progress in Pakistan beyond the daily unrest that seems to make that country, the world’s sixth most-populous nation, a somewhat questionable destination for major investment initiatives. Their case was a persuasive one. A representative of Proctor & Gamble described a $100 million investment that was being made there, in part to develop a factory to produce disposal diapers—for a nation that is adding some 11 million new babies a year and promises to continue doing so for the next century or more. Another noted a project to build new gas-fired power generating facilities, then there was a furniture manufacturer (Pearl Furniture based in Peshawar, the heart of the Northwest Frontier Province) and several conglomerates, each with their own compelling story.

Sharmeen Gangat: Crime and (the Lack of) Punishment in Pakistan

The night of May 10, 2007, was violently nightmarish for us. My husband and I were on a yearly trip from our home in New York to visit family and friends in Pakistan. We arrived in Karachi on the night of May 10, 2007. My family met us at the airport and in just 20 minutes of landing, our car, carrying my sister, brother, and myself, rolled up to the front of my parents' house. Another car, carrying my husband and father, had left the airport bit sooner. We expected to see them removing the luggage as we pulled up. Instead, I saw my father and husband standing outside their car, encircled by four, young, clean-shaven boys brandishing AK-47 assault rifles. Before I could comprehend the situation, there was a burst of rifle shots. In utter confusion, my brother threw the car into reverse. The armed men began spraying bullets at us, and we crashed into a lamppost. Wielding their rifles, they surrounded our car, smashing the windows with their guns and forcing us out into the street. I was convinced that I would not see my loved ones again. My brother was pulled out of the car and beaten up before my eyes, while my husband and father looked on at gunpoint. Meanwhile, another vehicle pulled alongside our car, yelled something at the armed boys, and they all zoomed off, taking only our luggage. We thanked our stars that it had not been worse.

Peter Wilson: Chávez's Crackdown Makes U.S.-Venezuelan Thaw More Difficult

Peter WilsonNo doubt about it, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez, stole the spotlight at this weekend's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Pictures of the two men smiling and shaking hands made front pages of newspapers throughout the hemisphere, and Chávez's gift of “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano to Obama propelled the book to best seller status at

Both men professed to want closer relations, ending nearly a decade of mutual suspicion and distrust during which Chávez once made headlines by calling former U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil" at the United Nations and accusing Washington of plotting his overthrow and assassination. Likewise, the Bush administration repeatedly charged Chávez with destabilizing the region through his populist actions.

As late as last month, Chávez, who has built his populist presidency on opposition to U.S. policies, called Obama an "ignoramus" and said he was no different than Bush. Hours after the summit, Chávez changed tack, saying he welcomed the possibility of the two countries exchanging ambassadors again—although both countries expelled senior diplomats in September.

The honeymoon may be short-lived as the new bonhomie coincides with Chávez's increasingly aggressive attacks against his opponents and his country's press following his electoral victory in February that paved the way for him to serve indefinitely as the country's president.

Jodi Liss: An End to the Resource Curse?

These days, throughout northern Wayne County, PA, farmers are talking less about livestock and dairy prices and more about Norwegian oil policy, Devonian geology, market capitalization, and seismic thumper trucks. Wayne County sits atop part of the enormous Marcellus Shale gas field, and each farmer is looking at a small fortune in future leasing royalties and bonuses. They are also in the process of solving a problem that has stumped the World Bank, the United Nations, and governments around the world. The problem is the so-called resource curse. Usually, when countries discover oil, gas, or minerals, most nationalistic governments in the developing world seek to keep all the wealth that comes from such extraction by claiming exclusive rights to everything below the topsoil. Instead of economic development, what they get is corruption, environmental destruction, violent conflict, a worsening economy, and hoards of angry local people. The resource curse’s current poster child is Nigeria, where corrupt government officials—on all levels—stole hundreds of millions of dollars, thousands died from ethnic conflict and environmental devastation in the oil-producing zones, and the majority of people throughout the country live on less than $1 a day. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Map of the Marcellus Shale"][/caption] In Wayne County (as elsewhere in the United States), it’s the locals who will decide the terms of how the gas is extracted from the ground. Here, the farmers who have farmed the land for generations formed a collective bargaining group, hired lawyers and environmental consultants, and are negotiating with several gas companies on the financial details and the local environmental risks. Drilling for oil or gas has a long, ugly record of contaminating land and water—a potential catastrophe since this area is an aquifer for New York City and Philadelphia. So, many newly arrived former city dwellers in Wayne County are, at best, doubtful and are demanding that regulatory commissions provide even broader environmental protections. They point to people in central Pennsylvania and in the West who signed bad leases and found themselves with environmental nightmares like noise pollution, ruined land, contaminated water supplies, and leaky holding pools full of toxic chemicals.

Swadesh M. Rana: U.S. Rediscovers the UN in Afghanistan

As the Obama administration increases the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, it seems also to be planning for a gradual disengagement and a more imminent NATO exit with an old friend and partner—the United Nations. Indeed, President Obama has rediscovered the United Nations, and hopes the global body can help set the stage for a graceful exit without dominating the scene. It won’t happen, though, by replacing the 90,000 U.S. and NATO troops now committed there with another UN peacekeeping operation or by creating a new organizational unit in the Secretariat that Washington has often berated as cumbersome, top-heavy, and wasteful. The disengagement task is entrusted instead to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) that was established after the U.S.-led military action to overthrow the Taliban regime. Building upon the UN experience in Afghanistan since 1982—after the Soviet troop withdrawal from an inconclusive and costly war that began in 1979—UNAMA was tasked with two civilian missions in 2001: development and humanitarian issues, and political affairs. It is now headed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative, Kai Eide, a veteran Norwegian diplomat who has represented his country at NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and whose appointment to this position in March 2008 was fully supported by the United States and NATO. With a current staff of 1,500, around 80 percent of whom are Afghan nationals, UNAMA is now called upon to strike a balance between the military and civilian components of international assistance to Afghanistan by some 80 countries, 20 international agencies, and 40 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). An immediate task for UNAMA is to prepare for and ensure fair, impartial, and credible elections in Afghanistan this August. Underlying this act of faith in the UN to secure the elections is a long overdue and more nuanced U.S. view of the nature of the global threat of terror, Al Qaeda and Taliban operations in southwest Asia, and the terroristic activities in Afghanistan. The Bush administration saw Afghanistan as the headquarters of Al Qaeda that could be destroyed after a military ouster of the Taliban regime. It viewed Al Qaeda as a global monolith of Islamic fundamentalism with a well-defined chain of command that could be broken with superior intelligence and military action. And, of course, it wanted Osama bin Laden dead or alive—with the help of a democratically elected President Hamid Karzai after his interim installation with U.S. support. The Obama administration sees the global terror network as less of a monolith driven by Islamic fundamentalism and more a labyrinth of organized crime, drug cartels, illicit arms traffic, contraband trade, political dissidence, and individual disaffection. It is looking at southwest Asia as the crossroads of terrorism and nuclear proliferation with a growing collusion between the ideologically driven, militant Taliban and disaffected groups opposed to the ruling regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is also mindful that the current government in Afghanistan lacks true legitimacy. Indeed, the 2001 presidential elections in Afghanistan were boycotted by 50 percent of the electorate amidst vociferous local resentment over some voters casting their ballot twice and others supporting candidates who were encouraged to withdraw their names so that the U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai could be declared the clear winner.

Jonathan Power: The Big Hunt for Bin Laden

Last week, Scotland Yard (alas, working without their chief sleuth, the late Sherlock Holmes) uncovered a major bomb plot. Those arrested were all Pakistanis. However, unlike the current U.S. policy, they chose to arrest the suspects, after months of carefully tracking their movements (notwithstanding Bob Quick, Britain’s senior counterterrorism expert, whose comical slip-up required the accelerating of planned raids and resulted in his resignation), not bomb them from 30,000 feet. Likewise, when four years ago bombers blew up trains entering Madrid's central station, the Spanish police laboriously ran them down, eventually cornering a number of the ringleaders in a safehouse. That time, the perpetrators were mainly Algerians and Moroccans. Those arrested, and later convicted and imprisoned, had no formal links with Al Qaeda. In fact, their ties were non existent, a government-appointed commission later found. Doubtless, however, it was the example of Al Qaeda that prompted their horrific attacks. The Spanish, on their manhunt, did not choose to bomb them, or even blast them out of their hideaways. (Seven suspects did, however, blow themselves up when they found themselves surrounded by Spanish authorities.) But the investigation took careful police work, backed by the latest in forensic and technological tools. Couldn't the Americans and NATO have done the same at the onset of their intervention in Afghanistan? Certainly, investigating domestic terrorism isn’t the same as stamping it out in a hostile and foreign land, but allied forces could have found informers and probably help from the rank and file of locals who wanted to have nothing to do with those who blew up New York's World Trade Center. Even many in the ranks of the Taliban may have been privately uneasy by the Al Qaeda attack. Moreover, Osama bin Laden was a distant, shadowy figure for most of them. Instead, we had a blanket armed invasion. The UN has reported that, in 2008, the number of civilian casualties rose by 40 percent. Surely there is a better way of finding bin Laden. Western forces are not there to reform Islam, to liberate women, or to install democracy. Afghan society must choose for itself whether or not it wants to pursue these lofty goals.

Jonathan Power: Can Obama Better Ronald Reagan on Nuclear Arms Control?

A 50 percent reduction in the nuclear arsenal of Russia and the United States was proposed by President Barack Obama this past weekend. And President Dmitry Medvedev seems to be receptive. What neither have mentioned is that we have been here before—with presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. But, in a bit of infrequently told history, this earlier attempt at a grand disarmament was undermined by a key adviser on the American side and short sightedness on the Soviet side. Although Russia and the United States keep their missiles on hair-trigger alert, there is almost nobody in the higher reaches of policy making on either side who thinks they would ever be used. Indeed, this has been so for years. Doubts about the reasoning for the vast number of nuclear weapons in America's stockpile go back a long way. President Dwight Eisenhower, the former World War II commander in chief, observed that, “military statements of nuclear weapons requirements were grossly inflated.” Indeed, nuclear stockpiles seem to have always been governed by a calculus of confusion. Robert McNamara, the former defense secretary for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, once replied to a question posed by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Richard Rhodes (whose latest book, Arsenal of Folly, is the best single read on the subject) by saying, “Each individual decision to increase the number of nuclear weapons seemed rational at the time but the result was insane.” Even Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, certainly no dove, while negotiating with the Soviet Union in Moscow, said at a press conference, “One of the questions we have to ask ourselves as a country is what in the name of God is nuclear strategic superiority?” Ronald Reagan was the first American president to break through the murk and horror of the nuclear weapons debate. Many have judged Reagan as a bit of a simpleton. But now, thanks in part to good biographies on him, we may have a more nuanced view. Yes, he wasn't an intellectual, but his political instincts were fine-tuned and turned out to be right more often than the counsels of his experts. Within his administration it was he who felt the strongest about nuclear abolition. Jack Matlock, Jr., who served as Reagan's principal adviser on Soviet affairs, said in one interview that he “suspected that Reagan would not retaliate in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack.”

Samuel F. Mueller: Turkey’s Disappearing Opposition

Since the religiously-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey in 2002, Islam and secularism have become particularly controversial topics. Political and academic debates are now more often than not framed by questions such as whether a religiously-based party can seriously support a secular democratic order, or even whether Turkey might become a second Iran. Questions about the relationship between religion and politics and the ideology of the AKP are surely important, and many AKP policies must be seriously critiqued. However, these debates do not address the key issues in Turkey’s democratization process. The basic and most crucial problem for Turkish democracy is not political Islam, but the lack of a serious political opposition—a must for every democracy. The recent local elections on March 29 brought no substantial change to the dangerously unsettled balance of power. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, head of the AKP, is a goal-oriented pragmatist who knows how to use religious political language to reach the masses. Islamic symbolism frames Erdogan’s politics—he abstains from alcoholic beverages at state receptions, for example. However, Erdogan’s strength is that he has long been aware that while populist gestures win plaudits, sound policies win votes. When Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul in the mid 1990s his popular support rested not on his attempts to introduce, for example, gender-separated seating arrangements in public transit, but on his efforts to improve urban infrastructure. Today, the AKP scores points with a neo-liberal economic approach and international-focused policies. Islam is thereby a means of communication and an articulation of specific political interests. This religious symbolic frame should not be confused with an attempt to turn Turkey in a theocracy. An Islamic state in Turkey is not a political goal in itself and therefore not something we need to worry about—at least not now. However, the balance of political power is a major concern. The AKP has become so powerful that we must worry about the democratic culture of Turkey’s party system. Currently, the AKP holds 338 of the 545 seats in parliament. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) holds the second biggest bloc, though only 98 seats. On the local level, though the AKP lost some votes in the recent elections to the CHP and missed its target of 47 percent, it remains basically unchallenged. Apart from the CHP, there is no one else to challenge the AKP’s predominance. But why does the main opposition party lack any real chance at unseating the reigning power?

Peter Kang: North Korea’s Missile Launch—Is Obama Repeating Bush’s Failed Policy?

The legacy of policy missteps on Pyongyang is long and tortured. Behind all the disturbing failures of President Bush’s North Korea policy—including the inability to prevent North Korea’s nuclear test in 2006 and the removal of Pyongyang from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2008—run two themes that President Obama would do well to avoid. Bush turned to engagement policy based on the false expectation that North Korea would eventually give up its nuclear program and weapons, when, in fact, Pyongyang was using negotiations as a deception strategy to gain time to pursue its nuclear ambitions. In the meantime, it extracted economic gains and other benefits, such as a peace treaty, to make the dictatorship more secure. Second, despite his occasional use of tough verbiage, Bush was never able to translate his words into effective action due to fear of the North’s constant threats of war. Whenever Bush tried to exert serious (non-military) pressure, Pyongyang blocked it by invoking military brinkmanship, often calling Bush’s attempt a “declaration of war.” Each time Bush retreated, Washington encouraged the North to repeat the same scare tactics. These two strategies—a diplomatic delaying game and military brinkmanship—have been the backbone of North Korea’s success in manipulating and weakening the U.S. government’s efforts. In what promises to be the first major test of the Obama administration, Pyongyang is gearing up for the test launch of a long-range rocket scheduled to go off sometime between April 4 and April 8. Although Pyongyang claims it is a communications satellite, both U.S. and South Korean intelligence sources believe it to be a disguised test launch of the Taepodong-2 ballistic missile that could potentially reach Alaska, Hawaii, and the west coast of the United States. The action, if successful, would be a crucial milestone for North Korea’s military advancement and substantially raise its offensive capability, its proliferation potential, and its leverage for future dealings with adversaries. The United States is very anxious to avert this provocative action, as are South Korea and Japan. But President Obama has said very little about North Korea, in relation to the missile launch or anything else. In fact, other top officials in the administration have not been of much help either. Secretary of State Clinton initially described the North’s missile test as “unhelpful.” She later said the rocket launch would “violate the UN Security Council resolution 1718,” but failed to specify how the North will be penalized if it violates the decree. Asked what the United States might do if the missile launch takes place, she said, “I don’t want to talk about the hypothetical. We are still working to try to dissuade the North Koreans.” The Obama administration’s special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, has used equally hollow turns of phrase: “We hope North Korea refrains from the provocation of firing a missile, and...if that [launch] does happen, then obviously we'll have to...decide how to respond.” Only belatedly, in late March, after the rocket was mounted on the launch pad, did representatives of the United States, South Korea, and Japan get together to issue a warning about bringing the matter to the UN Security Council. Yet they refrained from mentioning any strong, specific penalties. Pyongyang, of course, quickly reacted by warning that a UN action to punish North Korea will be regarded as a “blatant hostile act.” Further, they warned, should Washington bring the matter to the Security Council it will cause the Six-Party Talks to break down, critically hurting the process of denuclearization. A pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan hinted that North Korea might resort to a second nuclear test in response to a UN sanction. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Japanese defense departments have been talking about plans to shoot down the missile. But, when there’s still time to issue a stiff warning in order to block the missile launch, planning such an attack—however defensive in nature—is more likely to provoke and encourage North Korea to carry out the test. (Fortunately, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has backed away in recent interviews from U.S. plans to shoot down the North Korean missile.) The stakes are high: a missile launch would highlight Washington’s weakness. The Obama administration seems unwilling to exert strong pressure on Pyongyang against the launch because of its desire to continue the nuclear talks (with the lingering expectation that negotiation might succeed somehow) and perhaps also due to fear of violent reactions from the North Korean regime. These are the exactly same reasons that informed the failed policies of the Bush era. In the long run, Obama’s approach, which emphasizes more engagement with, and acceptance of, Pyongyang than the policies pursued by Bush, is likely to grant even more precious time to the North. In the end, the Obama administration may be writing the final chapter of America’s failed North Korea policy by bringing about a devastating U.S. surrender: abandoning the denuclearization effort, accepting the monstrous tyranny as a member of the world nuclear club, and opening the gateway for the North to take over the South.



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.

Are the U.S. and China on a collision course?
Get the facts from Amitai Etzioni in “Avoiding War with China.”

MA in International Policy and Development
Middlebury Institute (Monterey, CA): Put theory into practice through client-based coursework. Apply by Nov. 30.


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