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Jonathan Power: Absolutely Nothing in the News

The serious newspapers I read used to take me an hour to get through. These days it is fifteen minutes. Nothing much is happening, at least in foreign affairs. Iraq has all but disappeared from the front page. Afghanistan and Pakistan still remain; but even so, investors continue to up their investments in Pakistan, presumably judging that the conflict is over-hyped. The argument with Iran over whether it is building nuclear weapons drags on, despite the forgotten report of the CIA two years ago that found that it probably was not. (Not to mention that the West and Russia look a bit silly when they turn a blind eye to Brazil for doing exactly the same as Iran.) More recently there's Iran’s suggestion that it might ship some of its used uranium to Russia to be converted into fuel to provide medical isotopes, or else to import from Europe enriched uranium instead of manufacturing its own. So this conflict should now be relatively easy to wrap up. What else is there? Georgia is out of the picture; Chechnya was long ago. The Russians and the Americans sweet talk each other. Now that Washington has decided to abandon its ill-judged anti-missile system in Eastern Europe, the Russians have switched off their angst and are happily agreeing to the first major nuclear arms cuts in nearly a decade. China is now part of the “system.” The priorities are economic growth, dealing with financial imbalances, and, unfortunately, keeping the lid on dissent at home. It has made peaceful settlements of its border disputes with Laos, Russia, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and is working on its age old dispute of border demarcation with India. Its bitter clash with Taiwan, which commentators once called the most explosive issue on the map, is now quiescent. Japan and China are finally getting on fine. Add to this that India’s reflexive anti-Americanism is dead and buried—thanks to President George W. Bush’s decision to lift the embargo on nuclear materials. North Korea is isolated, even from its old mentor China. Who on earth is it going to use its two or three nuclear weapons against?

THE INDEX — June 5, 2009

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Dr. Sulaiman Al-Hattlan: It’s the Age of Obama!

If you have ever lived in Washington, DC, you will clearly see, if you visit these days, that America is living in a new era—the Obama era. America is changing, and American society, with its lively and ever-renewing nature, is renewing itself yet again. Today, you barely can find a table in a restaurant or café that doesn’t have a political discussion underway with Obama’s name in it. Sharp criticism of the last administration is now explicit optimism for the new administration. There is a consensus, in most of the circles I visited in Washington, that “change” is the theme of the current period. This change, led by Obama from the moment he launched his campaign, “Yes, we can,” was not purely a political need for America necessitated by the circumstances of world affairs. It also has resonated with the transformation of American society—stages of change, renewal, and self criticism. America’s demographic composition is also different than ten years ago. Spanish is forcing its way next to English in most of the places I saw in my recent visit. Americans’ colors, features, and accents are diverse but harmonious in daily life, as if Barack Obama formed a new symbol for uniting America in face of the internal and external challenges. In the 1990s, I lived for six years in Washington, whose corridors continue to witness the creation of the most important world decisions. Back then, there was seldom a day that passed without someone asking me, "where are you from"? In my recent visit to Washington, for a whole week, not a single person asked me that question or about my ethnic heritage. With the current economic crisis and the optimism about the Obama era, which has just begun to unite the America body politic, it’s as if this society today is constantly challenging itself, to prove for itself and for others that America can rise again, rid itself of and solve the crises of the previous administration.

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