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November, 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. The site has been admittedly content-free lately, which I'd like to claim is a new experiment in avante-garde blogging, but is actually a result of my increasing responsibilities over at World Politics Review, as well as a side project I'm working on for the World Association of Newspapers here in Paris. I apologize for that, and will do my best to jot down some notes each day, as well as to keep the News and Blog Links updated. But the truth is I'm not a natural blogger. I tend to revise emails, let alone blog posts, so the time involved might not be reflected in the actual output. (When there is output, that is.)

Anyway, all of that to say it's been a pretty incredible year, both personally and professionally, and this site has played a big role in making possible some of the things I'm most thankful for today. So I'd like to thank you all for making it a part of your regular reading.

These are trying and uncertain times. But amidst all the cause for concern, I hope that everyone has a lot to be thankful for as well.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Question: Why is it the turkey that's pardoned, and not the other way around? 

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Grammar Crisis

I have no problem with government bailouts of troubled financial institutions, but could someone at least pay attention to proofreading the statements announcing them?

We will continue to use all of our resources to preserve the strength of our banking institutions, and promote the process of repair and recovery and to manage risks.

With some solvent copy editing, of course, that would read:

We will continue to use all of our resources to preserve the strength of our banking institutions, to promote the process of repair and recovery and to manage risks.

Just because the rules governing the financial markets are being rewritten on the fly doesn't mean the rules governing proper English should be, too. Seriously, guys. Grammar matters. 

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Turkey Fan Club Grows

Regular readers of he blog will know that I've had my eye on Turkish foreign policy for a while. For one thing, Turkey's emergence as a regional mediator demonstrates the power of maintaining good relations across the faultlines of conflicts (its so-called "zero problems" policy). For another, it serves as a model of what I've called "Middle Power Mojo," or the use of regional middle powers to lighten America's footprint while at the same time advancing its interests.

Now a flurry of posts responding to Turkey's offer to mediate between the U.S. and Iran -- from Democracy Arsenal (Patrick Barry here, Shadi Hamid here) and Ezra Klein -- suggests the makings of a Turkey appreciation fan club. What I hadn't realized was that Middle Power Mojo has also been proposed by the Center for a New American Security's Pheonix Initiative under the formal name of "Strategic Leadership," whereby, as Ezra Klein puts it, "America begins thinking more about its interests than its preeminence." It's always reassuring to know that brighter bulbs than mine have been shining light on a subject of interest (although I still think Middle Power Mojo is catchier than Strategic Leadership).

In addition to its mediation role in indirect talks between Israel and Syria, Turkish initiatives include an effort to mend its relations with Armenia (accompanied by a mediation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute over the separatist Azerbaijani province of Nagorno-Karabakh), as well as offering to host talks between the Afghan and Pakistani governments. Perhaps the biggest problem that remains is the Cyprus issue, which continues to poison much needed EU-NATO cooperation. The EU's shifting position on Turkish accession also presents a longterm challenge.

One thing that American observers should understand, though, is that while we tend to think of Turkey as a crossroads or bridge between East and West (or Europe and the Arab world), Turkey has been increasingly assuming an identity of a central power, as much a part of the equation in the Caucasus and Central Asia as in the Middle East. This essay (.pdf), which I summarized here in June, by Ahmet Davutoglu -- foreign policy guru to Turkish PM Racep Tayyip Erdogan who I once saw referred to as "Turkey's Kissinger" --  describes the evolution in Turkey's posture and articulates its strategic objectives, both within the Middle East and beyond.

The difference -- that between object and subject -- is significant, and underlines the fact that whether you call it Strategic Leadership or Middle Power Mojo, the U.S. and Europe can not expect to simply instrumentalize strategic regional allies, but rather must listen to them as well.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   The Middle East   

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sec. of State Clinton?

I'm not going to get into the habit of discussing transition rumors for the Obama administration. But one of the major criticisms directed at both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during their primary campaign duel was the fact that neither of them had much foreign policy experience. So this doesn't strike me as a particularly inspired choice from the perspective of "hands on" foreign policy chops. That it's driven primarily by domestic political maneuvering is a point that won't be lost on the world, and seems like a clumsy initial gesture reinforcing the common wisdom that in the U.S., foreign policy is something of an afterthought. Another concern I'd have is over who would be responsible for selecting the various undersecretaries and other political appointees. If it's Hillary, that means that to a certain extent we'd be looking at a hybrid Obama-Clinton foreign policy, with a very healthy dose of Bill represented in both the former and the latter.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Politics   

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama's Foreign Policy: Challenges & Opportunities

In case you haven't seen WPR's front page today, we've got two great articles assessing the possibilities of Barack Obama's foreign policy. The first, by Thomas P.M. Barnett, takes a grand strategy approach and discusses the rule sets a successful Obama presidency must define. The second, by Nikolas Gvosdev, takes a realist approach and examines the possible deals an Obama administration might be forced to consider making. Two keen and insightful analysts, two fascinating pieces. Quite a pleasure having them here at WPR.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Obama, Washington and Dubois

In the immediate aftermath of Barack Obama's election, a number of commentators expressed an impatience with the emotional reactions to his victory. America didn't vote for its first black president, this argument went, but for a gifted politician who was the better choice among the two candidates running. To focus on the former accomplishment was in some way to denigrate the latter one. I happen to think that people did, in fact, vote based on the political aspects of Barack Obama's campaign. It's just that they celebrated the historic aspect of his victory, and understandably so.

But as much as Obama's victory was a collective victory -- for American blacks and their historic struggle first for liberty, then justice, then equality and ultimately dignity, as well as for the generations of progressives who fought alongside them over the years and generations -- it was also an individual victory. As always when the color line has first been broken, it took a gifted personality, because a black person must still outperform their white counterpart just to reach the starting line. It's easy to forget that the flawless campaign that Obama waged was not only the reason for his victory, but a prerequisite for his candidacy in a way that could never apply to a white candidate.

I'd meant to write yesterday, too, that Obama's victory will have an enormous impact on the formation of black Americans' identity, and sure enough, I waited a day and Jesse Washington at the AP beat me to it. What Washington touches on obliquely, but ultimately leaves unexplored, is the way in which Obama's victory represents the resolution of the historic conflict within the black community about how best to address the injustices and unfulfilled promises of American society. It's a conflict that goes back to the schism between the self-reliance, "up by the bootstraps" school of Booker T. Washington and the integration model advocated by W.E.B. Dubois.

Washington's model of black self-reliance would take on numerous forms during the 20th century, from Marcus Garvey's call for actual repatriation to the African continent, to the militant advocacy by the Black Muslims and subsequently the Black Panthers for a separatist cultural identity. The true significance of Jeremiah Wright, which was not examined during the campaign for obvious reasons, is that he represents the separatist current of black American cultural identity grafted onto the globalized awareness of Malcolm X in his post-Hajj, anti-colonial incarnation.

On the other hand is Dubois' integrationist model of the NAACP, one that gathers steam with the opposition to "separate but equal" and the landmark victory of Brown vs. Board of Ed., before growing into the broad coalition of the early civil rights movement and the inspirational model of Dr. King, the Freedom Riders and SNCC.

In his autobiography, Malcolm X recounts a favorite taunt that he would pull out during his campus speeches, when black professors in the audience used their personal success to challenge his advocacy for separatism."White people have a word for a black professor," he'd say, pausing to let the suspense build: "It's 'Nigger.'" (The back end of his taunt, that "We know what you say about us when we're not around, because we've got black folks who pass," would be portrayed to comic brilliance by Eddie Murphy in his classic Saturday Night Live skit two decades later.)

This refrain -- that no matter how many doors blacks break down, the innermost sanctum of the American mansion will forever remain offlimits -- became the ultimate replique pulled out against the inheritors of Dubois who argued that only by integrating American society would blacks achieve social and economic justice. And it is precisely this refrain that Barack Obama's victory has finally, at long last, put to rest. It is no coincidence that Obama entered the campaign with the Dubois-like David Axelrod perched on one shoulder and the Washington-esque Wright on the other, and that he emerges from it victorious alongside the former and disabused of the latter.

Since the violent disillusionment of the late-1960s and the anti-climax of the 1970s, the two currents vying for black America's identity have coexisted in grudging mutual acceptance. Integration has achieved a momentum that can no longer be either denied or stopped. At the same time, the rollback of some of the policies that led to its advance and the stubborn persistence of racism in America have reinforced the ongoing need for a double identity that oppressed minorities throughout history have used as their own inner sanctum of succor and support.

And despite the initial triumphalism of the AP's article, I imagine that it won't be easy for American blacks in general to give up that inner sanctum. (Based on the little I've read about the Obamas and how they arrived at Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United congregation, I have a hunch that the next four years are going to be harder on Michelle than on Barack.) Nor, for that matter, is it necessarily apparent that the time to do so has come. The impact Obama's victory has on the future evolution of black American identity will ultimately be determined by whether it actually results in advancing social and economic justice for American blacks -- a project that remains inconsistent and incomplete.

The reality of a post-racial America has not yet arrived. But Barack Obama's victory suggests that it just might, and that's something we can all be proud of. So while a lot of work remains to be accomplished, it's only right to celebrate this enormous success along the way. 

Posted by Judah in:  Race In America   

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama, Liberalism and Personal Responsibility

Two quick thoughts between posts over at WPR. First of all, I've read that Obama is the most liberal Democrat to be elected president since. . . LBJ? FDR? Sure. But there's something very intriguing about the emphasis he puts on personal responsibility and the way in which he includes the American people's contribution to the hard work to come. I read an analysis of American strategic culture recently that argued that in order for Americans to support a war, the cause has to be a crusade, and the mobilization demanded of them total. LBJ failed to maintain public opinion for the Vietnam War because neither criterion applied. And President Bush has failed to maintain support for the Iraq War because while he has sold the war as a crusade, the only mobilization he demanded of Americans was a shopping spree at the local mall. Obama, by contrast, seems to be putting America on wartime footing, across the board, domestically and abroad. That's usually when America comes through. But it's also a different sort of liberalism than conservatives are used to decrying, which will make Obama's job easier -- and conservatives' tougher -- than some have suggested.

On the other hand, by handing the GOP its ass on a platter, Obama has effectively disarmed the national security bogeyman (the myth that the Democrats can't be trusted with the nation's security), whether or not national security was the deciding factor of the election. That, in turn, will liberate the GOP from its post-9/11 impulse to run as the lovechild of a Rambo-Terminator ménage à trois with Sigourney Weaver circa Alien 3, and free its candidates from situating themselves somewhere to the right of Augusto Pinochet. That, by the way, could easily apply globally, since an Obama presidency that fails to live up to the GOP's caricatures of it (Socialism? Are you f**king kidding me?) could in turn free the GOP from the need to live up to the caricature of itself that it's become in the past eight years. So while many are predicting a more radicalized GOP, it's possible that four years from now, the reverse will be true. Sure, they will have no real standard bearer, and most of their elected representatives that remain have slanted towards the lunatic fringe of the party. But a party free of incumbents is a party freed of obligations, promises to keep and doctrinal discipline to uphold. The Democratic party came out of left field in 2006 with a new crop of conservative red state representatives, very much due to Bush's failures of the previous six years, but also its own. There's no reason the GOP can't do the same.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

WPR on Barack Obama's Victory

From WPR's editorial on President-elect Barack Obama:

The world has an ongoing love-hate relationship with America, born often of the higher expectations and disappointed hopes that it holds for the world's most enduring democracy. The United States also has sworn enemies and dangerous rivals. Much has been made of the symbolic impact Mr. Obama's presidency will have on global opinion. But more than his image, it will be his leadership that will define the United States' foreign relations for years to come. Just as America still needs the world, the world still needs America. Its national genius for innovation and historic willingness to advance fearlessly into the unknown, combined with its still unrivaled might, uniquely qualify it to lead the way and serve as a backstop in an age of uncertainty.

Mr. Obama's lack of experience on the national and international stage represents to a certain degree an unknown variable. But anyone watching the campaign he has waged over the past two years has reason to be optimistic about the kind of leadership he will deliver. With a steady and calm temperament, a keen and dynamic intellect, an easy smile and a wisdom and authority that defy his years, Mr. Obama has made his case by appealing to the best and loftiest of what America represents, without stoking the divisions and resentments that threaten the cohesion of our national fabric. It's a fabric that must hold, because only an America united of purpose can mobilize the effort, both at home and abroad, needed to face today's challenges.

More at the link.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Politics   

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Monday, November 3, 2008

G.I. Jane in Iraq

Somewhere there's a doctoral thesis waiting to be written on Hollywood and the rehabilitation of war in the post-Vietnam era. I'd suggest that G.I. Jane represents the culmination of a trend that began with Officer and a Gentleman and Taps, fully integrating the third wave feminist movement into the military code of honor and combat. I mention it only because by some odd coincidence, I watched G.I. Jane (overdubbed into French) on the télé last night, only to stumble across this Army Times review of a new PBS documentary, "Lioness" (on women who have served in combat roles in Iraq) this morning. As the review and documentary make clear, despite regulatory codes to the contrary, G.I. Jane's central conceit about the exclusion of women from career-enhancing combat roles is increasingly anachronistic.

It's a transformation of the role of women in the military that's being determined by facts on the ground and the particularities of a counterinsurgency with no front lines, a form of "Don't look, don't tell" in the place of "Don't ask, don't tell." The danger here isn't that women will degrade operational capabilities, because by all accounts there's no evidence that they do. It's that because this issue is flying under the radar with no national discussion, problems of sexual harassment and violence directed at women soldiers in the combat zone aren't being systematically addressed.

There's also the fact that in the absence of any systematic policy, or rather in the systematic disregard for stated policy, the ad hoc solutions for women in combat will not address some of the imbalances in terms of career advancement, nor guarantee that the most qualified soldiers find their rightful role. Of course, that's always a problem in the military, but it helps when there's a solid code on which to base any claims, as opposed to statutory restrictions that undermine them.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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