Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category

27
Sep

How Not to Lead the World: The U.N. General Assembly is providing a real-time seminar on failed leadership

By David Rothkopf

Few terms are as abused, misused and overused as “world leader.” While headlines daily suggest that the planet is operating without adult supervision, the folly of classifying most of our heads of state and government as “leaders” is never clearer than at the opening of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

This year, the U.N. circus was once again welcomed to New York by snarled traffic and snarling Manhattanites — all of whom almost certainly wish that just once, the entourages and press conferences and cocktail receptions and empty, rambling speeches would be directed to the citizens of somewhere else. Detroit’s been having a tough time, how about there? Or Athens? Or how about they just set up a Facebook page and let national governments simply post their speeches for all to see? Think of the savings. Or, to put it in better perspective: Think of what would be lost if we skipped the meeting altogether.

That’s right, nothing. Nothing at all.

Once again, all of the Commedia dell’arte cast of players on the global stage are fulfilling their roles. While Muammar al-Qaddafi, one of the great buffo characters of recent U.N. history — perhaps the greatest of them all — is but a memory, we got to see the final performance in this eight-year run of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. Like Qaddafi, he will be missed by no one except the connoisseurs of the ludicrous and students of abnormal psychology — and for them, there are always reruns of Sascha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator.

But Ahmadinejad, for all the headlines he generates while fulminating and spitting out nonsense about Israel’s lack of legitimacy or Iran’s invincible might, is also illustrative of just how misplaced the term “world leader” is. For one thing, he is not even the real leader of his own country. Instead, true power lies with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Council of Guardians, and other top religious leaders. Ahmadinejad, for all his bluster, is much more like the country’s top spokesmodel than he is the final word on any of its key decisions. Indeed, to those present at his press briefing on Monday morning, it seemed impossible to imagine this guy — who clearly has a screw loose — actually administering much of anything. Read more…

David Rothkopf is CEO and editor at large of Foreign Policy.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 26, 2012

26
Sep

By Helene Cooper and Robert F. Worth

STERN WORDS FOR MUBARAK – President Obama phoned President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt on Feb. 1, 2011, as some of his senior staff members worked in the Oval Office.

President Hosni Mubarak did not even wait for President Obama’s words to be translated before he shot back. “You don’t understand this part of the world,” the Egyptian leader broke in. “You’re young.”

Mr. Obama, during a tense telephone call the evening of Feb. 1, 2011, had just told Mr. Mubarak that his speech, broadcast to hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, had not gone far enough. Mr. Mubarak had to step down, the president said.

Minutes later, a grim Mr. Obama appeared before hastily summoned cameras in the Grand Foyer of the White House. The end of Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule, Mr. Obama said, “must begin now.” With those words, Mr. Obama upended three decades of American relations with its most stalwart ally in the Arab world, putting the weight of the United States squarely on the side of the Arab street.

It was a risky move by the American president, flying in the face of advice from elders on his staff at the State Department and at the Pentagon, who had spent decades nursing the autocratic — but staunchly pro-American — Egyptian government.

Nineteen months later, Mr. Obama was at the State Department consoling some of the very officials he had overruled. Anti-American protests broke out in Egypt and Libya. In Libya, they led to the deaths of four Americans, including the United States ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. A new Egyptian government run by the Muslim Brotherhood was dragging its feet about condemning attacks on the American Embassy in Cairo.

Television sets in the United States were filled with images of Arabs, angry over an American-made video that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad, burning American flags and even effigies of Mr. Obama. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 24, 2012 (a version of this article appeared in print on September 25, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Arab Spring, Obama Finds A Sharp Test).

25
Sep

Why global commerce, modern telecommunications, social media and modern international politics have conspired to put to rest a faded strategy.

By William C. Martel

When we consider the array of problems in our world, no one can say that we don’t live in interesting times. Asia worries about China’s ascent, Russia is dismantling its democracy, and Iran everyday gets closer to possessing a nuclear weapons capability. Recently, the Middle East was wracked by violent protests against American embassies in Egypt and Libya – with as many as twenty countries experiencing turmoil.

Facing mounting evidence of an increasingly chaotic and unstable world, it is immensely dangerous for societies to hang on to old and familiar policies. What is missing, as I wrote on these pages in the summer, is a coherent grand strategy for the United States. But you ask: doesn’t America have a grand strategy? It’s a good question. The answer may be equally surprising.

Some would argue that the United States still follows a strategy of containment. When some policy analysts conclude America is trying to contain China with its “pivot” or “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific, or when economic sanctions crafted to “contain” Iran’s nuclear aspirations, one could see why containment is still on people’s minds. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but containment died more than twenty years ago. While once an immensely successful policy, sticking with containment promises certain foreign policy failure.

Why, then, do states adhere to containment?

The answer is simple: policymakers and societies find comfort in following familiar policies that once produced results. Even when they no longer make sense, familiar, well-established ideas are reassuring to the public, particularly in unsettling times.

Containment was a highly effective strategy for decades, but its irrelevance was foreordained when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Today, containment is intellectually bankrupt, but it endures as the jargon, the ‘gold standard’, for American grand strategy. Strangely, many continue to embrace a strategy totally unsuited to dealing with the modern world. Read more…

Dr. William C. Martel is an Associate Professor of International Security Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is the recent author of “Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Strategy.”

As published by The Diplomat on September 24, 2012

13
Sep

The Salafi Moment

Written on September 13, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Culture & Society, Foreign Policy, International Conflict, Terrorism & Security, Middle East

As the death of a U.S. ambassador in Libya demonstrates, the ultraconservative Salafi movement is pushing to the forefront in the politics of the Middle East. The West should be careful how it reacts.

By Christian Caryl

By now you’ve probably heard. Just a few hours after an angry mob of ultraconservative Muslims stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed during a protest in the city of Benghazi. Both riots were provoked by the news that an anti-Muslim group in the United States has released a film that insults the Prophet Mohammed. In Egypt, the protestors hauled down the U.S. flag and replaced it with the same black banner sometimes used by Al Qaeda. Shades of Iran, 1979. Scary stuff.

Both attacks are utterly outrageous. But perhaps the United States shouldn’t have been caught completely off guard. The rioters in both cases come from the region’s burgeoning Salafi movement, and the Salafis have been in the headlines a lot lately. In Libya, over the past few months, they’ve been challenging the recently elected government by demolishing ancient Sufi shrines, which they deem to be insufficiently Islamic. In Tunisia, they’ve been attacking businesses that sell alcohol and instigating nasty social media campaigns about the country’s female competitors in the Olympics. In Syria’s civil war, there are increasing reports that the opposition’s wealthy Gulf financiers have been channeling cash to Salafi groups, whose strict interpretation of Islam is considered close to the puritanical Wahhabism of the Saudis and others. Lately Salafi groups have been gaining fresh prominence in parts of the Islamic world — from Mali to Lebanon, from Kashmir to Russia’s North Caucasus.

Some — like journalist Robin Wright, who recently wrote a New York Times op-ed on the subject — say that this means we should be really, really worried. Painting a picture of a new “Salafi crescent” ranging from the Persian Gulf to North Africa, she worries that this bodes ill for newly won freedoms after the revolutions of 2011. Calling the rise of the new Salafi groups “one of the most underappreciated and disturbing byproducts of the Arab revolts,” Wright says that they’re now “moving into the political space once occupied by jihadi militants, who are now less in vogue.” “[S]ome Islamists are more hazardous to Western interests and values than others,” she writes. “The Salafis are most averse to minority and women’s rights.”[[LATEST]] Read more…

Christian Caryl is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, and a senior fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 12, 2012

12
Sep

By Blake Hounshell

Christopher Stevens, left, with the former head of the Transitional National Council of Libya Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, in Tripoli in June. Source: www.nytimes.com

As I write, Al Jazeera is reporting that Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was killed amid an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi along with three others. Video and screen captures, supposedly of his body, are circulating on Twitter. Libya’s nascent government has roundly condemned the assault, and the Libyan army engaged in fierce clashes with an Islamist militia late into the night. According to Al Jazeera, the bodies were flown out of the country. (The State Department last night confirmed a death in Benghazi, but did not mention Stevens.)

This is, obviously, a terrible tragedy and a shocking turn of events on a day when Americans mourned those killed 11 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001. Stevens was by all accounts a popular diplomat, having established the U.S. presence in Benghazi during the war and been an avid supporter of the opposition. Here’s a video introducing him to Libyans.

What makes the deaths all the more tragic is that they will inevitably become politicized. On Tuesday, conservative websites were highly critical of a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that came ahead of a protest where demonstrators breached the embassy’s walls in a moment reminiscent of 1979 in Iran. Liz Cheney and the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee joined in, accusing the administration of issuing an “apology” for a bizarre and mysterious film attacking the Prophet Mohammed that served as a pretext for the protests. And the Romney campaign issued its own statement. Wednesday will likely bring more finger-pointing.

For me, the embassy assaults are a sobering reminder not only of the deep anger and dysfunction that plagues the broader Middle East, but of the enormous difficulty the United States has in dealing with this part of the world. The level of distrust and fury toward America is not the sort of thing you heal with a speech or two. And to make matters worse, there will always be groups that exploit things that have no connection whatsoever to U.S. government policy, like this anti-Islamic film. Read more…

Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 12, 2012.

 

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