Friday, January 23, 2009

The Pods Have Arrived

As Walt Whitman put it:

Other states indicate themselves in their deputies . . . . but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common people.

. . .the terrible significance of their elections -- the President's taking off his hat to them not they to him -- these too are unrhymed poetry.

This video (via Patrick Appel at the Daily Dish), by contrast, is not unrhymed poetry. (As if the presence of a gesticulating Ashton Kutcher might have left room for doubt).

"I pledge to be the servant of the president" is, of course, an affront to the very principles of republican -- as opposed to monarchical -- government, where the president is in no uncertain terms the servant of the people. So while the message of service is a worthy one, it's delivered in a very intellectually lazy way. Worse still, anyone who's ever worked in drug and alcohol treatment -- or who's ever made a New Year's resolution, for that matter -- knows what happens to the vast majority of these kinds of heat-of-the-moment pledges. And if that weren't enough, making service fashionable is the surest way to keep it from becoming durable.

I mentioned before that President Obama's plans to create a sort of direct constituency of grassroots supporters made me uneasy. It's the classic populist technique of the demagogue, whose appeals to direct democracy (constitutional referenda, for instance) are often ways of sidestepping the institutional checks and balances of government.

What I realized since is that I'm not so much worried about Obama, who has at every turn used his ability to mobilize mass audiences to bring out their best, and not their worst, nature. What I'm worried about is the creation of an institution in American political culture that might subsequently be manipulated by someone with less noble aims.

And the kind of body-snatcher, cult-like following on display in that video doesn't offer much reassurance about the ability of the American political psyche to resist the demagogue's appeal when it does come. Melting into a mass movement dedicated to serving the president is about as antithetical to American governmental ideals as I can imagine.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Obama's Permanent Campaign

Obviously there's nothing unconstitutional about President-elect Obama's efforts, flagged by Kevin Drum here, to transform his electoral campaign into a political organization. But it seems to me that the representatives of the people are the Representatives. A President who, through direct appeal to a grassroots constituency, pressures Congress is not that far removed from a President who, through direct appeal to a grassroots constituency, bypasses Congress.

I wasn't that comfortable with this idea when President Bush tried to apply it to the press.I don't like it any more when it's applied to Congress. There are already two grassroots political organizations through which voters can pressure their representatives. They're called the Democratic and Republican parties. This is one of those ideas that sounds great in principle, but deserves a healthy dose of curmudgeonly skepticism in practice. Consider this that dose.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!

Best wishes for peace, health and prosperity for 2009.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, December 22, 2008

French Laicite & Cultural Identity

I've got a guest post op-ed over at Art Goldhammer's site, French Politics:

PARIS -- Two weeks ago, one of my seven-year-old son’s classmates arrived at school with pastries to pass out to the class. His mother, a non-observant “cultural Muslim,” had spent the weekend preparing the delicacies that traditionally accompany the celebration of Eid al-Adha, as a way for her son to share the cultural tradition with his friends. But when he asked for permission to hand them out, the teacher refused. The pastries, it seems, would have violated France’s strict code of laïcité forbidding among other things, the introduction of religious dress or symbolism into the public school system. . . .

[I]t would be easy to chalk the pastry incident off to an overzealous defense of a principle that, for cultural reasons, Americans have difficulty appreciating.

Except for one detail. . . . 

Click through for the rest, and let me know what you think.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoes Happen

As much as anything, what struck me about the video of President Bush getting a shoe tossed at him was how old he suddenly seems. Not that he didn't demonstrate great reflexes. He did, and that guy was an Olympic-calibre shoe tosser.

But watching his remarks afterwards, at about the :55 mark, I had to shake off the feeling that it was his father speaking. Part of it must be the jetlag and fatigue of travel, and part of it is the whitening job the presidency does on people's hair. But there's also a sag in the corners of his mouth and a pouch of loose flesh around his adam's apple that I've never noticed before.

Presidents are kind of like fighters in that when they get old, it seems to happen overnight, from one press conference to the next. And Bush just got old.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Curtains

Good thing this occurred at the final curtain. Hard to see how that one could have gone on.

A friend of mine was once in the audience when the lead actor collapsed from a heart attack on stage. She said it was only when the other cast members called out for the proverbial "doctor in the house" that everyone realized it wasn't in the original script.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The End of the Automobile?

Just an observation to keep things in perspective:

When the American auto industry goes belly up, no one talks about the end of the automobile. They talk about poor corporate management in Detroit.

By comparison, when the newspaper industry starts losing readers and revenue, the end of the newspaper can't be far behind.

The difference, of course, is in the alternatives. Online news amounts to the equivalent of a fleet of volunteer chauffeurs patrolling city streets, stopping beside anyone fumbling for their car keys and helpfully offering a lift.

But online news is only free on the consumption end, mainly because of an early adapter rush to lower entry barriers to readership in order to establish brand loyalty. That will ultimately change, whether through subscription walls and/or adapted advertising models. And when it does, the revenue picture will improve dramatically, because the thirst for news is obviously greater than ever (for reasons that I'm not sure are necessarily healthy).

I'm also convinced that once the complementary roles of print and online editions have been more formally established, a residual demand for print will survive. It's a different reading experience, with different functions in terms of how and what kind of information is delivered. We're still very much in a transition period, where the vast majority of newsrooms are trying to actively evolve their operations on the fly. But the range of alternative models is increasingly taking shape, and that will lower transformation costs and facilitate the process for those that follow.

Meanwhile, newspapers are still by and large profitable, something that is left out of the doom and gloom forecasts. Which means that the ones that aren't managed like the Big Three auto companies will live to see another day.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Reincarnation of the Newspaper

A quick thought on the crisis facing the American newspaper industry, which has often been described as a battle between online vs. print, with online winning. The problem with that description, though, is that American newspapers are really pretty cutting edge in terms of their approach to online news. Like the major broadcast companies' transition from radio to television in the mid-20th century, newspapers are uniquely positioned to benefit from readers' growing preference for online news. There are also online niches where they enjoy significant advantages over their broadcast competition. As an example, they have far deeper reporting resources than most television news outlets, with lower production overhead. So when it comes to video and mulitmedia reporting for their online editions, there's an enormous upside potential.

The crisis would be more accurately described as a battle between online revenue vs. print revenue. The problem for American newspapers isn't that they're losing readers to online editions, since they are the online editions, by and large, their print readers are abandoning them for. The problem is that no one has yet figured out how to monetize online readership.

Or online anything, for that matter. Unlike television, which provided even more lucrative revenue streams for the radio broadcasters who made the transition, the internet's reach and ease of reproduction -- in other words its very strengths -- have undermined traditional intellectual copyright revenue streams in general. The recording industry faces the same challenge, and if it survives, it will be due to alternative revenue sources, such as the cost of licensing included in pre-loaded mp3 readers, internet service provider subscriptions, and brand affiliations.

Some papers have already begun experimenting with "sponsored" editorial content. But the predictable backlash confirms that a newspaper's public interest function limits the kinds of revenue arrangements it can innovate, if it wants to maintain its journalistic credibility. Licensing fees from e-readers like the Kindle, and eventually e-paper, might make up some of the print revenue that's gradually being lost. But not all of it.

Newspapers could change their business model, whether by adapting to niche print markets (trains, planes and automo... make that buses) or going non-profit, but in that case they'll be unlikely to maintain the kind of reporting resources that are their main strength. Most of the major national dailies, I'm guessing, will survive either through philanthropic foundation money, or else strategic partnerships with universities or other cash-rich public interest institutions.

That leaves the mid-level and local dailies, which is a significant loss if they do eventually go under. These are the papers that are often the first reference when a local story takes on national signficance. Think of the Anchorage Daily News' coverage of the Sarah Palin abuse of power inquiry. 

But ultimately, there's a circular logic whereby the death of print means the rebirth of print. Because anyone who thinks there will be online editions once the print newsrooms no longer exist is in for a rude shock when they check their RSS reader or the Google news homepage the day the last print edition folds. Either online becomes sustainable, which means print runs will probably survive, too, even if they are limited. Or else we're heading into the newspaper equivalent of the Cambrian mass extinction, whereby the newspaper landscape is wiped clean, only for newspapers to reemerge in some new evolutionary form. But if that happens, it's hard to see how that new form won't include some sort of print format.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

His Own Facts

James Lamond at Democracy Arsenal flags this portion of President Bush's interview with Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?

BUSH: . . .In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.

GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn't.

BUSH: Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. . . It's hard for me to speculate.

Of course, by the intelligence being right, Gibson means were it to have reflected reality. But for Bush, the intelligence being right means were it to have reflected his version of reality.

The man really does feel entitled to his own set of facts. Of course, we've long suspected that to be the case, but this serves as pretty incontrovertible evidence. A pretty fitting summary of the man and his presidency.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Obama's Hair

A waking thought, not yet verified through Wackipedia or Goggle, but presented for your consideration: When Barack Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, he will have the most closely cut hair of any American president in history.

I think there's a real danger in the context of the sobriety of the moment to give in to the temptation of somberness, something reflected in Obama's tendency to adopt a minimalist, almost Spartan esthetic. Now that he's impressed with his pragmatic and competent cabinet appointments, Obama should reassure Americans that even if we have to tighten our belts and bend our shoulders to the grindstone, we can still have a good time every now and then. Which means there's only one thing to do.

Yo, O! Grow the 'fro, bro'!

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Monday, December 1, 2008

The Asia Triangle

I'd like to call your attention to our latest theme issue over at World Politics Review, the Asia Triangle. In three deep analysis pieces (M.K. Bhadrakumar on India here, Jing-dong Yuan on China here, and Arif Rafiq on Pakistan here), we examine the balance of power on the South Asian subcontinent between India, Pakistan and China, and how that might impact the emerging consensus calling for a "regional approach" to turn the tide in, and ultimately stabilize, Afghanistan.

We've had this feature in development for a while now, and last week's attacks in Mumbai obviously underscore the importance of getting this right. To do so, we should start by accepting that we understand as a "regional solution" might not be the same thing as what the region understands as a "regional solution." It also seems obvious that any effort to address India-Pakistan relations has to include China, for a variety of reasons that the three pieces make evident.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   India   Pakistan   

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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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Friday, October 31, 2008

WPR Stays a Step Ahead

A handful of stories we've brought you recently in WPR are back in the news. Last month, Dorian Merina reported for WPR on a controversial and divisive anti-pornography bill under consideration in Indonesia. Today the IHT reports that the bill was passed into law. A few weeks back, Christina Madden reported for WPR on the Andean Trade Preferences Act that was recently signed into law. Yesterday McClatchy reported that the Bush administration's subsequent suspension of Bolivia's privileges under that act will enter into effect today. Finally, the NY Times has two articles today that cover familiar ground for regular WPR readers: the first on Somalia's pirate crisis, which David Axe covered in a WPR feature article three weeks back, and the second on the political power struggle taking place in South Africa between the ANC and a newly minted splinter party, which Mxolisi Ncube covered for WPR last week.

Just a few more examples of how WPR keeps you a step ahead on significant developments around the world, providing not just the news but the context and analysis to help you make sense of it all. If you're a regular reader, of course, you already know that. But feel free to spread the word.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

In the Long Run...

...Keynes was right. According to a new report, at the rate we're consuming the earth's resources, we'll need two planets by 2030. The authors cleverly call it an "ecological credit crunch."

My cosmological worldview isn't so species-centric as to be terribly concerned about the planet Earth. When people say we must save the planet, what they're really saying is we've got to save ourwelves. The planet did just fine without us for billions of years. And while it's a wonderfully beautiful place that we really ought to take better care of, it will do just fine without us, too.

But just for the sake of a good debate, what great philosophical quarrels would be resolved were humans to follow the dinosaurs into extinction? And in whose favor?

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  The Natural World   

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Patriotism and the Press in Times of War

Speaking of Nir Rosen's Rolling Stone article, Bing West discusses some of the ethical and legal issues it raises over at Small Wars Journal. West manages to present some very thorny and potentially explosive issues passionately but not stridently (quite a feat these days), keeping the piece both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Mostly light, with just enough heat (and in the right places) to make it resonate.

West addresses two aspects of Rosen's "embed" that had occurred to me when I read the piece. Namely, the fact that he was basically agreeing to at the very least the possibility of accompanying hostile forces on operations against American troops. And he also accepted the terms of the embed, which depended on his guides being subject to a family-wide death threat to secure his safety. The latter is, to my mind, a clearcut ethical lapse. The former lies in what even West concedes is a ethical-legal gray area.

I held off making those criticisms in my remarks at the time, because I wasn't quite sure about what was driving the negative reaction I had to the piece. As an armchair analyst, I felt reluctant to engage in kneejerk criticism of what, despite the ethical gray areas, remains an incredibly courageous field assignment. There's also the question of what role the press plays, and whether it is, in fact, above and beyond the ethical and legal issues that proscribe other citizens in times of war.

I don't have any definitive answers. If you have any thoughts on the matter, feel free to weigh in via email.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   Media Coverage   

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Who Isn't Ready Yet?

Another odd detail about McCain's "Yet" ad: the flashbulb pops that double as rifle shots, the ominous bell tolling in the background, and the sepia tone funeral images of Barack Obama. The copy might be referring to Obama, but the subliminal message here is that America isn't ready yet. Creepy.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   Race In America   

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Emotional Payoff

Funny, I was just thinking about that video. Throughout this campaign, I've resisted the emotional appeal of Obama's message, even while appreciating its power. But when I think of what Obama's candidacy and victory represents in terms of the generations of struggle for freedom and justice that went into making it possible, not just in America but around the world, I find that emotion welling up in spite of myself. I almost booked a flight to bring my son to NY, to accompany my 80-year-old father to the polls, so he could participate in this moment of history. In the end, we won't be there, but in some ways being able to walk out in Paris -- in the world outside America -- on Nov. 5, glowing with pride in this country, my country, will be just as satisfying.

But it's important to remember that Obama's victory is not just a historic victory. It's also a personal and individual victory. He ran a classy, gutsy campaign that, despite the inevitable disappointments that will certainly arise when it comes time to govern, never once ceased to reach for and bring out the best of what our country stands for. That's what that video expresses. To insist on a political method consistent with the political message was a personal act of courage that shows the mark of the man, and all that went into making him. No matter how history remembers him as president, he has already given us much to reflect on as a candidate.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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