Monday, October 31, 2011

France votes 'yes' on UNESCO seat for Palestine

Glancing through this AP story on the vote giving the Palestinian Authority full membership in UNESCO, what really jumped out at me was that France voted in favor. The article calls this a surprise. I suppose on some level it was, but France, no matter what party holds its presidency, has long prided itself on having an independent foreign policy. Sarkozy brought France back into NATO's integrated command a few years ago (and France took a lead role in the recent Libya campaign); however, this vote is a signal, if any were needed, that the Sarkozy government will follow its own course on certain issues. The U.S. reaction, predictably, was to call the PA's admission to UNESCO membership "regrettable" and "premature" and to cut off its funding to UNESCO, which a law requires it to do in these circumstances, apparently. Sigh.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Keystone XL pipeline

I haven't been following the details of the controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline, but I'm aware that it's aroused some passionate opposition. A demonstration is planned for Nov. 6 in front of the White House. For those interested, the Tar Sands Action site is here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In case you missed this...

Anwar al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, was killed in a recent drone strike in Yemen that also killed the media chief of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). (H/t V. Yadav) This will raise further questions about drones and whether their increasing use accords with accepted principles of the law of armed conflict.

Related (added 10/27): Drone strikes in the Pakistan border regions earlier this month killed several al-Qaeda figures and a "top deputy" in the Haqqani network, according to this piece.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Break briefly interrupted

Commenting on Gaddafi's demise etc., David Brooks on the NewsHour tonight said Obama deserved credit for U.S. policy vis-a-vis Libya -- a judgment with which I basically agree, though I think there could and should have been more consultation of Congress. (This is the same Brooks, btw, who wrote last January that Obama was Nero fiddling while Rome burns [I'd probably write that post a little differently if I were writing it today, but never mind]).

Then Brooks went on to say that he thought foreign policy might have an impact on the 2012 election; it won't all be the economy, he said. But this really depends to a substantial extent on what happens to be leading the news cycle a year from now, which is of course impossible to predict.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Another break

I have some other things to catch up on, so will be taking a break from posting. At least a couple of longer, meatier posts will be on the agenda when I return.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Theorists and others have at OWS

In a column at the Foreign Affairs site (h/t The Monkey Cage), Sidney Tarrow compares Occupy Wall St. to the women's movement of the '70s, calling it a "we are here" movement whose aim is to dramatize that something is wrong in the "system of economic relations" rather than specifically to "target" capitalism. (Not sure if this is a convincing distinction.) Tarrow is a leading theorist and scholar of "social movements and contentious politics" (to quote the subtitle of one of his books) but I can't say this particular analysis bowled me over.

Btw at the same site you can find a piece by Hardt and Negri, which I haven't read. And then, if masochistic, you can go to Wash. Post and read George Will's silly column on OWS today, which I raced through and figuratively consigned to the dustbin. (Maybe even the dustbin of history.)

Update: Via here: Mayor Bloomberg is apparently planning to clear Zuccotti Park tomorrow at 7 a.m. There is a petition (see the link) that can be signed, though I doubt it will prevent Bloomberg from doing whatever he's planning to do.
Further update: The 'clean-up' has been postponed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Political opening in Burma

See here and here.

"Sign...said private property"

This comment in a CT thread, with its reference to Pete Seeger, reminded me that he had sung "This Land is Your Land" (along with his grandson and Bruce Springsteen) at the Obama inaugural concert in Jan. '09 and had included a verse with a political edge that is sometimes omitted -- but I couldn't quite remember the verse.

Wikipedia to the rescue:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.
I recall that the historian Michael Kazin, in a Wash. Post piece not too long after the inaugural concert, noted approvingly the inclusion of this verse. Some of those now in the 'occupy Wall Street' protests might wish that the verse's general spirit had exercised more of an influence on certain administration policies, though I understand their main complaints are directed elsewhere (properly, in my view).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Don't write off 'people power' in ME just yet

Looking at events in Syria and Yemen, Jackson Diehl asserts that "people power [in the Middle East] isn't working." The judgment seems premature and much of the rest of the column rather weird. Of course, this is the same columnist who said that the PA's bid for statehood at the UN was tantamount to a declaration of war against Israel.

What happened to the Palestinian statehood thing, btw? The General Assembly's September session is long over (isn't it?) so something should have been voted on in the way of enhanced observer status. If it was reported on, however, I missed it. Haven't been following the right sites, evidently. (A blogger confessing ignorance -- my my, what is the world coming to?)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Worth reading

One human angle on the Afghan war: here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

James Rosenau (in memoriam notice)

Since Duck of Minerva doesn't seem to have picked this up, I figured I'd link to it: here.

Rosenau was a prolific IR scholar who had a long career, ranging from foreign policy analysis (early on) to, later, big-picture theory focusing on the roles of non-state actors and individuals in a globalized world. His later work uses concrete examples, often culled from journalistic sources, to illustrate broad concepts (sometimes designated with neologisms, e.g. fragmegration). Several of his books are on my shelves: Turbulence in World Politics (1990); Along the Domestic-Foreign Frontier (1997); and the 1969 volume he edited with Klaus Knorr, Contending Approaches to International Politics, behind whose bland title lie the key pieces in what is sometimes referred to as the 'second great debate'. [added later]: I also recall an article of his from the '80s on 'habit-driven' actors. [added still later]: I also have Czempiel & Rosenau, eds., Global Changes and Theoretical Challenges (Lexington Books, 1989).
P.s. Another recent passing, completely unrelated: here (via A. Rudalevige at The Monkey Cage).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Romney's vacuous foreign policy

Mitt Romney's interview with Judy Woodruff on the NewsHour tonight revealed someone who hasn't thought much about foreign policy and is content to repeat platitudes and, worse, nonsense. The U.S. shouldn't let any country 'balance' against it, he said. This is a dumb statement for a bunch of reasons, one being that the statement raises a non-existent problem because there hasn't been much (or any) traditional 'hard' balancing against the U.S. He said he would "listen" to the generals. What President wouldn't? He said the defense budget should consume roughly 20 percent of the federal budget or roughly 4 percent of GDP. Regardless of what's happening in the world? After the wind-down of the Afghanistan and Iraq involvements it is hard to see why this level of defense spending would be required; but in any event, defense spending should respond to conditions, not be set at an arbitrary figure. He said the U.S. should never "publicly" disagree with its allies, specifically Israel. Why not? He said Israel had never found itself in a more "fragile" setting than it does now. Come on. And then there was the usual stuff about the U.S.'s unique and special responsibility to ensure peace and prosperity in the world, blah blah. There are interesting foreign policy questions involving immigration, trade, economic relations e.g. with China (see under currency wars), U.S. policy in Latin America, attitudes toward the new regimes in the Arab world, and none of this came up in the interview. Instead he painted an outdated, vacuous picture of a "threatened" U.S. that must continue to spend huge sums on defense for no compelling reason. No wonder no one is excited about his candidacy.
Update: A dissection of his speech at The Citadel, here.

The noise of a sick society

A few months ago some idiot in the corporate hierarchy at 7-Eleven decided that the chain of convenience stores needed to be equipped with large ceiling-mounted TVs. These TVs emit what is best described as irritating noise. They are not effective advertising tools. They do not enhance the customer "experience." They make it worse.

It is impossible to walk into most public spaces in the U.S. and not be met with programmed noise. I once spent an hour in Logan Airport waiting for a flight. I wanted to read but I couldn't because there was a TV on the wall telling me over and over what a great place Boston is. I wanted to rip the damn thing out and stomp on it while screaming: "Boston would be a much nicer place if you would shut the **** up." Many (not all) restaurants have noise coming out of the ceilings. Grocery stores have muzak interrupted by annoying ads and supposedly helpful announcements about how to pick out ripe pears, how to eat more healthily, and heaven knows what else. It shouldn't be necessary to buy a smart phone and an earpiece to block this out. It shouldn't exist in the first place.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement gets around to formulating a list of demands, one that should be on it is: End commercial noise in public places and business establishments. I for one am ******* tired of it.

P.s. Of course there are far more important issues but there are plenty of other people writing about them.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book notes

I heard Timothy Snyder give a talk on his book Bloodlands in New York this past weekend. The lecture was so good that I almost feel I don't have to read the book. That would be fine, in a way, because I've got a list of books I'd like to get to (or, in one case, finish).

What's on my list? Among others:

* Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. I'm about halfway through this elegantly written collection of short stories set in Pakistan.

* Geoffrey Dyer, Otherwise Known As The Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews. I've taken this out from the library but so far have only read bits of it. The pieces collected here are mostly short. Those at the end are autobiographical, including one in which Dyer remarks on his decision to avoid specialization and "the supreme pointlessness of a Ph.D." (Nice phrase, whether one agrees or not.)

* Francis Wheen, Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography. Brief (unlike its subject).

* Michael Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present.

Geoffrey Parker, Success Is Never Final: Empire, War, and Faith in Early Modern Europe. Especially the piece "The Etiquette of Atrocity: The Laws of War in Early Modern Europe."

* Daniel Sherman, French Primitivism and the Ends of Empire, 1945-1975. To be published this month (Univ. of Chicago Press).

* Joshua Goldstein, Winning the War on War. Mentioned earlier; now bought (via Powells).

Will I get to all these? We'll see. What's on your list? (Feel free to say in comments. Note: Ads from publishers or self-publishers may be deleted at my discretion.)

P.s. The authors mentioned above are all male. That is a coincidence, not discrimination (just in case anyone was wondering).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The decline of war (Part II)

In my previous post on this subject, I promised to follow up with some observations on the relation between global politics and global economics over the past couple of decades. For various reasons this has proved beyond me at the moment, so I'll confine this post to noting the case of one writer who acknowledged the decline of violent conflict but refused to accord it the significance it would seem to warrant. The case to be mentioned is probably not unique but rather is an indication of how hard it is for some analysts to discard assumptions about the permanence of conflict that have been central to discourse on international politics for centuries. Longevity does not equal validity, however, and the fact that these assumptions have been repeated endlessly does not make them correct.

Writing in 2007 about the shape of what he termed the post-American world, Fareed Zakaria observed that "war and organized violence have declined dramatically over the last two decades." [1] There has been, he wrote, "a broad trend away from wars among major countries, the kind of conflict that produces massive casualties." [2] However, in the very next breath Zakaria felt constrained to point out that "numbers [of casualties] are not the only measure of evil," [3] which is true but not particularly relevant. "I don't believe," he declared, "that war has become obsolete or any such foolishness. Human nature remains what it is and international politics what it is." [4]

"Human nature remains what it is and international politics what it is." This statement has basically no analytical content. It is an expression of faith, the same faith to which Robert Gilpin pledged allegiance when he wrote: "One must suspect that if somehow Thucydides were placed in our midst, he would (following an appropriate short course in geography, economics, and modern technology) have little trouble in understanding the power struggle of our age." [5] (Gilpin wrote this 30 years ago but plenty of people, including perhaps Gilpin himself, would write the same thing today.)

Would Thucydides, stepping out of a time machine, not bat an eye at a world in which there has been no great-power war for more than half a century (and in which no great-power war is looming on the horizon)? I'll let readers supply their own answers to that question.
1. Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (W.W. Norton), p. 8. The book was published in 2008, meaning that it was written in 2007.
2. Ibid., p. 9.
3. Ibid., p. 10.
4. Ibid., pp. 9-10.
5. Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge U.P., 1981), p. 211.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hazaras in Baluchistan targeted again

Unlike, for example, Iraq, where Shiites are in the majority and Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime represented the empowerment of a minority group, in Pakistan the vast majority of the population is Sunni. Nonetheless, certain militant Sunni groups remain bent on trying to rid Pakistan of all Shiites. Or so one might conclude from the recent attacks in Baluchistan on Shiites belonging to the Hazara tribe. See here.