World

Don't Be Naïve. That Speech Was a Revolution

flickr/AJstream
flickr/AJstream Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd after his speech last week at the Jerusalem Convention Center. After a couple of days for careful reflection, it's clear: Barack Obama gave an amazing speech. The president of the United States stood in a hall in Jerusalem, and with empathy and with bluntness that has been absent for so long we forgot it could exist, told Israelis: The occupation can't go on. It's destroying your own future. And besides that, Palestinians have "a right to … justice" and "to be a free people in their own land." If you don't think this is a breakthrough, you are letting naïve pessimism overcome realism. Yes, it's true that one speech will be worth nothing if not followed by intense American diplomacy. That comment has become banal. A realistic assessment is that Obama's visit, and the speech, were the opening act of an American diplomatic effort — a near perfect opening. The first breakthrough was in method: Obama started by negotiating with the...

Cyprus's Big Bluff

AP Photo/Petros Karadjias
The Cyprus banking crisis presents, in microcosm, everything that is perverse about the European leaders’ response to the continuing financial collapse. And bravo to the Cypriot Parliament for rejecting the EU’s insane demand to condition a bank bailout on a large tax on small depositors. If this crisis threatens to spread to other nations, it’s a good object lesson. Here is the punch line of this column: It's time for Europe’s small nations, who are getting slammed into permanent depression by the arrogance of Berlin and Brussels, to think about abandoning the euro. At least the threat would strengthen their bargaining position, and if they actually quit the euro, the result could hardly be worse than their permanent sentence to debtors’ prison. More on that in a moment. The back story: Cyprus, with just over a million people, is not a poor country. Its per capita GDP is actually above the European Union average. Cyprus has only used the euro since 2008. Once Cyprus was in the...

Visiting Israel, Juggling a Hundred Impossible Expectations

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit It’s near impossible to lower expectations of a visit by the President of the United States, especially to a region as consequential in U.S. policy, and controversial in U.S. politics, as the Middle East. Obama is learning this firsthand as he prepares to land in Israel for the first time in his presidency today. The trip will include visits to the West Bank and Jordan, but it’s no secret that its primary function is to re-introduce the president to the Israeli people, and attempt to re-boot the relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose resistance to Obama’s peace efforts and differences over the immediacy of the threat posed by Iran led to a frosty relationship during the president’s first term. I visited the country and the West Bank last week, and preparations on both sides were well under way to make sure that their messages were heard. In Ramallah, huge banners were hung, proclaiming “President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to...

Why Now, Mr. President?

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi S ome free advice for anyone who lives in Jerusalem and hasn't been invited to meet with Barack Obama: stay out of the city center from Wednesday to Friday. One major artery, King David Street, will be shut throughout the president's visit this week, and parking will be banned on a host of others, City Hall has announced. Experience teaches that traffic will tie up in knots and buses trying to get from Point A to Point B will travel via Point Z. Beyond gridlock—in the original sense of the word, vehicles sitting in mid-intersection going nowhere—the potential impact of the president's pilgrimage remains a mystery. The trip's timing suggests that Obama feels it absolutely urgent to renew the comatose Israeli-Palestinian peace process, now, before the weekend, before it expires. The pre-trip spin from Obama himself, from sundry off-record officials and from the punditocracy of two countries suggests that the president is coming, to quote Thomas Friedman , as "a...

Rebuilding Schools—and Happiness—in Pakistan

Education reformers come to the former Taliban-occupied Swat Valley.

AP Photo/John McConnico
AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini When the Taliban ruled in the Swat Valley, from 2007 to 2009, it set up in enclaves in the mountainous terrain. In better times, this area was a vacation destination that drew many to its hilly hamlets. Visitors often left with apples from the orchards or jars of locally cultivated honey. People here were known for their folk music and dance, but those traditions quickly faded into the background. Taliban fighters enforced their own brand of draconian Islamic law, requiring men to grow beards and forbidding women from going to the market. Pakistanis watched as the region's famous “Green Square” turned into “Bloody Square” when the Taliban meted out punishment to those who dared cross its authority. More than two million fled the conflict, and many have since settled elsewhere, not daring to return. The region shuddered in thunderous bomb blasts. Some of those blasts were aimed at schools, and the Taliban destroyed 200 of them throughout the Swat region...

Francis I, a Jesuit Pope

AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia W e are living in a golden age of information. Any newshound or junkie will tell you so. More and more, the layers of position and personage that constitute establishment influence are being peeled back to their tendons, revealing the innermost workings of power. The wry cynicism of Twitter has become the lingua franca of information brokers. Public statements are easily picked apart and the official stagecraft of a flag-pinned lapel, a rolled-up shirtsleeve, an of-the-people photo op are all viewed as perfunctory gestures, rote and largely meaningless. The election of a new pontiff, quite literally a news event gleaned from smoke signals, lands on our doorstep and we are confounded—what sort of man is this Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I? What will his platform be? What meanings should we divine about this man we’ve only just met, waving at us from a balcony? When symbolism is all you have, as it is with the successor to St. Peter, it becomes a...

Chávez Rising

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AP Photo/Miraflores Presidential Press Office In this photo by Miraflores Presidential Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, center, poses with his daughters, María Gabriela, left, and Rosa Virginia at an unknown location in Havana, Cuba. T he last official photo of Hugo Chávez shows him surrounded by his two daughters, María Gabriela and Rosa Virginia. It’s a tableau of Renaissance proportions (and probably Photoshopped) that reminds followers of a saintly leader ready to be resurrected, his daughters already mourning the loss of their earthly father but preparing him to be transported to his next life. Whether Chávez can be resurrected through the election of his self-appointed heir, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, remains the next test for the cult of Chavismo that arose around this former paratrooper and failed putchist. The iconography of a fallen Chávez should not be interpreted as the end of an era, even combined with the death of the 58-year-old leader on March 5,...

A Blank Check for Israel? Bad Idea.

On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, some in Congress are itching for another ill-advised conflict.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/ISNA, Amin Khosroshahi Late last week in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the latest round of nuclear talks between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent five UN Security Council members plus Germany) ended with an agreement for more meetings —a technical experts meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 18, followed by a political directors meeting back in Almaty on April 5-6. As for the tenor of the talks, most observers agree that it was more upbeat that in the past, with Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili at one point referring to the P5+1’s offer of greater sanctions relief as a “ turning point .” While recognizing that challenges still remain, supporters of the talks were encouraged. “What Almaty showed us is that American and international proposals can elicit the kinds of responses from Iran that are necessary to move the process forward,” said Joel Rubin, director of policy and government affairs for the Ploughshares Fund. “There’s a clear consensus among the P5...

Conceived in Delusion, Sold in Deception

AP Photo/John Bazemore
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta O n March 19, two weeks from now, it will be ten years since the United States military commenced the invasion of Iraq. Even though some details are fading from memory, one bit that sticks in my mind—those final days before the war and its dramatic countdown, the 48 hours George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein and his sons to get themselves out of the country. It was a fitting end to the pre-war campaign, some theatricality to lend an extra bit of drama to a conflict conceived in delusion and sold in deception. This anniversary is a good time to remind ourselves of what happened then and how so many of the people who continue to shape our public debate behaved. The campaign to sell America on an invasion of Iraq was probably the most comprehensive and dishonest propaganda effort our country has seen in the last century. As we discuss it over the next few weeks, those who continue to hold that it was a good idea—akin to saying to this day that the Titanic was...

Euro Crisis Redux

Think sequestration is bad? Things could be turning disastrous in Europe.

When global leaders met in Davos, Switzerland this past January for the annual World Economic Forum, it was not just an opportunity to chatter about the state of the global economy, but also a moment for a collective sigh of relief. The fiscal cliff in the United States had just been avoided, Barack Obama was even able to raise some revenue by letting some of the Bush-era tax rates expire, and the currency crisis in Europe appeared to be on the mend. What a difference a month makes. As another battle over deficits and spending looms in Washington and threatens to pull the U.S. economy back into recession, a far greater worry is the ever-present crack-up of the euro, which would be an economic tsunami to the spring shower of sequestration. It all starts with Italy and the possible return of Silvio Berlusconi. Many thought the media mogul’s long strange trip as Italian prime minister had finally come to end in November 2011 when he resigned after pressure mounted to fix the ballooning...

Netanyahu's Ticking Time Bomb

While Israel fails to form a government, the West Bank could explode.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
T he clock is running out for Benjamin Netanyahu. Five weeks after his pyrrhic election victory, he is still trying to piece together a new Israeli government. The one force he has working for him is that the leaders of every other party in parliament also know how few hours are left before the buzzer sounds. Time may also be running out to prevent a third Intifada in the West Bank. But no one can say what form a new Palestinian uprising will take, or whether it will break out next year or tomorrow. The lack of a known deadline is the most charitable explanation available for the way Israeli coalition talks have been conducted, with the major parties sparring about the secondary issue of military conscription, as if neither economics nor foreign policy existed. At times like this, Israelis can envy the elegant simplicity of Italian politics. Formally, the coalition countdown began a week-and-a-half after the election, when President Shimon Peres assigned Netanyahu to form the next...

Italy's Vote Against Austerity

Flickr/Sara Fasullo
Those pesky European voters have done it again. Last spring the Greek electorate, choked by recession and austerity, nearly gave the reins of government to a hard-left, anti-reform coalition. Now it’s Italy’s turn to throw the plans of the Eurozone high command into disarray. As results of the two-day parliamentary election began streaming in on Monday, Brussels, Berlin, and Frankfurt (seat of the European Central Bank)—not to mention the global markets—looked on in horror. The centre-left coalition led by Pier-Luigi Bersani and his Democratic Party (made up of reformed Communists and other modernized leftists) could not put together a majority in the Senate, even if it went into alliance with the centrists backing the outgoing prime minister, Mario Monti. The right-wing coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi had come within a whisker of outright victory. Most shockingly, M5S (the “Five Star Movement”), an anti-establishment and anti-euro party founded on the Internet and led by enraged...

A Third Intifada?

Flickr/Jill Granberg
Over the past days, growing unrest in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in response to the death of a Palestinian in Israeli custody has threatened the relative calm that has prevailed recently, a result of the considerable amount of cooperation between the Palestinian security services and the Israeli army. While it seems clear that neither of the main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, are interested in an escalation, the speed with which large protests erupted in the last week demonstrates once again the danger of pretending that the status quo in the occupied territories is a sustainable one. Although protests against various aspects of the occupation— the encroachment of Israeli settlements and the construction of its separation barrier on Palestinian farmland, to name two of the most onerous—have become a regular occurrence over the last few years, demonstrations have increased markedly over the past weeks in support of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners . The...

Lockheed, Stock, and Barrel

Do we truly need brand new aircraft carriers? Nope, but try telling the Pentagon and their many contractor friends.

AP Photo/Northwest Florida Daily News, Devon Ravine
AP Photo/Eric Talmadge This is the third in a three-part Prospect series on what an ideal military budget might look like. Read Part One on the military's current responsibilities here . Read Part Two on the real threats that our military should be protecting our country from here . W hat stops the United States from crafting a military budget that makes sense? As this series has shown, to defend Americans and to protect American economic interests—even if broadly defined—the military would need vastly less resources than it currently enjoys. Sure, people in our defense establishment will complain about "bloat" and "waste" and "inefficiency," but when it comes to actual cuts, they just aren't done. "Now's not the time," they say, and considering the harm that sequestration cuts will likely do to many people's jobs and possibly to our economic recovery, there might be something to it—but they always say that. So, why do conversations about possible—and advisable—cuts always end up a...

Threat versus "Threat"

The second entry in our series on how to fix the Pentagon budget

flickr/zennie62
AP Photo This is the second in a three-part Prospect series on what an ideal military budget might look like. Read Part One here . Read Part Three on what's keeping us from a more perfect military budget here. A bout a year ago, Army General Martin Dempsey went to Capitol Hill trying to defend $55 billion in annual budget cuts by sequestration. With a straight face, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman testified to a panel of the House Appropriations Committee: “In my personal military judgment, formed over 38 years, we are living in the most dangerous time in my lifetime right now ." It's the kind of thing that makes a person alternately question the judgment and the honesty of our military leaders. It's obvious nonsense , just another ludicrous statement in the campaign mounted by the military, industry, and Congress in their effort to fight sequestration. That said, Dempsey raises a good question: Do we live in a dangerous world? Are there threats out there that might be the sort of...

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