World

The Isolationists Are Coming!

AP Photo
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File A sk yourself: Do you oppose putting U.S. troops everywhere, all the time? If you answered yes, you might be an isolationist, according to the word’s new definition. A piece in Tuesday’s New York Times , based on a new NYT/CBS poll , warned that “Americans are exhibiting an isolationist streak, with majorities across party lines decidedly opposed to American intervention in North Korea or Syria right now.” In the very next paragraph, however, we are told that, “While the public does not support direct military action in those two countries right now, a broad 70 percent majority favor the use of remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, to carry out bombing attacks against suspected terrorists in foreign countries.” In other words, if you only support bombing unspecified foreign countries with flying robots, you're exhibiting an isolationist streak. Further illustrating the crazy isolationist fever infecting the American people, the article quoted poll...

The Frankenstein Foreign-Policy Crisis

AP Images
The last week has been not so much a case of national déjà vu as a Philip K. Dickian time-slip where the past bleeds into the present and transforms it. Syria is potentially the frankenstein of foreign-policy crises, made up of the parts of dead blunders: Vietnam, where we learned that firepower won’t overcome the unquantifiables that make for a quagmire; Iraq, where we learned that intelligence may be faulty or manipulated; Libya, where we learned both the combat possibilities and limitations of no-fly zones; Afghanistan, where a quarter-century ago we armed freedom-fighters who became accomplices in the murder of 3,000 citizens on American soil; Kosovo and Rwanda, where we ignored mass slaughter at the cost of our collective conscience; and Somalia, where we answered the call of conscience to disastrous end. Syria surpasses them all. With a warring population becoming ever more kaleidoscopically sectarian, and an air-defense system as sophisticated as any in the non-Israeli Middle...

A Sheikh's Life

What Tariq al-Fadhli's story says about the mixed-up world of Yemeni politics

Tariq al-Fadhli wept when he heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. “I love him and thank him for supporting me. If it wasn't for Osama Bin Laden, maybe I wouldn't have returned to my country,” recalled al-Fadhli, a well-known Yemeni tribal Sheikh recently expelled from his compound in southern Abyan province at gunpoint by anti-al-Qaeda militiamen who were convinced he was aiding militants in the area. But during an interview at his government-proffered villa in neighboring Aden, al-Fadhli insisted that he is affiliated with not al-Qaeda. “If I had a relationship with al-Qaeda, the local intelligence would know,” he said, waving a cigarette in his neatly manicured hand. Safe behind a high wall buffered with heavily armed tribesmen—most of whom had a wad of khat (a mildly narcatoic leaf chewed by many Yemenis) in their cheek—Sheikh al-Fadli was relaxed. Wearing a local kilt-like futa, a traditional dagger known as a jambiya, and other colorful accessories, he even cracked jokes...

Is the U.S. Set to Intervene in Syria?

AP Photo/Jim Watson
AP Photo/Jim Watson Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after reading a statement on chemical weapon use in Syria. T he chances of U.S. intervention in Syria just got higher. This morning, the White House released identical letters it had sent to Senators Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona, both of whom had written to the administration in March urging “more active steps” to stop the killing in Syria, stating that “our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale.” This comes two days after the head of the Israel Defense Forces intelligence research and analysis division said that Syria had used sarin gas against its people. Speaking to reporters about the letter in Abu Dhabi, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the use of such weapons “violates every convention of warfare.” So what happens now? The White House letter was...

As Wal-Mart Swallows China's Economy, Workers Fight Back

Strikes continue to erupt in Asia.

Imaginechina via AP Images
Imaginechina via AP Images O n any given day, go to the Shenzhen Wal-Mart in the city's Yuanling neighborhood, and you may find a stocky man in his early fifties in front of its doors, draped in a banner that reads, in Chinese characters, “Support the just demands of workers.” Ask him why he's there, and he will tell you that he used to work at the Wal-Mart, that he was unjustly fired for organizing other workers and protesting deteriorating work conditions, and that he's fighting to get his job back. “A lot of people said I should just leave. But my skin is really thick, and I didn’t want to leave the company. I still had faith that things could and would change,” Wang said. “I asked myself, how should I protect my rights? How can this unfair situation be made right?” The answer he found, he said, was organizing along with his fellow workers and now, continuing to stage his weekly protests. While he usually protests alone, Wang Shishu's is one of a growing number of Wal-Mart workers...

Fayyad's Choice

AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed
AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed Salam Fayyad S alam Fayyad has formally resigned his post as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Note the word formally . In the half-presidential, half-parliamentary, mostly improvised political system of the Palestinian non-state, Fayyad will apparently stay on until President Mahmoud Abbas appoints a replacement, or until elections are held, or indeterminately as his resignation fades from memory. It would be wrong to say that Fayyad has become a caretaker prime minister, because he has always been a caretaker. Abbas appointed Fayyad to head an emergency government in 2007, when the attempt at power-sharing between Abbas's Fatah movement and the Islamicist Hamas movement ended in a brief civil war. The Palestinian parliament, where Hamas has a majority, never approved the appointment. Both the president and parliament have outlived their legal terms of office. Yet Fatah continues to rule the West Bank, just as Hamas keeps ruling Gaza. A week-and-a-...

The Chechen Connection

The Boston bombers have put the region and U.S.-Russia relations in the spotlight.

AP Images
Thursday night, the FBI released photographs of two suspects wanted in connection with Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon. Shortly afterward, Boston police identified two men suspected of the attack, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Over the course of several chaotic early morning hours, a violent chase ensued. Tamerlan died in a shootout with police and as of this writing, Dzhokhar remains at large. The brothers are originally from the restive Russian republic of Chechnya. Like many Chechens, the Tsarnaev family fled Chechnya in the 1990s amidst brutal fighting. There were two wars in the region—the first from 1994 to 1996 that largely kicked Russia’s military presence out of the republic, and a second one from 1999 to 2006 or so that succeeded in cementing Russian control. The first Chechen War was a secular, nationalist war for independence. The countries of the South Caucasus—Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia—gained their independence during the collapse of the Soviet...

The Brothers Tsarnaev, Suspects in the Marathon Bombing

FBI
Late last night, a robbery at a convenience store in Cambridge, Massachusetts led to the shooting death of a police office on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Minutes later, an SUV was hijacked. The suspects drove that vehicle to Watertown in Boston, where they lobbed explosives and exchanged gun fire with police. As of early Friday morning, it was unclear if this was related to the Boston Marathon bombing. But soon, authorities released a photo of the suspect in the carjacking, noting the resemblance to one of the bombing suspects. By 7:30 this morning, a few facts had been confirmed. First, one of the suspects had been killed, an accomplice was in police custody, and the other suspect was still at large, the target of a manhunt by law enforcement. Second, the two are believed to be the suspects behind the marathon bombings. Finally, they have been identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, of Cambridge, and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed...

Iron-Willed Town, Iron-Willed Lady

How Margaret Thatcher's death muted our critic's need to sift through the politics of Boston's tragedy.

Christopher Furlong/PA Wire
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth "W ho would you be happiest to find out did it?" an old friend jumpily asked on the phone the day after the Boston Marathon bombing. Considering that he and I have vied since the first Gulf War to see who can sound more banteringly cynical about whatever shock to the heart cable news has just smacked everyone with, I knew that wasn't his true self talking. There are ups and downs to feeling most comfortable around gamy Howard Hawks fans, and most of my male friendships have been about indulging each other's disguises in the full awareness that that's all they are. Even so, for a change, I wasn't in the mood. After a second or two, I coughed up a negative wish that it wasn't Al-Qaeda or some other Islamist group. Muslims have been demonized enough, blah blah, and can we please change the subject? So we awkwardly shifted back to the latest books and movies, always our neutral ground. Our strange satisfaction about both art forms' increasing irrelevance...

John Kerry's Middle East Mystery Tour

AP Photo/Paul Richards, Pool
AP Photo/Paul J. Richards, Pool T he mysterious Mr. Kerry has come to the Middle East and gone. The secretary of state promises to return soon, but does not tell us exactly when. In Jerusalem and Ramallah, he says, he listened to leaders' suggestions for restarting peace talks. He does not say what those suggestions were. Curiously polite things happen while he in in the neighborhood. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for instance, postponed his previously announced trip to Gaza, lest he cause Israel grief. Kerry does not explain how he inspires such thoughtfulness. John Kerry is quite open, though, about his motives: He wants to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, right away, soon, to conduct them "in a clear and precise, predetermined manner" toward the agreement that has eluded every previous peace effort. The only mystery here is the one created by broken expectations, which say that Washington should treat Israelis and Palestinians with benign neglect, that the...

Forgiving Syria

Finding the truth and reconciling warring factions will not be easy after the end of the Syrian conflict.

Thomas Rassloff/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
AP Photo O n March 15, the war in Syria passed another unhappy milestone, raging for two long years. As the conflict continues, the truth of what is happening on the ground is hard to find. Journalists cannot move freely, and even humanitarian aid agencies struggle to operate. The positions of both sides are so polarized and, in the case of the rebels, it is often unclear who speaks for or who commands the men with guns. Whether it will become easier when there is peace will define whether Syria can rise again as a nation, whether the people can live together after so much conflict. When it ends—if it ends—Syrians will have a long journey to find the truth about what happened and to forgive their fellow countrymen. The line between the two sides waging war in Syria is especially blurry, as the long conflict has turned neighbors against each other, split towns and cities, and fractured what seemed for so long one of the most stable countries in the Middle East. What started as a...

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...

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