World

John Kerry, the Most Progressive Pick for the State Department?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan Senator John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzain in Kabul in 2009. T he optics of Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration for secretary of State are disheartening. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio attributed racism and sexism to the campaign against Rice, with Marcus writing that “the attack had something to do with Rice’s gender, and her sharp elbows and sometimes sharper tongue,” while Fudge said “[ Republican senators ] have never called a male 'unqualified,' 'not bright,' 'not trustworthy,' …there is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments.” Given that foreign policy circles are among the worst in terms of gender diversity, Rice’s withdrawal from consideration is a tough blow for the representation of women and minorities in top leadership positions. Even so, John Kerry may be a better secretary of State for progressives when it comes to philosophical approaches to military...

Refuge Beyond Reach

Australia's debate on asylum seekers shows how easy it is for politicians to appeal to fear of invading hordes.

(AP Photo/Hardimansyah)
H ikmat wore small frameless glasses and a blue-and-white pinstriped shirt, and the dark waves of his hair were combed perfectly. He looked as if he might have just stepped out of the office of his export firm in Karachi. In fact, it's been nearly three years since he fled Pakistan. His uncle, a Taliban supporter, had been trying to extort money from him for the organization, and saw him and his wife as "infidels": Hikmat was clean-shaven; his wife wore no hijab . Twice, gunmen ambushed him on the street. The first time, bullets ripped his intestines; he spent two years in the hospital. After surviving a second shooting, he left his homeland. Hikmat met me at the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney. The nonprofit works out of a converted house in Surry Hills, a gentrifying neighborhood of bike paths, cafés, and spreading eucalyptus trees. He came to Australia, Hikmat said, because he could to get a short-term business visa quickly and bring his wife and three children with him. Afterward...

Rice Takes Herself Out

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Here is the lead of The New York Times' two-column front-page story today: Washington—President Obama knew before he picked up the phone on Thursday afternoon what Susan E. Rice, his ambassador to the United Nations, was calling about: she wanted to take herself out of the running for secretary of state and spare him a fight. Really ? Are you kidding? I have no inside sources, but this just not how things work. Does Times reporter Landler truly think that President Obama left this decision to Rice? More likely, the president and his political strategists and vote counters have been agonizing for weeks about whether a good dogfight with Republicans over Rice’s confirmation would be a net plus or a net minus. Ultimately, they decided it was better to get someone else. If Obama really did leave this to Rice herself, he is even more of a wuss than his worst detractors contend. Landler continues in the second paragraph: By acceding to Ms Rice’s request, which she had conveyed to White...

The Italian Job

The prime minister’s announcement that he will leave Italy’s top spot early could throw Europe into chaos.

(AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Mario Monti’s announcement last Saturday that he plans to resign his post as Italy’s prime minister earlier than was previously expected has thrown Italian politics, and the whole Eurozone, into renewed turmoil. Monti, a Yale-educated technocrat and former EU commissioner, took over in November of last year after market pressure forced Silvio Berlusconi to quit in order to prevent the ignominy of Rome having to apply for an international bailout. The plan was for him to serve the rest of the parliamentary term, until elections scheduled for no later than April 2013. But last week, Berlusconi’s PdL (People of Freedom) party, which had been backing the Monti government, pulled its support, just as its exceedingly controversial 76-year old billionaire leader declared that he would make one more run for the premiership (he has been elected three times already in the span of nearly two decades). This led directly to Monti’s announcement that he will go as soon the 2013 budget is passed,...

Magnificent Trespasser

Albert Hirschman, an economist who became one of the greatest of the 20 th century’s moral philosophers, died Tuesday at age 97. Hirschman’s intellectual odyssey took him from the study of eastern European economies under Hitler to work as a development economist for the Federal Reserve Board, then in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, as an adviser to the Colombian Planning Ministry, and then to engagement with the enduring questions of economy and society from the 1970s until illness suspended his active life. Along the way he taught at Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and the Institute for Advanced Study. To the extent that Hirschman is widely known today, it is mainly though a small book with a puzzling title, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty , written in 1970. The book has a huge following among social scientists, mainly outside of Hirschman’s own profession of economics. His basic insight is elegant, simple, and original. Citizens and consumers have two basic ways of responding when they...

Zero Dark Thirty's Morality Brigade

Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden movie doesn't endorse torture. 

(Rex Features via AP Images)
(AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures) Z ero Dark Thirty doesn't even come out until next week, but Kathryn Bigelow's much-hailed movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is already provoking outrage in some quarters for allegedly "glorifying"—OK, sometimes it's "celebrating"—torture. As all too bloody usual, the loudest howls are coming from people who haven't actually seen ZD30 , some of whom—yes, Andrew Sullivan, I mean you —really ought to know better. Ginning up controversies about movies without bothering to watch them first is really more Bill Donohue and the Catholic League's sort of thing, and does Sullivan want to be in that company? Since plenty of other folks apparently do, I hope you won't mind two cents from a lowly movie critic who admires the hell out of Zero Dark Thirty and isn't exactly big on vindicating Dick Cheney's world-view. There are really two separate arguments here, and people shouldn't confuse the two—though they already have. One is about factual accuracy,...

Labour’s Rise

The leader of the British Labour Party emerges as a true political leader

(Press Association via AP Images)
On that emotionally charged day in Manchester in late September 2010 when Ed Miliband narrowly beat his brother David to become the new leader of the British Labor Party—largely thanks to trade union votes, Conservatives rejoiced. The younger Miliband, they thought, was too woolly and too left-wing to lead a Labor resurgence; they considered David a much tougher opponent. In opposition since May 2010, after 13 years in government, Labor faced a twin struggle: to convince voters to take them seriously as stewards of the economy again and to make their new leader, only 40 and with relatively thin ministerial experience at the time of his election, plausible as the country’s next prime minister. It has not been an easy ride. Despite the fact that the Tories imposed harsh austerity measures with their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, their systematic campaign of blaming the economic mess on Labor’s mismanagement paid off for a while. People were unhappy about the cuts, but they didn’t...

How to Make Allies and Influence Syria

The fall of the Assad regime looks inevitable. The United States and NATO must step in to ensure a peaceful transition.

(AP Photo/Narciso Contreras)
(AP Photo/Hussein Malla) A Lebanese army soldier, stands on top of a tank during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Wednesday December 5, 2012. Gunmen loyal to opposite sides in neighboring Syria's civil war battled in the streets of northern Lebanon and the death toll from two days of fighting was at least five killed and tens wounded, officials said. The fighting comes at a time of deep uncertainty in Syria, with rebels closing in on President Bashar Assad's seat of power in Damascus. F or months, world leaders and the media have underestimated the strength of the insurgency in Syria. Now, with Bashar al Assad’s regime disintegrating, the international community must come to terms with the impending rebel victory. It is hard to pigeonhole courses of action into "left" or "right" on this issue, and there are no risk-free options, but the United States needs to play a more decisive role in shaping the future of...

Netanyahu: New Look, More Radical Taste

Come the January 22 Israeli elections, the current prime minister will almost certainly keep his title, but with a sharp turn to the far right. 

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) I f you haven't seen Moshe Feiglin's satisfied smile or Ze'ev Elkin's scowl in news coverage of Israel over the past week, you have evidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be grateful for the U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood: It has diverted attention from his Likud Party's choice of far-right candidates for parliament. Israel goes to the polls on January 22. Conventional wisdom is that the election can bring no change: Netanyahu will stay on for another term as prime minister, heading a coalition of the right. This is an illusion, or at least a distortion. Barring a miracle—a world-class gaffe or scandal, a public threat from the Obama administration to reevaluate relations with Israel, a preternatural move by the parties of the left and center to unite—the next prime minister will indeed be Netanyahu. But not the soft cuddly Netanyahu of the past. His party will have much more clearly crossed the line from conservative to radical right...

Why Are Chemical Weapons Different?

Mustard gas artillery shells in storage at a U.S. government facility in Pueblo, Colorado.
The civil war in Syria came back into the news the other day, when our government warned Bashar al-Assad that should he use chemical weapons against rebels and the population that surrounds them, he will have crossed a "red line." The consequences of the red-line-crossing were left unspoken. Perhaps military action on the rebels' side? An indictment in the International Criminal Court? We don't know, but it'll be bad. Dominic Tierney beat me to it , but this news raised something I've found troubling for a long time. If you order your own civilian population to be shot, burned to death, or cut to pieces with shrapnel, the international community will be very displeased. But if you order that population to be killed by means of poison gas, then that's much, much worse. But seldom do we ask why. So what is it that makes chemical weapons more morally abhorrent than guns or bombs? We often lump chemical weapons in with biological and nuclear weapons as "weapons of mass destruction," but...

Taking Opposite Tacks on Iran and Syria

Viewed from the region, talk of war takes on a different hue.

(AP Photo/Idlib News Network ENN)
Syrian rebels stand next to weapons that were captured from the 46th Regiment base—a major pillar of the government's force—near the northern city of Aleppo, Syria. Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 F rom the Gulf metropolis of Dubai, Iran is barely 90 miles across the water, less than the driving distance from New York to Philadelphia. On a clear day, the country’s coastline can be seen from the city’s skyscrapers; at night, diners in the city’s highest restaurant can look out across the Persian Gulf and see lights on the Iranian side. Ties of family, friendship, and business connect Iran with its Arab neighbors, but that proximity also focuses the minds of Arab leaders on the consequences of Iran gaining a nuclear weapon. Even now, Iran is often unnecessarily provocative: At the start of this year, it threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow strip of water between the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is the largest city, and Iran, through which millions of barrels of oil are shipped...

The Gaza Cease-Fire: A Beginning, Not an End

Last week's successful negotiations will be a failure of leadership if they do not pave the way for an end to the occupation.

(Sipa via AP Images)
(Sipa via AP Images) A Palestinian girl is seen cleaning off debris from a chalkboard inside Al Shejaia school in Gaza City. The school was damaged when Israeli forces targeted a building next to it with an airstrike. T he political landscape of the Middle East has changed drastically over the past two years, but the successful negotiation of a cease-fire last week should have demonstrated that the support and active engagement of the United States is still essential if, in Secretary Hilary Clinton’s words, a “durable solution” is to be found. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has once again reasserted itself on the international agenda, it’s important to step back a bit and reaffirm that a durable solution not just to the current violence but to the conflict itself remains a key U.S. national-security interest. In the week leading up to Israel’s offensive, most of Washington had been consumed by the news of retired General David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director because of the...

Deterrence Can't Replace Diplomacy

Israel's offensive shows the limits of military intervention.

(Rex Features via AP Images)
(Rex Features via AP Images) Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza strip. The combined death toll in six days of airstrikes and rocket attacks has climbed to nearly 100. A s I write, and pray for a ceasefire, rockets continue to swarm out of Gaza; Israeli planes continue flock to strike the Hamas-ruled enclave. This has been an unequal battle in at least two ways. The rockets are indeed a form of terrorism, tired as that word is: The men firing them want to kill random people for a political purpose. Only the technological wizardry of the Iron Dome anti-missile system has kept Israeli casualties low. Israeli pilots, in contrast, aim smart bombs at military targets. But if a bomb is misaimed or the target is inside a crowded neighborhood, the blast is stupid; it kills children as easily as Hamas fighters. Thus the toll rises among people whose only offense is living in Gaza. So for Israel, there has been a rising moral and a strategic cost, even if the...

Obama's Next Move in the Middle East

There are lots of possible courses of action that the president could take in his response to the fighting in Gaza, but which is the best?

(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
The fighting in Gaza over the past week tees up some difficult choices for the Obama administration. But not the choices you might think. The pundit-verse wants to argue—as it always does—about who is at fault, whose civilians are more innocent, whose targeting is more wicked. This is tapped-out domestic politics, and it is tiresome. More to the point, it does not help ; it encourages a short-term, tunnel-vision response that will wind up back in the same place—which is to say more deaths, more escalation, another Cast Lead, and loss of credibility and ability to make tough decisions stick. Yes, the administration must push hard, and help Egypt push Hamas hard, for a cease-fire. And no, no administration would choose this moment, in the middle of the Israeli election campaign and with Hamas rocket fire escalating in recent weeks, to “get tough” on Israel. Those are the easy choices, like them or not. The hard choices involve settling on a unified theory of what our core interests in...

Israel's Airstrike Gamble

What—beyond temporarily reducing militants' long-range rocket capabilities—does the country hope to achieve by launching attacks in the Gaza Strip?

(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed) Hamas supporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah carry obituary posters of Hamas mastermind Ahmed Jabari as they march in support of the people of the Gaza Strip. On the third day of a military operation prompted by a rocket attack just south of Tel Aviv, Israel targeted dozens of sites it said Gaza gunmen were using to fire rockets. The Israeli offensive has not deterred the militants from firing more than 400 rockets aimed at southern Israel since Wednesday, the military said. T he rocket that landed in the Mediterranean Sea south of Tel Aviv yesterday represents yet another troubling escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not since the 1991 Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles fell on the city, has Tel Aviv come under similar missile attack. There are reports of more rockets fired at Tel Aviv this morning, and the world waits to see whether the 16,000 Israeli reservists called up today means a ground invasion of Gaza similar to 2008-...

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