Posts Tagged ‘Fareed Zakaria’

Israel: Your American Tax Dollars At Work

Monday, March 29th, 2010

In the midst of a rather anodyne episode, this one shot reminded me of what makes/made The Simpsons so brilliant.

For all the talk recently of a breach of America’s special relationship with Israel and of how the Obama administration is putting unprecedented pressure on Israel and other such things, it’s worth remembering that our tax dollars are going paying a significant chunk of Israel’s national budget. America provides approximately 4% of Israel’s total budget (Source: Divide this number, $2.5 billion, by this number, total expenditures of $58.6 billion) including approximately 15% of the cost of the Israeli Defense Forces (Source: Divide this number, $2.34 billion, by this number, $13.3 billion.)

Obama has never threatened to reduce the amount of aid we are giving to Israel – despite the fact that we have been facing an economic crisis and Netanyahu has, rather than acting as a loyal ally, been undermining Obama’s foreign policy. Obama has made no move to undermine the strategic alliance America has had with Israel (right wing hysterics notwithstanding.)

But there is a junior partner in this relationship. It is insanity for Israel for any country to commit to unilateral support no matter the actions of the beneficiary of its aid. But, Netanyahu’s government has demonstrated a pattern of undermining important alliances: with Turkey (the publicly announced intention to humiliate Turkey’s ambassador to Israel), with the United Arab Emirates (by the assassination), with the United States (by snubbing the Vice President of the United States), and with Brazil (as the foreign minister boycotted a speech by President Lula.)  Fareed Zakaria concludes from this that Netanyahu “is actually not serious about the Iranian threat.”

If tackling the rise of Iran were his paramount concern, would he have allowed a collapse in relations with the United States, the country whose military, political, and economic help is indispensable in confronting this challenge? If taking on Iran were his central preoccupation, wouldn’t he have subordinated petty domestic considerations and done everything to bolster ties with the United States? Bibi likes to think of himself as Winston Churchill, warning the world of a gathering storm. But he should bear in mind that Churchill’s single obsession during the late 1930s was to strengthen his alliance with the United States, whatever the costs, concessions, and compromises he had to make.

In a smart piece of analysis in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Anshel Pfeffer, no fan of the Obama administration, writes, “When senior ministers or generals list Israel’s defense priorities, there is always one point on which there exists total consensus: The alliance with the United States as the nation’s greatest strategic asset, way above anything else. It is more crucial than the professionalism of the Israel Defense Forces, than the peace treaty with Egypt and even than the secret doomsday weapons that we may or may not have squirreled away somewhere…But [Netanyahu] has succeeded in one short year in power to plunge Israel’s essential relationship with the United States to unheard of depths.”

The Obama administration has reiterated again and again that it remains committed to America’s special relationship with Israel. As it should. Israel has a thriving economy, is one of the regional superpowers (the other being Iran), has historic ties to America, and shares many of our values. Throwing around charges of anti-Semitism as the right wing does in America and as Netanyahu and his associates have been alleged to do, is shameful.  As Barack Obama (whose introduction of a presidential Seder was profiled in the New York Times over the weekend), Andrew Sullivan, and J Street have all demonstrated to be pro-Israel is not to be pro-Likudnik:

There is a very honest, thoughtful debate taking place inside Israel…Understandably, because of the pressure that Israel is under, I think the US pro-Israel community is sometimes a little more protective or concerned about opening up that conversation. But all I’m saying though is that actually ultimately should be our goal, to have that same clear eyed view about how we approach these issues.

This is precisely what we are lacking: An honest and forthright dialogue about our strategic interests and alliance.

Kashkari, 2009′s Ideas, Richard Milhouse Obama, Frum!, Chinese-American Trade Imbalance, Obama’s Nobel, and Charborg

Friday, December 11th, 2009

1. The Personal Toll TARP Exacted. Laura Blumenfeld profiled Neel Kashkari for the Washington Post – the Treasury employee and Hank Paulson confidante who presided over TARP and assisted with much of the government’s response to the bailout who is now “detoxing” from Washington by working with his hands in an isolated retreat. The piece focuses not on what happened and the enormous impact, but on the personal toll this crisis exacted on Kashkari and those around him: the heart attack by one of his top aides; the emotional breakdowns; the trouble in his marriage as he didn’t come home for days, sleeping on his office couch and showering in the Treasury’s locker room:

Thoughts tended toward the apocalyptic. During midnight negotiations with congressional leaders, Paulson doubled over with dry heaves. A government economist broke into Kashkari’s office sobbing, “Oh my God! The system’s collapsing!” Kashkari counseled her to focus on things they could control. (Minal: “So you offered her a bag of Doritos.”)

“We were terrified the banking system would fail, but the thing that scared us even more was, what would we do the day after? How would we take over 8,000 banks?”

The piece seems to ask us to feel pity for these men and women who toiled under difficult circumstances, but it seems inappropriate to feel pity for those who assume power because they also feel its heavy weight. But the piece acknowledges that Kashkari himself seeks to get back to Washington again, “Because there’s nowhere else you can have such a large impact — for better and for worse.” Lionize them for their heroic sacrifices if you will, but there is no place for pity. Those who choose to take on the burdens of power should not be pitied because it proves too weighty.

2. New Ideas. The New York Times briefly discusses the Year in Ideas. Some of the more interesting entries:

  • Guilty Robots which have been given “ethical architecture” for the American military that “choose weapons with less risk of collateral damage or may refuse to fight altogether” if the damage they have inflicted causes “noncombatant casualties or harm to civilian property.”
  • The Glow-in-the-Dark Dog (named Ruppy) that emits an eerie red glow under ultraviolet light because of deliberate genetic experiment.
  • Applying the Google Algorithm that generates the PageRank which first set Google apart from its competitors to nature, and specifically to predicting what species’ extinctions would cause the greatest chain reactions.
  • Zombie-Attack Science in which the principles of epidemiology are applied to zombies.

3. Obama’s Afghanistan Decision. Fareed Zakaria and Peter Beinart both tried to place Obama’s Afghanistan decision into perspective last week in important pieces. Both of them saw in Obama’s clear-eyed understanding of America’s power shades of the foreign policy brilliance that was Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Zakaria:

More than any president since Richard Nixon, he has focused on defining American interests carefully, providing the resources to achieve them, and keeping his eyes on the prize.

Beinart:

Nixon stopped treating all communists the same way. Just as Obama sees Iran as a potential partner because it shares a loathing of al-Qaeda, Nixon saw Communist China as a potential partner because it loathed the U.S.S.R. Nixon didn’t stop there. Even as he reached out to China, he also pursued détente with the Soviet Union. This double outreach — to both Moscow and Beijing — gave Nixon more leverage over each, since each communist superpower feared that the U.S. would favor the other, leaving it geopolitically isolated. On a smaller scale, that’s what Obama is trying to do with Iran and Syria today. By reaching out to both regimes simultaneously, he’s making each anxious that the U.S. will cut a deal with the other, leaving it out in the cold. It’s too soon to know whether Obama’s game of divide and conquer will work, but by narrowing the post-9/11 struggle, he’s gained the diplomatic flexibility to play the U.S.’s adversaries against each other rather than unifying them against us.

Perhaps this accounts for Henry Kissinger’s appreciation for Obama’s foreign policy even as neoconservative intellectuals such as Charles Krathammer deride Obama as “so naïve that I am not even sure he’s able to develop a [foreign policy] doctrine“:

“He reminds me of a chess grandmaster who has played his opening in six simultaneous games,” Kissinger said. “But he hasn’t completed a single game and I’d like to see him finish one.”

4. The Unheeded Wisdom of Frum. It seems that almost every week a blog post by David Frum makes this list. This week, he rages at how the Republican’s “No, no, no” policy is forcing the Democrats to adopt more liberal policies (which Frum believes are worse for the country, but in the case of health care, more popular among voters):

I hear a lot of talk about the importance of “principle.” But what’s the principle that obliges us to be stupid?

5. Fiscal Imbalances. Martin Wolf in the Financial Times identifies the imbalance between America’s deficit spending and China’s surplus policy as the root of our financial imbalances in a piece this week:

What would happen if the deficit countries did slash spending relative to incomes while their trading partners were determined to sustain their own excess of output over incomes and export the difference? Answer: a depression. What would happen if deficit countries sustained domestic demand with massive and open-ended fiscal deficits? Answer: a wave of fiscal crises.

While he says both sides have an interest in an orderly unwinding of this arrangement, both also have the ability to resist:

Unfortunately, as we have also long known, two classes of countries are immune to external pressure to change policies that affect global “imbalances”: one is the issuer of the world’s key currency; and the other consists of the surplus countries. Thus, the present stalemate might continue for some time.

Niall Ferguson and Morris Schularack offered a few suggestions in a New York Times op-ed several weeks ago as to how best unwind this. I had written about it some months ago as well, albeit with a pithier take.

6. War & Peace. Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech was an audacious defense of American power and ideals. If you read nothing else on this list, read this.

7. Song of the week: Pinback’s “Charborg.”

Obama’s Promise Was To Break the Hold the Idiocrats Have On Our Society

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

It’s pretty clear that our national conversation, our national debate is broken – as Al Gore persuasively argued in The Assault on Reason. On health care – for example – we’re arguing over distractions and barely touching on the issues at stake.

When Barack Obama ran for office, he won in a large part because he convinced Americans he could change the debate – that he didn’t have a stake in the Baby Boomer arguments that had dominated our political debate since the 1980 election – that he would tackle the long-term festering issues these Baby Boomer debates had put off. This was the promise of Barack Obama, the source of people’s hope, the attraction he had for the young and indeed for the aging Baby Boomers themselves.

During his election campaign, he proved at least once that  he could rise above the vitriol of base politics that had accustomed the people to expect Clintons and Bushes to exchange presidencies in dirty campaigns. He broke the cycle that threatened to destroy his candidacy with his speech on race. In the end, he also prevailed over the forces of xenophobia, of racism, of bigotry. The fact that he won was extraordinary and proved something else – that not only was Obama able to raise the level of the national conversation – but that he could inspire a majority of the country to give his new approach a chance. For those who supported him, his failure to change this conversation is the root of their disappointment in him. I still think it’s early – but it has become clear that if Obama cannot fix our national conversation, he will not be able to accomplish most of what he has set out to do.

On health care, Paul Krugman has been gloating that he predicted this – that he knew the right wing would throw everything they had at Obama and at every one of his policies. But Obama never promised to stop people from throwing stuff at him. His promise was to rise above it.

This is what is the base issue at stake in this health care fight – more profound than our unsustainably increasing costs or the thousands who die each year because they are without coverage.

Fareed Zakaria pointed out that in a crisis our system proved it could act. But the financial crisis did not prove our system could handle a crisis; instead, it proved that we were lucky to have individuals in place who appropriated whatever power they needed. And it was the least accountable person in the room – Ben Bernanke – who had the most power and used it the most. Congress, responding to popular pressure, almost destroyed the whole process.

Obama – if he is to tackle any issues after health care – must break this budding idiocracy that derails every attempt to have an adult conversation; he must deflate the growing fears. I can see only one way he can do this – or at least begin to: He has to take the health care bill – and get it through with a strong public option and with end of life counseling. He has to call, “Bullshit.” Explain to the country again the point of these programs and what they will do – and ask anyone who experiences otherwise to contact the White House.

They called Medicare and Social Security and the entire New Deal “socialism” and “tyranny” too. And now they are broadly popular and considered key components of our market-based system. To break these idiocratic forces, Obama needs to force these controversial measures through and allow the Republicans opposing it to demagogue it in every way possible. Then make sure there are strong transparency measures in place. And then let those who predicted a Holocaust look foolish. It’s the first step to discrediting their methods and reforming our national conversation.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Clear-eyed Engagement

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Roger Cohen continues to make the case for clear-eyed engagement with Iran

Let’s be clear: Iran’s Islamic Republic is no Third Reich redux. Nor is it a totalitarian state.

He suggests that Iran may prove to be what George W. Bush and the neoconservatives tried to make Iraq into:  a model for the Middle East of what a country that has come out the other side of extremism looks like, quoting a friend:

“Iran — the supposed enemy — is the one society that has gone through its extremist fervor and is coming out the other end. It is relatively stable and socially dynamic.”

Fareed Zakaria in a Newsweek article seemingly designed to provoke the ire of the right-wing argues that:

We can better pursue our values if we recognize the local and cultural context, and appreciate that people want to find their own balance between freedom and order, liberty and license. In the end, time is on our side. Bin Ladenism has already lost ground in almost every Muslim country. Radical Islam will follow the same path. Wherever it is tried—in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan—people weary of its charms very quickly. The truth is that all Islamists, violent or not, lack answers to the problems of the modern world. They do not have a world view that can satisfy the aspirations of modern men and women. We do. That’s the most powerful weapon of all.

Afpak & Iran

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

I’ve highlighted a bunch of different articles in the past week about the upcoming challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan with Iran as a potential complicating factor. Here’s my attempt to cram all of these highlights into one post…

Jodi Kantor in the New York Times on Richard Holbrooke and Afpak:

For now, Holbrooke is both raising expectations and lowering them. He is talking about Afpak – Washington shorthand for his assignment – as his last and toughest mission. But along with the rest of Obama’s foreign-policy staff, he is also trying to redefine success in the region, shifting away from former President George W. Bush’s grand, transformative goals and toward something more achievable. 

Fareed Zakaria has some ideas on what at least one of these less exalted goals should be:

In May 2006 a unit of American soldiers in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan valley were engulfed in a ferocious fire fight with the Taliban. Only after six hours, and supporting airstrikes, could they extricate themselves from the valley. But what was most revealing about the battle was the fact that many local farmers spontaneously joined in, rushing home to get their weapons. Asked later why they’d done so, the villagers claimed they didn’t support the Taliban’s ideological agenda, nor were they particularly hostile toward the Americans. But this battle was the most momentous thing that had happened in their valley for years. If as virile young men they had stood by and just watched, they would have been dishonored in their communities. And, of course, if they were going to fight, they could not fight alongside the foreigners.

In describing this battle, the Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen coins a term, “accidental guerilla,” to describe the villagers. They had no grand transnational agenda, no dreams of global jihad. If anything, those young men were defending their local ways and customs from encroachment from outside. But a global terrorist group—with local ties—can find ways to turn these villagers into allies of a kind. And foreign forces, if they are not very careful, can easily turn them into enemies.

Reduced to its simplest level, the goal of American policy in Afghanistan should be to stop creating accidental guerrillas. It should make those villagers see U.S. forces as acting in their interests. That would mark a fundamental turnaround.

Another major problems is – as Tom Ricks quotes Abu Muquwama to explain – that:

It’s tough to fight a war in Afghanistan when the opposing team decides to fight the war in Pakistan

At the same time, Pakistan seems to be dragging it’s feet with regards to destroying the forces it considered – until recently – it’s proxies in it’s struggle with India for regional power, the Taliban. This creates a nagging feeling of suspicion among Pakistan’s allies, as Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti explained in the New York Times:

In recent years, there have been some significant successes in the hunt for Taliban leaders. Pakistani operatives tracked Mullah Dadullah, a senior aide to Mullah Omar, as he crossed the Afghan border in May 2007, and he was later killed by American and Afghan troops.

Yet most of the arrests in Pakistan have coincided with visits by senior American officials.

The arrest of Mullah Obeidullah, the former Taliban defense minister, in Quetta in February 2007 coincided with the visit of Vice President Dick Cheney to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is unclear whether Mullah Obeidullah is still in Pakistani custody or was secretly released as part of a prisoner exchange to free Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, who was kidnapped last February and released three months later.

Schmitt and Mazzetti clearly convey the suspicion among top American officials that Pakistan’s wars against its terrorists are mainly a public relations effort to pacify America. Pakistan’s reluctance to fully accept America as an ally (believing we will again retreat from the region after we are done with Afghanistan one way or another, as we did after the Soviet Union was defeated there) is not our only challenge in the region. Parag Khanna of Foreign Policy describes how Afpak is also the center of maneuvering by other nations:

China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are also becoming increasingly important – not as neighbors of the chaos, like Pakistan, but meddlers in it. The United States is already failing to grasp not only the details of other powers’ maneuverings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the extent to which these dealings could eclipse even the most brilliant U.S. shuttle diplomacy by Holbrooke.

He describes how China has become Afghanistan’s largest investor, how Saudi Arabia continues to funnel enormous amounts of money to fund religious extremism in the region, including Wahabbi mosques, and how Iran is taking steps to provide energy for what they anticipate will be shortages in Afpak and India. Khanna – seeing this pipelines and other relations between Iran, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as inevitable as all partners stand to benefit – suggests America get out in front and support the pipeline. Better to build it ourselves than having it built without us.

Building roads and controlling their usage has for centuries been the foundation of spreading Silk Road influence, as well as the key to success in the 19th-century Great Game. Today’s struggle for control follows similar rules.

This Great Game – a term historically used to describe the strategic competition for influence in the region, especially when it involves great intrigues and turnabouts –  would seem to require us to neutralize or flip Iran into an ally. Roger Cohen of the New York Times makes the case:

Iran’s political constellation includes those who have given past support to terrorist organizations. But axis-of-evil myopia has led U.S. policy makers to underestimate the social, psychological and political forces for pragmatism, compromise and stability. Iran has not waged a war of aggression for a very long time.

Tehran shares many American interests, including a democratic Iraq, because that will be a Shiite-governed Iraq, and a unified Iraq stable enough to ensure access to holy cities like Najaf.

It opposes Taliban redux in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda’s Sunni fanaticism. Its democracy is flawed but by Middle East standards vibrant. Both words in its self-description — Islamic Republic — count.

A President for Our Dangerous Times

Monday, August 11th, 2008

In dangerous times, we cannot let the larger issues out of sight:

The day to day grind of this campaign – months and months of fights over demographics, over gaffes, over lobbyists, over media bias – has distracted most of us from the essential issues at stake.

The essential choice we face is whether or not our country is going in the right direction.

There is an economic component to this – which will rightfully take up much of the country’s attention in the next few months, and between McCain and Obama, the economic differences are stark.

Perhaps more important is the question of whether or not America should embrace it’s current role as an imperial power, as a neo-empire. McCain clearly accepts this view. One of his foreign policy advisors has explicitly accepted the American empire. Another McCain advisor explained how McCain is planning on creating a League of Democracies to destroy the United Nations and marginalize Russia, quite possibly provoking a new Cold War1 . McCain has said that withdrawing from Iraq – which is what the Iraqi prime minister is requesting of us – would be a surrender to our enemies. (He still doesn’t seem to have noticed that many of our enemies are warring amongst themselves – Sunni extremists, Shia extremists, Al Qaeda, Iranian factions.) At the same time, he has threatened war with Iran while claiming it is naive to consider meeting with any Iranian leaders. (McCain never mentions the candlelight vigils in Tehran after September 11 or Iran’s efforts to come to a comprehensive settlement of all issues between America and Iran immediatly afterwards that were ignored using the same justification McCain now uses to avoid dealing with Iran.) Instead, he jokes “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran…)

As Andrew Sullivan wrote:

After the last eight years, we simply cannot risk a continuation of the same reckless, belligerent, argument-losing, ideological and deceptive foreign policy of [the Bush administration.] From his knee-jerk Cold War posture over Georgia to his Rovian campaign tactics, McCain is simply too close to this disastrous record to contemplate… McCain’s trigger-happy temperament, shallow understanding of the complexities and passion for military force as the answer to everything is the bigger risk. He is a recipe for more, wider and far more destructive warfare.

As the conservative curmudgeon George Will explained, invoking Barack Obama’s historic candidacy as a marker:

[I]t illustrates history’s essential promise, which is not serenity – that progress is inevitable – but possibility, which is enough: Things have not always been as they are.

In other words, we can change. We were not always an empire, and we need not always be an empire. We were not always at war, and we do not need to remain at war. Barack Obama will not change anything overnight (we will not all be given bicycles) – because that is not the type of leader he is. He is not a revolutionary urging us to storm the barricades. He is an imperfect leader. He is a sensible pragmatist who believes we are in a unique moment in history in which we have an opportunity to establish meaningful changes by reforming our political, economic, and governmental processes.

The alternative is stark. While I have long been an admirer of John McCain – because he stood up to the President on torture, tax cuts, swiftboating, and global warming – he lost my vote some time ago. He has fought this campaign without honor – ever since his campaign went bankrupt and he began to repudiate every stand he took that hurt him with the Republican base (including on torture, tax cuts, and now apparently, swiftboating.)

In the end, as dire as our economic strength is, this election will be remembered as the the moment when America decided if it was going to remain an empire, or if instead we would return to the best of our traditions, and take our place as a leader in the world community.

In these dangerous times, one candidate poses too great of a risk, and the American people cannot afford to allow a party which has undermined our national security at every turn to remain in power.

Related articles

  1. N. B. Fareed Zakaria is not an Obama surrogate as this YouTube video claims but a journalist for Newsweek with his own show in PBS. []

America: Kind of Like Spider-man

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Fred Kaplan of Slate asks and answers the question that McCain will keep posing to the American people for the next five months: “Is Barack Obama too naive to be president?“  Kaplan’s answer:

No matter who is elected this November, the next president will have to take extraordinary steps to translate this global reach into power and influence—to restore American leadership. One of the main challenges in this effort will be to prove to others that this leadership is desirable.

The new reality is that to a degree we haven’t seen in our lifetimes, the United States is a normal country—a very powerful country, but normal nonetheless: not a superpower. A presidential visit, in this light, is not such a big deal. Or, to the extent that some countries might still regard it as a visitation from on high, it may be just the jolt to get things moving.

Either way, not only was Obama’s remark not naive; it reflected a more instinctive understanding of the post-Cold War world than either of his opponents seem to possess.

This does seem to be the growing consensus in the world of those who study foreign policy – as Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations suggests we are in an age of nonpolarity and Fareed Zakaria writes that we are now entering a Post-American world.  All of these figures believe that America still has the power – and the responsibility – to be the first among equals.  But we are no longer the single hyperpower dominating the globe or one of two dueling powers competing for every corner of it.  Instead, we are one of many – a nation with unique gifts and great responsibility.

Kind of like Spider-man.

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