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Ed Webb

BBC News - Wars, public outrage and policy options in Syria - 2 views

  • We've heard these pleas before. The BBC reports regularly from inside Syria, as do several American papers, and although coverage of the Syrian war is not wall-to-wall on American networks, it gets regular, consistent attention.

    So where is the public outrage about a war so chaotic and dangerous that even the UN has stopped keeping track of the death toll? Have we all become numb to the pain of others?

  • The world inevitably tires of complex, long conflicts where there are no clear answers about how to end the violence. This cartoon in the New Yorker is a harsh but perhaps accurate look at how the collective conscience deals with the relentless stream of bad news from Syria.
  • Spare a thought for the North Koreans, too. A UN report out last week, too horrific even to read, compares the abuses committee by the government to Nazi Germany. I have yet to see much outrage or calls for action
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  • When they discuss US policy options for Syria, administration officials repeatedly point to the fact that Americans have bigger concerns closer to home and that President Barack Obama is very mindful that the public has no appetite for interventions abroad, no matter how limited
  • The question is whether it would become more tenable for the president to take action if the public demanded it.

    Possibly, but that's not how public opinion works. People demonstrate to end wars and bring the troops home, like with Vietnam. They protest against invasions, like Iraq in 2003, when their country's troops are about to be shipped overseas. Or they support military action when their own country has come under attack. But people rarely rise up to demand action because of a sense of collective justice.

Ed Webb

Twitter / JZarif: tragedy in syria is a trap ... - 0 views

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    A very interesting tweet from Iran's foreign minister, newly active on Twitter.
Ed Webb

China's Glass Ceiling - By Geoff Dyer | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • Rather than usher in a new era of Chinese influence, Beijing's missteps have shown why it is unlikely to become the world's leading power. Even if it overtakes the United States to have the biggest economy in the world, which many economists believe could happen over the next decade, China will not dislodge Washington from its central position in global affairs for decades to come.
  • China's assertiveness is generating intense suspicion, if not outright enmity, among its neighbors. Its "peaceful rise" is not taking place in isolation. There may be echoes in today's Asia of the late-nineteenth century in Europe and North America, but this is the one critical difference. The United States came into its own as a great power without any major challenge from its neighbors, while Germany's ascent was aided by the collapsing Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires and Russian monarchy on its frontiers. China, on the other hand, is surrounded by vibrant countries with fast-growing economies, from South Korea to India to Vietnam, who all believe that this is their time, as well. Even Japan, after two decades of stagnation, still has one of the most formidable navies in the world, as well as the world's third largest economy. China's strategic misfortune is to be bordered by robust and proud nation-states which expect their own stake in the modern world.
  • On the economic front, Beijing is taking aim at another pillar of U.S. power: the dominance of the dollar. China is putting in place an ambitious long-term plan to turn the renminbi into one of the main international currencies. Chinese leaders often discuss the project in technical terms, about reducing currency risk for their companies, but they also do little to hide their frustration with the dollar's privileged status. One Chinese academic even likens the importance of the project to turn the renminbi into a major reserve currency to China's acquisition of a nuclear weapon in the 1960s.

    The politics of the currency plan are themselves an interesting sidebar to the over-hyping of Chinese influence. While American politicians have been worrying loudly about the risk of China owning so many Treasury bonds ("How do you deal toughly with your banker?" Hillary Clinton asked at a private lunch with then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in March 2009) China has been fretting about how little leverage its U.S. bond holdings give it. The desire to dethrone the dollar is partly rooted in China's frustration that it has absolutely no influence over the Federal Reserve. And yet it has few options other than buying American debt, because the U.S. Treasury bond market is the largest and most liquid in the world.

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  • The key to Chinese state capitalism is control over a relatively closed financial system, which allows the Communist Party to funnel huge volumes of cheap credit to select projects, industries, and companies. But to have a truly international currency, one that the world's central banks want to hold, China would have to let investors from around the world buy and sell large volumes of Chinese financial assets. As a result, Beijing would have to dismantle that system of controls. It would need to permit capital to flow freely in and out of the country, let the market set interest rates and allow the currency to float. An independent legal system and transparent economic policymaking would also be useful. China has a choice. It can have an international currency that might challenge the U.S. dollar or it can keep its brand of state capitalism that has driven the economy and kept the Communist Party in power. But it cannot have both.
  • Beijing is not looking to export its economic and political model around the world, but it has become obsessed with soft power -- the idea that countries can get their way through the attractiveness of their society, rather than just by force or money. China is opening hundreds of Confucius Institutes around the world and spending billions to send its main state-owned media groups overseas, including launching a cable news channel in the United States. At the very least, Beijing hopes these investments can shift the way the world thinks about China, and maybe even chip away at the cultural influence the United States enjoys
  • Soft power is generated by society rather than the Ministry of Culture. The effort to shift its image is constantly undermined by the way that China actually treats its more awkward and interesting citizens -- from well-known figures like Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and artist Ai Weiwei to the writer Yu Jie
  • The balance of influence between the United States and China over the coming decades will hinge to a large degree on which nation can mobilize other nations to its cause. This is an area where Washington is far more skilled. The new bursts of free trade projects in the Pacific and with the European Union are one example, even if they are far from being completed, and its long-lasting military alliances in Asia and Europe another.
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    How to navigate shifting balance of power in Asia.
Ed Webb

Stronger Egypt-Iran rapproachement could be a message to third parties | Egypt Independent - 3 views

  • Ahmadinejad wants to convey regional leadership and to claim success in opening and warming relations with Egypt. He also benefits from having an Islamist leader, like Morsy, greet him warmly
  • “With so much trouble at home, Morsy may have wanted to look like a global statesman by welcoming Ahmadinejad. He may also want to signal his independence from Western political interests, as we’ve seen through his warming relations with the Hamas’ leadership,”
  • During a news conference, an Al-Azhar spokesperson gave the Iranian leader a public scolding, listing five demands, which included the protection of Sunni and Khuzestani minorities in Iran, ending political interference in Bahrain, ending its support of the Syrian regime, and ending Iran’s ostensible mission to spread Shia Islam across the region.
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  • “Morsy sends a clear message to the Gulf countries and especially the [United Arab Emirates] that he can easily create alternative strategic relationship,” Labbad says, adding that such “political vexing” is a response to the failure of the visit by Morsy adviser Essam al-Haddad to resolve the issue of 11 Egyptian detainees in the UAE. The latter are said to have strong connections to the Brotherhood’s international organization, in the midst of growing enmity between Egypt and the UAE..

    Labbad argues that Morsy thus does not aim at real and deep rapprochement with Iran, but rather a cosmetic patch up to send signals to the Gulf. “The context here is very dangerous, because the revived relationship with Iran should be an addition to Egypt’s foreign policy, not a replacement of its relationship with the Gulf countries,” he adds.

    Momani doubts such an inclination by Morsy, as Egypt cannot afford the cost of such a policy. “This strategy can backfire and upset Gulf donors and benefactors. Iran can never supply the kinds of funds that are provided by the Gulf,” she says.

  • “I think neither Morsy nor Ahmadinejad enjoy the authority to have complete control or knowledge of their respective government’s grand strategies for Syria. What seems certain is that a realist agenda determines foreign policy on both sides. Both seek a Syrian government they can control or at least influence,”
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    Various levels of analysis and perspectives at work here, including domestic, foreign policy and (regional) systemic levels and identity versus realist perspectives.
Ed Webb

Living With Nuclear Outliers - www.nytimes.com - Readability - 0 views

  • The regimes in North Korea and Iran perceive integration into an international community whose dominant power is the United States as a threat to their survival. Integration might yield short-term regime-sustaining economic benefits, but it carries the risk of regime-terminating political contagion.
  • Pyongyang and Tehran seized on NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya as evidence that Qaddafi had been duped by the West. Essentially, by taking down regimes in Iraq and Libya, Washington priced itself out of the security assurance market in Pyongyang and Tehran
  • The trouble is that “containment” as a strategy is increasingly denounced by hard-liners in the U.S. policy debate as tantamount to appeasement, reducing the administration’s political space
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  • the case for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program rests on an assessment that the theocratic regime is undeterrable and apocalyptic. But that presumption runs contrary to National Intelligence Estimates, which have characterized the clerical regime’s decision-making as being “guided by a cost-benefit approach.” And U.S. intelligence analysts maintain that Iran has not yet decided to cross the threshold from a potential capability to an actual weapon
  • So long as Iran and North Korea see integration into the international community as a threat to their survival, and so long as they lack any long-term alternative for their economies, they will continue to use their nuclear programs and the ambiguities they generate as a proxy for relations with the world
  • Washington, for its part, does not have the option of changing their regimes or compelling their integration by force. And there is no telling how long their regimes will last
Ed Webb

The Blast Shack - 0 views

  • the sad and sordid days grind on and on; and that blindly potent machinery is just sitting there. Sitting there, tempting the user.
  • Bradley had to leak all over the third rail. Through historical circumstance, he’s become a miserable symbolic point-man for a global war on terror. He doesn’t much deserve that role. He’s got about as much to do with the political aspects of his war as Monica Lewinsky did with the lasting sexual mania that afflicts the American Republic.
  • That is so dispiriting and ugly. As a novelist, I never think of Monica Lewinsky, that once-everyday young woman, without a sense of dread at the freakish, occult fate that overtook her. Imagine what it must be like, to wake up being her, to face the inevitability of being That Woman. Monica, too, transgressed in apparent safety and then she had the utter foolishness to brag to a lethal enemy, a trusted confidante who ran a tape machine and who brought her a mediated circus of hells. The titillation of that massive, shattering scandal has faded now. But think of the quotidian daily horror of being Monica Lewinsky, and that should take a bite from the soul.
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  • Bradley’s gonna become a “spy” whose “espionage” consisted of making the activities of a democratic government visible to its voting population. With the New York Times publishing the fruits of his misdeeds. Some set of American prosecutorial lawyers is confronting this crooked legal hairpin right now. I feel sorry for them.
  • the one-man global McDonald’s of leaks
  • While others stare in awe at Assange’s many otherworldly aspects — his hairstyle, his neatness, too-precise speech, his post-national life out of a laptop bag — I can recognize him as pure triple-A outsider geek. Man, I know a thousand modern weirdos like that, and every single one of them seems to be on my Twitter stream screaming support for Assange because they can recognize him as a brother and a class ally. They are in holy awe of him because, for the first time, their mostly-imaginary and lastingly resentful underclass has landed a serious blow in a public arena. Julian Assange has hacked a superpower.
  • It’s not just about him and the burning urge to punish him; it’s about the public risks to the reputation of the USA. They superpower hypocrisy here is gonna be hard to bear. The USA loves to read other people’s diplomatic cables. They dote on doing it. If Assange had happened to out the cable-library of some outlaw pariah state, say, Paraguay or North Korea, the US State Department would be heaping lilies at his feet. They’d be a little upset about his violation of the strict proprieties, but they’d also take keen satisfaction in the hilarious comeuppance of minor powers that shouldn’t be messing with computers, unlike the grandiose, high-tech USA.

    Unfortunately for the US State Department, they clearly shouldn’t have been messing with computers, either. In setting up their SIPRnet, they were trying to grab the advantages of rapid, silo-free, networked communication while preserving the hierarchical proprieties of official confidentiality. That’s the real issue, that’s the big modern problem; national governments and global computer networks don’t mix any more. It’s like trying to eat a very private birthday cake while also distributing it. That scheme is just not working. And that failure has a face now, and that’s Julian Assange.

  • He’s a different, modern type of serious troublemaker. He’s certainly not a “terrorist,” because nobody is scared and no one got injured. He’s not a “spy,” because nobody spies by revealing the doings of a government to its own civil population. He is orthogonal. He’s asymmetrical. He panics people in power and he makes them look stupid. And I feel sorry for them. But sorrier for the rest of us.

    Julian Assange’s extremely weird version of dissident “living in truth” doesn’t bear much relationship to the way that public life has ever been arranged. It does, however, align very closely to what we’ve done to ourselves by inventing and spreading the Internet. If the Internet was walking around in public, it would look and act a lot like Julian Assange. The Internet is about his age, and it doesn’t have any more care for the delicacies of profit, propriety and hierarchy than he does.

  • The one grand certainty about the consumers of Cablegate is that diplomats are gonna be reading those stolen cables. Not hackers: diplomats. Hackers bore easily, and they won’t be able to stand the discourse of intelligent trained professionals discussing real-life foreign affairs.

    American diplomats are gonna read those stolen cables, though, because they were supposed to read them anyway, even though they didn’t. Now, they’ve got to read them, with great care, because they might get blindsided otherwise by some wisecrack that they typed up years ago.

    And, of course, every intelligence agency and every diplomat from every non-American agency on Earth is gonna fire up computers and pore over those things. To see what American diplomacy really thought about them, or to see if they were ignored (which is worse), and to see how the grownups ran what was basically a foreign-service news agency that the rest of us were always forbidden to see.

    This stark fact makes them all into hackers. Yes, just like Julian. They’re all indebted to Julian for this grim thing that he did, and as they sit there hunched over their keyboards, drooling over their stolen goodies, they’re all, without exception, implicated in his doings. Assange is never gonna become a diplomat, but he’s arranged it so that diplomats henceforth are gonna be a whole lot more like Assange. They’ll behave just like him. They receive the goods just like he did, semi-surreptitiously. They may be wearing an ascot and striped pants, but they’ve got that hacker hunch in their necks and they’re staring into the glowing screen.

  • Diplomats are people who speak from nation to nation. They personify nations, and nations are brutal, savage, feral entities. Diplomats used to have something in the way of an international community, until the Americans decided to unilaterally abandon that in pursuit of Bradley Manning’s oil war. Now nations are so badly off that they can’t even get it together to coherently tackle heroin, hydrogen bombs, global warming and financial collapse. Not to mention the Internet.
  • the American diplomatic corps, and all it thinks it represents, is just collateral damage between Assange and his goal. He aspires to his transparent crypto-utopia in the way George Bush aspired to imaginary weapons of mass destruction. And the American diplomatic corps are so many Iraqis in that crusade. They’re the civilian casualties.
  • It’s the damage to the institutions that is spooky and disheartening; after the Lewinsky eruption, every American politician lives in permanent terror of a sex-outing. That’s “transparency,” too; it’s the kind of ghastly sex-transparency that Julian himself is stuck crotch-deep in. The politics of personal destruction hasn’t made the Americans into a frank and erotically cheerful people. On the contrary, the US today is like some creepy house of incest divided against itself in a civil cold war. “Transparency” can have nasty aspects; obvious, yet denied; spoken, but spoken in whispers. Very Edgar Allen Poe.
  • This knotty situation is not gonna “blow over,” because it’s been building since 1993 and maybe even 1947. “Transparency” and “discretion” are virtues, but they are virtues that clash. The international order and the global Internet are not best pals.
Ed Webb

WikiLeaks reveals more than just government secrets - Glenn Greenwald - Salon.com - 0 views

  • Those who demand that the U.S. Government take people's lives with no oversight or due process as though they're advocating changes in tax policy or mid-level personnel moves -- eradicate him!, they bellow from their seats in the Colosseum -- are just morally deranged barbarians.  There's just no other accurate way to put it.  These are usually the same people, of course, who brand themselves "pro-life" and Crusaders for the Sanctity of Human Life and/or who deride Islamic extremists for their disregard for human life.  And the fact that this mindset is so widespread and mainstream is quite a reflection of how degraded America's political culture is.
  • Most political journalists rely on their relationships with government officials and come to like them and both identify and empathize with them.  By contrast, WikiLeaks is truly adversarial to those powerful factions in exactly the way that these media figures are not:  hence, the widespread media hatred and contempt for what WikiLeaks does.  Just look at how important it was for Bill Keller to emphasize that the Government is criticizing WikiLeaks but not The New York Times; having the Government pleased with his behavior is his metric for assessing how good his "journalism" is.  If the Government is patting him on the head, then it's proof that he acted "responsibly."  That servile-to-power mentality is what gets exposed by the contrast Wikileaks provides.
  • our government and political culture is so far toward the extreme pole of excessive, improper secrecy that that is clearly the far more significant threat.  And few organizations besides WikiLeaks are doing anything to subvert that regime of secrecy, and none is close to its efficacy.  It's staggering to watch anyone walk around acting as though the real threat is from excessive disclosures when the impenetrable, always-growing Wall of Secrecy is what has enabled virtually every abuse and transgression of the U.S. government over the last two decades at least. 
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  • Digby's superb commentary on this point yesterday:

    My personal feeling is that any allegedly democratic government that is so hubristic that it will lie blatantly to the entire world in order to invade a country it has long wanted to invade probably needs a self-correcting mechanism. There are times when it's necessary that the powerful be shown that there are checks on its behavior, particularly when the systems normally designed to do that are breaking down. Now is one of those times. . . . .As for the substance of the revelations, I don't know what the results will be. But in the world of diplomacy, embarrassment is meaningful and I'm not sure that it's a bad thing for all these people to be embarrassed right now.  Puncturing a certain kind of self-importance --- especially national self-importance --- may be the most worthwhile thing they do. A little humility is long overdue.

  • The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America's unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.

    As Scott Shane, the New York Times' national security reporter, puts it: "American taxpayers, American citizens pay for all these diplomatic operations overseas and you know, it is not a bad thing when Americans actually have a better understanding of those negotiations".  Mr Shane goes on to suggest that "Perhaps if we had had more information on these secret internal deliberations of governments prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, we would have had a better understanding of the quality of the evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

  • I'm glad to see that the quality of discussion over possible US efforts to stymie Iran's nuclear ambitions has already become more sophisticated and, well, better-informed due to the information provided by WikiLeaks.
  • If secrecy is necessary for national security and effective diplomacy, it is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents. I suspect that there is no scheme of government oversight that will not eventually come under the indirect control of the generals, spies, and foreign-service officers it is meant to oversee. Organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy.
  • FAIR documents how severely and blatantly the New York Times reporting distorted some of these documents in order (as always) to demonize Iran and the "threat" it poses.
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    Interesting to see Carne (whom I used to work with) making a robust case for greater transparency.
Ed Webb

Barack Obama's great test | open Democracy News Analysis - 1 views

  • the limitations of Obama's style and approach
  • His administration, he promised, would do its best to revive the world's economy, to address climate change, to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and to bring peace to Israel and Palestine.

    These are all admirable aspirations, and it is perhaps unreasonable to hope that the president might have admitted that the United States has been largely responsible for each of these problems.

  • Barack Obama is increasingly coming to look like Lyndon B Johnson, a brilliantly gifted politician whose ambition to build a "great society" was sacrificed because of the war in Vietnam.

    The heart of the Obama approach is now clear. He genuinely wants to move away from the frozen folly of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century, but he is not willing to take the political risk of acknowledging America's responsibility for the problems he wants to solve.

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  • Still less does anyone in Washington seem to understand that "Gitmo" itself was always an absurd colonial anomaly of the kind Americans used to denounce. Nor does there seem any will to undo the creation of an even more scandalous, though militarily more useful, colony in the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
  • Washington's instinct is to treat China as a potential partner in the domination of the world
  • Because Europe is divided into many different states, and no doubt because many American politicians and policy-makers find European attitudes annoying, American policy does not recognise that collectively Europe has a bigger economy than the United States and far bigger than China (even if China's growth has been spectacular).
  • No one questions Barack Obama's personal goodwill, still less his political intelligence. But on the basis of his first nine months in office, his commitment to a serious reassessment of the limitations of American power - let alone to an acknowledgment of the implications of the country's relative decline - is not yet clear.
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