Category Archives: Politics: International

Revolutions Occur In Periods of Rising Expectations

More evidence for Crane Brinton’s thesis that revolutions tend to occur in periods of rising (but frustrated) expectations.

Juan Cole: Biggest Demonstrations in Egyptian History: Millions Demand President Morsi Step Down.

Previously: Guy Fawkes Day Musings (November 5, 2007).

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Italian Election Corrective

There have been astonishing volumes of nonsense written about the Italian election. If you believed the MSM, ranging from NPR on over, you would believe the world was about to end, the barbarians were at the gates. It seems the Italian electorate has acted so terribly irresponsibly, by failing to vote for the austerity regime demanded by banks and currently tearing apart Greece. And the people they voted for – quelle horreur — they have no political experience. They could do anything!

How refreshing, therefore, to see a corrective: Invia i Pagliacci! Ci Devono Essere Pagliacci! [extended play]. Worth a look if you can stand to escape from the standard narrative now dominating.

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North Korea Finds New Way to Be Inscrutable

This is way weirder than the fiction I’ve been reading lately:

Kim Jong-un Appears With Disney Characters on North Korean TV:

North Korean state-run television on Monday showed footage of costumed versions of Tigger, Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters prancing in front of the leader, Kim Jong-un, and an entourage of clapping generals.

The footage also showed Mr. Kim in a black Mao suit watching as Mickey Mouse conducted a group of young women playing violins in skimpy black dresses. At times, scenes from the animated Disney movies “Dumbo” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” were projected on a multipanel screen behind the entertainers; an article in the state-run press said unnamed foreign songs were on the bill.

The appearance of the characters from the United States, North Korea’s mortal enemy, was remarkable fare on tightly controlled North Korean television, which usually shows more somber and overtly political programs. A Disney spokeswoman, Zenia Mucha, had no comment Monday beyond a statement: “This was not licensed or authorized by the Walt Disney Company.”

This seems more like Dada than late failed autarcho-Communism. What gives?

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The Soft Power of Whitney Houston

Juan Cole:

Houston’s death was front page news in many Arab dailies, and elicited an outpouring of grief from her fans. Arabic newspapers said that the suddenness of her death magnified the shock. Her passing was also commemorated in Arabic on Twitter and Facebook.

Yemeni political activist and dissident Hind Aleryani ( @Dory_Eryani ) tweeted, “When I was a teenager in my room in #Yemen wondering what’s love, #WhitneyHouston was the voice that introduced Love 2 me #IWillAlwaysLoveYou.”

This recollection is a powerful reminder of the reach of American popular culture, and its influence in shaping ideas about, e.g., romantic love in the global South, including the Arab world.

The tragedy was marked in Beirut, the center of Arab pop music. …

Egyptian director Khalid Hagar went political, expressing his grief that Whitney is no longer with us, but Egypt’s military dictators still live. “We will always love you, Whitney, and we will always hate them.” Houston thus stands, for this supporter of the Arab Spring, for beauty and potential cut short.

Houston’s meteoric career made her part of what Joseph Nye has called American “soft power.” The love of world publics for American popular culture translates into favorable views of the US among many people who otherwise would be tempted by anti-Americanism. Nye cautions that the militarism and torture of the past decade threaten that soft power, creating a negative image of the US in the place of the one creative artists often project to the world.

Arab World Mourns Whitney Houston | Informed Comment.

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Non-Violence May Be the Dominant Strategy

Naked Capitalism Blog — which I would currently rank as the most essential reading in blogdom — reports on a study arguing that resistance movements that adopt non-violent methods are substantially more likely to prevail against authoritarian regimes than those movements that turn to violence:

Erica Chenoweth has developed a dataset and analyzed the historical record. Below the fold are slides summarizing the results of her study of 323
 non-violent and violent campaigns 
 1900-2006. (There are twenty slides, so anybody with a slow connection may prefer to download a zipped file of the original PDF).

I do wonder if the movements that turned to violence may have known something about the regime, so that there might be some self-selection bias. But then who can know that much about a regime when starting a mass opposition movement?

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics: International | 4 Comments

Today’s Bizzaro Polling Experience

This was my strangest polling experience yet. First, the call was to my office rather than to my home. I don’t think I’ve ever been called with a poll at work before.

Then there was how it went (this is a very close paraphrase, probably not verbatim):

– Hello, says the nice voice, I am calling from Harris Interactive and was wondering if you could answer some questions about China and its relation to the US.

– How long will this take? I ask nervously, looking at the pile of exams.

– It could take as long as 15-20 minutes depending on your answers, says the voice.

– Oh, OK, I say, thinking the exams will have to wait. China is important. Too much giving in to scary mercantilism out there.

– To begin, what is your job title?

– Professor

– Let me look that one up … wait a minute… well, that’s all the questions we have for you today, thank you very much.

How about that?

Posted in Politics: International, The Media | 2 Comments

US Military Officially “Out” of Iraq

104,106 - 113,755Today we are told the last US troops pulled of Iraq. This allowed President Obama to announce the end of the Iraq war a week before Christmas. (We promised the Iraqis we’d be out by the 31st, so for all I know there may be a few stragglers.)

Out, of course, is a relative term. Left behind are a giant embassy compound in Baghdad, guarded by some Marines and up to 5,500 armed security contractors. Plus no doubt various secret outfits, of varying degrees of actual secrecy.

It’s clear to me that the entire affair was a major strategic disaster for the US, one entirely self-inflicted by the Bush administration. The war was prefigured when Bush moved half the US army to the Iraqi border. Having done so, he lacked the guts or the imagination to bring them home without attacking, but then the attack had always been his (and Cheney’s) intention. Bush-Cheney achieved their goal of killing Saddam Hussein, but as far as I can see got nothing of value to the US. Indeed, the strategic victor of the conflict was clearly Iran. There is even a plausible account that Iran manipulated the Bush administration into the conflict through its dupe, or even double-agent, Ahmad Chalabi. Regardless, the cost to the US in blood, treasure, and international influence, was and remains enormous.

One topic surprisingly under-reported in my media is whether the Iraqis think, on balance, it was worth it. They paid a much higher cost in blood, and in social upheaval, including what amounted to near-secession (the Kurds) and ethnic cleansing in many urban areas. I guess I’d like to know. Even a favorable verdict would not justify this war, but it might help some.

I am aware that some people want to argue that Arab Spring has roots in the Iraq war. I don’t see it. The causes of those revolutions seem to be to in the main highly indigenous: oppression plus rising expectations.

The case for semi-isolationism (e.g withdrawing to some form of NATO + a few key allies) has never looked so good. Not because it is good strategy or good international diplomacy (it may not be), or even because it might save us some money. The root of the case for semi-isolationism is that the Imperial Presidency cannot be trusted with the lives of our fellow citizens in uniform, nor with the lives of the inhabitants of the countries we aim to ‘save’.

That said, we should not forget that while the US was a leader in this effort, the US government did not act alone in Iraq: it was abetted by a ‘coalition of the willing’. The United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland contributed to the invasion. Thirty-seven other countries provided at least token, and sometimes more than token, troops to support military operations after the invasion was complete.

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