Category Archives: Politics: International

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.

Posted in Kultcha, Politics: International | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in National Security, Politics: International | Leave a comment

The Rest of the World is Enjoying the US Downgrade

Whatever the merits of the downgrade, I think there’s some schadenfreude out there, more than may be visible to people in the US. I happen to be abroad this week, and I was struck by how differently web pages are playing the story in and out of the US. Here’s a particularly striking example from the front page of the (US-owned!) Huffington Post’s regional editions:

Canadian Version:

UK Version:

Compare these to the patriotic, we-knew-it-was-coming US version:

FWIW, on the economic fundamentals, I don’t see much justification for the downgrade given the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

Standard & Poors is in any case in a funny position, given its lousy track record, the various politically-motivated threats they have been issuing all week, the company’s strategic need to discourage the US from regulating it in light of the ratings’ agencies failures to foresee in the mortgage-back security crisis, and the possibility of something even more nefarious, and the large number of other countries with AAA ratings. On the other hand, if we were grading countries for the intelligence of their political class.

Posted in Econ & Money, Politics: International | Leave a comment

How’s That War Going?

A few days ago the New York Times was the home of happy headlines about the war in VietnamAfghanistan. But that’s so yesterday.

News (2/21/11): Midlevel Taliban Admit to a Rift With Top Leaders

Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban’s top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews.

Op-ed (2/20/11): The ‘Long War’ May Be Getting Shorter

IT is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.

The shift is most obvious on the ground. The additional 30,000 troops promised by President Obama in his speech at West Point 14 months ago are finally in place and changing the trajectory of the fight.

Today (2/25/11), not so much:

U.S. Pulling Back in Afghan Valley It Called Vital.

After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

Time for more psyops aimed at the media

Posted in Politics: International | 1 Comment

Is Hosni Mubarak Still President of Egypt? has the news:

via techPresident.

Posted in Politics: International | Leave a comment