Promoting World Affairs

Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Podcasts I’m listening to

In EI, Media on September 24, 2009 at 6:34 am

There are a lot of ways to acquire information about world affairs. A fun way I’ve found is through podcasts. When they first came out I didn’t “get” them. Then they started to become more sophisticated and some of your big publications, such as CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the BBC got on board. To be sure, the amount of content can be quite overwhelming, not to mention if you have an energetic clicking finger, you could find yourself being subscribed to about 30-50 podcasts and there’s really no way you can catch up and listen to them all. So, I thought it would be fun to share with all of you what I’m listening to right at the moment, as well as what I’ve been the most disappointing with.

Podcasts I subscribe to

1. BBC Global News Highlights (Audio)

This is really a great podcast that is updated twice a day. It provides really great interviews and good discourse on current events and breaking news stories. They run about 21-26 minutes a pop, and the twice a day update can be a bit overwhelming, but nevertheless a great way to get your morning news about world events.

2. Inside CFR Events (Audio)

The number one think tank in the world, the Council on Foreign Relations, offers regular audio transcripts of sessions and seminars that are conducted at their facilities. The topics are very diverse, but are  more on the U.S. side of things, as it is a U.S. based think tank. The Council attracts highly prolific politicians and famous scholars in the school of International Relations. Therefore the topics are quite heavy, and do require some background knowledge in IR, but they’re still very understandable and a great way to get informed about certain issues, as well as getting a jump start on any literature or articles that are often relayed to its main web-site. The only issue? They are long, running over an hour they usually consist of a lecture and a question and answer session at the end. The solution I’ve found is that I upload it on my iPod shuffle and listen to a seminar while I’m going for a run. Unfortunately being in Hong Kong where it’s really hot and humid, those jogging sessions haven’t been happening and I have about a weeks worth of seminars to catch up on. Regardless, this is one of my favorite podcasts.

3. NBC’s Meet the Press (Video)

Meet the Press. Is there more to say? The program usually deals with domestic affairs by conducting a discussion that is usually attended by prominent people in both parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, but usually does allocate time for discussion on world affairs. I really enjoy David Gregory’s interview style. He’s not afraid to really press politicians when they decide to be vague and is usually very blunt and sometimes unforgiving until he feels the question has been answered. It’s just a great program, and as I’m not around to watch it when it airs on NBC, it’s great that they offer it as a podcast. The shows are a little less than an hour, but it’s something to have playing in the background during a Sunday afternoon.

4. The Economist (Audio)

That’s right, the Economist offers a podcast and they even made a catchy theme song to go with it. The podcast is very varied and sometimes range from someone reading one of the articles in the current edition to good discussions about economics and foreign policy. My favorite segment is “The Week Ahead” where they look at what’s going to be occurring in the world in the coming week and is a good primer that really compliments the rest of my subscriptions.

5. Fareed Zakaria’s GPS (Video)

As mentioned in our previous post, I’m a big fan of this podcast. Mr. Zakaria regularly interviews politicians, usually those active in the Middle East, and asks some really good questions. He is an IR guy, so a lot of what he talks about is geopolitical, but what makes the video podcast work for me is that he really seems to be enjoying himself when he does it. It’s not boring by any means and he’s not scared to ask some tough questions. I regularly save his interviews and cite them in my research.

6. NPR Programs: Talk of the Nation (Audio)

Ahh yes, NPR. Lead journalist Neal Conan facilitates really good discussions primarily dealing with U.S. politics. The majority of the show consists of people calling in, so for our international readers it’s a really good way to monitor U.S. public opinion of those interested in such topics. The only issue I have is that the topics vary considerably that I’m constantly having to filter and delete segments that just do not interest me.

7. Anderson Cooper’s 360º Podcast (Video)

Anderson Cooper of CNN fame conducts a nightly podcast regarding various issues of the day. Frankly, issues vary considerably, which reflects the quality of the material given. Sometimes the majority of the 20-30 minutes is devoted to one issue, such as the murder of a young woman at Yale, which really cuts down on time for politics. Additionally it seems the program acts a bit like a 6 year old on ADHD, in that topics that were devoted so much air-time the previous day, disappear entirely and then pop up a again randomly a week later. However, Cooper manages to bring in a lot of good commentators and he’s good at facilitating a debate. Debate on a topic usually involves individuals from both sides of the political spectrum. In short, it’s a great podcast to start the day, while doing a morning routine or drinking that first cup of coffee.

Podcasts I’m disappointing in

1. Newsweek (Video)

Talking about a huge waste of time not to mention a great loss of potential, Newsweek fails to deliver on providing quality content that reflects its magazine. Its podcast is dedicated to pop culture, and anything political is put on the back burner. It’s there, but buried and you really have to look for it. This is a huge waste of space so devote your precious time to higher quality efforts from the Economist and the Washington Post. Hell, even do a Fox News podcast if it exists.

2. Die Zeit (Audio)

Die Zeit is a really good German newspaper that devotes itself to doing quality commentary on current events. It does offer a podcast, but after listening to it I’m wondering why they even bothered. It usually entails a reading of one of its published articles, that’s it. No discussion, nadda, zip. Germany still hasn’t figured out the podcast thing and this pretty much reflects it.

But that’s it! Those are my recommendations and what I’m listening to right now. Check them out. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Fighting two wars

In Afghanistan, Environment, European Union, The United States on September 22, 2009 at 9:33 am

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Hong Kong (no it’s not Starbucks) and reading the September 22, 2009 edition of the International Herald Tribune. Two articles caught my interest: The first, titled E.U. is increasingly skeptical of U.S. on climate and the second, titled Commander seeks more troops for Afghanistan, are both linked. How is that you may ask? Well allow me to illustrate.

The climate article depicts E.U. frustrations that the United States will not be able to deliver on climate change proposals that will be promised at the upcoming conference in Copenhagen. They fear that it will end up being another Kyoto, and though the Obama administration may sign a comprehensive agreement it will fail in the Senate. The main issue is tying the U.S. to any international regulatory bodies that will monitor and enforce any commitments the U.S. will make.

And they are right. The U.S. will never, at least in the near future, commit to anything that may directly affect American business practices within its borders, unless it’s a local policeman. Nor should it.

Regarding the second article, General Stanley A. McChrystal’s report of the military situation in Afghanistan has been the news of the week. And it’s only Tuesday. Simply put, he’s calling for more troops to be sent, or else the U.S. mission there will fail. Notice the lack of could or might, but will. It’s a jolt to the Obama administration as Obama has been dancing around the topic and openly displaying his hesitancy in sending any fresh troops, unless the situation, to paraphrase from an interview during this past Sunday’s Meet the Press, will directly and without a doubt threaten U.S. national security.

Oh how having a war and a conference on climate change have found themselves to be occurring during one of the worst possible times.

And this is how these two issues are linked. Both articles illustrate the position Obama is in right now. Sandwiched between two parties on two different issues, the Democrats want to push their version of Health Care reform through in direct opposition to the Republicans, while the GOP wants a bigger U.S. commitment for the war, and the Democrats are becoming very much opposed, as U.S. casualties are rising and the cost of the war is increasing. Obama has to work with each issue while appeasing one party and excluding the other. If you think you saw some interesting debates on Health Care reform, wait till Obama promises, if he does just that, something substantial regarding a U.S. commitment on climate change.

He will not get both, and it’s at the cost of finally insuring more than 94% of Americans.

And this is the pickle. Afghanistan is a problem that is here and now and will affect the U.S. more in a negative way and not to mention quicker. To be sure, we finally accepted that the Earth heating up will have devastating consequences, it’s nevertheless a long-run-issue and merely got in the way of one of the biggest domestic changes the U.S. is experiencing right now.

To be sure, if we want to win in Afghanistan we will need to send more money and troops. Fighting an insurgency has a high capital and human cost. Just look at Thomas Rick’s highly influential book, Fiasco, which outlined these observations and identified why the U.S. failed in Vietnam and was struggling and losing in Iraq shortly after the invasion. To win hearts and minds you need boots on the ground to do it.

But the E.U. criticism of the U.S. does have its advantages. If you want a larger U.S. commitment in fighting climate change, then the U.S. needs a larger commitment by its European friends in Afghanistan, mainly from Germany, Italy, and France. Unfortunately this won’t be the concession but will probably be the same one the Senate demanded with Kyoto, and that’s also a commitment in cutting carbon admissions by the rising economies of India and China. To be frank, the Europeans want a larger promise from the U.S. than what the U.S. is willing to give. The irony is that it will probably be very unlikely that the E.U. will even make its target, and let’s not forget that it didn’t even do what it said it would at Kyoto, it was far short of its stated goal.

But nevertheless, these two issues are very serious and require an international, if not a regional effort for Afghanistan. If the U.S. can link these two issues, conceding on one forum while pressing the Europeans to be more engaged in Afghanistan, then acceptable efforts will be put forth in tackling these issues. Unfortunately, domestic pressures in the U.S. will make this propsect very unlikely.

Enough Project and a great Fareed Zakaria interview

In Africa, Russia on September 22, 2009 at 6:50 am

I actually have a lot to discuss today regarding access to good material.

The main theme of this web-site is to promote interest in world affairs. One essential tool for achieving this is to expose relevant web-sites and good sources of information to our readers. Enough is one of those web-sites.

The Enough Project is a project that conducts research in areas of conflict in Africa. From Somalia, Sudan, to Uguanda, the organization provides access to strategy and research papers and general overviews of the conflicts that its researching team has conducted. It’s an excellent way to understand the conflicts in Africa and is a must read for anyone who has been curious or confused by what exactly is happening in the region.

I used the web-site extensively when I conducted my research regarding Somalia and the concept of humanitarianism. The web-site really is a great resource, and what’s better is that they regularly offer assistant Research internships and full time positions. It’s a great way to study where Somalia is at the moment in terms of striving for peace, the origins of the Sudan crisis, and current news regarding decisions in Zimbabwe. What’s even better is that all their publications are free and they’re very well written and really do achieve a good, concise analysis, based of course on my own personal experience when I was conducting my research.

Second, be sure to check out Fareed Zakaria’s GPS podcast for last Sunday. He interviewed Russian President Medvedev and it’s really informative. The President really composes himself well and balked at critics who charge that the real holder of power is Prime Minister Putin. He simply pointed to the constitution and observed that for anything to be official, the President has to sign it. Though there are doubts whether or not this is true, take a look at Gorbachev’s interview with the BBC where he expresses worry regarding Putin’s comment that he’ll have a discussion with the President to determine whether or not he will run for another term as President. Another interesting tidbit came out in the interview regarding a secret meeting between Medvedev and Israeli Prime Minster Netanyahu. The discussion probably had something to do with Iran, and it was interesting that the rhetoric used by Medvedev regarding Iran was much harsher.

Fareed essentially outlines these points during some pauses in the interview. He’s a great interviewer, albeit a bit diplomatic but still isn’t afraid to really ask some tough questions. What I found the most interesting was that he provided a link to Medvedev’s paper that severely criticizes the state that Russia is in right now. He expresses the danger of having rambid corruption, a state owned press, over-reliance on raw materials and the dire need to modernize the Russian economy. It’s a great article and you can find the link here. Watch the interview. Russia to the “West” is perceived as being a very mysterious country that makes the news by flexing its muscle. It’s refreshing to get a good insight into pertinent questions of how Russia is perceived to be behaving and seeing the “head” of state answer some tough questions. Medvedev has always advocated an independent press and has in the past encouraged the media to put more pressure on the government. The debate is whether or not that is possible under current conditions. Regardless, what was the most revealing was seeing or hearing where Medvedev believes Russia should be in terms of its own development. The tragedy is that it’s a far cry from where it actually is.

Just bad timing

In Foreign Policy, Russia, The United States, Uncategorized on September 17, 2009 at 11:34 am

The big news of the day is that that United States abandoned its plans for establishing a missile defense shield in Europe. The change was expected but the timing was not. Obama is facing a lot of criticism at home for moving to the left, especially regarding health care reform. He has made concessions with the public option, but the Republicans are in full swing and are not shy about rallying the general public and portraying him in a very evil light. We’ve all seen the news footage of the townhall meetings and people screaming at their politicians, even of posters depicting Obama as a Nazi. This will undoubtedly add more fuel to this fire.

Regardless, the abandonment is not entirely a bad idea. Obama has made very clear that his adminsitration has three distinct foreign policy goals. The first is to increase U.S. activity in Afghanistan, as he believes, rightly, that Afghanistan directly threatens U.S. national security. The second is Iran and its nuclear program and the third is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We have established on this forum that the last two are directly linked. Apathy against the United States in the Middle East has more to do with the U.S. failure in pushing Israel to acknowledge an independent Palestinian state than the war in Iraq. If this can be resolved, he can put influential countries, such as Syria, Jordan and Egypt firmly on his side and put more regional pressure on Iran. Regarding Iran, the major stumbling block is of course Russia, who has been very adamant in viewing any attempts by the U.S. to start a Missile Defense program in Europe as a direct threat to its natural security. Therefore, the move to forgo any plans at such a shield has more to do with woing Russia than believing that such a system cannot work.

On the other side of the debate is the belief that in forgoing such a system is to alienate further our key Central European allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, in the face of an aggressive Russia. Admittedly, public support for such a system in these countries has been extremely low, and the European Union has always been very weary at any attempts by the U.S. in having such an influence in these countries, as their relations with Russia would be in jeopardy, a vital source for their vital energy resources.

This is a very bold move by the Obama administration considering the timing. Public support has been waning due to health care reform, and Democrats are putting up a fight concerning Obama’s plans in Afghanistan. It’s the right move to be sure, but it’s just very bad timing.

Beating a bad rap

In Foreign Policy, Iran, Middle East, The United States on September 16, 2009 at 8:11 am

Realists have a bad rap. They are portrayed as those who are always beating the war drum out of the false belief that war is the best and only way to improve a state’s security. Many point to the advocacy of mutual assured destruction (MAD) by realists who observed that the reason for peace between the two superpowers from 1945 until 1989/91 was solely because they could destroy each other with nuclear weapons. There even existed the idea that if one wanted world peace, then it was better to give the enemy nuclear weapons and create a MAD scenario. Others look at the U.S. invasion of Iraq, stating that it was neo-conservatives who took a realist approach to promote change in the Middle East through an interjection of U.S. military power in the region, in order to deter future threats and destroy havens for terrorists. They point to such concepts as pre-emption, having a war on terror, and the need for allowing enhanced interrogation techniques to illicit information from an irrational enemy. Fortunately, this if far from the truth and these above-stated concepts are denounced by scholars in the school of realism as well.

Case in point. Stephen M. Walt, one of the more famous realists, recently blogged on the Foreign Policy web-site that going to war with Iran over its nuclear program is actually a mistake. Such a war would actually decrease the security of the United States. How can you get a country to start a dialogue regarding their nuclear weapons program if you constantly threaten to bomb them? Would this scare them into dropping all prospects of a nuclear program or further show their need for a nuclear program to deter a hostile state? Walt argues the latter.

Indeed, two months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 Walt argued again, with John Mearsheimer, in Foreign Policy against a military approach. Their red line was that there was no need to use the instrument of war, as Saddam Hussein was already contained and the negative consequences from an armed invasion far outweighed the benefits. There would be a greater loss to American lives than there had been under the current status quo and apathy against the U.S. would significantly increase in the Middle East, putting into jeopardy its access to vital resources in the region. Both have proved hauntingly correct, not to mention that Iran’s influence in the region has actually increased at the cost of American lives.

It’s time to put things straight and acknowledge that the Realist school does not actively promote war, but sees it only as one of many mechanisms to enhance a country’s security. There are other tools at a state’s disposal that it can draw from. Be it soft power, such as cultural appeal, economic influence, being a leader in international institutions, or hard power, states still hold the ability to resolve their differences peacefully, a mechanism not only promoted by institutionalists or liberals, but by realists as well.

To be sure, holding a hard-line in one “ism” is dangerous in itself. To do so is to miss the big picture and limit oneself to a single approach, when the real world actually requires multiple approaches to enhancing and guaranteeing state security. This is why the United States is the superpower. It’s not just its military that is big and powerful, but for the time being and despite the financial crisis, its economy is as well. Not to mention that it’s a hegemonic-driver of international institutions, such as the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. It’s capable of pushing through ideas such as free trade that can benefit everyone who takes part, and let’s not forget, its culture is highly appealing, making it a cultural hegemon as well.

There are groups who are endangering this capability, and Walt is not shy on saying who it is. Neo-conservatives have not learned their lesson from the disastrous decision to invade Iraq out of the premise that it was building nuclear weapons and was on the verge of using them against the U.S. Any military action against Iran, whether it comes from the U.S. or Israel, would be just as disastrous because it would not only instantaneously disrupt protesting forces occurring within the country right now, but would also further isolate Iran in a negative way and more than likely disrupt the Palestinian peace process at the same time.

To use Walt’s analogy, holding a gun to Iran’s head is just going to make them more determined to acquire a nuclear weapon. Seeing that armed conflict is not the answer and knowing that there are other alternatives is not a liberal or realist approach. It’s just common sense.