Friday, October 1, 2010

Opinion: Is it appropriate for the United States to apologize?

One meme in American foreign policy circles since the start of the Obama administration has been to label efforts by the president to reach out to members of the international community in a way that acknowledges what can sometimes only be called discomfiting history as an "Apology Tour." According to this group, it is inappropriate for the United States to apologize and such history should largely be ignored in attempts to craft a relevant foreign policy.

Parents teach their kids that when they do something wrong, especially when it results in harm to another person or their property, lying to cover it up, pretending you know nothing about it, or blaming someone else is generally unacceptable. It is a mark of maturity to learn to accept responsibility for our own actions. 

Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius offered the first official apology for the United States government's intentional infection of hundreds of Guatemalans with STDs without their knowledge and consent from 1946-48. It's a horrendous episode in our history of which most Americans have little knowledge. 

As members of a global community, I'd assert that we're seeing an increasing shift away from states interacting purely through their regimes, a paradigm which established each country's rulers as the gateway of information to its people. In today's world, thanks to the spread of technology, information travels at the speed of light. At the same time, transnational organizations and corporations are now important non-state actors on the global stage. 

The Obama administration isn't just speaking to governments, it's speaking to people. It strikes me that this is an essential and important shift in international outlook. 

Given that fact, I'd imagine trying to influence people's hearts and minds is a bit more difficult when you ignore the fact that men and women bearing the same seals of government infected your grandfather with gonorrhea or provided weapons to the group that blew up your family home or backed more than one coup in your nation to remove a democratically elected leader.

Sometimes apologizing is the right thing to do.


Middle East/N. Africa: Shiites choose Maliki; Iraqi parliament stalemate may end

After more than six months since inconclusive parliamentary elections, an alliance of Iraq's Shiite parties has chosen incumbent Nuri al-Maliki as their nominee for prime minister.

Maliki is now expected to form a government in the near future.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Asia/Pacific: Pakistani military pushing for shake-up of civilian government

There is an oft repeated line about Pakistan: Most countries have a military; Pakistan's military has a country. 

Said to be frustrated with President Asif Ali Zardari's poor handling of the recent flooding of the Indus, the country's military leaders are becoming increasingly likely to pressure Zardari (pictured right) to shake-up his cabinet in the short term and to remove the administration itself in the medium term. At this stage, the generals have hinted at wanting to see the installation of a new civilian regime rather than a military dictatorship, a path they have taken at least four times in the 63 years since independence from India.

Zardari, who is now deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis, was elected two years ago after the assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Despite supporting civilian and democratically-elected governments in Pakistan, Western countries have tended to maintain a strong relationship with the military as well as a safeguard against further instability within the nuclear-powered state and the Central Asian region as a whole.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Americas: Meet the (likely) next president of Brazil

I highly recommend this fascinating feature on Dilma Rousseff, the woman who will likely be elected the next president of Brazil, succeeding popular outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

"Not every president has a police mugshot, but it's not so surprising in Latin America.
"A special report out of Brazil today sheds new light on Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla leader who is likely to be elected the booming country's next president. She spent nearly three years in jail in the early 1970s and was tortured by her military captors. She's come a long way since then. 
"The product of more than a dozen interviews with Rousseff and her top advisers, the story gives a glimpse of how Rousseff could govern at the helm of a country that, with India, Russia and China, is among the worlds few economic bright spots."

Despite an ethics scandal involving a member of her party, Rousseff maintains a commanding lead ahead of the October 3 election.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Global: Russian wheat shortage fuels fear of potential food crisis

The effects of wildfires and drought that devastated wheat fields throughout much of rural Russia earlier this year threaten to spiral into a global food crisis as the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation today announced an emergency meeting in Rome on Friday.

Russia, a major world producer, reacted by temporarily banning all wheat exports in an attempt to instill market stability and ensure adequate food stuffs for the nation's 142 million people.

Despite high wheat yield in the U.S. this year, there is no sign that prices will fall anytime soon, an effect which could further exacerbate food shortages in much of the developing world.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

UNGA: Ahmadinejad addresses the UN General Assembly, blames capitalism for global economic disparities

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations General Assembly this morning and took the opportunity to lay the failures of the global economic system at the feet of capitalism and "big business." 

The Assembly is being attended by more than 140 heads-of-state and has been convened to focus on the global community's progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to halve global poverty by 2015 as well as meeting several quality of life reflective international development goals.

More from the Associated Press:

"[Ahmadinejad] took aim at capitalism and called for the overhaul of 'undemocratic and unjust' global decision-making bodies, which are dominated by the United States and other Western powers. While Ahmadinejad didn't single out any country, he said world leaders, thinkers and global reformers should 'spare no effort' to make practical plans for a new world order - reform of international economic and political institutions.
'It is my firm belief that in the new millennium, we need to revert to the divine mindset...based on the justice-seeking nature of mankind, and on the monotheistic world view...,' the Iranian leader said in a brief speech intertwining philosophy and religion with the current state of the world. 'Now that the discriminatory order of capitalism and the hegemonic approaches are facing defeat.'"
The Assembly today also featured addresses from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the foreign ministers of Russia and Pakistan, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who espoused a neoliberal argument for more open markets in the developing world. 

Merkel's speech was strongly challenged by Oxfam, a leading aid organization, which slammed the Germans for not living up to expectations and "sidestepping their responsibility to make aid work by laying this at the door of the poorest countries."


Friday, September 17, 2010

Asia/Pacific: Major elections in Afghanistan tomorrow

Afghanistan is to hold lower parliamentary elections Saturday, only the second Afghan-led poll in the nation's history. Given the state of conflict in many areas, success will be perceived as the conduct of reasonably peaceful and fair voting for the general populace.

The last few days have seen significant insurgent-launched attacks, including the kidnapping of 20 individuals, including 2 parliamentary candidates. Additionally, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan's northeast region earlier today.

Despite the obstacles and threats, 76 percent of Afghans recently polled by a U.S. firm said they intend to go to the polls this weekend.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Asia/Pacific: China to intro stronger regulations to reduce pollution, import more from U.S.

Aileen Wang and Ben Lim have the details:

"China will introduce stricter rules to reduce industrial pollution, a senior economic planning official said on Tuesday.

"Zhang Xiaoqiang, a vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, also told a meeting of the World Economic Forum in this northern port city that China was willing to import more from the United States."

The most important financial reform news of the year

Almost certainly, the most important and most underreported story of the day is the clenching of a deal at Basel III, the international conference of regulators tasked with establishing financial oversight standards for much of the world. 

The quick and dirty is this: Basel has adopted surprisingly strong capital requirements (the amount of money financial institutions need to keep on hand). That's a major victory for U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner who faced opposition from many European countries. Given that the financial regulation bill passed by Congress earlier this year contained no hard capital requirements, this iteration of Basel is arguably a bigger achievement for supporters of stricter standards. 

Felix Salmon from Reuters explains the emerging deal: 

"Possibly the most important thing here is the existence of the first column, setting minimum standards for common equity -- which is also known as core Tier 1 capital. Such standards did exist in the past, but they were set extremely low, at just 2%, and so were generally ignored. As of now, common equity is the main thing that matters. No more throwing any old garbage into the Tier 1 bucket and calling it capital: the new standards for common equity are significantly tougher than the old standards for Tier 1 capital in total. The absolute bare minimum for core Tier 1 capital is 4.5%, and the new minimum for Tier 1 capital in general has now been raised to 6%. The minimum for Tier 2 remains at 8%. But that’s just the beginning."
If you understood that and want more, see Salmon's complete rundown here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Federal judge rules DADT unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips has ruled the military's ban on openly gay service violates the first amendment rights of gays and lesbians and is therefore unconstitutional.

Phillips also issued an injunction stopping the military from enforcing the policy. Phillips may lack authority to impose a nation-wide injunction, however, and attorneys for the federal government are arguing the policy is better addressed by an act of Congress.