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May 31, 2006


Whatever Happened to HIV/AIDS?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Today, the UN launches a five-year review of world efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.  Yesterday, UNAIDS released a comprehensive report on the state of the epidemic.  whether the glass is full or empty depends very much on whom you talk to.  US Secretary General Kofi Annan, who said countries were "distressingly" short of their targets while the world was "unconscionably slow" in responding to the epidemic among women and girls, seemed not to be reading from the same talking points as UNAIDS head Peter Piot, who said:

Encouraging results in HIV prevention and treatment indicate a growing return on investments made in the AIDS response.

Confused?  Haven't heard about AIDS in a while?  Hoping you can take this one off the worry/guilt/policy priority list?  Take my 2006 State-of-AIDS quiz and find out.

1.  How much has spending on global AIDS risen since 2001?

2.  What share of that is US spending?

3.  How many people worldwide who have AIDS are now getting life-extending anti-retroviral therapy (ARVs)?

4.  How much would it cost to get ARVs to everyone who needs them?

5.  True or false:  South Africa has more HIV-positive citizens than any other country.

6.  Given the above, Americans should feel:

a) bored.  AIDS is over; there are more important problems.

b) a warm feeling of gratitude to the Bush Administration.

c) unnerved.

Continue reading "Whatever Happened to HIV/AIDS?" »

May 30, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Blair at Georgetown
Posted by Derek Chollet

Like many people, I suspect, I am still catching up on the weekend’s reading after being away for the holiday.  But one piece in particular deserves attention: Tony Blair’s speech last Friday at Georgetown.

Blair’s speech was the long overdue third in a series that he’s been giving over the past few months about the global challenges we face and what we need to do to meet them.  As I wrote a few weeks ago about the previous two speeches, I believe that these are the most thoughtful, and potentially important, statements that I’ve heard on global politics in some time.  Of course I don’t agree with every word, but all are well worth reading.

Last Friday’s speech made some news because of rumors that the White House had asked Blair to rework some parts, especially about Iran.  Downing Street denies this, and whatever the truth, it should not overshadow the central message: that, in Blair’s words, “there is a hopeless mismatch between the global challenges we face and the global institutions to confront them,” and therefore we need to launch a bold restructuring.

As E.J. Dionne pointed out today, Blair “amended Bush's approach to the world with a vigorous internationalism that would appeal to many of the president's critics.”

Blair outlines some pretty far-reaching ideas: expanding the UN Security Council to include Germany, Japan, and India; a more powerful UN Secretary General; a streamlined and more effective UN humanitarian and development system; a new UN environment agency; a global “bank” for uranium to ensure safe enrichment of nuclear fuel; a reformed IMF and World Bank, and possibly a merger of the two; and an expanded G-8.

Many of these ideas are debatable, but I think that what's most important about them -- and about the larger perspective Blair offers -- is that they comprise a set of policies and an overall framework that many on both sides of the political aisle could embrace. 

Again, I think Dionne is right: “Paradoxically, Bush's best ally may have delivered to the president's political opponents the outlines of a coherent approach to the world. To believe in internationalism, international cooperation and global justice is not soft, but essential and practical. Some who would never accept such thoughts from the likes of John Kerry or Al Gore might give them a second look after hearing them from Blair.”


Democracy Promotion
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

This week, over at the Council on Foreign Relations' website, I am debating the merits of "Democracy Promotion as Policy" with Paul Saunders.  You can read our discussion here.

Also, I will be returning from my blogging hiatus shortly, so stay tuned.

May 29, 2006


10 Things To Look For in a New UN Secretary General
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The labyrinthine and secretive process of selecting a replacement for UN Secretary General (SYG) Kofi Annan, whose second term ends in December, is now getting underway.  This site does a marvelous job of tracking the progress and prognostications.  Given the shape the UN's in, its no exaggeration to say that the choice will have a major impact on the future role and effectiveness of the world body.   Here's what anyone who cares about the UN ought to be looking for:

1.  A Strong Manager - Some say the next SYG ought to be more of a politician than a manager, since the key underlings run things day to day.  But management skills are always critical for a top job, no matter how much is delegated.  The UN risks desuetude if its sprawling bureaucracy lapses into even one more serious scandal.  The SYG needs to surround himself with the right people, and his chief lieutenants must believe that the boss is watching, that he knows incompetence, laziness, and dishonesty when he sees it, and that he won't tolerate it for even a minute.  The Admistration is right on this one, though may be focused on management skills to the exclusion of other vital qualities.

2.  A Charismatic Leader - The Bush Administration may well prefer a SYG who is not a leader in his own right, assuming that such a person will be easier to control.  But the divisions in both the UN's General Assembly and the UN Security Council mean that only someone with charm, persuasive powers, and forcefulness will be able to make headway.  The organization's tendency toward lowest-common-denominator indecision and passivity is what has made it so ineffectual on Darfur and, to date, Iran.  If the SYG doesn't have the personality to help cut through it, no one will.

3.  An Asian - The UN has an informal agreed regional rotation system which dictates that this is Asia's "turn" to have a SYG.  There's been talk about alternative E. European candidates, and the idea that given the array of qualities on lists like this one, there whould be no limits on finding the right person for the job.  But everyone agrees that the two key parties who must acquiesce before white smoke billows from UN HQ are the U.S. and the Chinese.  The Chinese will demand an Asian, and they'll get an Asian.  It's almost certain that this will mean the next SYG is a man, which is why I use the male pronoun in this list.

4.  A Visionary of Sorts - While a highly competent functionary can effectively lead an organization like the World Food Programme or UNHCR that has a well-defined mission, leading the UN involves setting a global agenda.  The SYG needs to articulate his own views for how to prioritize among the UN's dizzying array of programs, speaking from conviction when he argues for something.  At least rhetorically, Kofi Annan did well on this score, showing leadership in promoting a Responsibility to Protect and the promotion of democracy. 

5.  Someone who Enjoys the Respect of the Developing World - The UN is dominated by delegations from the developing world who are eternally suspicious that the wealthier countries who fund the UN and dominate the Security Council will shortchange their priorities.  They will make life miserable for a SYG they don't trust, and can and will paralyze the UN in the process.  This sets a high bar for candidates from Japan or Korea who are not seen as "of" the developing world.

Continue reading "10 Things To Look For in a New UN Secretary General" »

May 26, 2006


Bin Laden on Moussaoui
Posted by Michael Signer

It's hard to know what to make of the very weird story earlier this week about bin Laden's statement about Zacharias Moussaoui.  Bin Laden's statement has three parts:  first, he says that Moussaoui wasn't involved in 9/11; second, he engages in a somewhat elaborate logical and empirical proof of that point, reasoning that Moussaoui had been involved, the other 9/11 conspirators would have called off the attacks, as Moussaoui was imprisoned 2 weeks before 9/11; third, and most interestingly, he whirls off into a strange riff pleading for "fairness" for the prisoners in Gitmo. 

Harvard Law Professor Juliet Kayyem writes on TPMCafe of this part:

Its a good move on his part. Say whatever you will say about 9/11, he seems to suggest, but it is America now that has the dirty hands.

I'm pretty sure Kayyem, smart as she is, is wrong that this is a "good move" for bin Laden.  On the contrary, I think it shows him reasoning from a position of striking weakness; entangled in ridiculous double standards; and rather panicky.  The statement reveals bin Laden as weak rather than strong -- and suggests that this part of our approach against al Qaeda (the element concentrated on drilling known members of Al Qaeda into the ground) may be working better than many think.

Continue reading "Bin Laden on Moussaoui" »

May 25, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Progressive Organizing Bears Fruit
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Today, Rep. Jane Harman posted a diary entry about the administration’s aggressive blundering on Iran. She demands “more accuracy and less hype” from the administration, In her post, Harman, a smart, centrist Democrat sounds like a lefty on this issue. Could this be because she’s facing a challenge from the left in her California District?

Irregardless, let’s have more of this! Especially now that Iran has signaled its willingness to negotiate. Also taking up the issue of Iran, the Progressive Caucus today convened its first in a series of ad-hoc hearings on the administration’s pre-emptive war strategy.

This ad-hoc hearing is a big deal in an institutional sense. The Progressive Caucus has had one shared staff person for less than a year. With just that small bit of help, the caucus has held numerous events, convened an annual retreat and begun to meet regularly. The conservative knee-capping of idealism during the last decade(s) has created a hardy sort of new progressive. They are intentional idealists (in my work with the Progressive Caucus, I observe that they are more cautious and thoughtful than their most activist political base, this is especially true on Iraq) They understand the nuts and bolts needs of organizing strategically.

The ability to exercise oversight inside Congress but through informal venues is one vital step toward restoring our legislature’s democratic role. Remember, one of the biggest blows to progressive organizing inside Congress came in 1995, when “reforms” written into the Contract with America gave Congress a mid-level lobotomy--wiping out much of the non-official infrastructure that any Members of Congress could use to recognize important issues. Some examples: the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, the Office of Technology Assessment, the Democratic Study Group ( a rapid response staff that delivered strategic foreign policy information—and which had dozens of Republican members) This hurt progressives and independent thinkers in both parties.

While their progressive Republican colleagues were purged, Democrats languished in the “majority mentality” (believing that they’d take the majority back next election cycle.) Meanwhile, Congress turned into a big marble casino, democracy destroying enterprises like the K Street Project flourished, oversight and accountability –not to mention collegiality--became quaint relics, the leveraged buy-out of the public sector accelerated. The Democratic Party lost its way, the Republican party lost its soul. Which is why Democrats should make sure that the label “progressive” is still open to the other side of the aisle.

May 24, 2006

Settling Israel's Permanent Borders
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Last Spring my father-in-law and I made a bet:  he said that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip was a one-off effort to relieve Western pressure and offload a long-time albatross.  I maintained it was a precursor to broad Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, which would be Sharon's next move.  He acknowledges that I won, though frustratingly neither of us can remember what we wagered.

Today Sharon's successor Ehud Olmert met with President Bush at the White House to discuss, among other things, his intention for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank in the event that a negotiated settlement does not emerge in the near-term.   I like Olmert's plan, and here's why:

- All unilateral withdrawal would do is make the inevitable terms of a peace settlement a reality.  The parameters for a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement have been well-known since the Camp David talks during the final weeks of the Clinton Administration in 2000.  Six years later, instead of progress there's been only stagnation and regression.  After Arafat's death prospects seemed to improve, only to deteriorate once Fatah disappointed the expectations of the Palestinian people and Hamas took control.  Under these circumstances, to exclude the possibility of any resolution to the conflict short of negotiated settlement is to be resigned to continued strife with no end in sight.

- The prospect of unilateral withdrawal may push the Palestinians back to the bargaining table.  If the Palestinians are as adamant as they claim in opposing imposed borders, they cannot credibly refuse to meet the basic criteria that have been laid down for a resumption of negotiations, including Hamas' recognition of Israel's right to exist.  If they continue to stand aloof, that only strengthens Israel's claim that the unilateral option is their only recourse.

- Even a unilateral withdrawal won't truly be unilateral.  Even if the Israelis are not negotiating directly with their Palestinian counterparts, as they lay plans for their withdrawal consultations with the US, the UN, Europe and Russia will amount to a de facto mediation between the needs and wants of the two parties.  The West will push for boundaries that will minimize Palestinian provocation, and - in the interest of sustaining Western support - Israel will listen.

- The bottom line is that Israeli withdrawal will remove a massive source of conflict in the Middle East.   If Israel withdraws, they will yank out 90-95% of the painful splinter that is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  The primary source of the Palestinian people's 58 year lament will have been removed, and I don't see the world having much patience for the remaining 5-10% of lost territory.  In fact, for years the prospect of straight-up Israeli withdrawal from the territories was thought to represent an unqualified Palestinian victory.  The Palestinians will argue that a unilateral withdrawal without the massive international economic and political supports that would come with a negotiated settlement will leave them in the lurch, but six years after Camp David and four months after Hamas' victory, it will be clear that they had and squandered other options.  Moreover, should a reasoned Palestinian leadership emerge, the economic aid and international backing could as easily be put in place after Israeli withdrawal instead of as part of a settlement.

Sure, a negotiated settlement would sound and feel better, and is less likely to elicit unintended consequences.  But as compared to another decade or more of grinding stalemate, unilateral withdrawal is a better option on all sides.

May 23, 2006


RhetoricWatch: "Turning Point"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So President Bush has duly introduced the frame that will allow his Administration to draw down 30,000 or more troops "by the end of the year."

BUSH: The new Iraqi government does not change America's objectives or our commitment, but it will change how we achieve those objectives and how we honor our commitment.

And as the new Iraqi government grows in confidence and capability, America will play an increasingly supporting role.

To take advantage of this moment of opportunity, the United States and our coalition partners will work with the new Iraqi government to adjust our methods and strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve victory over our common enemies.

...we have now reached a turning point in the struggle between freedom and terror.

It's interesting that the authors of this and similar Administration statements don't seem to feel that any link is needed between troop drawdowns and actual reductions in violence.  The senior US official who briefed on the speech even noted honestly, according to the Washington Post, that in the near-term violence is likely to go up, not down.

I do wonder what polling is telling them that.  Perhaps you also noticed a senior Republican's assessment the other day that one-third of Americans want the troops to come home, one-third want them to stay, and one third are "persuadable."  Or the comment that the Administration wants to stage as many welcome-home ceremonies as possible -- in lieu of "coffin coverage."


Harry S. Bush?
Posted by Derek Chollet

Speaking yesterday in Chicago, President Bush returned to an historical analogy that he has used often during the past few months: Harry S. Truman.  “One thing history teaches,” the President said, “if you look back at some of the written word when Harry Truman had the vision of helping [Japan] recover from the war and become a democracy, a lot of people were saying, it's a waste of his time; hopelessly idealistic, they would say. But he had faith in certain fundamental truths.”

Bush and his team often harken back to the late 1940s and early 1950s to suggest that the new challenges facing America since September 11 are comparable to those that faced Truman -- and more important, that the quality of leadership to meet these challenges is the same.  Each president had to deal with a new threat to the American homeland, and each developed a new American strategic doctrine – containment in 1947, preemption in 2002.  (Jim Goldgeier and I critique this comparison in detail in this summer’s issue of The American Interest)

The appeal of the metaphor is easy to understand.  They want to believe that like Truman, whose popularity ratings were also in the toilet at the end of his term (and whose party got whipped in the 1950 midterm elections), Bush will one day be vindicated by history – that Iraq will turn out to be a stable democracy in the Middle East as Germany and Japan became in Europe and Asia in the 1950s, and that preemption will stand with containment as a brilliant strategy to combat a new enemy.

It is true that Harry Truman is far more beloved today than when he left office, and that he is now considered to be one of America’s greatest presidents, much admired for his folksy style and decisive, gutsy leadership.  Bush likes to call himself the “decider,” and with Truman, everyone knew where the buck stopped.  And Bush very much hopes that, like Truman, he will one day prove the naysayers wrong.

Continue reading "Harry S. Bush?" »

Democracy, Middle East

2010: A Taxi-Cab Odyssey
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Cairo, Egypt. May 2010. The following conversation takes place in a beaten up cab from the 1950s that does not (and cannot) have any seatbelts. Unable to stand the enveloping silence, I make some small talk with the driver:

Shadi: It’s kind of hot today.
Taxi Driver: Yep.
Shadi: Well, what about the political “weather” then (this makes sense in Arabic)? To be honest, I’m pretty disappointed. Always bad news. Gamal [Mubarak] is turning out worse than his father. I didn’t think it was possible.
Taxi Driver: Tell me about it.
Shadi: Well, thank God the US is serious about democracy promotion. The White House will give Gamal a panic attack with its grandiose Wilsonian lectures on political reform.
TD: Who is Wilson?
Shadi: He was an American president 90 years ago. He believed in self-determination for third world peoples, and presumably for Arabs as well.
TD: We want this man Wilson.
Shadi: So do I but, alas, he is dead.
TD: May God be praised. To God we must all return. Still we don’t believe Clinton’s wife is serious in her democracy talk. She talks like Bush. Nice words but empty words. In the Arab world, as you know, we don’t believe what politicians say.
Shadi: Well, I guess that’s one thing we have in common. But what about the US postponing a Free Trade agreement for another five years because of the lack of progress on democratic reform?
TD: Details. Deep down, you don’t want democracy. Ya captain (i.e. Mister) - we remember what happened in Algeria.
Shadi: But that was 20 years ago.
TD: …we also remember what happened in Palestine, when you asked for elections and then you changed your mind after.
Shadi: Ummm...
TD: Plus, you Americans pretended like you didn’t want Gamal to succeed his father. But you could have stopped him if you wanted.


Shadi: Things seemed a lot better when Bill Clinton was president, didn’t they?
TD: May God grant Bill Clinton continued success and prosperity.

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