India Matters

Reaffirming American relations with India was one of the few foreign policy successes of the Bush Administration. A nuclear power with an impressive but stable economic growth, India is already the South Asian superpower and likely to become more than that. It works with Brazil and Russia and even with China (the so-called “BRIC”) to strengthen its international position and it plays a pivotal, albeit an oftentimes overlooked, role in the Middle East.

President Obama was wise to invite his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh for the White House’s first state dinner on November 24 — a clear sign that the current administration also intends for India to be part of its “multilateral” strategy. According to the president, India is “indispensable” in the building of “a future of security and prosperity for all nations.”

Singh, as finance minister during the first half of the 1990s, broke with India’s past of moderate socialism and instituted a series of reforms that carried the country out of recession. As prime minister, he continues to promote privatization and free trade while while investing generously in a massive campaign against poverty. Obama recognized these achievements when he declared that, “[a]s leading economies, the United States and India can strengthen the global economic recovery, promote trade that creates jobs for both our people, and pursue growth that is balanced and sustained.”

In another one of the president’s crusades, bringing proliferation to a halt, he also acknowledged the importance of India. “As nuclear powers, we can be full partners in preventing the spread of the world’s most deadly weapons, securing loose nuclear materials from terrorists, and pursuing our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons.” Both countries have known the “pain and anguish of terrorism,” the president spoke, so they must stand together to “promote the development and prosperity that undermines violent extremism.”

Prime Minister Singh responded in kind when he opined that India and the United States are “bound together” by common values and a shared dedication “to meet [the] challenges of a fast-changing world in this twenty-first century.”

There is an elephant in the room that neither leader spoke of. America is investing in Pakistan to support its war on terror at a time when India and Pakistan are accusing one another of involvements in terrorist attacks in their countries. After fighting three wars the two countries are still engaged in something of a nuclear cold war. Pervez Hoodbhoy notes however on the New Atlanticist, that most of India “would like to forget that Pakistan exists.” Fast on its way to become a true superpower, India “has no need to engage a struggling Pakistan with its endless litany of problems,” according to Hoodbhoy.

That’s not how Pakistan sees it. Islamabad is by no means comfortable with India’s newfound American approval. The Obama Administration will have to carefully balance its commitment to Pakistan against its relationship with India. It needs the first to bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful end but once that’s done, India is really the onle country in South Asia that matters.

Cheney Takes Another Hit at Obama

President Barack Obama is projecting “weakness” because of his “agonizing” over whether or not to send more troops into Afghanistan, former Vice President Dick Cheney complains. “I begin to get nervous when I see the commander-in-chief making decisions apparently for what I would describe as small ‘p’ political reasons, where he’s trying to balance off different competing groups in society,” said Cheney.

After spending eight years more or less undercover Cheney has come out as a fierce critic of the Obama Administration especially where the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are concerned — wars, of course, his administration launched and, arguably, mismanaged for years.

Cheney continues to question the president’s ability to steer the war in the right direction when he nags that, “[e]very time he delays, defers, debates, changes his position, it begins to raise questions: Is the commander-in-chief really behind what they’ve been asked to do?” Apparently, after neglecting the Afghan war throughout almost his entire two terms in office, now, Cheney is concerned with the soldiers on the ground.

Asked whether he believes that the Bush Administration bears part of the responsibility for the difficulties faced in Afghanistan today, the former vice president answered, “I basically don’t,” without volunteering to elaborate.

What he was willing to elaborate upon was Obama’s supposed weakness however. He called the president “far more radical than I expected” and correctly observed that Obama “campaigned against much of what we put in place.” We referring, of course, to the previous administration. “I think that our adversaries […] see that as a sign of weakness,” said Cheney. Traditional allies of the United States see it in a wholly different light however; they are extremely relieved to find a government across the Atlantic that is once again taking them seriously and treating them on equal footing. Denouncing that only demonstrates all the more what colossal foreign policy misjudgments the last Bush Administration made.

Cheney’s fear that Obama’s pondering encourages America’s enemies in the Middle East seems rather misplaced. A war of such importance as the one in Afghanistan demands a president that isn’t afraid to consider all of his options before making a decision. In fact, one-sided advice is probably what led George W. Bush to severely underestimate the magnitude of the war in the first place. So when Cheney accuses the president of using the war in order to score political points, he really ought to take a look in the mirror — and not just when it comes to Afghanistan.

Bloomberg’s Call for Repeal of Tiahrt

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has called for Congress to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment. A law passed in 2003 and made permanent in 2008 that Bloomberg claims is hampering the investigations of people such as Nidal Malik Hasan, the man who went on the shooting spree in Fort Hood, Texas.

The same Nidal Hasan was already under investigation for posting on the Internet that Muslims should rise up against America and was declared to be mostly harmless.

It seems Bloomberg’s real problem isn’t that the Tiahrt Amendment prevents the investigation of firearm related crimes. If it did, we wouldn’t know that Hasan had bought the pistol he used from a Gunshop in Keleem, Texas.

Bloomberg’s problem is that his group Mayors Against Illegal Guns have been trying to get their hands on confidential law enforcement data for their lawsuit against American firearms manufacturers. Read more “Bloomberg’s Call for Repeal of Tiahrt”

Republican Party Lost Direction

Many appear to agree that in spite of their increasing popularity in the polls, today’s Republicans are divided when it comes to their party’s future. After the evangelic surge under George W. Bush, the populist, anti-Obama rhetoric that is espoused nowadays by the likes of Glenn Beck, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin fails to charm part of the conservative backbone that would like to see their GOP move back to the old-styled small government, free-market philosophies which used to make it great.

Just a few days ago, JD Roger quoted Ronald Reagan-biographer Steven Hayward when he declared the Republican Party “brain dead”. Hayward longs for the days when right-wing intellectuals as Allan Bloom, Milton Friedman and Francis Fukuyama fueled the party’s agenda with their writings on the accomplishments of Western-styled democracy, individualism and free-market economics. What we get instead, he complains, is ridiculous “birthers” and “tea partygoers” who are encouraged by blustering lunatics as Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Writing for The Washington Post, Jon Cohen and Dan Balz explain in part why so many people turn to listen to these hysterics. Besides a strong anti-Obama sentiment, they write, there is actually little that holds the Republican Party together these days. Not even half of the people who identify as a “Republican” approve of the direction in which the party’s leadership is pushing them. Moreover, they don’t really know who their party’s leaders are supposed to be anyway. No more than two out ten people favor Sarah Palin while just 1 percent said former President Bush represented “the best reflection of the party’s principles.”

In spite of strong internal disagreement on issues as abortion and same-sex marriage, the Post states that most Republicans “see the party as paying too little attention to federal spending. Most strongly oppose the government’s use of hundreds of billions of dollars over the past two years to bolster the economy.”

Yet it was under the last Bush Administration already that government spending skyrocketed while Republicans in Congress today dare hardly to voice any criticism of massive bailouts and outright government takeovers of business. The economic downturn has apparently been able to silence even the staunchest of capitalists in Washington even though many Republican voters are protesting evermore loudly against further government intrusion in their private lives — and in their private businesses.

Be Nice to China

In The Washington Post, Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal describe the Obama Administration’s new approach toward China as “accommodating”. What this entails precisely, no one knows, but what we do know is that the White House likes to call its policy “strategic reassurance,” or: convincing the Chinese that they’re really not out to bomb Bejing any time soon. It’s about time.

Up until now, Washington still seemed to consider China a future rival more than anything. The previous administration did very little to change that view. Quite to the contrary, it launched a partnership with Australia, India and Japan to counterbalance China’s growing naval potential; a potential that is greatly overestimated anyway. Moreover, China is virtually ignored when it comes to Afghanistan although it has shown itself able and willing to contribute to the economic reconstruction of the country.

In a speech this summer before the Council on Foreign Relations, American secretary of state Hillary Clinton finally appeared to put some distance between the Sinophobia of the previous years and her own approach. She wants to encourage all rising powers to become “full partners” in her multilateral world while acknowleding China’s economic significance to the United States. Read more “Be Nice to China”

Why Do We Bowl?

Bowling Alone cover
Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000)

In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam suggests that we act politically because of a shared trust and sense of community. Other political scientists (such as Benedict Anderson) believe that cultural cleavages are what drive us to act. Still others (Lipset, Almond, Verba) think that a shared tradition and shared cultural norms are what drive our political activity. These culturalist schools of political science all have merits and all can explain some past forms of political motivations.

Putnam’s idea of shared trust (“social capital”) and sense of community can explain a lot and is closely related to those who believe in a shared tradition and cultural norms as motivational factors. Read more “Why Do We Bowl?”

Brain Dead Conservatism

In The Washington Post, Steven Hayward lays out his argument that conservatism has become a brain-dead movement:

Consider the “tea party” phenomenon. Though authentic and laudatory, it is unfocused, lacking the connection to a concrete ideology that characterized the tax revolt of the 1970s, which was joined at the hip with insurgent supply-side economics. Meanwhile, the “birthers” have become the “grassy knollers” of the right; their obsession with Obama’s origins is reviving frivolous paranoia as the face of conservatism. (Does anyone really think that if evidence existed of Obama’s putative foreign birth, Hillary Rodham Clinton wouldn’t have found it 18 months ago?) Read more “Brain Dead Conservatism”

What We Call the News

This title stolen from JibJab’s song of the same title found here.

In talking about the information networks of the twenty-first century, one cannot omit the rise of the Internet and the revitalization of conversational media.

As lecturer Alex Whalen has told us, in the first era of the American newspaper, conversation was key; the back page of every newspaper was left blank for people to leave their comments. These newspapers were passed from person to person and the conversation was looked upon by the founders as vital to a republic.

Indeed, in the words of Jack Anderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist:

Thomas Jefferson… He advocated and supported a free press and yet Thomas Jefferson was savaged by the press. He was excoriated by the press. He was abused more by the press than Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon or anybody that we have had in recent times. Thomas Jefferson was savaged by the press. Excoriated. And he was human. He didn’t like it. He went nose to nose with a couple of editors in Philadelphia. He said to one Philadelphia paper: “Nothing in this paper is true, with the possible exception of the advertising, and I question that.” And yet that wise Thomas Jefferson, in a moment of truth, said, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.” After all he had been through, he was wise enough to understand. And there is no one here that has been through as much as Thomas Jefferson.

But now, with information almost instantly available to us from more sources than we have ever had available to us before, what effect will this conversation have?

For a little less than a century, we have been completely reliant on one-way media — television, newsreels, radio — that turn the general public into passive consumers of information.

Now, with tools like this blog and the newly-added comment sections on the websites of major news outlets, as well as online forums and Twitter, conversation is making news interactive again, much like in colonial times. Read more “What We Call the News”