Moammar Gaddafi leaned across the couch and surprised me with the question he posed, squinting as he searched my face for reaction: «Why do you drink poison?»
I could guess where the Libyan dictator was headed but asked him to explain. During a news conference, we had just engaged in a verbal confrontation over terrorism, and he had asked to see me alone — perhaps, I thought, to articulate his position better, or just to arrest me. «Alcohol,» he said through an interpreter. «You people in the West poison yourself with alcohol. You are fools.»
That 1973 interview in Tripoli and an even more venomous conversation with Gaddafi 14 years later accustomed me never to be surprised by anything he does.… Seguir leyendo »
The enterprising folk of this Adriatic island town now use the past to propel themselves into the future. As they do, they offer a glimpse of a certain idea of promise for all the Balkans.
Disregarding many histories that put Marco Polo’s birthplace elsewhere, or record it as unknown, Korculans claim the Venetian Republic explorer as a native son, industriously dedicating souvenir shops, cafes and a bare-bones nativity site to him without so much as an asterisk.
«This is brilliant,» a successful Latin American businessman and friend said admiringly as we trudged up the rickety staircase of «Marco Polo’s House» to discover it led only to a viewing platform looking down on other houses.… Seguir leyendo »
The Robert S. McNamara who helped lead the United States into defeat and shame in Vietnam would never have anticipated or trusted what I am about to recount. None of the computers he depended on to chart that war could quantify serendipity or instinct.
I’m not sure what the other McNamara — the remorseful , melancholy ex-president of the World Bank whom I came to know long after Vietnam had ended — would have made of this circumstance: Word of his death at 93 reached me as I was talking about the history and future of counterinsurgency in Asia with a 23-year-old Army lieutenant due to undertake a tour of combat duty in Afghanistan within a year.… Seguir leyendo »
Europe will be wrangled for the next six months by a lanky, no-nonsense Swede named Carl Bildt. His country chairs this semester’s cascade of European Union summits, procedural debates and other gabfests. As Sweden’s foreign minister, it is Bildt’s job to make sense of it all — a task akin to herding not cats but eels.
Well, he asked for it, didn’t he? When he was Sweden’s prime minister in the 1990s, the conservative politician relentlessly overhauled his country’s socialist economic policies and neutralist orientation to push it into the European Union. Now Sweden is stuck picking up the pieces of a deepening European economic crisis, paralyzed national governments and a constitutional stalemate.… Seguir leyendo »
«President» Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s brutal clampdown on his opponents is a tragedy for Iranians. But the shredding of Iran’s pretensions of being a stable, democratic state may offer positive change in the Middle East in the longer term.
Such an outcome is far from guaranteed — and is likely to come only after sharp new regional tensions or even violence sparked by Iran, Israel or both nations acting separately in reinforcing fashion. The idea that the use of force can make things better has not been abandoned in the Middle East.
The election crisis has entered the all-important moment of interpretation by Iran and its neighbors.… Seguir leyendo »
France’s attitude toward U.S. policy on Middle East peace? «We totally agreed.» How about Iran? «Totally aligned on this.» Personal relations? «It is a pleasure to work with Barack Obama.»
Thus said French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a joint news conference during President Obama’s recent European drop-by. Remarkable by the standards of the often prickly French-U.S. relationship, such solidarity was even more striking coming from the combative Sarkozy, who does not sweet-talk peers in the world leadership club.
More often he lashes out at them, in impatience or from an internal rage that seeks any outlet he can find. Ask Germany’s Angela Merkel.… Seguir leyendo »
Los intentos del presidente Obama por impedir la desclasificación de las fotografías de los abusos de presos estadounidenses es un error que se puede enmendar. El presidente actúa de buena fe, comprendiendo los desquiciados tiempos que atraviesa la sociedad en la que vive. Por sí solo eso supone un avance en la Casa Blanca. Los ex aliados de Obama se lanzan a acusarle de hipocresía y cobardía moral por contradecirse en el asunto de las torturas y la transparencia. El premio a la hipérbole instantánea odiosa es para Anthony D. Romero, director de la Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles, que sugería que Obama «está encubriendo no solamente a Bush, sino también a sí mismo».… Seguir leyendo »
President Obama’s national security aides are struggling to conclude a strategic review of U.S. policy toward Iran. The review is certain to be comprehensive, imaginative — and largely silent to irrelevant on the most difficult choices about Iran that Obama will face over the next year or two.
The review cannot be completed until Obama has what may be his toughest meeting yet with a foreign leader. That Oval Office session with Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s newly elected prime minister, will come in mid-May. Netanyahu’s impressions of Obama’s intentions on Iran will determine war-or-peace choices for the Middle East.
The survey of American options on Iran forms a major part of the sprint that the president and his advisers have made toward the 100-day milestone they will reach on Wednesday.They… Seguir leyendo »
You will hear a lot about President Obama putting his stamp on the war in Afghanistan over the next two weeks. But you won’t hear the whole story. Smart generals and smart ambassadors don’t upstage the boss, and Gen. David Petraeus and diplomat Richard Holbrooke are as smart as they come.
You will hardly see their fingerprints, even though the shape — and the fate — of the new Afghanistan strategy will depend greatly on the work and ideas of these two skilled policy operatives. Similar in drive and vision, they bring contrasting histories of involvement in American wars to their current assignments, and history is everything in Afghanistan, the land known as the graveyard of empires.… Seguir leyendo »
El Presidente Obama está decidido a cumplir el compromiso que adquirió como candidato y lograr que Estados Unidos pase de librar la guerra errónea de Irak a ganar la guerra correcta en Afganistán.Si bien es cierto que su formulación tiene puntos oscuros, hay también mucho que admirar en la forma en la que está procediendo en sus primeros días como inquilino de la Casa Blanca.
Obama tiene un estilo de sopesar y tomar decisiones disciplinado y fresco. Ha reclutado a gente inteligente con experiencia para convertir la Casa Blanca en el escenario destinado a idear una estrategia global, no sólo a componer un conjunto de políticas.Y… Seguir leyendo »
There is a special, overflowing corner of hell reserved for the policies and practices of just-departed American presidents, and the Obama administration has rushed to toss democracy promotion in Afghanistan onto that sulfurous heap of political oblivion. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai is making it perfectly clear that he does not intend to go along for the ride, quietly or otherwise.
In interviews, statements to Congress and speeches, President Obama and his chief foreign policy aides have distanced themselves from Karzai so effectively that he might as well be on the moon. They do not mince words in accusing him of letting Afghanistan become a «narco-state» rampant with corruption while allowing the Taliban to retake growing swaths of the countryside.… Seguir leyendo »
«Action is my policy,» Nicolas Sarkozy once explained to a foreign acquaintance. And movement is the French president’s only constant. So welcome to the Middle East, Monsieur le President. You may have found a crisis to measure up to your metabolism.
His quicksilver qualities made Sarkozy the most interesting leader on the international scene over the past year, if not the most consequential or successful. By interjecting himself into the small but brutal Israeli-Palestinian war in the Gaza Strip, Sarkozy continues to plunge headfirst where others tiptoe away.
Interesting is not the only I-word that his peers in the world leadership club apply to Sarkozy, who came to power in May 2007 promising a «rupture» with France’s immobilized domestic and foreign policies.… Seguir leyendo »
«This cannot be,» Henry Kissinger once muttered in exasperation when an unexpectedly positive development occurred during a Democratic administration. «The wrong people are doing the right thing.»
I have thought of the Kissinger anomaly in recent weeks while watching Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari confound the low expectations he inspired when he took charge of the most dangerous place on Earth in September.
Zardari is the corruption-tainted amateur politician who became president in the wake of the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, late last year. He seemed absolutely the wrong man to handle Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and its collapsing economy or to deal with his country’s support for Islamic terrorist networks.… Seguir leyendo »
While world leaders gathered here to unleash soothing words on the financial tsunami swamping their economies, the daring «responsibility to protect» doctrine adopted by U.N. members three years ago was being buried in the killing fields of eastern Congo.
For the sake of your bank account, hope that the international community can protect dollars, euros and yen more successfully than it protects the lives and safety of people who happen to live in failed or rogue states.
In three years, «never again» has become «sorry about that.» Humanitarian intervention — proudly proclaimed as a universal mission by Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and other Third Way leaders and eventually adopted at the 2005 U.N.… Seguir leyendo »
Looking down on the smoking ruins of the world’s stock markets and financial institutions from the Alpine foothills, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev took consolation where he could find it last week by celebrating the joys of American decline.
The era of «unipolarity» — of the United States setting itself up as the «mega-regulator» of world affairs — has reached a well-deserved end, Medvedev told other leaders with undisguised satisfaction. That failure became indisputable in August, he continued, when the United States was powerless to prevent Georgia from attacking Russian forces and Russia from responding by invading its neighbor.
Dump America Inc.… Seguir leyendo »
Russia is developing a comprehensive strategy of bleeding American power around the globe. The United States must respond not at its point of greatest weakness, as the Bush administration may be tempted to do, but at its points of strength.
Russia’s leaders have made it clear over the past month that their invasion of Georgia is not an isolated retaliation against a troublesome small neighbor. It is part of a broader effort by the Kremlin to establish new rules for big-power relations on its own terms while U.S. forces are stretched to their limits in the greater Middle East.
The emerging change in power relationships does not rise to the level so far of a new Cold War.… Seguir leyendo »
Russia’s brutal and calculated invasion of Georgia raises the curtain on a dangerously volatile period in world politics. Further miscalculation and posturing by Russian, American and European leaders could damage the prospects of global peace for years to come.
Unilateral U.S. sanctions and more rhetoric are unlikely to succeed in reversing the immediate consequences of Vladimir Putin’s lunge for revenge and advantage in the Caucasus. The overriding policy goal for Washington should be to forge a new U.S.-European understanding on Russia that will be as durable and agile as containment was in the Cold War.
Times change, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointed out when asserting that «this is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia,» even if there are eerie parallels to that presidential election year for Americans.… Seguir leyendo »
Every aspect of life under totalitarian governments is political, from sports to culture to business. President Bush and other world leaders attending the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics this week should stop pretending otherwise, especially to the Chinese people.
«I made a decision not to politicize the Games,» Bush grandly told Asian journalists last week, according to the People’s Daily newspaper in Beijing. «This is for athletics.»
Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and their peers will be at the games precisely because they are ruling politicians, not javelin throwers or sprinters. Their protestations that politics and sports should not mix on this occasion are exercises in denying their own identities.… Seguir leyendo »
At the strong urging of the Bush administration, Israel has pulled back from threatening to bomb Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and has joined the U.S.-led effort to give coercive diplomacy with Tehran a (time-limited) chance.
Actually, Israel is giving diplomacy three chances: It is also pursuing indirect peace talks with Syria in a smart effort to wean that Arab country from its partial alliance with Iran. And Israel recently accepted a cease-fire in Gaza, in large part to rebuild bridges with Egypt.
So you might want to consider battening down the hatches and getting the bomb shelters ready, just in case.… Seguir leyendo »
John McCain would kick Russia out of the Group of Eight economic powers that meet in Japan this week. But this is no time to think small. The G-8 leaders themselves should declare surrender and disband their high-profile huddle on the state of the world.
Think of it as global shock therapy: Using the July 7-9 summit on Hokkaido Island to abandon the bloated, unwieldy G-8 format would be a first step toward acknowledging and rethinking — at the highest level — these important international realities:
· The world that these leaders and their predecessors have promised for the past three decades is not today’s world of energy and food-price shocks, global financial irresponsibility, menacing climate change, and terrorist networks seeking weapons of mass destruction.… Seguir leyendo »