December 18, 2005

Common Threads: Of Torture and Security

One of the goals of this blog has been to discuss the changing role of security, and the torture debate is not inseparable here or when otherwise analyzing global perceptions of the United States.

Stateside, the debate about the Bush Administration's war on terrorism seems to have hit an upsurge with reports from the New York Times that the President allowed the National Security Agency to spy on its citizens. This is, of course, coupled with the news that certain sunset provisions ofthe Patriot Act will probably not be renewed. And though his recent series of speeches on the Iraq War have attempted to redraw connections between a concerted military action and disperse terrorist ones, this effort does not appear to be as trenchant as it once was.

Of course, the international coverage of these stories has yet to coalesce, perhaps because their implications are domestic. It appears that said news media has been captivated far more by the question of the CIA black sites. This is fitting considering how many countries were potentially involved, as noted in Francis Pisani's post.

When Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice made her trip to Europe over a week ago, one can assume responses to black site revelations were not at the top of her agenda. Nevertheless, she was met by an avalanche of criticism after every stop she made; from Berlin to Bucharest to Kiev, and everywhere in between. Much of it focused on the method of extraordinary rendition, which was a catchphrase difficult to explain in legalese, let alone in any extant language. In the end, as Nagomi Onda observes in her post on an Asahi article, both the U.S. and European countries had much face-saving to accomplish given their professed regard for "humanitarianism."

And thus the situation simmers. There are reports that the U.S. has since moved these prisons, but there is still some reticence from at least one of the states implicated (Poland) to consider what once transpired. Jakub Wrzesniewski posted to this effect, when he noticed that two stories in some prominent Polish dailies parroted much of their coverage from U.S. sources. This is especially peculiar given the ripe possibilities for a story with the scope of international terrorism.

There are of course a plenitude of posts that were never made on other facets of the black site story, from the strange and tragic apprehension of Khalid al-Masri, to how some around the world view the United States' apparent implementation of Krauhammer's "ticking time bomb". We have but a small cast at our disposal.

Regardles, the Bush Administration's sudden garnering of attention in the thicket of domestic security concerns doesn't seem to bode well for its immediate future. The way in which both foreign governments, and for the purposes of this blog, foreign media have grasped on to this issue is also not easily dismissible, though. Take the Swiss NZZ, which announces every action of special prosecutor Dick Marty in the minutest of detail.

American conduct in its war on terror is under more intense scrutiny as the days roll on, mostly because its ephemerality leads so easily to skepticism. One can argue, perhaps, that the Administration's governance of this conflict has never been given a fair shake by the international media, that few in the foreign ranks seem to understand that the stakes include some of the most serious security consequences of our time. But then maybe all of the coverage is duly warranted.

Some more, still, have it that the best thing to do is to question those nattering nabobs head-on: As Colin Powell relayed in yesterday's BBC World TV program, none of this rendition business is "new or unknown."

If this is the case, this blogger would hate to think that WorldAndUs's occupancy of the information superhighway was merely idle.

Posted 03:16 AM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2005

Hands Across the Ocean

Supposedly, the gap between the United States and Europe has never been bigger. But for anyone who’s spent any time talking to anti-immigrant activists in the U.S. these days, the parallels with the attitudes of the French and Dutch “no” voters are striking.

Low-wage competition, cultural subversion, Third-World criminality…the fears resound in an echo chamber that stretches from Utrecht to Raleigh, from Denver to Nancy.

It would be as big a mistake to exaggerate the resemblances as it is to ignore them. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s closest U.S. equivalent, Patrick Buchanan, is a marginal figure and will remain one. And the North Africans of Holland and France are pushed to the edge of those societies in a way that America’s Latinos, even the illegal ones, are not.

And yet…when a politician as shrewd and determined as Hillary Clinton makes clear that she has zero sympathy for illegal immigrants, when George W. Bush all but abandons his plans for comprehensive immigration reform ( “I'll continue working on it. You don't have my pledge that Congress will act, because I'm not a member of the legislative branch,” he said at a meeting with Mexico’s Vicente Fox last March), and when the anti-immigrant “real ID” bill sails through Congress, it’s fair to conclude that the politicians are getting nervous.

The idea that the rich favor illegal immigration because it provides cheap labor, including nannies and gardeners is heard frequently in the U.S. these days. It is just true enough that the argument can’t be dismissed out of hand – much like the view that the French political class is out of touch with ordinary people.

Posted 06:52 PM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2005

COMMON THREADS: Democracy Blowback?

The potential for blowback from the Bush Administration’s new democracy initiatives are surfacing as the Middle and Near East enters a critical historic juncture. On the one hand, the Iraqi parliament’s selection of a Kurd as President and a Shi’ite Muslim leader as Prime Minister can only create relief, mixed with discomfort, among those who opposed the invasion of Iraq. The war may have been brutal, ill-thought out, launched on misleading grounds, and conducted under newly heightened levels of information control, but it is hard to argue with the creation of something resembling representative government for the first time in the country’s history. The elevation into power of two groups long repressed by the Hussein regime and which together represent the overwhelming majority of Iraq’s population is a truly historic event.

But before the United States rests too long on this comforting development, cues from a more democratic Iraq and elsewhere in the region suggest potential trouble ahead, as reported on this site. Democracy can deliver surprises. A government dominated by Shi’ites, closely allied with Iran—one of the Bush Administration’s topmost ‘rogue nations—and Kurds, fierce enemies of America’s close ally Turkey—may yet have many opportunities to turn against American interests. “Are we (Americans and Europeans) ready to accept the results of democratic elections if they imply the victory of Islamists?” asks Najla Bembarek, reporting on a statement by the French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine to Le Monde. Clues that a divide between the American desire for democracy and the democratically expressed desire of the region’s new democrats are beginning to emerge not only in Iraq.

As Lubna Takruri points out the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz last week admonished the United States to steer clear of overly aggressive lobbying for democracy in Arab countries for fear of derailing the efforts through too close an association with U.S. interests. “While the Bush administration's rhetoric has hoped to equate democracy with the American way in the minds of the world, many Arab countries are leaning toward democracy on their own, as long as it doesn't mean pro-Americanism,” Takruri writes.
She quotes Ha’aretz: “To attain public legitimacy, it appears that each of these movements needs an anti-American slogan in addition to the pro-democracy slogan.”

While President Bush pushes for elections in Lebanon independent of the Syrians —which indeed would be a welcome development—cautionary notes about the U.S. democracy offensive are registering as far afield as Australia--about as distant from the roiling tensions of the Mid East as you can get. Federico Rampini reports that a majority of Australian citizens register U.S. foreign policy as a bigger threat to world peace than Islamic fundamentalism.

Ironically, it may be the Middle East, now considered a showcase for the democracy offensive of the Bush Administration, that could end up being the place where the inspirational ideas of democracy are ultimately decoupled from their historic source, the United States.

Posted 06:01 PM | Comments (0)