Monday, March 28, 2005

Good. Australian. Mining Company.


If you thought the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was the only private entity doing something about malaria, there's yesterday's New York Times Op-Ed page, which congratulated an Australian mining company, of all things, for participating in a large-scale malaria eradication program in southern Africa.

Basically, BHP Billiton has been helping Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland kill mosquitoes over a 40,000-plus square mile area, dropping the incidence of malaria by up to 96 percent in one district.

Selfish? You bet: BHP Billiton needs a healthy workforce to get the aluminum it sells, and its own less-intense malaria program wasn't doing the trick.

But the mineral-extraction biz isn't exactly notorious for its public-mindedness, so it's exceptional that BHP has found an intersection between profits (US$5.2 billion last year) and helping with a big job that's normally reserved for national governments.

Friday, March 25, 2005

WhirledView on the Lack of U.S. Cultural Institutes Abroad


Patricia Kushlis, formerly of the old U.S. Information Agency, writes in WhirledView about the current lack of U.S. cultural centers overseas and what this means for U.S. soft power.

Since her days as a cultural attaché in Manila and elsewhere, the U.S. has de-funded the network of libraries, theaters and classrooms that used to serve as friendly entry points for foreigners interested in American ideas, language and entertainment. Why were they de-funded—because they didn't work? Hardly. Kushlis rightly blames bean-counter stinginess and adds that Spain's Cervantes Institutes and China's new Confucius Institutes are successfully replicating the U.S. cultural center model.

There's an Instituto Cervantes in Albuquerque, New Mexico and a Confucius Insitute at the University of Maryland, College Park if you want to see what the U.S. might be doing right overseas—again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Beacon No. 27: Thirty-Three Thousand Miles and Counting


Like every president since Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may soon be judged by the dread First Hundred Days yardstick. In mid-May, dozens if not hundreds of newspaper writers worldwide will consider what Rice has and hasn't accomplished in the 100 days since her January 28 swearing-in.

It's important to assess the nation's most important diplomat, as she is more responsible than even the president for explaining America's message to foreign leaders and their publics. But I'm impatient and don't want to wait for a barrage of 100-days articles. Trying to stay ahead of the curve, here's a quick look at her first 55 days.

Rice's confirmation hearing went smoothly thanks to the Republican majority in the Senate, and she managed not to lose her temper when baited by Democrat Barbara Boxer. But she didn't answer some of Boxer's questions, either, implying the senator was questioning her integrity by asking Rice to admit mistakes regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Choosing to frame political or policy attacks as personal attacks is a first-term reflex that's no longer necessary.

Consistent Action, Terrible Timing
On March 7 the U.S. pulled out of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a 1969 agreement that requires signatories to let the International Court of Justice in Vienna decide whether a foreign national was denied proper access to consular officials if he or she is arrested in another country.

The apparent trigger for the pullout is an ICJ ruling that 51 Mexican nationals on death row in the U.S. were illegally denied access to Mexican consuls, and had the right to a new hearing. The Bush administration decided on February 28 to grant the new hearings, but then pulled out of the Optional Protocol a week later.

The U.S. proposed the Optional Protocol in 1963 to increase its citizens' chances of getting a fair shake in questionable overseas justice systems, and later used it to successfully sue Iran over its holding of 52 American hostages. Still, the pullout is consistent with the Bush administration's long-term pattern of downplaying, resisting or withdrawing from international conventions.

But the Optional Protocol move was poorly timed, coming just hours before Secretary Rice's March 10 meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox, a guy who is already feeling ignored by a Bush administration that, pre-9/11, took pains to befriend President Fox and highlight Mexican-American relations. Mexican citizens might think the U.S. is pulling out of an entire international treaty so it can more easily execute future Mexican felons, and that's not the kind of message that they or Fox—who has a big say in how porous the southern U.S. border is—need to hear right now.

To her credit, Rice assured Mexican officials during her March 10 visit that the rights of Mexican nationals would be respected in future prosecutions, and Fox is visiting the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas today; but you'd think the U.S. could have waited a couple of months to pull out of the Optional Protocol.

Walking the Talk
As I'd written previously (see Beacon No. 25: Secretary Rice Not-Goes to Cairo), Rice recently took pains to snub Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak over the jailing of opposition leader Ayman Noor by canceling a much-anticipated visit to Egypt. Realpolitik verdict: C-minus, we need Mubarak on our side! Walking-the-talk verdict, A-plus for acting on your ideals.

The Home Front, or, Backstabbing 'R' Us
Time magazine weighs in with an unusually favorable article about Rice, quoting several unnamed officials on Rice's ability to secure her back—unlike her predecessor, Colin Powell.

For example, John Bolton, apparently responsible for undermining Powell while he was Powell's putative deputy, has become Someone Else's Problem by being appointed ambassador to the United Nations. Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith are no longer major factors at the Department of Defense, causing Donald Rumsfeld to tread more lightly in policymaking.

The result is that, whether these personnel changes are Rice's doing or not, she and U.S. foreign policy are the beneficiaries: The U.S. will present a more unified foreign-policy face to the world, and Time suggests that world leaders are already viewing Rice's words as the official position of the U.S.

Ain't Too Proud to Be Shot At
Like Donald Rumsfeld, Rice seems to have no problem heading to places where lots of people really do want her dead, rather than just cashiered. In the past week she's hit Afghanistan and Pakistan, doing media interviews, visiting troops and talking with ministers and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. She also visited the friendlier environs of China, Japan, South Korea and India on the same trip, being polite yet firm and direct about U.S. interests, and reportedly is in command of her material in each country.

All this is in addition to separate, highly regarded swings through Europe and the Middle East in February and early March.

Your Tax Dollars at Work
Hoping to make sure Karen Hughes has enough money to work with if she is confirmed as Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Rice has requested $326 million for public diplomacy efforts in the fiscal year that begins this October, plus $430 million for educational and cultural exchange programs.

Summing Up, for Now
I liked and respected Colin Powell for being a hard-working straight-shooter, perhaps being too strongly influenced by his inspirational My American Journey. But as Secretary of State, Powell was hobbled by infighting with Donald Rumsfeld in the wake of 9/11 and reportedly was reluctant to leave the U.S. for fear of knives flying at his back. If the gifted Rice can leverage a mostly positive start with foreign leaders while maintaining President Bush's unequivocal support, I've got much more optimism for the next 1,100 days of U.S. foreign policy than I had for the previous 1,100.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Early Oeuvre of Karen Hughes

Bob Mann writes in the New York Times about his time as journalism guru to a teenage Karen Hughes at Southern Methodist University:

Hughes, 19 at the time and still called Karen Parfitt, was in Mann's undergraduate deadline-writing class and framed her worldview thusly:

"The most important issue facing America is the question of her foreign policy. I have lived in other countries and seen anti-American feelings growing as totalitarian governments or a loss of democracy begin to sweep their country.

"I think America is in danger both internally from the dissentions of her own people on foreign policy and externally from the strong governments in the world which are not democratic."

Mann then recalls the future undersecretary-designate's self-analysis. Here's what she wrote about her ambitions:

"My lifetime goal is to contribute in a positive way to whatever task I work at," adding, "My greatest personal asset is a dogged determination which only forces me to work harder at something when I have difficulty with it.

"My greatest personal liability," she typed on, "is perhaps trying to satisfy other people more often than thinking what is best for me." The under secretary-designate, given her loyal service to the president, is perhaps still burdened by that "liability."

Thanks to Bob Mann for unearthing Hughes' early and presumably guileless words. We'll hope she can transfer her well-known abilities and doggedness—and her loyalty—to the State Department and the task of being America's top public diplomat.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Beacon No. 26: The Militia Brought Soup


The "cedar revolution" in Lebanon, so-called for that nation's national tree, is about to get its first major test. Demonstrations against Syrian influence in the country have jammed Martyrs' Square in Beirut the past few weeks, triggered by the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The protesters blame Syria, as do most other non-Syrian observers, since al-Hariri was an ardent opponent of Damascus' influence over Lebanon.

International pressure has combined with crowd pressure to force Damascus to say it will gradually move its troops out of Lebanese cities to the Bekaa Valley, and eventually over the border into Syria.

But now comes the counter-revolution: Hizbullah is siding with Syria.

This terrorist group, whose name means "party of God," is a largely Shi'ite organization created and financed by Syria to wage proxy war against Israel from within Lebanon. Protected from having to disarm, it now fields a "well-armed" 25,000-man militia that may be the most powerful military force in Lebanon. Hizbullah also runs a wildly popular, extensive network of social services in Lebanon, including some of the country's best schools, hospitals and orphanages, and has won grudging admiration even from those who consider its attacks on Israel criminal.

On Sunday Hizbullah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, called for Lebanese to show how thankful they are for all the "help" Syria has given Lebanon by participating in a mass demonstration Tuesday. Hizbullah is highly motivated to keep a Syrian presence in the country, says the Christian Science Monitor, since Syria helps legitimize it. Without Syria, Hizbullah may move from being a kingmaker to being just one more Lebanese political party, albeit an exceptionally disciplined one.

Over a hundred thousand Hizbullah supporters may show up, which would be fine, if the demonstration were to be held in Beirut's southern suburbs, as most are. But the Hizbullah demonstration will be held near Martyrs' Square, where thousands of anti-Syria protesters are camped out.

I haven't seen anyone saying this rally may trigger a renewed civil war yet, but I'm looking for clashes at the fringes of both camps. I wouldn't be surprised if photographers are allowed to capture a few beatings being administered to anti-Syria protesters, who will be greatly outnumbered.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Beacon No. 25: Secretary Rice Not-Goes to Cairo


Right now it looks like walking the talk is getting results in the Middle East, as Bush administration pressure on undemocratic regimes—which many have dismissed as rhetoric at best and saber-rattling at worst—appears to be getting some traction in both Syria and Egypt.

First, Bush administration pressure on Syria has gotten a boost from peaceful street demonstrations in Lebanon demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops from that country. With the al-Hariri assassination, the Lebanese seem to have had enough of the Syrian "peacekeeping" presence, whether the Syrians were truly responsible or not. The Assad government seems to have (grudgingly) acknowleded this, and will withdraw its troops to at least the Bekaa Valley—and then home—sometime real soon.

Second, Lebanon's pro-Syrian government resigned yesterday in the face of those same highly popular domestic protests (complete with protesters handing red roses to security officers) combined with international pressure (a Franco-American full-court press). While pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud remains in office, the opposition in Beirut is riding a wave of hope that Syria's profound influence in Lebanon may be diminishing.

Third, Syria suddenly, magically coughed up Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, another in a long line of Saddam Hussein's half-brothers and a big baddie in the "deck of cards." Mr. Hassan has allegedly been organizing and financing the Iraq insurgency and he was captured right where the Damascus government denied he was: Syria. In fact, the Syrians seem to have rolled up an entire network, capturing a few dozen other Iraqis in the bargain.

Fourth, Egypt's President Mubarak proposed a major reform last week: competitive presidential elections. He asked Egypt's parliament to amend the country's constitution accordingly, and while it remains to be seen whether this will be a reform in name only, the timing of his announcement is extraordinary. A month ago President Bush gently admonished Egypt to lead the way in Middle Eastern democracy in his State of the Union address. And Mubarak's announcement about contested elections came the day after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled her visit to Egypt, a move widely seen as protesting the arrest and detention of Ayman Nour, an Egyptian opposition leader jailed for allegedly falsifying thousands of signatures on a license application for his party, al-Ghad.

Canceling a visit to Egypt? Egypt, which the U.S. needs to help pressure Syria? Egypt, which has been going out of its way to smooth relations between Israel and the Palestinians? Egypt, which arrested everyone and their cousin in pursuit of the bombers who killed so many Israelis at the Taba Hilton in October?

Fans of realpolitik must be horrified that the Bush administration is pushing the Syrians hard in the hope of influencing a less-important state like Lebanon, while threatening to alienate an Egyptian regime that's widely seen as a cultural, commercial and political linchpin in the Arab world.

But realpolitik and its quest for balance-of-power stability has caused the U.S. to cozy up to all manner of unsavory regimes in the past 60 years.

In soft power terms, the U.S. may win big regionally if it is seen as taking diplomatic risks to aid Egyptian reformers and lessen Syrian influence on Lebanon while keeping that country stable. It's a defense of ideals that people who yearn for control of their own destinies, in countries that have yet to experience true democracy, will find admirable.
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