Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mr. Musharraf in Davos


I usually try to emphasize that soft power is a function of branding: Make an appealing promise and then keep it.

That’s what makes it tough to keep a straight face when I see headlines like “Musharraf Trumpets Stability” in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. The Pakistani president has been traveling in Europe the past few days and the Journal interviewed him at the World Economic Forum.

... Mr. Musharraf dismissed recent turmoil in his country as “minor irritations.” He said he would work with any government produced by Pakistan’s coming elections, even if formed by his opponents.

“Please differentiate Pakistan from banana republics” where a lowly colonel can take over the state. “These things don’t happen in Pakistan,” he said. “Pakistan is a nuclear state.”

The 64-year-old former army general, who came to power in a military coup in 1999 and was subsequently elected, ...

It just gets more surreal from there:

... rejected recent speculation that the U.S. could send special forces into Pakistan in search of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Musharraf described the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as strategic and said the idea that a few U.S. forces could succeed better in Pakistan’s mountains better than 100,000 Pakistani troops was “sadly mistaken.”

“The real battle is not in Pakistan,” but in Afghanistan, Mr. Musharraf said.

Musharraf continues redefining reality for a dozen or so more paragraphs. Don’t have a URL, but all you really need to know is that the Journal’s reporters gave Musharraf more than enough rope to hang himself, brand-wise, and the Pakistani president happily put his head into the noose.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Douglas Johnston on "Speaking of Faith"


Krista Tippett's excellent Speaking of Faith recently interviewed Douglas Johnston, head of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, former submarine commander, COO of CSIS, presidential advisor, and all-around policy actor.

In books and in this interview, Johnston insists that U.S. public diplomacy engage the religious element in other societies as deeply as is consistent with the Constitution's establishment clause--not because religion is important to Americans so much as that it's the indispensable entry point for talking about anything else with the nations the U.S. most wants to engage.

Johnston, himself an evangelical, long ago found that listening to other people's faith frameworks ensures that you'll be heard when it's your turn to speak.

Listen online or download the podcast. It's well worth the hour you'll spend.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Innovation in India


Pretty soon it will be as difficult for American car companies to sell their cars in India as it is right now for U.S. aerospace concerns to sell small jets in, say, Brazil.

This cheerful news arrives courtesy “How to Build a $2,500 Car” in Tuesday’s Times, which details Tata Motors’ efforts to build an Indian volkswagen. It’s being introduced in India today, but the Times ran a preview: 30-35 hp, belt-driven transmission, low-speed bearings, tiny trunk—and no radio, power steering, power windows or air-conditioning.

Cries of heresy! would ring out in the West for Tata’s as-yet-unnamed car—but it’s set to be India’s Model T Ford nonetheless:

... Tata is not looking to ply California’s highways. Instead, the company wants to provide four-wheel transportation for the first time to people accustomed to getting around on two, including hundreds of millions of Indians and others in the developing world. ...

“It’s basically throwing out everything the auto industry had thought about cost structures in the past and taking out a clean sheet of paper and asking, ‘What’s possible?’” said Daryl T. Rolley, head of North American and Asian operations for Ariba, which sources parts for Tata, BMW, Toyota and other carmakers. “In the next five to 10 years, the whole auto industry is going to be flipped upside down.”

Not only is the car inexpensive to produce, designing it has upstream effects that benefit the rest of Tata’s and other manufacturers’ lines:

Manufacturers are searching for ways to make small cars for the middle class in India and China; to produce small cars for their own markets, hurt by rising gas prices; and to improve the profit of existing larger cars. Tata’s car would be mined for applicable lessons, Mr. Rolley said, predicting that more would be designed with cost in mind.

Tata understands its market deeply and decided to innovate down to India’s mass market rather than up to its elites. Hopefully Ford and other U.S. auto manufacturers—sorry, I mean “the other U.S. auto manufacturer”—can take Tata’s lessons as a spur to their own innovation, particularly since the developing world can’t afford most of what they and other First World manufacturers sell.

As the Times drily notes, the cost of the Tata “People’s Car” is “as little as the equivalent of $2,500, or about the price of the optional DVD player on the Lexus LX 470 sport utility vehicle.”

Monday, January 07, 2008


Grassroots with a Vengeance.

In 2005, when my wife first suggested moving from Los Angeles to Iowa so she could attend law school, I was skeptical for several reasons—but she reminded me that we’d have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play a role in the Iowa Caucuses. And so we have.

I wound up being a precinct captain for John Edwards in Iowa City, and—without going into details about the Edwards campaign, since I’ve promised not to—here are a few observations about the caucus process:

On-the-ground organization is everything; media counted for little. My counterpart in the Barack Obama campaign benefited from the Illinois senator’s swelling popularity here, but she also by several reports simply out-hustled the other campaigns. The Obama campaign in my precinct not only had red t-shirts, private-label cupcakes, sign-waving volunteers and a visible organizational structure, it offered staffed daycare complete with toys while the caucus process took place. This put even the well-organized Clinton campaign, not to mention my own paltry efforts, to shame. My wife also observed that the Obama campaign signs actually de-emphasized the candidate’s name (!) in favor of themes like “Hope” and “Unity.”

People can be won over at the last moment. I and fellow Edwards volunteers increased the number of votes we had by nearly 50 percent between the first and second rounds of caucusing, as fans of Sens. Dodd and Biden, Gov. Richardson, and Congressman Kucinich realized their candidates would not be viable.

But not everyone. By report, several Richardson voters walked out of the caucus rather than throw their weight behind another candidate. Contrast this with the reasonableness of Kucinich supporters, who generally shifted their votes to Edwards or Obama.

Digging in pays off. An audible, prolonged gasp swept the room when Sen. Clinton’s representative announced that she didn’t have enough votes to be viable. That wasn’t the case for long, as the Clinton team doggedly worked the room and easily came up with enough additional votes for viability. Even though Clinton won just a single delegate in my precinct (there were eight up for grabs), her team’s fast work impressed me.

Political debate thrives at the grass roots. Of course it’s easy to say this in politically saturated Iowa, but I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of practically everyone I encountered, and the respect accorded to every candidate’s representatives as they sought votes from a crowd that numbered 541.
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