The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano writes about foreign policy with the flair of a poet. He also writes poetry with the geopolitical knowledge of a foreign policy analyst. His one-volume treatise on the colonial pillage of Latin America (Open Veins of Latin America) is a must-read classic, and his three-volume literary meditation on the continent’s history from its mythic beginnings to the Reagan years tells true tales in a laughter-through-tears style reminiscent of Marquez and Gogol.
This week, FPIF debuts a new feature that, like Galeano’s work, explores the intersections between culture and foreign policy. The new department takes its name from the Galeano poem “Window on the Body”:
The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta.
Like the body, foreign policy is often narrowly defined, straitjacketed by numbers and abstractions. FPIF’s Fiesta will take a more expansive look at global issues.
Poetry and Cartoons
FPIF’s Fiesta debuts with Sarah Browning’s essay on the role that poets have played in protesting the war in Iraq both in the streets and in their writing. She traces the genesis of anti-war poetry from Aristophanes through Walt Whitman and Wilfred Owen to poets like Muriel Rukeyser who were politicized by the Vietnam War. Browning highlights the work of Poets Against War and their protest-in-verse against U.S. intervention in Iraq. “The Bush administration has emphasized the power of military force, as have so many presidents throughout American history,” writes Browning. “Poets and antiwar activists offer instead the power of the word: on the printed page and across the negotiating table.”
We also reproduce excerpts from international pollster Clay Ramsay’s remarks on Why Do They Hate US?, an exhibit of political cartoons from around the world at Provisions Library. One often hears it said that the U.S. image in the world was never that great—that since America is a hegemonic power that has no rival among states, that there will always be a fair amount of dislike,” Ramsay says. “This is simply not true, and not borne out by the data. Seven years ago the United States had a vastly more positive image than it has today. The silver lining there is that, logically, there is also a potential for reversing the damage.”
In his Postcard from Jenin, Sandy Marshall describes the political significance of a horse sculpture displayed in a West Bank town.
Future Fiesta articles will look at the Cold War politics of the Spy Museum, Korean movies and the U.S.-ROK free trade agreement, and how microbreweries contribute to sustainable development throughout the world.
Culture does not only have entertainment value. Great art and great artists can reveal, challenge, and instruct. The foreign policy community tends to look to policy wonks for wisdom on the global issues of the day. It was so refreshing, then, that the Washington Post recently asked two fiction writers, Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat and Chilean-American Ariel Dorfman, for their analysis of the Bush administration’s use of torture in interrogations. Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn, writing in the New York Review of Books, manages to say more about the representation of 9/11 in his comparisons to Aeschylus’s great 5th-century B.C. play The Persians than a great many political scientists.
And there can be no more penetrating an understanding of the U.S. dilemma in Iraq than this passage from Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Glass Palace. A British lieutenant-colonel tells his Indian junior officer why the empire remains in South Asia: “The truth is that there’s only one reason why England holds on anymore—and that is out of a sense of obligation … There’s a feeling that we can’t go under duress and we can’t leave a mess behind. And you know as well as I do that if we were to pack our bags now, then you chaps would be at each other’s throats in no time.”
Also at FPIF
We’ve had a busy week at FPIF. Our third columnist debuted: Laura Carlsen, the director of the Americas Program at the International Relations Center. She’s based in Mexico City and provides a unique commentary on Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s continuing efforts not only to become president of the country but to focus the anger and discontent of the poor into a movement for structural change. Go here as well for a 60-Second Expert version of her column.
We also have a new Strategic Dialogue on different strategies for the United States and others to engage Islam. Abdeslam Maghraoui of the U.S. Institute of Peace supports a renewal of Islam’s progressive and humanist traditions, while FPIF contributor Najum Mushtaq puts the emphasis on democracy.
FPIF’s Middle East editor Stephen Zunes annotates President Bush’s speech before the UN. The IRC’s Tom Barry examines attempts across the political spectrum to secure “energy independence” for the United States. And I’ve done a special report on the relationship between human rights and famine relief in North Korea.
Also this last week, The New York Times‘ David Unger published a scathing critique of the Pentagon budget. Washington spends too much on defense, he argues, and we get too little security for the buck. It’s a familiar story: Unger drew heavily on FPIF’s Unified Security Budget authored by Miriam Pemberton and Lawrence Korb.
On a final note of culture and foreign policy, if you are in the Washington area, please come out on September 30 at 3 p.m. for Sentenced Home, a documentary on Cambodian refugees and post-9/11 immigration policy, which FPIF is co-sponsoring at the Washington, DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival.