World Beat

Is Europe Over?

Europe has always been a rather tenuous concept. A rump continent, Europe represented the barbarous hinterlands for the Greeks and Romans. The first use of the term “European” occurred in a chronicle describing the forces of Charles the Hammer that turned back the northward advance of Islam at the battle of Tours in 732. Long celebrated in Europe as a victory of civilization over barbarism, the Battle of Tours was, as historian David Levering Lewis reminds us in God’s Crucible actually the opposite: “the victory of Charles the Hammer must be seen as greatly contributing to the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized, fratricidal Europe that, in defining itself in opposition to Islam made virtues out of religious persecution, cultural particularism, and hereditary aristocracy.”

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Seoul Salvation

His name was on the lips of everyone I talked with in South Korea last week. As an underdog with little name recognition but a long history of progressive organizing, he came from behind late last month to become the new mayor of Seoul.

Remember his name. Park Won Soon is perhaps the first politician to win with an Occupy Wall Street platform.

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Breaking Down Bases

Earlier this month, Montana Democrat Jon Tester and Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced a proposal to create a commission to evaluate U.S. military presence overseas. The bill does hold out the possibility that such a commission might recommend opening new bases overseas. But that’s just hedging bets. Tester and Hutchison are committed to examining “the potential benefits and savings realized by closing outdated overseas military bases.”

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Target: Africa

An informal competition took place during the Bush years for the title of “second front” in the war on terror. Administration officials often referred to Southeast Asia as the next major franchise location for al-Qaeda, with the Philippines in particular slated to become the “next Afghanistan.” Then there was the border between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, which State Department officials termed a “focal point for Islamic extremism in Latin America.” Worried about the spread of al-Qaeda operatives in North Africa, the Bush administration also developed the Pan-Sahel Initiative, which became the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative before finally being folded into the Pentagon’s new Africa Command.

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The Ungreening of Obama

Barack Obama was green when he entered the Oval Office. He was a relative newcomer to politics. He was also the most successful fundraiser in presidential history, hauling in more green than the two Democratic and Republican candidates in 2004 combined. And he was, more or less, an environmentalist.

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Wall Street (Unlike)

Tyrants are ruthless. They throw people in jail, execute them without trial, suppress the press. They can rule for decades. They can attempt to set up dynasties. But in the modern age, tyrants have a shelf life. We live in an age of activism, and tyrants are always looking over the shoulder to make sure the military is behind them, the human rights community isn’t breathing down their neck, or their “adoring masses” aren’t camped out in the public square demanding their exit from history.

Our leaders in the United States aren’t tyrants. Instead, we face the tyranny of “business as usual.” 

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Fear of an Islamic Planet

It’s easy to make fun of Michele Bachmann: her history gaffes, her Christian extremism, her ludicrous political positions. Journalists, though, would be sad to see her leave the Republican primary race, since she can be reliably counted on to make an outrageous statement to enliven a slow news day. Last week, for instance, she blamed the Arab Spring on the Obama administration. “You want to know why we have an Arab Spring?” she asked her audience at a Republican Party fundraiser in New Hampshire. “Barack Obama has laid the table for an Arab Spring by demonstrating weakness from the United States of America.”

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Dale Carnegie of the Middle East

U.S. democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East have been based on a bizarre notion: that U.S. society can serve as a model for the region. Talk about a tough sell. Congress is a bruising rugby scrum, and the U.S. economy is a shambles. U.S. warplanes and drones target Muslims abroad, and Islamophobia permeates the political discourse at home. Washington has supported Arab dictators and stood by Israel through thick and thin. We’re telling the world about the benefits of fruits and vegetables and then turning around to sell what looks like wormy apples and rotten tomatoes. No wonder that U.S. public diplomacy has largely fallen flat in the Middle East.

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Graphic Foreign Policy

Living in Japan in the late 1990s, I was struck by the sheer number and variety of manga or comic books. You could go to a manga store and find an entire aisle devoted to your particular genre: golfmanga, comics about the Japanese yakuza (mafia), mecha that focus exclusively on giant robots. Name your interest – or your fetish – and there was a manga series for you. Unlike the United States, where young people were the primary audience for comic books, a huge number of Japanese manga appealed to adults, who read the thick books on the subway or in coffee shops. During the prolonged economic crisis in Japan, it was not uncommon for downsized salarymen to pretend to their families to go to work and instead spend the entire day at the manga cafes,mangakissa, reading comics about, among other things, salarymen.

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Libya and the Bully Problem

Elias is Swedish and has buck teeth. These are two strikes against him at the Danish school he attends. The resident bully, along with his fawning entourage, calls Elias “Rat Face” and subjects him to endless indignities. That all changes, however, with the arrival of Christian, an exchange student who is appalled at the treatment of sweet-natured Elias. Christian follows the bully into the bathroom where he is about to inflict yet another humiliation on Elias. But this time it is Christian who metes out the punishment, hitting the bully repeatedly with a bicycle pump and threatening him with a knife if he dares to throw his weight around again.

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