World Beat

Appeasement Complex

Back in 2008 when the Burmese military junta announced a new constitution as a step toward civilian rule, the international community responded with considerable skepticism. The military didn’t look as though it intended to give up any real power. When Thein Sein won election as president earlier this year, The New York Times described it as “a move that cements the military’s control of a new political system.” The new president was widely considered a puppet of the top military general Than Shwe.

Sometimes, though, puppets manage to take on a life of their own. 

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Occupy Foreign Affairs

When Foreign Affairs puts inequality on its cover – and hosts a debate on the topic at the tony offices of the Council on Foreign Relations – the Occupy Wall Street movement has achieved a major victory that eclipses even the generally favorable coverage in liberal bastions such as The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker. It’s also a sign that a profound anxiety gnaws at the foreign policy elite in this country. The question is: why are foreign policy mandarins suddenly so fretful? Or, put another way, why does Foreign Affairs want its readers to take this issue so seriously?

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Droning On

Someday soon, you’ll be checking your new Clear Skies app as a routine part of your preparations to go out for the evening. First, you’ll look at your smart gizmo to read your latest email to make sure there hasn’t been any change in plans. A quick glance at Facebook lets you see who’ll be joining your group of friends at the bar. Weather and traffic apps inform you of what to wear and what route to take. Twitter will tell you about any major news developments you should be retweeting to your tweeps to prime the conversational pump over drinks. And your new Clear Skies app will let you know if any unmanned drones are hovering 12 miles up in the stratosphere with your head in their sights.

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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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