Donnerstag, 23. August 2012

On the state of the Romney Campaign and Why Obama might just win

Had Romney called a press conference and called for Congressman Todd Akin to leave the Missouri Senate race immediately and not waited for a reporter to put that question to him, he might have had a little more influence on Akin's calculus to stay in the election. But he did not, which speaks to a more general problem of the Romney campaign. I've been looking for a strategy behind the Romney campaign and I couldn't find one. Normally I would have expected that Romney, like any presidential candidate, would steer to the middle once the primaries came to a close. In order to re-assure his base, he could have picked a real conservative. But Romney did the latter, without doing the first. Which leaves me wondering, is the Romney campaign seriously thinking that they can win without winning the middle? I am just saying, Todd Akin is going to feed the newscycle as long as he remains a viable candidate. And he did not misspeak, his legitimately idiotic views are views he really holds.

Mittwoch, 22. August 2012

Another Very Glittery Reading List Reviewed

Trying to make sense of the Arab Spring is not exactly an easy task and has, hence, given rise to all sorts of explanations, some credible, some nutty. But there was always something odd about the Middle East being the only region left out of the third or fourth way of democratisation that started in the 1990s. Yet, while many people in the Middle East are now fighting for democracy and freedom, there are still people who argue that such aspirations should be eschewed in favour of the stability that autocracies supposedly provide. In fact, this line of thinking is frighteningly widespread among Western intellectuals, both right and left-wing. Yet, when trying to make sense of the developments, I felt it might be useful to take another look into Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. His ideas, first developed in the early 1990s, still ring surprisingly true and though I certainly won't have to re-evaluate his theories here, there is one witty take-away. Fukuyama observed that while socialism and communism were largely being discredited in Eastern Europe and Asia, Western intellectuals had increasing sympathy with the ideologies. While none of these Western intellectuals wanted to live in communist or socialist countries, they still felt that these systems might have legitimacy for others. In the eyes of these intellectuals such legitimacy grew with the cultural and geographic distance of the society in question. It often appears to me that the very same dynamic is at work today when Western intellectuals question the genuine nature of the Arab Spring and the prospect of democratisation in the Middle East.  

Putting the Arab Spring in context is not an easy objective in itself, but discussing what influence the West has had when spreading democracy and the rule of law is where it becomes even more interesting. And in that vein, Robert Kagan's new book The World America Made is an interesting contribution that is by no means as bad as some people have dubbed it. Kagan is quite right in pointing out that the United States has been a reluctant sheriff that only faced up to the challenges presented by the world when left with no other option. Kagan remains deeply sceptical when considering whether the BRICS will uphold the world order the United States had created. This pessimism is partly routed in Kagan's distrust in multilateral institutions, which is all too understandable. Yet, at times, he is taking the argument a little too far. After all, this world is more peaceful precisely because the United States has created a world order that is easy join and more difficult to overturn. That is not to say that there won't be tensions in the future, but the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, for instance, would go a long way in easing tensions in the South China Sea. Still, Kagan reminds us of the contribution of this beneficial hegemon.  

Yet, Kagan's anxiety over the nature of the newly rising powers is not without merit. In fact, despite the Arab Spring, there is also an authoritarian resurgence in places like Venezuela or Russia. Slate contributor William J. Dobson in his new book The Dictator's Learning Curve is looking into the way regimes in Russia and Venezuela and other places are trying to paint themselves as democrats while destroying the democratic institutions these countries still possess or have possessed. He is giving a very detailed account of how voter suppression, electoral manipulation and persecution is being executed in states like Venezuela, Russia, the People's Republic of China and—before the Arab Spring commenced in earnest—in Egypt. All of this is from time to time a chilling account, yet Dobson also gives reason for hope. For the first time, democracy and human rights activists have formed a truly global movement, where one movement learns from each other.

Now politics is all nice and lovely, if you're a policy wonk like Christine O'Donnell, but that is not all in life. If you feel ready to be read about the adventures of a bird-watcher, than Jonathan Franzen's Farther Away is a good read that might take your mind of politics. And if you even want to read a German book than Rafael Horzon's Das weisse Buch is certainly everything but a waste of time.  

Dienstag, 21. August 2012

Another Note on Civil Military Relation in the United States

Its always slightly disconcerting when it is suggested that someone who did not serve in the armed forces is somehow not qualified to decide whether to commit troops to a war or not. It has been, and rightly so, a cornerstone of modern democracies that the military is subordinate to civilian leadership and that leadership, irrespective of their personal background, has the sole authority to put men and women into harm's way. Now, democrats always had a disadvantage when it came to national security and American voters traditionally tend to favour Republicans when they have national security issues on the forefront of their minds. Republicans have nominated a presidential candidate that has never served. And his VP-pick, Paul Ryan, also lacks military experience. I have served myself, but the idea that you're only qualified to speak on matters of national security and defence when you happen to have a military record is downright anti-democratic and this is why I find it mind-boggling that Democrats now hammer the Republican ticket on the lack of their military record. Watch Martin Bashir making this nonsense argument:  

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Sonntag, 5. August 2012

With Putin Back in the Kremlin - Where Will Russian Foreign Policy Go?

I've commented before on Russian foreign policy and it looks like this is going to be a recurrent theme on this blog and, frankly, a theme that I hope will be picked up by others as well. Over the past couple of weeks, there were two remarkable developments that did not quite make it to the news bulletins across the world. But both are indicators of what Russian foreign policy will look like, now that Putin has returned to the Kremlin. The first is actually a setback for Moscow's strategic aims. Following a visit from Putin to Tashkent, Uzbekistan announced that it will be leaving the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). The organisation was once supposed to e Russia's NATO equivalent, but it was also a tool with which the Kremlin had hoped to consolidate its influence in Central Asia. But some Central Asian countries are growing uncomfortable with Moscow's entitlement attitude to the region and after the Kremlin had pioneered the introduction of a Rapid Reaction Force that could be deployed without full consent of all member states, Uzbekistan signalled it was willing to drop out. Following the allied withdrawal from Afghanistan, the CSTO moved towards a strategy for containing Afghanistan's potentially destabilising influence with a containment strategy along the Uzbeki-Afghan border. This would have required, in all likelihood, the long-term deployment of Russian forces to Uzbekistan, a move that would have undermined, at least potentially, the independence of Uzbekistan. It did not help that Russia's Chief of the General Staff General Nikolai Makarov, already having the reputation of a nutter, gave credence to such fears. In Helsinki a couple of days ago, he told his Finnish audience that any cooperation between Finland and NATO would be considered an unfriendly act and a sign of hostile intent. Never mind that Finland as a Western and independent power is free to cooperate with whomever it pleases, it is such rhetoric and often the action that follows suit (think of Estonia in 2007) that drives countries from the Russian camp and not towards it. And it is against this background that Mitt Romney (whom I otherwise find little compelling) has a point. Under Putin's leadership, Russia is indeed moving to become the West's 'number one geopolitical foe'.