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Georgia’s Bid: Western Values for Western Security

Georgia’s president published a plea for continued western support in the Washington Post titled, “Answering Russian Aggression”.   In it, President Mikheil Saakashvili promises an increase in Georgian transparency in exchange for continued support from and integration into the West.

Perhaps most significant to the West will be Saakashvili’s promise to increase transparency and openness of the Georgian state itself, to include reforms aimed at strengthening the opposition and liberalizing the media. Of course all good things come with a price, and for Georgia to continue its Western embrace, Saakashvili is asking for some help in return:
But the West also must respond to Russia with conviction. We cannot allow Russia's annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to stand. Nor can Moscow be permitted to continuously flout the cease-fire to which it has repeatedly agreed.

My government welcomed the European Union's decision to accelerate Georgia's integration into European institutions. Last week, we were heartened by the first official visit to Georgia by the North Atlantic Council, and we hope that NATO will move forward with our membership application.

Continue reading "Georgia’s Bid: Western Values for Western Security"

California: Today Gay Marriage, Tomorrow Meteors and Volcanoes

The California Supreme Court made a 4-3 decision this week that will legalize gay marriage in California, most likely effective within 30 days.  As reported by the New York Times:
This decision will give Americans the lived experience that ending exclusion from marriage helps families and harms no one,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, who noted that same-sex marriages were legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and Spain.
The timing of this action, coming only months before the US presidential elections in November, have led to speculation on whether or not it will hurt the Democratic nominee.  Alex Altman wrote an article in Time Magazine asking, “Will Gay Marriage Help the GOP?”:
California Republicans are hoping that history will prove instructive. After Massachusetts became the first state to codify marriage equality in 2003, the G.O.P. spent the ensuing general election wielding the issue as a potent weapon. Thirteen states passed ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage — including Ohio, the battleground that tipped the 2004 election in George W. Bush's favor. Opponents of gay marriage in California have generated more than 1 million signatures to place on November ballots an initiative amending the state's constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.
Kai Stinchcombe, a PhD candidate in political science at Stanford University, and a very good friend of mine, created the popular Facebook group Gay Marriage Killed the Dinosaurs.  In his thoughtful analysis, Kai identifies 17 reasons gay marriage should remain illegal: Continue reading "California: Today Gay Marriage, Tomorrow Meteors and Volcanoes"

Military Leaders Outline Plan for New Transatlantic Bargain

A group of European and American military leaders co-authored a report that was released last week, titled Toward a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World, Renewing Transatlantic Partnership (PDF version available from CSIS). The top brass – all with NATO experience – argue that the Alliance remains critical to both Europe and the US:
We are convinced that there is no security for Europe without the US, but we also dare to submit that there is no hope for the US to sustain its role as the world’s sole superpower without the Europeans as allies.
The manifesto begins by arguing that many current and future threats – such as terrorism, international crime, demographic shifts, energy security, climate change, etc. – cannot effectively be addressed by any single country on its own. Instead, NATO provides the best opportunity for western countries to address new threats because it "links together a group of countries that share the most important values and convictions and that took a decision to defend those values and convictions collectively."

Continue reading "Military Leaders Outline Plan for New Transatlantic Bargain"

Lame Self-Congratulatory Editorial on Democracy Promotion

The Washington Post editorials are increasingly weird, for instance today's Save Burma:
The United States and the European Union acted with admirable cohesion and aggressiveness yesterday, calling for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council and asking it to consider sanctions

What on earth is "admirable" about this? Isn't it a no-brainer to call for a Security Council session? Admirable is what the monks and nuns are doing.
Why have the US and the EU acted with "aggressiveness"? This nonsense is the talk of chicken hawks and talking heads with no field experience.

The West -- in particular the United States -- likes to portray itself as the promoter of democracy and human rights around the world, but there was no support for the democracy movement in Myanmar/Burma. And that is good. The monks and democracy activists would be discredited, if they received support from abroad. Democracy has to come from within. The West should not exaggerate its contribution. Calling for a Security Council session is easy. Getting Chinese and Russian support for a UN resolution is more difficult and the West has failed in this regard. 

Besides, rather than just threatening the regime with more sanctions, it might be more sensible to offer economic aid on the condition that the regime starts democratization in addition to the threats. Providing incentives and threats is better than only threats. Past sanctions did not work. Providing incentives might not work either, but it is always worthwhile to extend an olive branch.

Another noteworthy quote from the Washington Post editorial:
We can hope that the generals will be deterred by the warnings about the war crimes trials that could await them, or that their officers and conscripts will refuse to carry out their orders.
War crimes trials? Since when are the Washington Post editorial writers in favor of the International Criminal Court? Besides, sitting on your couch and "hoping" for the best is not all that "admirable" and "aggressive". Why are you guys not calling upon the US government to support the International Criminal Court?

American Moral Principles and European Giggles

Considering the usual political leanings of The Washington Times, the op-ed "We are Americans" (March 19, 2007) by Nat Hentoff is a bit surprising: He writes about CIA renditions and points out:
A 1998 U.S. statute, part of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act, states: "It shall be the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite or otherwise effect the involuntary removal of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture." I have heard administration semanticists maintain that this law applies only to prisoners we hold in our own jurisdiction, not to suspects kidnapped off the streets of another country. I sometimes think there may be courses for officials of this administration in how to conjugate what George Orwell called "newspeak" words and meanings turned inside out.
Consider what our Secretary of State said in the Feb. 5, 2005, London Daily Telegraph: "There cannot be an absence of moral content in American foreign policy. Europeans giggle at this, but we are not European, we are American, and we have different principles." Not only Europeans have ceased extolling at our claiming moral and legal principles despite the CIA's "extraordinary renditions," our treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and the CIA's own "black sites." So it was that when, on Feb. 6, nations signed an international treaty protecting terrorism suspects from being forced to disappear from any country's streets and kept in secret detention, the United States was not among the signers. There were no giggles at that evasion of our past pledges to the world.
Is Secretary Rice's comment condescending? Is it arrogant? She assumes an air of superiority, does not she? Or is European cynicism the problem?
I think, some relaxed giggling at moralistic rhetoric is more appropriate than accusing the US government of hypocrisy because several European governments supported the CIA renditions in one way or another. Many European politicians make moralistic policy statements, although the policy results look different.

Germany's Small Freedoms

Writing for German Joys, Ed Philp looks at initiatives against "small freedoms" in Germany, i.e. against the relatively liberal attitudes towards smoking, maximum speed limits on the autobahn, the age of legal beer and wine consumption, and the sale of violent video games.
Ed wonders "how is Germany ever going to convince North American exchange students to spend a year over here without dangling the lure of legal access to liquor in front of them?" Ed appreciates that he can still drink a beer in public and that he could watch some second-rate prime-time nudity on TV, if he wanted to: "Even if these particular aspects don’t interest me, that level of liberalism toward social freedoms does."
According to Ed, "Germany’s small freedoms seem to counterbalance limitations to ‘big’ freedoms, in contrast to the United States, which takes the opposite approach." Unfortunately, he does not elaborate, but in the comments section of German Joys he mentions home schooling as an example of "big freedom."
Dialog International writes that "US Evangelicals Demand German Home Schooling." And even the State Department's report on "Human Rights Practices in Germany" points out:
The legal obligation that children attend a school, confirmed by the Constitutional Court in May and the European Court of Justice in October, and the related bar on home schooling, was a problem for some groups. Generally, state authorities have permitted such groups to establish charter‑type schools.
Two interesting comments at Dialog International: Potsdam Amerikanerin links to a study in International Review of Education, which points out that "Home education is permitted in some form or other in all the European countries studied except Germany." And Little Andy (blog) wonders if the home schooling supporters would continue to criticize Germany, if Muslim fundamentalist parents would make use of a legalization of home schooling.

State Department Report on Human Rights in Germany

The State Department issued its annual Report on Human Rights Practices in Germany on March 6, 2007 with many statistics and some descriptions of individual cases. This year's conclusion is:
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. However, there were reported instances of mistreatment of prisoners and detainees by police, and there were limits on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association aimed at groups deemed extremist. Extremists engaged in intimidation during the electoral process; there was governmental and societal discrimination against some minority religious groups; and cases of societal harassment of asylum seekers and other foreigners occurred. Violence against women, trafficking in persons, and harassment of racial minorities were problems.
A former Foreign Service officer criticized "the overuse" of these mandated State Department reports as making the United States look "judgmental, moralistic and bullying." See the Atlantic Review post: "Foreign Policy by Report Card" Blamed for "Nurturing Seething Resentment Abroad"
Personal comment:
I don't think Germans care much about these reports, but some newspapers do take notice.

Foreign Policy Round-Up

Iraq vs. Darfur: Foreign Policy Blog

Torture: "The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that two Chechen brothers were tortured in their strife-torn Russian republic and that authorities there failed to investigate their allegations of abuse." The Washington Post

EU Military Capabilities: EU Observer:
Europe says it is ready for more military action under the EU flag in 2007 after its "success" in Congo last year, with the German EU presidency putting Kosovo, Bosnia, Lebanon and Afghanistan at the top of its defence agenda for the next six months. "We begin 2007 ready to take up our responsibilities if needed - which I sincerely hope won't be the case - but we are in a position of readiness," EU top diplomat Javier Solana said in Brussels on Wednesday (17 January), after recalling that the EU's "battle group" structure reached "full operational capacity" on 1 January.
I have not noticed any serious debate about more military and other commitments for Lebanon and Afghanistan. Did I miss anything? (I am not counting the German debate about sending Tornado reconnaissance jets for Southern Afghanistan)

Pakistan: "More Evidence of Taliban Leader Hiding in Pakistan" Christian Science Monitor

Iran: "U.S. officials, who asked not to be identified, say that the Iran policy has expanded from focusing chiefly on Iran's nuclear ambitions to challenging Tehran's suspected misbehavior across the Middle East. Indeed, one source said succinctly that the new policy is geared to 'confront Iran in every way but direct armed conflict, using all means short of war.'" National Journal

Insurgencies: "Vietnam taught many Americans the wrong lesson: that determined guerrilla fighters are invincible. But history shows that insurgents rarely win, and Iraq should be no different. Now that it finally has a winning strategy, the Bush administration is in a race against time to beat the insurgency before the public’s patience finally wears out." Foreign Policy