The presence of Aung San Suu Kyi in the front row of a military parade (above, next to Major General Zaw Win) earlier today was stunning to many observers: both for how unthinkable her presence would have been just a few years ago (she was locked up in her house, after all -- by the military), and for how far Aung San Suu Kyi appears willing to go to reconcile with an institution still distrusted by many of her fellow Burmese. (See this slide show of Burmese political cartoons in FP for one perspective on how 'reformed' the military and the government in Burma really are). On the same day the military announced its plans to retain a role in politics for the near future
Does The Lady's presence underscore how much has changed in Burma since her house arrest, or does it highlight how much power the military still has? Probably both. One thing for sure: the photo above is an amazing sight.
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Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has spent the past three days in India on his first state visit to the country. Before heading to New Delhi, though, he floated an odd -- and more than a little ambitious -- idea.
"I am hoping BRICS would one day become E-BRICS where E stands for Egypt," he told India's The Hindu in an interview in Cairo published this week.
It's a bold proposal. The Kremlin has acknowledged the comments but didn't seem particularly enthused about the idea, and it's unclear whether Morsy broached the subject in his meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The BRICS -- that's Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa -- are an economic alliance of top-tier rising powers, the crème de la crème of the developing world. Egypt? Not so much.
Let's put this in perspective. The average GDP of the BRICS countries in 2011 (in current U.S. dollars, according to the World Bank) was $2.78 trillion dollars. Egypt? $230 billion. The country's development isn't exactly in high gear, either. The instability of the revolution has dealt a blow to Egypt's economy, and its estimated growth rate for 2012 is a meager 2 percent, which places it behind four of five BRICS countries. Even as Morsy was meeting with Singh, he was sharing the front page of Egyptian dailies with the news that BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai are planning to withdraw from the Egyptian market as new customs laws take effect.
Morsy knows this, and clarified that he hopes "the E-BRICS would emerge when we start moving the economy." So it's something of a longer-term goal. Perhaps Morsy might consider one of these starter coalitions instead? Then again, the MIKT (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey) countries, which are moving beyond "emerging market" territory, have an average GDP of $973 billion, so it might still be a stretch. In the same interview with The Hindu, Morsy expressed a desire to be more active in the Non-Aligned Movement. It's probably a good place to start; the NAM is far less discriminatory.
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For the first time in Pakistan's history, a democratically elected civilian government has successfully finished its five-year term -- despite a flurry of anti-government protests. But what does that success look like?
Foreign direct investment collapsed after President Asif Ali Zardari's government came to power in 2008, and has continued declining since, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, foreign aid from the United States spiked, more than doubling under the new government to over $4 billion a year before tapering off again in 2011.
The country's relative political stability has paid off in some respects. Child mortality is down. School enrollment has continued to improve as well, rising three percentage points between 2008 and 2011 (admittedly not as impressive as the 14-percent increase over the course of the previous five years). On the other hand, since 2009 the ratio of girls to boys receiving a primary or secondary education has declined, indicating that enrollment is increasingly skewing toward boys. Pakistan may have fallen from ninth to 13th place in the Fund for Peace's annual ranking of failed states between 2008 and 2012, but the slightly better finish was still pretty dismal (as Robert Kaplan's "What's Wrong with Pakistan?" article for FP's Failed States package last year attests).
Domestic security under Zardari's government got off to a rough start, but has started to improve more recently. Domestic suicide bombings surged in the last year of Pervez Musharraf's government -- from the single digits through the first half of the decade to 57 in 2007. Terror attacks hit their peak with 90 suicide bombings in 2009, but the number fell to 32 attacks in 2012.
For what it's worth, in the last five years there have also been 353 U.S. CIA airstrikes against terrorist targets that killed at least 2,376 individuals, compared to 12 strikes with a minimum death toll of 159 people from the start of the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan in 2004 through 2007.
That figure does not include the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in May 2011 -- for which President Obama famously did not give advance notice to the Pakistani government because of concerns about al Qaeda sympathizers in the Pakistani military and intelligence service. At an event at the Brooking Institution last month, retired CIA analyst and South Asia expert Bruce Riedel speculated that bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is also being sheltered by the Pakistani military. If the civilian government is slowly finding its sea legs, it has a long way to go.
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Americans, U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday during his inaugural address, "are made for this moment."
Why? Because "we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention."
It's a reassuring thought, but do we Americans really possess these qualities more than any other countries?
Without a doubt, the U.S. is not particularly youthful when compared to other countries around the world. The median age in the U.S. is 37.1; the world's median age is 28.4, placing us well on the older end of the spectrum. We're younger than most of the OECD countries, but are still beaten out by Brazil (29.6), Chile (32.8), Ireland (35.1), Israel (29.5) and Mexico (27.4).
Is the U.S. very diverse? Not really, according to Stanford political scientist James Fearon. Fearon tried to measure diversity in 160 countries around the world in a 2003 study, and (with all the appropriate caveats that ethnicity is a difficult thing to define) found that the the U.S. comes in as the 85th most diverse country in the world. The most diverse western country is actually Canada, with an "ethnic fractionalization index" of .596 (the U.S.'s is .491), and we're outranked by almost every country in sub-saharan Africa, as well as Brazil (.549), Mexico (.542) and Israel (.526), among others.
How about our appetite for risk? A little trickier to measure, but a group of researchers at the Social Science Research Center in Berlin tried last November, through a study in which they conducted experiments to measure the risk tolerance of 80-100 students in 30 countries, to see how their results compared with development and growth levels. The U.S., despite our "have gun, will travel" reputation, is actually somewhat risk averse, according to this research: they give us a risk tolerance score of about .-07 - still above those stodgy Germans, but slightly below France. Meanwhile, the Brazilians (again!) seem to be a little more inclined to put some skin in the game:
Finally: do we have more capacity for reinvention than other countries? This might be the hardest characteristic to find a proxy for, but one might be how likely a country's workers are to find new jobs within a certain time period. This study, from 2004, looked at 25 countries, and found that while U.S. workers are fairly likely to keep on moving, they are still less likely to change jobs in a twelve month period than Canadians (again!) or Russians.
Whether these particular characteristics are really the ones that will count in the years to come is the subject of a separate blog post. But if Americans are "made for this moment," as Obama says, it seems that Canadians and Brazilians might be too -- or maybe even more so.
It's an odd match, to be sure: a country with some of the most restrictive internet laws in the world (not to mention its other laws), and a company that still claims "Don't be evil" as its motto, and has been burned by authoritarian governments before. But the AP is reporting that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea soon -- possibly as early as this month -- accompanied by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
The news comes a day after a rare New Year's Day speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that called for a "revolution" in science and technology in the poverty-stricken Hermit Kingdom. But it also comes just a few weeks after the country received international condemnation for a sneakily-timed rocket launch.
Google didn't officially confirm the story to AP and Schmidt has yet to make a public statement on why he's visiting the isolated country, which does hardly any business at all with U.S. companies. Also, it's not yet clear who exactly Schmidt and Richardson will be meeting with once they arrive. However, Schmidt has been working with former State Department Adviser Jared Cohen on a book called "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," and has long been an advocate of the power of internet access to improve quality of life and openness.
Still, North Korea controls its internet with a far heavier hand than China, which Google has tangled with in the past. Those who have computer access mostly log on to a system known as the Kwangmyong, essentially a country-wide intranet run by a lone, state-run ISP provider (the BBC story linked to above includes the amazing detail that any time Kim Jong Un is mentioned on this intranet, his name is displayed slightly larger than the text around it). Just a few dozen families have unfiltered access to the real thing.
Can the power of "connectivity for the individual" be harnessed in a country where the government still cracks down on cell phones that can dial the outside world? Here's hoping Schmidt speaks up soon so we can hear what exactly he has in mind.
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Swedish furniture giant IKEA has begun work on a 26-acre self-contained neighborhood in Stratford, East London - just in time for the 2012 Olympics.
The town will be called Strand East and will contain 1,200 new homes, 480,000 square feet of office space, and a 350 bedroom hotel. The development's canal side location -- nicknamed "mini Venice" -- will feature a water-taxi service and floating cocktail bar. It is the first major development for LandProp, which owns the intellectual assets of the furniture company. The development group already operates in Holland, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia, according to the Daily Globe and Mail.
The announcement comes shortly after the British government's agreement last month to slim down urban planning laws in order to encourage more sustainable projects, like this one. In what was a bitter dispute with countryside campaigners, the reforms represent a huge step along the way to reviving Britain's struggling rural economy.
Andrew Cobden, a spokesman for the project, also described a 40-meter illuminated tower that will be visible across the East London skyline - meant to emulate the Olympic torch. Like all things IKEA, the tower will be made from relatively "simple" materials, a wooden lattice of 72 diagonal laths, 16 horizontal steel rings, and held together by 32,000 trusty steel bolts.
The development will accommodate residents at a range of income levels. IKEA's first pre-fabricated home debuted last month in Portland, at an all-inclusive price of just $86,000. You might need more than a tiny Allen wrench to build this one.
Coca Cola has recently been criticized by political activists for its ongoing support of Swaziland's King Mswati III. The king has come under international and domestic scrutiny for his lavish lifestyle in a country cited as one of the poorest in the world. While the company states that the King doesn't receive any direct benefit from the company's operations, activists still say that its presence constitutes a vote of confidence for the regime. The company has flown the Mswati out to its headquarters in Atlanta, and has taken out ads in Swazi newspapers celebrating the monarch's birthday.
According to activists cited by the Guardian, Coca-Cola alone contributes to nearly 40 percentof Swaziland's GDP. Though a real figure is undoubtedly difficult to procure, (especially since Coke isn't releasing any information), some studies have found that the number is a bit further from the truth.
Nearly half of Swaziland's exports are based on sugar and drink concentrates, the vast majority of which belongs to Coca-Cola. It's membership in several common markets, including the South Africa Customs Union (SACU) which includes South Africa and Botswana, has allowed it to ship hundreds of millions of dollars worth of product per year. As a result, Swaziland is the lead exporter of Coca-Cola products in Eastern and Southern Africa.
In a USAID Report from April 2008, researchers estimated that 35 percent of Swaziland's foreign exchange earnings came from Coca Cola's operations within the country. Foreign Exchange earnings are the proceeds from the exports of goods, and returns on investments in convertible currencies. From the report:
In 1987, Coca-Cola made one of the biggest capital investments in Swaziland to-date by establishing a plant dedicated to the production of concentrates used in Coca-Cola beverage products. Coca-Cola Swaziland, also known, as "CONCO" is the largest supplier of Coca Cola concentrates in Africa, with production plants also located in Egypt and Nigeria. Having recently celebrated 20 successful years of operations in the Kingdom, CONCO is by far the largest foreign exchange earner for the Kingdom, contributing to 35 percent of GDP21.
It's a bit more difficult trying to figure out what portion of GDP Coca-Cola is actually responsible for. The World Bank estimated that exports contributed to 58 percent of Swaziland's GDP in 2010, which in dollar terms would be approximately $2.1 billion. Assuming that 38 percent of exports were still drink concentrate as the USAID stated, Coca Cola would still be responsible for nearly 22 percent of Swaziland's GDP, just by selling bottles of Coke to Eastern and Southern Africa. This of course doesn't include the numbers from Coke purchasing Swazi sugar, labor, marketing and everything else that goes into making the nectar of college students everywhere. It's certainly a bigger footprint than the 18 percent the Swaziland Sugar Association estimates, but a lot less than the 40 percent number going around in the media. It's key to note that this number is not the amount that they pay in taxes to the Swazi authorities, as the number is being portrayed.
While it doesn't help that statistics in Swaziland aren't exactly easy to come by, having one company control such a large portion of a country's total output in the 21st century is still striking.
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India's rising economic stature has brought millions of its citizens into the ranks of the middle class. It seems another boom is on for some of Mumbai's poorest residents as a result of a large spike in real estate prices.
The New York Times' India Ink blog had a story today about the sudden paper wealth that has come to many of the residents of the Dharavi, Mumbai, Asia's largest slum. Dharavi, featured in the 2009 Oscar winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, came into the global spotlight following the film's critical and commercial success. The last areas of growth within Mumbai now lie within Dharavi, which was built on a former mangrove swamp. The article detailed the unique set of circumstances facing the residents:
Her 200-square-foot shanty, in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, in the Dharavi neighborhood of Mumbai, has faulty electrical lines, no water supply and a non existent sewage system. Still, Ms. Vaidya's house is her most prized possession. "If I decide to sell it, it will fetch me more than Rs 10 lakh" rupees, or about $24,000, she estimates, based on the offers she has been getting.
Ms. Vaidya isn't alone. Many of Mumbai's slum dwellers, some 60 percent of the city's 21 million people, are living in hovels that suddenly command high prices.
"Shanties as small as 120 square feet, located on the 90 Foot Road that is perpendicular to the Bandra Kurla Link Road, are as expensive as $93,000," says Dinesh Prabhu, who owns a construction company and has conducted an extensive survey of Dharavi real-estate prices. The 90 Foot Road has commercial outlets spilling out onto the streets, frequent cattle blockages, and old worn-out buildings just behind the shanties.
The National Geographic covered a story several years ago about life in the slum, including its complex economy which featured recycling, liquor distilling and plastic production. A new conflict is brewing between the government and private companies, who are attempting to redevelop the highly lucrative land, and residents who see it as a threat to their way of life. Further threats from scam artists and shady real state agents selling fake identification papers will only serve to complicate the situation further.
In the past, India's poorest have faced neglect from corrupt officials, and shoddy state planning which has failed to alleviate the gripping poverty in their lives. Efforts such as the National Identification Scheme, run by Nandan Nilekani, to give agency to the poorest may be the solution to creating wealth and improving the lives of millions.
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This past weekend, Bill Easterly, author and former World Bank Economist, put out a challenge over his Twitter to create "witty decoding for development buzzwords" based on the 40 Publishing Buzzwords. That challenge rendered the AidSpeak Dictionary, a compilation of some of the words that Dr. Easterly picked out and put on his website. Some of the highlights include:
"civil society involvement": consulting the middle class employee of aUS or European NGO -@dangay
"field experience" : I can't bear DC anymore -@MarianaSarastiM
"innovation" : we're sexy, you want to be associated with us -@DarajaTz
"sustainable" : will last at least as long as the funding -@thejoeturner"tackling root causes of poverty" : repackaging what we've already done in a slightly more sexy font -@thejoeturner
It goes by several names: The Iron Snake, the Lunatic Line, the Jambo Kenya Deluxe. Winston Churchill shot zebras sitting next to its great engines and man-eating lions stalked its trains' carriages, devouring men at night. Over the years, hundreds have perished in its iron body from faulty brakes, exploding gas tanks, and powerful floods that washed away bridges.
The mysteries and horror stories attached to the African railway are legendary. But, the system -- stretching through Kenya and Uganda -- is about to get a 21st century facelift thanks to a nearly $40 million loan from the African Development Bank.
A new transportation plan is in the works for East Africa. Kenya Railways will build 12 commuter train stations to connect the Nairobi metropolitan area. The rail between the coastal city of Mombasa in Kenya, and Kampala, Uganda is to be re-vamped by 2017. There is also talk of railway lines connecting Lamu, Kenya to Juba, South Sudan, as well as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The last rail stations in Kenya were built in 1935. The BBC's Ruth Evans reports:
"Inside Nairobi station, it is like stepping into a time warp. The arrivals and departures board looks as though it hasn't been updated since I first did the journey 28 years ago...As we pull slowly out of the station shortly after 7pm, the sun is setting behind the shacks that have sprung up all along the track...The ticket collector tells me to close the windows and lock the doors before going to sleep. But the window doesn't shut properly, the fan doesn't work, and the lights keep going on and off...The road to the coast runs parallel with the railway for much of the route, and heavily laden trucks churn up the pot-holed tarmac, taking goods to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Congo and beyond."
The trains, which can run at a sloth-like pace of 18 mph are to be replaced with high speed trains. A once 15 hour ride from Nairobi to Mombasa will only take two or three hours. The new rail system won't just benefit commuters and tourists. It will also create a trade network for goods like coffee, cotton and gold. Kenya Railways is currently managed by Rift Valley Railways -- a mix of Kenyan, Ugandan, Brazilian and Egyptian companies. But the railway is plagued by great debt and a region battling high levels of corruption, not to mention the worst famine in decades. East Africa's perhaps grandiose rail endeavor will either be a boom or a bust.
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People are taking to the streets in the Haitian city of Saint Marc to protest the construction of a cholera clinic by Doctors Without Borders. Around 300 students and other people gathered to complain (and throw rocks), voicing fears that the clinic would bring more of the disease into the area. More than 280 people have died from cholera so far in the recent outbreak, according to U.N. figures.
Presumably, a well-regarded aid organization like Doctors Without Borders knows what it is doing and wouldn't contribute to the spread of cholera in Haiti by misplacing a medical clinic. As the Al Jazeera correspondent in Port au Prince said, the anger is primarily due to a lack of public education about the disease. That may be true, but I think there are probably other issues here. Haitians' suspicions of the clinic might have as much to do with their general condition as it does with the building itself.
It was more than nine months ago that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, killing a quarter of a million people, leveling the capital, and setting back the country's infrastructure and economic development for years. More than 100 countries pledged about $15 billion to repair Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake. But so far Haitians have seen little improvement in their conditions. There are still 1.3 million people living in displaced persons camps, where hunger, rape, malnutrition, and now cholera are common. So far only $300 million of the $1.15 billion the United States appropriated to Haiti has reached the country.
Earlier this month Haitian protesters blocked off the area around the U.N. military installation in Port au Prince and carried banners that said "Down With the Occupation." In Mirabelais people are protesting that Nepalese U.N. forces nearby are contaminating the river with sewage. As long as reconstruction continues at such a slow pace, Haitians won't see the U.N. forces and international organizations as there to help. Some of that anger might even be taken out against much-needed medical clinics.
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Iraq is still paying the world back for Saddam's actions -- literally. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Iraqi government has agreed to pay $400 million to American citizens who claimed to have been tortured or traumatized by the Iraqi regime following Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. With a 15-30 percent unemployment rate, ubiquitous violence, and a still lacking infrastructure, why is the new Iraqi regime paying so much money to American citizens when it was all Saddam's fault? Because the payment may help Iraq's case to end U.N. sanctions that have lasted since Saddam Hussein's rule:
Settling the claims, which were brought by American citizens, has been seen as a key requirement for Washington to be willing to push for an end to the UN sanctions.
"There was a lot of pressure on the Iraqi government to do something that gets Congress off their back," says one senior Iraqi official, adding that the settlement cleared the way for US efforts to bring Iraq out from under the UN sanctions.
That's right, Saddam is long gone but sanctions on the still rebuilding country aren't. In fact, Iraq has already paid Kuwait $27.6 billion in reparations and continues to devote five percent of its oil revenues in accordance with the U.N. sanctions resulting from Saddam's invasion. While many countries have cancelled a lot or all of Iraq's debt to them, Kuwait continues to support Iraqi reparations -- regardless of the $22 billion Kuwaiti budget surplus for the last fiscal year.
So if U.S. citizens get paid by the Iraqi government for Saddam's "traumatizing" from 20 years ago, what will the United States pay the families of Iraqi citizens that are actually killed by U.S. forces? Well, the U.S. government is trying to find ways for Iraq to pay for that too.
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The Charities Aid Foundation has launched the World Giving Index, an interesting tool for measuring generosity. The index uses Gallup survey data on the percentage of a population that has given money or time to charity or helped a stranger to rank countries by charitability. The countries in the top 5 -- Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, and the United States, are not all that shocking, but there are some surprises in the top 20 including Sri Lanka, Laos, Sierra Leone, and Turkmenistan. The people of Turkmenistan turn out to be the most generous with their time -- though you have to wonder about the reliability of survey data in a country with a government as authoritarian as Turkmenistan's -- while Liberians are most likely to have helped a stranger.
Overall, the study concludes, generosity seems to be correlated more strongly with measures general well-being than with GDP. (Sierra Leone, which has one of Gallup's lowest well-being scores is the major exception.) The numbers also don't seem to be that closely correlated with governmental foreign aid. The people of Sweden, who have the world's most generous government by far, are a relatively lowly 45th on the Giving Index.
On the stingy end of the scale are some countries that can probably be excused -- Madagascar, Burundi -- as well as a few that should probably be embarrassed. Rising power China is seventh from the bottom. Greece, which just received a second installment of emergency EU loans worth $11.4 billion and loses more than $20 billion per year to tax evasion, is fifth from the bottom.
Imagine for a moment that you're a government minister in a poor or fairly poor country. You've got a limited budget and you've also got a lot of work to do -- children are undernourished, you need to increase the numbers of them that go to school, and maternal mortality is leaving behind ranks of young orphans. Let's also say that, like most countries in the world, yours is a bit unequal. So here's the question: If you want to cut poverty rates, who should you target? The lower middle class -- the "low-hanging fruit" that doesn't have far to go? Or the most destitute of the population?
For years, the answer has been the former. It seems logical: If you can only spend so much, why not help the category that is closest to overcoming poverty? Surely, the most destitute have too far to go to benefit from the limited aid available. This is the approach that countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, and Vietnam have taken in recent years. And they have made some progress.
But you'd be wrong, according to a new study released today by UNICEF. Based on rigorous data tests from 15 countries, the researchers found that the best way to reduce poverty is to start at the bottom, not in the middle. And the difference is a lot. For every $1 million spent on anti-poverty measures, you would "avert 60 percent more deaths" if you help the poorest first, according to the study. The reason for this is simple: if you're destitute, and you recieve a bit of aid, say a cash transfer of $100 a month, that will boost your income by a massively larger percentage than if you are middle-income. Put in another context, if you are a women with no access to healthcare during childbirth, a trained midwife will mean much more to you than it would to a woman with basic care already.
This isn't wonky. It's big -- really big -- not least because it is something of a rethink of the way that governments, including the United States, have been doing development. One of the biggest focuses of the Obama administration's $63 billion Global Health Initiative, for example, is to build up health "systems" -- training healthcare workers, improving facilities, etc. This study says, that kind of thing is great -- but it's also not the most efficient solution. Health systems are usually not accessible to the poorest of the poor because of cultural barriers, poor transportation, or a pure and simple lack of information. Healthcare has to come directly to the communities.
This is, by the way, useful for another another global problem that has arisen in recent years: massive inequality. The world has lifted millions out of poverty (thanks to China and India mostly, but they weren't alone.) But those who remained poor have gotten poorer, and those who were rich have gotten richer. How great would it be if the way to tackle absolute poverty (the numbers of poor) and relative poverty (the inequality factor) was actually the same? Pretty great. As UNICEF Exectuive Director Anthony Lake put it today, "We have an extraordinary opportunity to do not only the right thing but the most practical thing."
Now, to convince the politicians...
Editors note: I am in New York this week on a generous fellowship from the United Nations Foundation, covering the lead-up to the Millennium Development Goals Summit at the U.N. General Assembly starting on Sept. 20.
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Almost a year and a half since protests spurned a coup that removed democratically-elected President Marc Ravalomanana, Madagascar's political crisis continues to drag along. The government remains paralyzed and isolated, and formal development is reeling, with hundreds of millions of much-needed aid dollars frozen by donors.
Yesterday, the interim government, led by former DJ and mayor of Antananarivo, the country's capital and largest city, President Andry Rajoelina, who also has the backing of the country's military, reached an agreement with nearly 100 smaller political parties for new election dates. The accord is set to be adopted tomorrow, but it looks to have little impact: The three main opposition parties are boycotting discussions. These parties say they will only take part in elections that they help orchestrate, not just one organized by Rajoelina's government.
The accord sets presidential elections for the middle of next year, with a vote on a constitutional referendum on November 17. Originally, the referendum was supposed to be held this month and presidential elections in November, but opposition parties balked at these too. Earlier power-sharing negotiations, conducted in South Africa, also failed to bring all parties to an agreement.
This news does not bode well for the Malagasy people, of whom about 70 percent live below the poverty line. The EU, World Bank, and USAID have blocked development aid. Also in peril is the island nation's delicate and extraordinarily unique environment, famous for endemic species like lemurs and baobab trees. Instability caused by the coup has created an illegal logging crisis in Madagascar's national parks. Loggers plunder rosewood trees, while lemurs have been hunted for bushmeat. This month, UNESCO's World Heritage committee added Madagascar's tropical forests to its Danger List of threatened ecosystems.
"What has been happening in Madagascar since the coup is little more than a smash-and-grab raid," Conservation International head Dr. Russell Mittermeier told Mongabay. "Unscrupulous companies have been taking advantage of the upheaval and the willingness of the current regime to allow highly damaging practices which bring no benefit to the nation and simply enrich a few greedy people."
In a surprisingly positive twist, a World Bank report (with the cautiously optimistic title: "Why has the Malagasy economy not yet collapsed?") published last month said Madagascar had largely avoided financial disaster thanks to a strong informal economy, which has grown an estimated 13 percent since 2009, and good weather. Rice yields have hit record levels after two years without cyclones.
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Rio de Janeiro is undertaking a significant rebuilding and reconstruction effort before the 2016 Summer Olympics. The city will raze over 100 of the most "at risk" favelas and rebuild hundreds of others. According to the mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, about 13,000 families will be forced from their homes - and it's unclear where the people will be relocated and if they will be compensated.
For the local population, the Olympics are rarely about fun and games. In the last twenty years, the Olympics have displaced over 20 million people, despite the fact that international law stipulates protection from forcible eviction. People are either removed from their homes by the government or priced out: 720,000 at the Seoul Olympics; hundreds of families in Barcelona; 30,000 Atlantans; hundreds of Roma settlers in Athens; and 1.5 million people in Beijing.
Time to "think again"?
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Maybe it was all the excitement with the Russian spies last week, but somehow we missed one of the more intriguing things to grace the Wall Street Journal's letters page in a while: A full-throated defense of Hamid Karzai's brother, Mahmood Karzai, written by Gerald Posner. Posner, you may recall, was an investigative reporter for the Daily Beast until February, when he resigned after being caught plagiarizing from the Miami Herald and other news sources. In the letter -- which concerns an unflattering recent story about Karzai ferrying cash out of Afghanistan -- Posner identifies himself as "Gerald Posner, Attorney at Law," and refers to Karzai as "my client." Huh?
FP spoke this afternoon with Posner (above left), who says he isn't just representing Mahmood Karzai (above right), but also the other two Afghan presidential siblings, Hamid's younger half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai and older brother Qayum Karzai. It's an odd twist on the disgraced plagiarist-fabulist rehabilitation story, which often involves a legal career but not usually in the service of a beleaguered Central Asian ruling family. "They are really proud of the reputations that they have earned," Posner says of the Karzais, "and sort of in shock that they are viewed with such disdain in a country that is their ally in this process."
Christopher Bierlein (L), Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images (R)
Two words sum up Argentina's national stance towards the atrocities committed under the 1976-1984 military dictatorship: "Nunca más" -- never again. But while the junta remains firmly in the past, the effects of its clandestine crimes remain potent in the present. The national outcry, the investigations conducted by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared, and even the tireless marching and protesting by mothers of "desaparecidos" on Mayo Square have failed to yield information on what happened to the estimated 30,000 victims of state-sponsored abuse.
But last month, after being hidden beneath floorboards for 34 years, a secret list emerged to give some Argentinians what they thought they might never get: answers.
Throughout its rule, the military junta enforced a meticulous policy of destroying all their documents. But apparently it wasn't meticulous enough: one accused subversive named Juan Clemente escaped from his detention center with 259 pages of the military government's records. Clemente feared divulging the papers would cost him his life, and so kept them hidden underneath his house for over three decades; but a new safeguard from the witness protection program and a sense of urgency elicited from the imminent verdict of the Tucuman trial has motivated him to bring them forward.
Certainly with the lack of available evidence, the incriminating notes -- easily attributed to junta operatives by the flagrant signatures on each page -- will bolster the case against the four Dirty War perpetrators on trial. The new evidence could even be to thank for a more just verdict come July 8.
But perhaps the list has delivered an even greater form of justice: some reprieve for those left oblivious as to the fates of their abducted loved ones. Families of the Dirty War's "desaparecidos" have flooded into the courts to examine the papers -- even the sadistic notes on intelligence operations, torture sessions, and the victims' decrepit physical states.
The families were also able to access the pages in which the junta took stock of their victims, recording their names in the left columns and the outcome of their detentions in the right. For some of those reading, two letters beside their loved one's name -- DF, or "disposition final" -- may bring both heartbreaking finality and bittersweet relief.
DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images
China's Xinjiang province is known mostly for being a hotbed of separatist violence and government crackdowns on free speech. But not all the news coming from Western China is bad: just days after Beijing ended a controversial 10-month Internet blackout there, President Hu Jintao announced an ambitious aid package to bring the region's per-capita GDP up to the national average. The goal is to complete the project in as little as 10 years, and to help meet the deadline, provincial governments are getting involved:
More specifically, 19 relatively affluent regions including coastal and
central provinces and big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen,
will pipe support into different areas of Xinjiang during the next 10
years. In addition to financial aid, efforts will also be made to
improve employment, education and housing conditions for the poor in the
If your knowledge of Chinese geography is as rusty as mine, check out this neat color-coded map that highlights the participating provinces and breaks down their expected contributions.
Porfiriy / http://www.thenewdominion.net/1740/color-coded-guide-to-eastern-provinces-to-xinjiang-economic-aid-pairing/
Raul Castro has made some modest reforms since taking over in July 2006. A few token changes, including the introduction of cell phones, DVD players, microwaves and computers, have been made - but access to these amenities has been prohibitively expensive. New salary incentives were also introduced in 2008, although such moves are not completely new.
All in all, the expected moves towards a market-oriented economy have been lacking. But now there are some small signs that the leadership is planning to liberalize some sectors of its economy. Where will they start, you ask? It might not be where you would expect: barber shops and beauty salons.
According to the measure -- which state run media has not yet announced -- all barbers and hairdressers in small shops will be allowed to charge market prices and pay taxes (15 percent of average revenue) instead of getting a set monthly wage:
Daisy, a hairdresser in an eastern Guantanamo province, told the Reuters news agency that under the old system the government took in 4,920 pesos per month per hairdresser.
Now she will pay the government 738 pesos per month and keep any earnings above that.
‘We have to pay water, electricity and for supplies but it seems like a good idea,' Daisy said.
She said that while the plan did not turn the shops into co-operatives, employees would have to join forces to decorate and maintain the establishments."
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Bad news from the World Trade Organization: Global trade crashed a whopping 12 percent last year, around 20 percent more than anticipated and the most since the end of World War II.
Pascal Lamy, the head of the WTO, used the occasion to call for the resumption of the Doha trade talks, which fell apart in 2008 and which he described as "imperative." Just yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama promised to complete them, with unnamed officials saying the White House wants it to happen this year. But then again, Doha would need to be approved by these guys...
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
What percentage of the world's cell-phone accounts are in developing countries?
a) 25 percent b) 50 percent c) 75 percent
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images For The Clinton Foundation
Late last year, my colleague Blake Hounshell and I sat down with Anwar Ibrahim here in Washington, where he was attending a conference on inter-religious understanding. The Malaysian opposition leader (who is #32 one of our Top Global Thinkers of 2009) is today in a very different setting: the beginning of his trial for charges of sodomy that he says are politically motivated. Here are a few excerpts from that interview, including his thoughts on democracy, religion, and being an opposition figure.
FP: One criticism in the United States of the Muslim world is, people will say: the Muslim world is not addressing its own problems; The Muslim world is more likely to blame America for what is going on then to do soul searching about the state of discourse in Islam today. What is your response to that?
Anwar Ibrahim: I just answer, be equally responsible. You can't just erase a period of imperialism and colonialism. You have to deal, you can't erase, for example, the fault lines, the bad policies, the failed policies, the war in Iraq for example, and ambivalence you support dictators inside the top democracy. ...This night [in Malaysia], [there are] emails [circulating within] the national media, the government television network. They will start a 5 to 7 minute campaign: Anwar is in the United States, he is a lackey of the Americans, he is pro-Jew. Period. And they go on with impunity, [as they have done] for the last 11 years. Because they want to deflect from the issue of repression, endemic corruption, destruction of the institutions of governance.
There is a difference. You [the United States] have Abu Ghraib and it is exposed -- and the media went to town. The atrocities in the Muslim world, in our prisons, [and I am] not talking about my personal experience, [are] all knitted up.
What we need is credible voice in the Muslim world, independent. Some liberal Muslims become so American in their views, so Western. I don't think you should do that. Americans need to appreciate the fact that I am a Muslim, there don't need to be apologies for that. But at the same time we must have the courage to address the inherent weaknesses within Muslim societies.
FP: When was it that you first decided this debate between religion was something you wanted to be a part of?
AI: In Malaysia, [this] is so critical. [It's] a multi racial country, a religious country. [There is a] Muslim majority of 55 percent, then Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians of various domination. I grew up being involved in the Muslim youth work, even when I was a student, engaging in this. The Vatican supported the East Asian Christian Conference at the time and we started having these discussions. My initial work in the youth work when I was leading the Malaysia youth counsel which is an umbrella of all the Hindu youth and the Buddhist youth and the Christian youth. I benefited immensely ... we started engaging them. ... Then of course there was tolerance when we hosted a conference; they were mindful of the Hindus were strictly vegetarian or if the Christian organized, they were aware we did not eat pork or drink.
When I was I government the Muslim Christian dialogue was promoted, in fact I supported the program. There was a Muslim Christian center in Georgetown and we went to New Manila University. The majority of the Malaysians non-Muslims are not Christians but Confucianists, so we brought in Professor Tu Wei-ming one of the Chinese scholars of Confucianism from Harvard to come and tell us about Confucianism and we tell him about Islam. There is so much in common between Confucianism and Islam.
FP: How do you balance your life as a thinker and a politician?
AI: People do suggest that, but I quite disagree. Of course you simplify the arguments but the same arguments, the central thesis remains constant but the way you articulate it may differ. People say, Anwar you are opportunistic, how can you talk about Islam and the Quran here and then you talk about Shakespeare there and then quote Jefferson or Edmond Burke. I say it depends on the audience. [If] I go to a remote village, of course I talk about the Quran. In Kuala Lumpur ,and you quote T.S Eliot. If I quote the Quran all the time, to a group of lawyers, I am a mullah from somewhere.
[Some] think because I do court [Islamic votes] these days they think I am a Islamist. [But] you ask the question -- is it true, Anwar, that you are sound and consistent in your views and you are not actually a closet Islamist? I say, Why do you say that? [The] six years [I spent in] prison is not enough? And they say no, but you engage with the Islamists, and I said yes.
Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.
As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.
We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.
"Dictators, corruption and foreign invasions," it seems to me, vastly understates the political turmoil of Haitian history. Haiti has experienced 34 coups in its history -- an average of one every six years. There's simply no way to develop institutions under those conditions.
Brooks' analysis also seems to assume that all dictators are created equal. While the Dominican Republic's late 20th century dictators Rafael Trujillo (who played a not insignificant role in Haiti's tragic history) and Joaquín Balaguer were certainly brutal, they did at least demonstrate some interest in building that coutry's infrastructure, unlike the Duvaliers whose most lasting contribution to Haiti's infrastructure was probably the 98 percent deforestation that makes Haiti's hurricanes so deadly.
Unlike Haiti, he Dominican Republic has also had a continuous, if flawed, democracy for the last three decades. Haiti's 2004 Hurricane hit just a month after the coup at Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the interim government was in no position to govern under the best of circumstances. Food riots and the four hurricanes of 2008 followed before the earthquake delivered the knockout punch. Skipping immediately to culture and religion while skipping over other factors, particularly political turmoil, seems far too simplistic.
As for why Haiti has never had good governance, there's certainly no simple answer, and I think Tyler Cowen is right to ask, "Is it asking too much to wish for an economics [or political science, or journalism] profession that is obsessed with such a question?"
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
Jamal Saghir, the director of the energy, transport, and water programs at the World Bank responds to a Foreign Policy article by Phil Radford, the executive director of Greenpeace USA.
Mr. Radford's recent
column "Banking on Coal" provides a highly misleading and inaccurate picture of
the World Bank Group's efforts to help countries fight poverty and develop
He asserts that the World Bank Group is funding coal projects to the detriment of renewable energy (RE). Wrong. Our RE and energy efficiency (EE) financing levels are at historic highs -- over 40 percent of total fiscal year 2009 energy financing.
He says the Bank has been increasingly subsidizing coal projects. Wrong. Our fossil fuel share of financing has been declining for years, and two thirds of our fossil fuel financing is for natural gas, the cleanest fuel for base-load supply. Mr. Radford cites 2008 as a big year for coal financing, but neglects to mention that in fiscal year 2009 our coal financing then dropped 62 percent. Mr. Radford says that Bank fossil fuel financing is twice what we finance in RE/EE projects. Wrong again. In fiscal year 2009 we financed more RE/EE projects (over 40 percent) than fossil fuels (about 32 percent).
Over the last six years, coal represented 7.5 percent of all World Bank Group financing for energy. In some years it was as low as one or two percent. And fully a third of the spending on coal is to clean up inefficient, polluting old plants, something that surely Greenpeace would not want us to stop.
Mr. Radford criticizes the Bank's recently released draft energy strategy. We haven't issued a draft strategy. What we are doing is consulting in an open way with key stakeholders, including civil society organizations, whose input will help us to write a draft strategy next year.
Mr. Radford's criticisms lack context. He says that the Bank-financed projects are a significant source of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Wrong. Our projects are a minuscule fraction of the global footprint. The new proposed South African project he criticized will use the cleanest super-critical technology and has $750 million in financing for renewable energy and low carbon energy efficiency components that otherwise would not be part of the project.
We're proud to be a leader in advancing environmental financing innovation, such as the Climate Investment Funds ($6.3 billion pledged with $3.2 billion in investment plans already endorsed to support more than $30.5 billion in clean technology projects), the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, climate risk management products, and "Green Bonds."
The bottom line is that for our 186 member countries, our primary focus is
fighting poverty. There are 1.6 billion people living today without access to
electricity. Under very limited, case-by-case situations with strict criteria,
and when alternative lower-carbon technologies are not immediately available,
we will support least cost, carbon-based energy solutions. And we will do this
as an interim measure while we continue to help a country prepare for a cleaner
energy development path in the medium term.
The Indian plant he references will have lower emissions than the average for OECD countries (2005). Turning away from South African or Indian aspirations for affordable energy means turning away from energy for schools and hospitals and homes in those countries. It's particularly ironic for Mr. Radford in the United States to criticize our very modest portfolio when half of U.S. electricity comes from coal. While the World Bank Group is working to support low carbon paths, Mr. Radford advocates a double standard that will help ensure poor countries will not cooperate in addressing global climate change.
The World Bank Group is committed to fighting poverty and supporting economic growth and opportunity in a sustainable manner. Our increased lending for renewable energy and energy efficiency and our innovative financing demonstrates that we are serious about it.
See the World Bank's climate site here.
John Moore/Getty Images
This afternoon, the New America Foundation hosted "The New Forgotten War," a talk about the future of Iraq. It featured Ad Melkert, the special representative for the U.N. secretary-general in Iraq.
Melkert, a former Dutch member of parliament, remains cautiously optimistic about Iraq's future, with an emphasis on the cautious part. The good news is that security in Iraq is better than it was two years ago. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been able to confront violence in the southern part of the country, Melkert said. As a result of the safer state, investment is starting to rise, but it still has a long way to go. Corruption, the terrible infrastructure, and legal concerns hamper Iraq's ability to draw serious investment.
One serious problem for the nascent state is budgetary, Melkert said. When oil prices are high, the government spends all of its revenue, but when they fall, they have to slash the budget.
Further, Iraq is still under dozens of UN chapter seven sanctions, stemming from Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. The current leadership says these sanctions need to be lifted because they were implemented against Hussein and not the current government.
These problems could potentially be amplified in the coming months and years as foreign security forces draw down in the country. Melkert said that one of two things will happen. Either the Iraqi forces will somehow maintain order, or the insurgents will attack as soon as the United States leaves. Right now, police officers, public servants, and UN workers and buildings remain prime targets.
New America Foundation/Flickr
It was reported last week that attacks on and kidnappings of aid workers in Chad have caused six aid organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, to suspend operations there. Undeterred, this morning the top U.N. official in Chad announced "positive signs on the horizon," predicting increased peace and stabilization in the country.
This isn't the first time violence has driven away aid groups: in May, 2008, the head of the Eastern Chad mission of British aid organization Save the Children was shot and killed. At first, the organization announced that it would continue working in the country, but five months after the killing ultimately decided to leave.
At this point, the situation doesn't seem that dire with regards to the ICRC: In an interview, Bernard Barrett, an ICRC spokesman, said, "We're not pulling out totally. We're suspending some activities -- we're maintaining life-saving services, particularly medical services." The organization's other work in Chad ranges from water sanitation projects to animal vaccinations; hardly trivial work, particularly given the persistent lack of food security. As far as resuming these activities, Barrett reports a wait-and-see scenario. "Once we've obtained the release of our delegate who was kidnapped, at that point we'll be able to ascertain the security situation," he says.
Chad is a country in dire need of help. Last May, Doctors Without Borders led the effort to combat an outbreak of meningitis, immunizing 7.5 million people in the region. DWB is another organization that has been driven to suspend operations in Chad because of the recent violence. It's terrible to contemplate how many deaths might have resulted from the 65,000 cases of infection in and around Chad had DWB left just six months earlier.
The violence that has hindered desperately needed assistance ultimately stems from poor governance, said Richard Downie in an interview with FP. According to Downie, a fellow with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Until you have credible political parties and some sort of civil society developing, it's hard to see the long-term prospects of Chad looking bright."
That sort of civil society seems a ways off. Chad ranks 173 out of the 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, just three spots up from Afghanistan. And the country's heavily oil-dependent economy has only reinforced the political maladies that accompany "the devil's excrement."
It's tough to avoid Downie's conclusion: "I don't see a long-term solution to what's going on in Chad at the moment without much more engagement from the international community."
Photo: FRANCESCO FONTEMAGGI/AFP/Getty Images
On Sunday, the New York Times published an article exposing problems with the wildly popular microfinance organization Kiva, a person-to-person lending site whose virtues Oprah Winfrey and Nicholas Kristof have extolled.
Most people thought Kiva works like this: Entrepreneurs in poor countries explain their need for a small loan on the site. Then, donors select a project they support, give an amount of their choosing, and watch the donations tally up on the page. Kiva trumpeted that "the people you see on Kiva's site are real individuals."
That was true. But it really works much differently, David Roodman of the Center for Global Development figured out. Kiva doesn't take dollars from one person and send them directly to another. All of the recipients are vetted, approved, and given loans by another organization -- then put on the site after the fact. Roodman wrote a meticulous (and ultimately complimentary) blog post debunking Kiva's story of itself and touched a nerve, ginning up thousands of comments and spurring the start-up to respond.
The problem wasn't just that Kiva misrepresented itself as a person-to-person microlender -- but that Kiva misrepresented itself as a hypertransparent organization. The information about the financial pathways was on the site, sure, but you had to dig around to find it.
Kiva has responded by changing the language on its site and clarifying the loan process. I'm happy to see it becoming more accountable and transparent, particularly as it becomes a larger organization. (Just this month, it lent its one-hundred-millionth dollar.)
But, at the end of the day, a $10 donation backstopping a pre-existing loan to a Colombian farmer doesn't seem so different to me than a $10 donation helping create a loan for that Colombian farmer. And if pooling the donated funds helps keep overhead costs down (high overhead being the main argument against person-to-person direct microlending), I'm all for that.
A World Bank research paper posted today finds that countries with a high proportion of young males with low levels of secondary education are significantly more conflict-prone. The combination of these "youth bulges" and low rates of secondary education is especially likely to lead to conflict in low- and middle-income countries, the authors also report. The findings focus particularly on Sub-Saharan Africa, as "the continent with the largest youth cohorts and the lowest levels of male secondary education, scoring on average nearly 30 percentage points lower than the world average."
Countries outside of the region also call for concern. In Syria, for example, males 14 years old and younger make up nearly 20 percent of the population. Only 39.1 percent of secondary school-aged students are enrolled in school, making it the 101st lowest-ranking country of 135 surveyed. In the long run, Syria is facing declining oil production and rapid population growth - a recipe for violent unrest.
The policy implications are clear. Programs that focus on primary education, like the U.N.'s Education for All and Millennium Development Goals programs are important (after all, students have to read and write before they can pursue secondary schooling), but there must be more support for programs like the World Bank's own Secondary Education in Africa initiative.
The total cost of a secondary education in Kenya is estimated at $6,865. A 2007 Oxfam report found that on average a "war, civil war, or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 percent," and conflict causes the continent to lose about $18 billion a year. You do the math.
Photo: SONIA ROLLEY/AFP/Getty Images
In a talk given this afternoon at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, retired Gen. John Abizaid outlined his view of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He argued that it is foolish to approach issues on a country-by-country basis, complaining that "we look at Iraq through a soda straw. We look at Afghanistan through a soda straw." Instead, says Abizaid, the United States must develop a regional strategy that accounts for the roles of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
For the same reason, he suggested, the debate over whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan has been over-simplified; the discussion should be broadened to include the relative demands of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region at large.
Abizaid also emphasized the ideological nature of the conflict, and the need for soft power to address the root causes of radicalism. He noted that Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban leader, is referred to as "the commander of the faithful."
"While we may chuckle at that title," Abizaid said, "the people fighting for him do not." When asked whether there should be a shift to a counter-terrorism approach in Afghanistan that relies more upon targeted strikes than nation-building, Abizaid responded that such a plan is impractical. Stabilization in Afghanistan and Iraq is a precondition for effective counter terrorist operations, he argued, because it provides the infrastructure needed to develop the "superb, superb intelligence" needed.
The theme of the talk was that instability anywhere in the region is a serious threat to surrounding countries. With our "ground forces spread thin" and "our 24-7 forces totally engaged," the United States must more fully incorporate diplomatic, political and economic plans to get a handle on the region. A number of questions were directed to the resources required for such a broad regional approach, and towards the end of the talk, the retired general was asked if the situation would be better in Afghanistan had the United States not invaded Iraq.
"All's I know is that we did what we did, and we are where we are," he answered.
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