For years the hackneyed joke about Brazil was that it was the country of tomorrow and always would be. But almost a decade ago, in the wake of the reforms of the Cardoso administration, and then thanks to the remarkable presidential tenure of Luiz Inacio "Lula" Da Silva and the industry and enterprise of the Brazilian people, the joke was overtaken by events. As investors, CEOs, journalists and most of the world's leading powers have recognized, Brazil has arrived.
While U.S. leaders like Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama have acknowledged the change, many in the U.S. policy community remained holdouts or skeptics. Yes, Brazil was on the rise they said, but they always found a way to qualify their views, to establish one criteria or another that Brazil would have to meet before it was finally seen as a "first-class power." While Asia specialists embraced the rise of China and India and quickly began to remake policy based on changing power relationships, Latin specialists clung to the past, to old formulations and prejudices.
In the eyes of these living museum pieces of Washington's small, inbred Latin American affairs community, Brazil might be the country of tomorrow, it might even be the country of later on today, but we would be sticking with the policies of yesterday until further notice.
Today, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has issued a new task force report on U.S.-Brazil relations that goes a long way toward breaking with the past by recommending the U.S. move toward a new policy stance with regard to Brazil. The central point of the report is that Brazil must be liberated from the Latin policy barrio and viewed as one of the most important global powers of today and of the century ahead.
President Obama will head to Latin America next week. If the government doesn't shut down, that is. He's taking the wife and kids. He might as well. At least there will be someone he can talk to about the trip who -- barring some calamity -- will be more interested than the mainstream U.S. media that will almost certainly remain focused as it is on shop-lifters in Venice Beach and coke-fueled manic-depressives in Malibu.
That's not to say Latin America is not important. It's just that Americans are having a serious band-width problem at the moment and even the most vital hemispheric questions are having trouble gaining resonance. It's also not to say that the trip is unimportant. It'll certainly have symbolic value and be meaningful to neglected neighbors in terms of a wide variety of comparatively minor issues. (Of course, the United States regularly cycles from paying too much attention to paying too little attention to the region and back again with Latin Americans typically unhappy about either posture.)
As far as this trip goes however (and it will go pretty far -- from El Salvador to Brazil to the far end of the hemisphere in Chile), there is one potentially geopolitically significant question that has emerged: will the President support the candidacy of Brazil to be a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council?
Admittedly, this too is largely a symbolic issue. Even with the most vigorous U.S. support imaginable, efforts to gain Brazil the permanent seat on the Security Council it clearly deserves face a long, winding, obstacle-filled road before being realized. But Obama intentionally or otherwise raised expectations in Brazil when he made support for India's candidacy for a permanent seat a centerpiece of his mission there late last year. There are four countries that are regularly mentioned for such an upgrade in their status-referred to as the G-4, they are India, Brazil, Germany and Japan. The U.S. has long ago publicly supported Japan's candidacy. The India statement now has Brazilians thinking their time has come.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
When I read the Washington Post's story "Palestinians Seek Recognition through South America" this morning, all I could think of was Sarah Palin. Now, some might think that is a kind of a disorder that calls for therapy more than it does another blog post. But I suspect you are probably jumping to the wrong conclusion about what I think about either issue.
In defense of my mental health (which needs all the defending it can get), one reason I thought of Palin was that as I was reading the article, she appeared on the television. She was being asked what she thought about birther claims that President Obama was not born in the United States. Without the hesitation or weasel words that have made recent statements on this subject by Michele Bachmann and John Boehner such indictments of their ability to lead, Palin said that it wasn't an issue for her and that we ought to be talking about how to fix the economy. In this instance, she got it precisely right.
But the Palin comment and the birther debate also resonated with the story of the eight Latin American governments that in December and January recognized Palestinian statehood. representatives of the Netanyahu government including the prime minister himself apparently vigorously tried to persuade the region's leaders not to join the almost 100 nations that have also acknowledged the legitimacy of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people.
Once again, the issue seems like a distraction to me. The response of Israel ought to be like the response of Palin, "Of course, the Palestinian people have a right to a state." In fact, it's only a bit of an over-simplification to say, the right response ought to be literally what Palin's was: That it's not an issue for them and we ought to be talking about how to fix the economy -- that is we ought to be focused on how you go from the indisputable right of the Palestinians to have their own state to working together to create one that is self-sustaining and can do a better job creating opportunities for the Palestinian people than neighboring states (other than Israel) have done for their citizens. That's the critical challenge for both Israelis and Palestinians together.
That of course, also requires that the Palestinian leadership actually get serious about both negotiating a deal and providing fundamental services to the Palestinian people. An honest debate about this subject, stripped of the distractions upon which both sides have depended on as cover for so long, would turn more to such practical issues.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
Tom Jobim, the songwriter who wrote "The Girl from Ipanema," once observed, "Brazil is not for beginners." It is an insight that was shared with me this weekend by a wise friend in Brasilia.
He was not writing about the woman who decisively won Brazil's presidential election on Sunday, Dilma Rousseff. Despite the assertions of her critics, the woman already known to Brazilians simply as Dilma is no beginner. Those critics and some of her soundly defeated opponents are fond of saying that because she had never run before for elected office she might not have the political skills to manage Brazil's fractious Congress or even her ten party coalitions. But this overlooks the long and remarkable road that brought her from being a guerrilla combating Brazil's military regimes of the 1960s to jail and torture, to getting her degree in economics to a path of local government leading to Lula's cabinet to his invaluable chief of staff.
Furthermore, this kind of criticism overlooks her crafty and tenacious work behind the scenes when Lula's administration was battered by scandal and she played such a central role in holding it together and getting it back on track that from then on many in the government considered her "Lula's prime minister."
No, my friend was not writing about Dilma or anyone else in Brazil. He was writing about the policy community outside the country that is now going to face the challenge of shaping a relationship with the new administration. His point was that as a major, complex, rapidly changing power, Brazil has transcended and made obsolete old formulations about its nature and role. Brazil, he was suggesting, requires new thinking which in turn requires a kind of sophistication -- a more nuanced understanding and creativity that was often lacking in policymakers from traditional powers, particularly the United States. His comments particularly resonated with me after a series of meetings and events in which I have participated during the past few weeks all of which focused on Brazil and Latin America.
During several such gatherings in Washington, in surroundings where you would expect to see the crème de la crème of Western Hemisphere specialists, the level of discussion was frequently frustrating. Many of the views heard were those of superannuated relics of what is certainly the weakest regional policy community in America. Most still see everything in the Americas in terms of left vs. right distinctions which are pretty much meaningless today, as former traditional leftists turned stewards of economic orthodoxies like Lula and Dilma illustrate. These veterans of America's often rather ghastly Latin American policies are fighting Fidel and the contras in the steamy jungles of their minds. On the other hand, some of the younger analysts view Brazil as part of a kind of mystical BRICtopia where economies grow to the sky and upheaval and economic shocks are permanently things of the past. (Things are so fizzy there right now that this is as dangerous as underestimating Brazil's growing geopolitical clout.)
What is it about South Carolina's Latin loves? Or more precisely, what is it about their Latin passions that drives South Carolinian politicians insane? First, we had Governor Mark Sanford falling head over heels for his sweet little alfajore from B.A.. Now, we've got South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint in a lovesick swoon for Honduras's de facto president Roberto Micheletti.
Despite the fact that Sanford lied to his constituents and betrayed his family, his saga was almost poignant. He clearly suffered acutely from that uniquely male disorder that involves the blood rushing from the brain and taking up residence in other parts of his anatomy. He went lovestupid. (It reminds of a true story told to me by a former Argentine ambassador. He ... who had five or six wives ... was having a conversation with his pal, then Argentine President Carlos Menem, himself a famous connoisseur of the opposite sex. Menem said, "you know, my friend, you and I are a just a couple of old putaneros." And the Ambassador responded, "No, Mr. President. You are a putanero. I am a romantic. Hence the five or six marriages.) Guys like that can't help themselves.
Then there is DeMint, who has fallen so hard for Micheletti that he decided to go visit him and whisper sweet nothings in his ear, despite the fact that his support for the interim president would run directly contrary to the foreign policy of the U.S. government. Apparently, the passion that draws DeMint down Tegucigalpa way is so strong and disorienting that he somehow thought no one would object. Senator Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did and cancelled DeMint's trip. As of late Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell then reinstated the trip under the aegis of a different committee. And no doubt there will be further chess moves on this front, with DeMint so goggle-eyed over the dubious appeals of the Micheletti government that he seems to think that this issue ought to be a top priority, taking precedence over say, everything else in U.S. foreign policy or policy in the region.
We know he thinks that the little telenovela that is playing out in Honduras is the most important thing happening in the hemisphere because -- apparently over this issue -- he has personally blocked the confirmation of the administration's two excellent, highly qualified nominees to be Assistant Secretary of State and Ambassador to Brazil. This issue has driven him nuts and he is going to drive the rest of the government nuts too, by golly! That's patriotism. Them's priorities. That's a South Carolina man in (ideological) heat.
However, in behaving in such an over-the-top fashion (and he's certainly entitled to his opinion ... the problem starts when he starts compromising the ability of the United States to conduct its foreign policy to make his point), DeMint is actually doing a service. Because he is making the most compelling case possible against the dangerous current argument that the appropriate response to the Obama administration's czarism is demanding Senate approval of even more presidential appointments.
As readers of this blog know, I was out there early tallying up czars and objecting to how many there were. But I was objecting because I felt that often (but certainly not always) such positions were redundant and didn't make for effective executive branch management. I never suggested ... or dreamed ... that the answer would be a push to give the Congress even more authority over executive branch appointments.
This Senate has an appalling track record of blocking appointments to advance personal agenda issues, pursue vendettas completely unrelated to the confirmation process in question and otherwise impede the ability of the government to get its work done in the most demanding times imaginable. Senator Demented is a prime example of the problem ... but he is just one example.
Look at the appalling case surrounding the Senate's foot-dragging in confirming Lael Brainard as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs. It is not just frustrating or inappropriate ... it is a dereliction of duty for the Senate to have allowed the United States to go through its worst global economic crisis in our lifetimes without its senior-most international official. And according to several recent tallies I have seen, overall confirmations are lagging the slow pace of previous such processes, such as during the Bush transition, by a not inconsiderable margin. (Although some of the blame here admittedly must go to a White House vetting process that is responsible for its own share of self-inflicted wounds.)
Does anyone really believe that the U.S. Senate has somehow earned even more authority and power given its recent record of oversight failures, personal scandals and the inability to lead on the critical questions of the day? And don't reflexively roll out the constitutional argument. It has long been an established practice that only a modest fraction of executive branch appointments get Senate approval and many of those closest to the president, his direct White House staff including key posts like chief of staff, national security advisor, director of the national economic council, etc. do not. This is because it is recognized that the chief executive deserves autonomy in the selection of those who work directly for him-as many of these czars do. Frankly, given the way some senators abuse their power, I'm surprised the administration hasn't considered making the move to an all-czar government.
Frankly, what ought to be under review is the dangerous practice ... which is definitely not mentioned in the constitution ... which gives individual Senators the right to do such damage to the interests of the United States by blocking nominations. At the most there should be a time limit on their ability to delay confirmation processes ... although frankly, I think it is utterly inconsistent with the ideals of representative government that an individual should have the ability to abuse power the way DeMint has or his colleagues regularly do.
Through his actions, DeMint draws our attention to a crisis not in Honduran democracy but to one in the way democracy works right here at home.
Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images
I can't be sure, not being a neuroscientist, but I have this theory that the brain works kind of like a Dustbuster. It sucks up all sorts of stuff and then every so often you have to dump it out or it gets clogged up and stops working. Here are some of the bits and pieces that came out this morning:
When Does Lack of Intimacy Mean You're Almost Certain to be Screwed?
I spoke with a friend yesterday who is a real live foreign policy professional. We were discussing the fact that my two daughters are heading off to college in a few days and that I would be an empty-nester soon. (Or as I like to call it: "Crawling under the bed and curling up in a fetal position.") He said it was a great opportunity to get to know one's wife again, recounting his experience of having his kids depart and then looking up and asking himself, "Who the hell is this woman in my living room?"
I responded that with the kind of skills he seems to have developed he could have become a marriage counselor and then added, "come to think of it, given your current line of work, that probably comes in handy." He then told a story about how a lack of what he called "intimacy"...of the diplomatic sort...was a challenge in one international context with which he was dealing.
I couldn't resist pointing out that in marriage, a lack of intimacy usually means you are not getting fucked... but in diplomacy, it means you almost certainly will be.
The Republicans' W-Shaped Recovery
America's Republican leadership is almost giddy with the turbulence they are causing for the Obama Administration on health care. After the political death march of the Bush years and the drubbing by Obama, they are desperate for signs of life in their party. But frankly, after some examination, my death panel votes "do not resuscitate."
The problem is that despite the media's delight with covering nutsy women with Obama-as-Nazi posters, great retorts to them like that of Barney Frank who to his great credit does not suffer vile imbeciles lightly, Kansas congresswomen musing aloud about the G.O.P.'s need for a "great white hope", porn-star-named Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell joking about "hunting" Obama, and the like, stirring up hatred is not enough to bring even the Republican Party back to life.
There is almost zero possibility that some form of health care legislation will not be signed into law this year. It may not be everything Obama wanted, but the reality is it will probably big the biggest set of reforms in decades. Recent polling covered in today's Washington Post also shows growing support for Obama's climate and energy proposals which are the next big item in the pipeline. And on the one issue that the Republicans probably had a good positive case to make, regarding deficit reduction, statements from Tim Geithner and others in the administration make it clear that as we move into recovery, they are going to begin cutting making reducing the deficit a top priority. Given that the Republican Party's actual record on the deficit is so woeful, this too will make their lives much more difficult.
The result: after hopes of a rebound on the back of their health care opposition, the Republicans could be faced with the same "W" shaped scenario economists like Nouriel Roubini are worried about re: the economy. Further, leaderless and in disarray, they won't even be in a good position to take advantage of that if it happens. The result might be picking up only a modest number of seats-below historical norms-in the 2010 mid-term elections and leaving a more experienced Obama team with very substantial majorities for the second half of his first term.
How do you say "plus ca change" in Spanish?
I'm sure there are those on Capitol Hill who think depriving the administration of senior officials has little or no effect. Most don't think about the consequences of their actions at all, of course. But perhaps if they would direct their attentions southward they might benefit from the case study that is unfolding.
When President Obama left the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago there was much hope for a new era of north-south relations in the Americas. Now, just a few months later, with Antonia Valenzuela, Obama's nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, cooling his heels while there is a hold on his nomination, things have taken a turn for the worst. In rapid succession, the countries of the region, some very well disposed toward Obama at the outset, have been disappointed by the U.S. failure to aggressively promote the restoration of a democratically elected president in Honduras, its not-so-deftly managed announcement of a military basing deal with the Colombians and its too-quiet response to moves to by Colombia's President Uribe to revise his country's constitution so he can seek another term of office. This turn of events has resulted in some tough talk publicly and, apparently, in private exchanges such as that Obama recently had with Brazil's President Lula, a man with whom the new U.S. president has established a very good rapport.
To many in the region, the new U.S. President is starting to look, as they might say down on the estancia, to be all hat and no cattle. Maybe, they are murmuring...well, some are murmuring, some like Hugo Chavez are shouting it from the rooftop...nothing really has changed with the U.S.
With a little more bandwidth devoted to these issues the U.S. could easily have managed all of them to a better outcome. They could have done more to pressure the interim regime in Honduras to enable the return of the elected president and they could have addressed his efforts to rig Honduran democracy in his favor by helping to ensure a transparent election this Fall. As for the Colombian bases, that shouldn't have been a big issue. The U.S. has had a presence in the region for years. Coordination and communication could easily have been handled better. And as for Uribe, a more forceful public message that he should pursue his distinguished public service career in a new role would have been appropriate.
Instead, whenever Valenzuela is confirmed (in September, one hopes), he is going to find he has some repair work to do in the region, which will be an unfortunate distraction from some of the bigger issues on the regional agenda like: working with Mexico on our shared security concerns, helping to combat the shift of drug transshipment to Central America which could have a very destabilizing effect, working to shape a new partnership with Brazil, dealing with climate, with economic recovery issues, etc.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Welcome to my life: My wife and I are padding around the bedroom this morning trying to avoid stepping on the little piles of clothing and half-assembled alebrijes that are the residue of a recent trip she made to Mexico. (She is a big fan of the Oaxacan wood carvings and our house, as a result, is full of them. Of course, those from the most recent trip came not only as contorted and fanciful as usual but each carrying a different strain of swine flu which makes them even more frightening than usual for our big, stupid cats.)
The bed is unmade. The blinds are down in the full blackout position that produces the crypt-like conditions my wife demands in order to sleep. (Although as I write this I wonder if sleeping with me is what has led her to require conditions that would have a bat demanding a nightlight and calling for his mommy.) Morning Joe is burbling in the background, the inside-the-beltway equivalent of one of those Sharper Image white noise machines.
So are we discussing her trip? The day? Her upcoming visit to the eye-doctor to have her faulty laser surgery fixed? How nice I look in my running shorts and polo shirt that still features remnants of last night's delicious dinner of Lean Pockets?
No, we're discussing blogging, bane of my existence. She was dead-set against it at the outset. But now she loves it. She says it is because people she meets talk about the blog all the time but that is implausible unless she travels in an even smaller, weirder circle than I thought. Instead, I am pretty sure it is because that when she does meet the odd Joe (or Jane) who reads the blog, she immediately gets waves of sympathy from them for having to put up with such a deranged curmudgeon. ("Do you really have to pretend to laugh at the jokes around the house?! You poor muffin...")
So I say, "I'm thinking of doing the blog today about Uribe." Yesterday there was a vote in the Colombian legislature that rekindled the prospect of President Uribe running for a third term. While I happen to think Uribe has done a pretty terrific job, all things considered, in one of the world's toughest jobs, I don't think it will enhance his legacy or Colombian democracy for him to run again. There are plenty of other talented Colombians and plenty of ways for him to continue to play a leading and constructive role.
She responds that many of my Colombian friends will be angry with me for this position because they think so highly of Uribe. She also notes that other people have made the point before and in so doing I might inflame discussions here that have some folks on Capitol Hill arguing we should go even slower on the approving the Colombia free trade deal if Uribe makes the decision to run again. Admittedly, she is the head of the Western Hemisphere Department at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and, although she is a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, she is also one of those old-fashioned advocates of free trade that you used to read about in business magazines before they were all forced to go underground and live in basements and practice their secret rituals of promoting global government and worshipping a border-free globe in secrecy. (Ok, I'll admit it. Me too) But she makes a good point. And she is my wife who brought home many beautiful alebrijes. So I drop the idea.
Instead, she suggests, I should do the piece on the insanity of the vetting and approval process that has left us with scores of gaps across the top levels of the U.S. government here in late August of the first year of the Obama presidency. As she puts it, we've got "local Kentucky politics" resulting in not having senior officials in place to deal with vital issues. "Here we are in the middle of a crisis and some of the most important jobs in the whole government are vacant for no good reason," she says while slathering herself in some strange cream that although it makes her look temporarily like a creature from a Roger Corman film actually smells pretty good and seemingly makes her immune to the effects of time, gravity and continental drift.
You don't argue with a woman who seemingly has discovered a cure for physics. And again, her argument has, as my old boss Kissinger used to say, the added benefit of being right. She lists a group of ambassadors, assistant secretaries, deputy U.S. trade representatives and others who are cooling their heels while Congress is at the beach or out trying to scare old people with "death panels." I jump on her bandwagon by reminding her of the story of the very smart, capable and talented Lael Brainard who is still in limbo despite the fact that:
That's it, I think, I'll write a "Free Lael Brainard!" piece. But then my wife reminds me the Post did that a couple days ago and I would look like a copycat. So that idea is also ditched.
What about doing a decline of America piece based on the quote I saw while reading U.S. News during a private moment this morning, I suggest? She says I shouldn't mention that I read the story anywhere in the vicinity of the loo because that would be tasteless. I promise not to. Then, I get to the thrust of the story which was a quote from former West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton, a good guy I spent some time with once on some Clinton foreign mission somewhere who has since gone on to even greater power as head of the College Board. His observation was something to the effect that about a quarter of SAT-takers in 1989 said they had a GPA in the A range (A plus, A or A minus) but that today that number has climbed to well over 40 percent.
No wonder we've got problems, I thought. But then I thought the last time I wrote a piece about some of the intellectually-challenged citizens of America I got accused of being elitist and anti-American and a traitor and a Jew. And two of those things aren't true, one I feel bad about and the fourth one would probably be disputed by my rabbi who hasn't seen me since my youngest daughter's bat mitzvah. I've taken enough abuse this week and it's Friday, so maybe I'll just...and then I looked up and noticed my wife had quietly, like a Blackwater assassin going after an al Qaeda target, gone to work. So I decided not to write a post for the blog today. It's a summer weekend. And if I wrote all this stuff it would probably be way too long anyway. Why not give the readers a day off.
Yesterday at lunch I ran into a very senior official who is deeply involved in the negotiations with Honduras. He said, "It is a very strange situation. Here you have on one side officials from Honduras and on the other side you have the United States, Hillary Clinton, Brazil, Michelle Bachelet, the rest of the world. They seem to be enjoying it ... they have never had so much attention."
And so the government of Honduras learns the first lesson of weak-state diplomacy as taught by the Sun Tzu of diplomatic tantrums, Kim Jong-Il: the more big powers you can irritate, the better off you are. They almost never manage to apply real pressure and more importantly, wherever they go, the cameras go. If North Korea were a poor Stalinist agricultural enclave on the northern bit of the Korean peninsula that didn't have nuclear weapons they would be getting roughly the publicity of...well, Cameroon, which is a near neighbor on the CIA GDP chart. (Some other neighbors on that chart like Cyprus and Yemen have also managed to ratchet up the attention they get by being festering sores on the political map.)
Whatever the case, the diplomat advised the Hondurans not get too used to the limelight, that their 15 minutes were almost up. What's the matter with these guys? A call to Pyongyang or A.Q. Khan and they could become a first tier nuisance to the world and enjoy all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining.
MAYELA LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Congratulations to the world. Sometimes progress tiptoes in on little cat's feet, as Walt Whitman once said of the fog. But sometimes, it is right there marching down Main Street like a big brass band. That kind of progress is just what the world was putting on display while Americans celebrated President's Day Weekend by ignoring all the big sales and remaining huddled in their underground bunkers snipping their credit cards into tiny bits of plastic.
For example, we have Saudi Arabia entering the 20th century at a trot, appointing Norah Al-Fayez the first woman to the country's council of ministers. Admittedly, she only managed an appointment as Deputy Minister of Women's Education (the top job for educating women was obviously not a job that could be entrusted to a female), but still, it's better than being sentenced to 200 lashes for being raped. Next up for the progressive desert utopia, allowing women to actually drive a car. Princess Amira al-Taweel, wife of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the 13th richest man in the world, boldly announced a week ago that she is ready to get behind the wheel as soon as her husband's uncle, King Abdullah, gives the thumbs up. She has been practicing whenever she leaves the country. And readers in the U.S. can feel even better knowing they are probably subsidizing her spins around Geneva or wherever in the family Bentley. After all, given her husband's status as Citibank's biggest private shareholder, one can only imagine what she would be forced to drive if it weren't for the Treasury Department and the taxpayers of the good old U.S. of A. And if they ever take that big step and actually let women drive themselves where they want when they want to, who knows what modern innovation will they will next embrace. Democracy anyone?
Speaking of democracy, let's hear it for Hugo Chavez and that feel-good story that just keeps on giving, his Bolivarian revolution. On Sunday, Venezuela's own Horatio Alger, the poor boy who made good through hard work (and ruthless suppression of his opponents), overcame prior setbacks on his campaign to get rid of presidential term limits in his country and won a referendum that will let him stay in office indefinitely... or at least until voters tire of his merry antics (or he runs out of oil money with which to paper over his government's feckless mismanagement). Just hours before, champion of democratic values that he is, Chavez kicked Luis Herrero, a Spanish member of the European Parliament, out of the country "to preserve the peace and guarantee the election's normal development." Chavez won a big electoral victory and in so doing sent an important reminder that democracy alone is not enough. (Here Hugo and his onetime nemesis George W. Bush are linked as two of the best examples that sometimes the people get it wrong.)
Back to news of countries in which democracy is about as remote and theoretical as string theory: one of America's favorite tribal kingdoms in the Middle East scored another victory for our side by bravely standing up to the all-powerful Israel Lobby by denying an entry visa to Shahar Peer, an Israeli tennis player. Peer wanted to compete in the Sony Ericsson World Tennis Association Tournament in Dubai. The WTA immediately condemned the action and then announced that the tournament would go ahead as planned despite the clear violation of its rules by the organizers. Not surprisingly, there was also no sign that the tournament's sponsors are pulling out either. (Who says invertebrates can't make it today's economy?) The UAE, despite its wealth, its close relationship with the U.S. military, the sales of advanced weaponry to the country and its special status as the first friend in the region we've decided to help unlock the magic of nuclear power, was seemingly intimidated by the 5'7", 21-year-old Israeli's two-handed backhanded and steady baseline game. (Admittedly, she does work as a secretary for the Israeli military and might, conceivably, singlehandedly takeover the country between matches.) Nonetheless, if they think she is intimidating, imagine how they would have reacted to the previously highest ranked Israeli woman tennis player, the woman with the fiercest name on the tour: Anna Smashnova.
Finally, this just in: on Valentine's Day almost 40,000 people kissed in the Zocalo, Mexico City's main square, setting a new world record for mass kissing. This allowed spokespeople from the Calderon Administration to once again deny the country was at risk of becoming a failed state saying, "See, plenty of Mexicans are making out well."
Today is the 10th Anniversary of Hugo Chávez coming to power. It's also, as my wife, who runs the Western Hemisphere programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes, Groundhog Day. So what happens if Chávez sees his shadow? He probably sees it as potential opposition and throws it in the slammer. And we get six more years of anti-American bombast, mismanagement, and atrophying democracy.
Yesterday's Obama interview with Matt Lauer before the Super Bowl was his most charming ever. It's good to see a guy enjoying himself. Obama, I mean. Lauer was a little too taken with the chumminess for me. He's the president, Matt. You're Al Roker's sidekick. (By the way, you wonder why the economy is where it is? Yesterday's Super Bowl ads were the worst in memory. Just when companies need good marketing the most, Madison Avenue gets brain lock.)
The scariest statistic to come down the economic pike in recent months? Not the ILO's prediction of 51 million unemployed worldwide in 2009. Not China's estimate of 20 million migrant workers in that country having lost their jobs. Not the projections of first quarter U.S. economic contraction passing the Fourth Quarter's 3.8 percent contraction at a trot. It's the Institute for International Finance's estimate that net private sector capital flows into the emerging world will fall in 2009 to one fifth their 2007 levels. That's, right, an 80 percent reduction in private sector cash into a group of fragile countries for whom such cash is the peace-keeper, the hope-giver.
On Meet the Press on Sunday, Steve Forbes described the failure of the financial system as a failure of the heart of the national economy. Same is true globally and its a good analogy. The system has suffered a massive heart-attack. The cash that was in circulation isn't making it to the parts of the system that need it. Which is why the world is flat on its back.
That said, for all the bad news and dire predictions, isn't it about time that politicians start recognizing that leadership requires also identifying what's positive and focusing on what's still working, what can be fixed, where we can go from here, what opportunities are being created? Was "never let a serious crisis go to waste" just the insight of a political opportunist. A system that suffers a 3.8 percent contraction, still is 96.2 percent functioning...and in the case of the U.S. economy, that still leaves many elements robust, still leaves the biggest economy in the world by far, still leaves an economy full of innovators, great companies, and consumers who are still buying. It's bad out there. But after the heart-attack, doctors will focus on getting well and not just on what a hair-raising near-death experience it has been.
Which calls to mind the biggest headlines out of Davos:... er... there weren't any. Just too many chicken littles and not enough mea culpas.
In the same vein, let's hope President Obama, Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and the White House braintrust realize what lousy advice they are getting from the corner of the partisan mouthpieces like E.J. Dionne. In today's Post Dionne calls for the Dems to fight for "their" bill and pass it with or without Republicans.
This is wrong-headed on three counts. First, this crisis is way too big to rely on ideas from just one political group or another. People need to realize that if we make the wrong decisions or drag out the crisis or over-burden ourselves unreasonably with debt it is well within our power to end the American era, invite an end to the Pax Americana, and open the door to new rivals. At the very least, we will burden and diminish ourselves in unprecedented ways. And some of the Republican points re: focusing on more stimulative tax cuts and minimizing the fat in the bill, are hugely common-sensical. Next, it is bad political advice. It forces Obama to break his promise of post-partisan leadership and it puts the onus for the bill entirely on the Dems...and frankly, no one is very confident we're going to get this right on the first pass. Third, it is going to take a unified nation to get out of this mess and that means broad support for the measures that are passed is key. Further, Obama ought to recognize that past leaders who were seen as great champions of their party also derived success from drawing in cross-over voters. Reagan is the best example, giving birth as he did to the Reagan Democrats. Until there are Obama Republicans, Obama is just a wannabe as far as the goals he himself has articulated are concerned.
But she should add India to the trip. She's well-liked there. Given Pakistan/Afghanistan, it is high up on the strategic partners list, and as the world's biggest democracy, it deserves that kind of special diplomatic shout-out. Further, her going there would be a great sign that she and the President understand the tectonic shifts in geopolitical power that are taking place right now, those two countries are moving to the head table of the international system (along with Brazil) and sending the message early on that we get that and support it would be an important message about the nature of the "new diplomacy." China is involved in so many critical issues that just as we were and are, in the word's of Sandy Berger, "the indispensable nation" for the world, China is the "indispensable nation" for us. Worry about them, keep an eye on them, squabble with them occasionally (although I might suggest, Secretary Geithner, that's best done in private), but figure out how to work with them because there are precious few major issues that don't require it. And India is close behind on a host of those issues (Afghanistan-Pakistan, trade, non-proliferation, climate change, maintaining the geopolitical balance in Asia, supporting democracy, etc.)
That woman in California who had six kids and then added octuplets to the mix? Who's going to pay for that mess? Let's sue her doctors now for conspiracy to commit child abuse and to stop the state for having to subsidize such demented selfishness. And of course, the mother ought to bear the consequences as well... although sadly, it will be her children who ultimately do. As is often said... in this country you need a license to fish or drive a car...
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David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.