In this moment of national confusion and public despair with officials in Washington, variations on the following cry have often been heard, "Somewhere in the world there must be an American political leader with a vision of tomorrow, a focus on what is really important and an ability to translate rhetoric into success."
I'm pleased to report that there is. If it has escaped your attention it's because that politician has been on the other side of the world the past couple of weeks advancing American interests and the policies of the president with meaningful results and exceptional skill.
That politician is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is just completing an around-the-world mission that has taken her from the economic frontlines of the eurozone crisis to the markets of tomorrow in Asia. The trip, obscured in the noise around the debt ceiling debate, has been a real triumph for the Obama administration and has revealed that many of its policies over the past two years are now bearing significant fruit. It has also revealed the State Department's deftness and bench-depth in dealing with an Asia agenda that is vastly more important in every respect than virtually anything that has been discussed inside the beltway for months.
Given that most trips by senior officials, even secretaries of state, are more often than not a series of pro forma efforts in diplomatic box-checking, the scope and results of the Clinton trip are worth noting. In Greece, she conveyed at a critical moment, America's unequivocal support for that country's economic recovery plan. When visiting Pakistan, the site of America's most difficult relationship, her performance was even hailed in the local press. The Pakistan Observer carried an article stating, "Drum roll for Hillary because she has hit a home run." Her India visit was also widely hailed producing progress on a number of fronts from counterterror cooperation to opening up investment flows between the two countries. More importantly, it also continued the important work that will be a central legacy of her efforts at State which is the elevation of the U.S.-India relationship to being a centerpiece of America's 21st century foreign policy.
The focus on the U.S.-India relationship is, as the trip also revealed, part of an even broader reorientation of U.S. foreign policy under President Obama. This administration was the first in U.S. history to enter office acknowledging that China was America's most important international counterpart -- one that was both vital partner and challenging rival. But, rather than simply acknowledging this fact and focusing on that relationship, Obama, Clinton and their Asia team have systematically worked to establish a foundation for managing that relationship. What is more their choice was not kow-towing or bluster nor was it the blunt instrument of containment. Rather than have chosen what might be called broad engagement, deepening not only the relationship with Beijing and with potential counter-weights like India, but also systematically and often invisibly working to strengthen ties with many of the smaller countries in Asia.
The approach was clearly illustrated during several other stops on Clinton's trip. In Hong Kong on July 25, she delivered an address to the American Chamber of Commerce which was not only a model for a sweeping, specific, thoughtfully-argued policy address, but which revealed a clear vision for the future of America's relationship with China and the rest of the region. It did not hesitate to press the Chinese to abandon unfair economic practices and to embrace the openness healthy markets demand. It was effectively built around the enumeration of four core principles: markets be open, free, transparent, and fair. But it also underscored the mutual dependence at the center of the relationship and outlined a systematic strategy for how to build upon it. It did not stop there, however. It addressed as effectively as anything I have heard the nature of the current debt-ceiling debate in an effort-successful to date at ensuring continuing Asian market confidence. And it emphasized the importance the United States places on deepening ties elsewhere in Asia, from the Korea-U.S. trade agreement the administration is pushing hard to win passage of to links to ASEAN's rising economies. The full text of the speech is worth a read and appears here.
Prior to the visit to Hong Kong, Clinton attended the ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali, Indonesia, and actively engaged with not only many of the region's leaders but made real substantive progress on issues from re-opening conversations with North Korea to managing a constructive multi-national approach to addressing tensions in the South China Sea. These meetings were also a chance to advance the systematic strengthening of relations with all the region's players, including many that have often been overlooked by the United States. This process has over the past two years included both establishment of formal policy dialogues with many countries in the region and also work on issues from reform in Myanmar to those associated with the Mekong River delta area that have been an important part of the Obama team's Asia strategy.
Regional diplomats not only give Clinton high marks for her efforts and in particular for this trip, but they also cite her top lieutenants including Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. One of Washington's most respected senior diplomats specifically cited to me the contributions of Campbell in helping Clinton shape the regional strategy, in managing complex core relationships with China, Japan and Korea but recognizing the importance of other players as well. "He is the most effective assistant secretary of state for East Asia in modern memory," said the official. "No one else even comes close and I have high regard for many of them."
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Let's peel away the diplomatic varnish, shall we? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement today in New Delhi that the U.S. and India are "allies in the fight against violent extremist networks" was essentially the announcement of an alliance against Pakistan.
Pakistan is America's ally, of course. We say it all the time. Unfortunately, Pakistan also harbors our enemies, supports our enemies, tolerates the intolerable by our enemies, and is therefore also our enemy. Not all of Pakistan, of course. Just some of the most influential of its elites and institutions as well as substantial cross-sections of its population.
Pakistan therefore has no one to blame for the steady deepening of the security ties between the United States and India than itself. As containing the problems within Pakistan through cooperation with the Pakistanis looks increasingly difficult, it is only natural that the United States should simultaneously develop a Plan B approach. That approach is containment and it necessarily must involve a partnership with India.
That India and the United States share many other interests, are the world's two leading democracies, having rapidly growing, deepening economic ties, and share cultural links associated with their past experiences within the British empire make the partnership a natural one. Differences and frustrations will exist naturally -- and some surrounding the U.S.-India nuclear power deal have surfaced during Clinton's India visit -- but there is perhaps no single major power relationship likely to undergo more positive change over the next several decades than that between Washington and New Delhi. To put it another way, this is the emerging world-developed world major power axis of cooperation to watch most closely as it is the one where the aligned interests are perhaps greatest.
The deterioration of U.S. relations with the Pakistanis coupled with the acceleration of Pakistan's development of its nuclear arsenal is only one aspect of these ties and, for Clinton, among the most delicate to handle. That's why her directness in making the statements she did is so striking, timely ... and utterly appropriate.
The recent attacks in Mumbai may not, as of yet, be linked to any groups associated with the Pakistanis, but they certainly remind of the attacks that took place in 2008 and claimed 160 lives which were the handiwork of extremist groups with close ties to some in the Pakistani intelligence services. The fact that these most recent incidents took place while the head of Pakistani intelligence services was visiting Washington was a particularly uncomfortable coincidence.
So when Clinton said that the U.S. would not accept any nation offering "safe havens and free pass" it is clear who she was talking about. It is clear that the discovery of Osama bin Laden being nurtured in the bosom of Pakistan has had a permanent impact on the relationship and that the subsequent bristling of the Pakistanis and their push back on key aspects of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation in combating terror have pushed the alliance to being, in key respects, to use the words of one U.S. government official with whom I recently spoke, "stubbornly dysfunctional."
The U.S. has had, in the past, myriad dysfunctional alliances. But you have to go back to that with the Soviets in the waning days of World War II to find one in which a leading ally was simultaneously viewed as a leading threat. While the statements in New Delhi today do not suggest that our alliance with Islamabad is finished, it does send a clear message that, as was the case with the Soviets, flawed alliances can be turned into dangerously adversarial relationships almost overnight if the sides involved do not work in good faith to resolve their differences.
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According to the eye-opening lead story in today's New York Times, when President Obama gave the order to go get Osama, he also gave the order to go with enough strength to fight off resistance or interference from our Pakistani allies. Which has to trump (in both timeliness and relevance), the story broken by The Guardian detailing how about a decade ago the United States and Pakistan reached a secret deal allowing the U.S. to go into Pakistan after bin Laden ... and Pakistan the right to complain about it afterwards.
It has gotten far beyond face-saving posturing in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. This was further demonstrated by the sorry effort made by Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in his first post-raid speech to the Pakistani parliament. His assertion that suspicions of Pakistani complicity in protecting bin Laden were "absurd" sounded just as desperate and hollow as his threats that Pakistan would "retaliate with full force" if the United States violated its sovereignty again. Clearly, per the excellent Eric Schmitt, Thom Shanker, and David Sanger story in today's Times, the United States had anticipated such a response this last time around and come to the conclusion that an extra few dozen troops and two helicopters should just about do it in fending off that threat.
Having said that, the degree of unease with the relationship illustrated by the expectation of possible resistance from the Pakistanis may be a less worrisome sign of how troubled the relationship is than the apparent ok by the president to use force against our nominal ally if it came to that.
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Recently, there have been perturbations in the wonkosphere. While the trembles are so slight that they wouldn't show up on the Richter Scale of a real human being, they have generated blog headlines and conversations at conferences full of people with advanced degrees and too much time on their hands. The stir has been caused by the assertion that we now live in something that big idea branding experts are trying to characterize as a "G-Zero" world.
In the words of one of the term's proponents, Ian Bremmer, the term refers to the assertion that we now live in a world in which "no country or bloc of countries has the political and economic leverage to drive an international agenda." Bremmer, and another supporter of the idea, NYU's Nouriel Roubini, have been explaining the notion and have done so compellingly enough that after it came up at this year's World Economic Forum gabfest in the Swiss Alps, the New York Times called it the event's "buzziest buzzword."
Buzz words are important in the wonkosphere because people are very busy going from conference to conference, periodically stopping to Tweet about who they bumped into and how they influenced them, and they have very little time to really think about anything. So if you can take an idea, reduce it to a couple of key, easily digestible, tasty ingredients, and wrap into a piece of shiny gold foil you have ... a Reese's Pieces Mini. Well, actually, you have something just like it, but not quite as tasty; you have a candidate for buzz-term of the moment.
Sometimes, it must be said, that even the fizziest of the buzziest actually contain a core idea of real value. Take a stroll down foreign policy nerd memory lane and savor past hits like "illiberal democracy" or "the world is flat" or "clash of civilizations" or "the end of history." Agree with the core notion of the idea or not (the delicious peanut butter center), you have to admit these ideas performed a useful purpose, captured a zeitgeist, and got the conversation going. Some, like "the end of history," were both widely misunderstood and, when understood correctly, wrong. But it was a compelling idea thoughtfully arrived at.
This G-Zero thing, not so much. The idea, of course, plays on all the discussion that has swirled around recent international summits as the attendance lists changed and the labels were altered accordingly. We went from the G-8 to the G-20 and then, keen observers, eager to build their own bit of buzz in the pundit-hive, pondered whether we weren't really seeing a case of a G-18 wrapped around a G-2 (the United States and China.) The Chinese didn't much like this and wished pundits would leave their g-darned labels off of them.
Bremmer and Roubini and company make the case that the United States and the Europeans and the Japanese are too deeply under economic water, and the emerging powers like China and India are too busy developing all the time for anybody to be able to step up and drive the international agenda. And while I know and like Ian and think both he and Roubini are smart guys, this is as an idea that looks like what it is: not much built around a big zero.
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In a single, unexpected stroke President Barack Obama may have made his trip to India one of the most important of his presidency. By announcing his support for Indian permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council, Obama advanced a number of important goals.
First, he went a long way toward establishing a truly special relationship between the world's largest democracy and the United States. He embraced an issue that was important to Indians and, despite the certainty of Pakistan's public unhappiness with the decision and China's less public but nonetheless undoubted discomfort with it, he showed courage and vision in doing so.
Second, he found an issue that could measure up to or even trump the Bush administration's nuclear deal with India, thus ensuring a strong sense of momentum in a relationship that must move forward if both countries are to rise to the challenges of the new century.
Third, he underscored that his administration was serious about turning rhetoric about rethinking multilateralism, and working with a new set of powers, into action. While working within the framework of the G-20 was a step in that direction, that process actually began two years ago under the Bush administration. Adjustments made in the structure of international financial institutions were another positive step, but frankly were rather underwhelming, leaving behind serious representational imbalances.
Admittedly, what the president said in his speech to the Indian Parliament -- "in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed U.N. Security Council that includes India as a permanent member" -- is rather open-ended. Especially when taken in the context of, for example, the extended period of unproductive support we have offered for Japanese permanent membership. Still, the president's statement implied that without permanent membership for India on the Security Council, the United Nations would not be seen as "effective, credible and legitimate." That is not just true (which it is) or an important point from India's perspective (which it also is), but it has major implications for other countries that have a legitimate claim to a similar role.
These other countries, as noted in a quick but insightful commentary from Stewart Patrick at the Council on Foreign Relations, would certainly also include Brazil and Germany. This would make the first tier of new candidates a class of what Patrick calls "four great democracies." Others will cavil and some will argue their merits. But what Obama has done with this statement is to move U.N. reform forward in an important way.
Now, of course, the real work needs to be done. The United States should, at the earliest possible moment, begin a renewed push for translating these words into actions. This will take diplomatic deftness and will require a willingness to begin a process of major-power horse-trading that could well have repercussions across the entire international system. Ideally, the United States will undertake this with a clear vision of how it would like to see the system remade, and with an express willingness to alter, and in some cases diminish, the role of the great post-World War II powers. This is not only the path to a more just and effective system, it is also the path to a system offering fairer burden sharing, a point which may make these changes easier to sell both in Washington and among a group of cash-strapped Atlantic allies. The view should be holistic and represent a sense of where existing institutions need to be strengthened or revamped, and where new institutions need to be cultivated. Virtually no major international institution should be exempted from such a reassessment. The United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the regional development banks, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, etc., must be reviewed during this process.
Though it is also true that everything cannot happen at once, Obama boldly and appropriately found an issue that could be a lynchpin of such a process of reform. What will make today's remarks a true watershed -- and thus make the current trip a true success -- is if they lead to tangible progress soon, a worthy goal for the remainder of Obama's term.
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What would you do after a rough few months on campus? Roadtrip!
It works the same way for presidents. Though, instead of making the journey in Flounder's brother's Lincoln this one involves -- according to the same people who estimated 11 million people attended the Glenn Beck rally -- 3,000 people, 34 warships, Air Force One, 13 cargo aircraft, three helicopters, and the private aircraft of a coterie of fat cat hangers-on. And instead of heading to Emily Dickinson College to comfort the grieving roommate of Fawn Liebowitz (by treating her to an evening at a local roadhouse to listen to Otis Day and theKnights) this one includes stops in India, Seoul,Korea for a G20 meeting that will involve more slippery smooth talking than"Otter" Stratton could ever muster, Japan, and Indonesia.The rumor that Obama is visiting Indonesia to consider locating his presidential library there is untrue and was denied by the White House moments after Mitch McConnell started to spread it, thus ending the three hours and twenty-two minutes of civility following Tuesday's elections.
For Obama, the trip is bound to be a relief. In fact, a variety of pundits are peddling the idea that given likely gridlock, congressional investigations, and general acrimony at home, that this trip will mark the beginning of a period during which the president will focus on international issues. As the theory goes, presidents can elevate themselves on the international stage without being dragged down by the Congress. Like many such theories, of course, this is nonsense. Nothing would seal Obama's fate as a one-term president quite as fast as a refocusing away from the domestic economic issues that torment his employers, the U.S. electorate.
Furthermore, given those domestic economic problems and the problems associated with our recent overseas misadventures, the United States is going to be both considerably less forward-leaning overseas, considerably more inward-looking generally and, in all likelihood, despite the "trade" sub-theme of the upcoming trip -- which is really a form of mercantilist chest-thumping -- more protectionist going forward.
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This is a critical moment for the United States's most fraught diplomatic challenge.
Pakistani officials arrive in Washington this week for meetings designed to shore up a relationship that is both vital and exceedingly dangerous for both regimes. The Pakistani delegation will nominally be led by the country's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi. But the real focus will be the man who many feel is so powerful that the fact he is not yet president reflects only a personal choice on his part. As Pakistan's top military officer, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani might as well be known as General Plan B. If the current government stumbles, if unrest spreads, U.S. officials are fully counting on him to step in and put a lid on the problem.
The conversations this week will be publicly focused on gestures of support for the Pakistanis from the U.S. government, from beefing up civilian and military aid to generating public statements of common purpose. But behind the scenes there will be palpable tension. The United States is dissatisfied -- the feeling being that Pakistan is not doing everything it can to assist in tracking down extremist groups living within their borders.
That discomfort undoubtedly is not eased by the exclusive report in Britain's Guardian today that is entitled, "Pakistan intelligence services 'aided Mumbai terror attacks.'" The story describes a 109-page Indian government report based on the interrogation of David Headley; the Pakistani-American arrested in relation to the Mumbai attacks. "Under questioning," writes Jason Burke, "Headley described dozens of meetings between officers of the main Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, and senior militants from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group responsible for the Mumbai attacks."
While the perspectives provided by Headley offer just one view and include a number of statements suggesting that senior ISI officials may not have been plugged into the entire Mumbai plan, they corroborate much of what has long been suspected about ties between the ISI and extremist groups. Further, they tell an unsettlingly logical story of how the Mumbai attacks were undertaken as part of a deliberate strategy by the historically more regionally-focused Lashkar-e-Taiba to remain relevant in a world in which competing terrorist groups were attracting members seeking the grander mission of jihad against the West.
It is a nauseating image: officials of a government nominally allied to the United States working with terrorists to plan a murderous attack on innocents as a marketing ploy on behalf of their stone cold terrorists of choice. Nauseating, but despite Pakistani denials that it is baseless, with the unmistakable ring of truth.
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The news that Osama bin Laden is -- according to a NATO official -- in hiding in Northwest Pakistan hardly qualifies as a shock. That said, the resurfacing of rumors about the location of the greatest villain of our age reminds us just what a massive story the resurfacing of the man would be. In some respects, the fact that bin Laden is still alive, while a black eye for U.S. intelligence, provides President Obama with what has to be the greatest "Get Out of Jail Free" card in the world. Find and capture or kill Osama at any time during the next two years and Obama sails into a second term.
Oversimplification? Perhaps. But the emotional impact of writing the final chapter on the bin Laden story would be so great, and the coverage of that final chapter would be so over the top, that it's hard to imagine another single development on the positive side of the ledger that could provide greater political lift for the president.
Of course, if catching the elusive al Qaeda mastermind were so easy, it would have been done during the past 10 years. Indeed, the U.S. government has been trying to dispatch him for considerably longer than that -- since the Clinton years. That a guy the size of an NBA guard, one with supposedly complex medical needs, who happens to be the most wanted man on the planet earth, has managed to go to ground in a way that makes Saddam's trip down the spider hole seem poignantly amateurish, is really quite a remarkable achievement. Even more amazing is that despite the fact that he has been out there on the lam for a decade, virtually no one on either side in fractious, no-holds-barred world of U.S. politics is willing to suggest that not finding him is a failure. (With the exception of perhaps Joan Rivers who, as chronicled in the recent documentary about her life, A Piece of Work, suggests that as a dialysis patient he ought to have been fairly easy to find in a country like Afghanistan which, she suggested, had only one electric outlet. Just follow the cord is her recommendation.)
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This weekend the Obama Administration will send a team to China headed by the somewhat unlikely duo of Larry Summers, head of the National Economic Council, and Tom Donilon, deputy national security advisor. The purpose is to send a clear message that the U.S. is approaching its relations with China strategically, with a view that integrates the full range of economic and security concerns.
While such trips are old hat for Summers, the journey represents a bit of a change of pace for Donilon, the inside guy who is credited with having done a great job making sure the policy process trains have been running on time within the National Security Council. Some in Washington are buzzing that this is a profile- and skill-raising trip intended to make Donilon a better candidate to replace National Security Advisor James L. Jones should Jones decide to depart, as many expect he will. Others grumble that the trip represents precisely the kind of "operational" role for the NSC and NEC that many cabinet departments have long thought should be out of bounds for White House policy coordinators.
But beyond the Washington gossip the trip has caused, the juxtaposition of economic and security concerns offers an illustration of an often over-looked fact -- the centrality of economic issues to current U.S. national security concerns. In China, the tricky calculus is fostering collaboration on security issues from North Korea to Iran in the face of political pressure back home to press Beijing harder on issues like currency valuation and unfair competitive practices (especially those associated with pressuring foreign firms to transfer proprietary technologies).
The U.S. has never been especially effective at coordinating its multiple interests in China so that pressure in one policy area produces progress in another -- or even simply avoids causing setbacks. So this trip, in concept at least, represents a step in the right direction -- at least if Congress doesn't undercut the administration's efforts by, for example, drafting its own legislation on currency issues.
But China is just one of a host of current hotspots where Summers, Geithner, and the international economic team are playing a central role on national security issues.
For example, in Afghanistan, the story of the week turns on the amazingly brazen behavior of the Karzai gang in trying to pressure the United States into bailing out a clearly corrupt and mismanaged bank in which President Hamid Karzai's brother, Mahmood Karzai, is the third largest shareholder. Mahmood has publicly called for a bailout even though his affiliation with a bank through which U.S. funds flow to Afghan security forces compromises both him and the president. Both remain unabashed, however, behaving like the proverbial kids who murder their parents and seek the mercy of the court on the grounds that they are now orphans. So the United States is in a pickle: Step in and support the Afghan kleptocracy and its culture of corruption or stand on principle (and law), and run the risk that the bank falters. It's not a situation that General David Petraeus can handle, but how the economic team manages it will have direct ramifications for him.
In the same way, some of the most sensitive concerns regarding Pakistan turn on economic policy. Will the Zardari government pump too much cash into the economy to deal with the aftereffects of the devastating flooding, and risk a major inflationary episode? Or will it introduce price controls and a set of micro economic measures that, if mismanaged, could produce social tensions or even rioting? The wrong mix of policies could plunge the already fractured and battered country into political turmoil and perhaps the reintroduction of military rule.
In talks with the Israelis and the Palestinians, many of the core concerns will turn on how to improve the economic conditions for the Palestinian people. If they can get past initial hurdles, they will, of course, ultimately have to move to a state structure that will enable organic economic growth in a Palestinian state, actually fostering job and wealth creation for people who have lived in an economic no man's land for too long.
In North Korea, it is reported that the administration, conducting high level meetings on the subject this week, is seeking to explore "engagement." In the case of the economically isolated and struggling North, that inevitably will mean economic packages in exchange for gradual normalization of relations or reductions of threats. At the same time, this week, the administration widened sanctions intended to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
In Iran, the core initiative at the moment is making targeted economic sanctions work. In Iraq, the issue is fostering economic growth to help "purchase" social stability. The list goes on. It is clear that wherever the stakes are highest for the United States in the world, even as military and diplomatic initiatives garner most of the attention, behind the scenes much of the most critical work is being undertaken by international economic officials.
It is interesting to note in this respect that the responsibility for conceiving and coordinating most of these activities lies in the White House to a much greater degree than it does with military or diplomatic initiatives. The White House team on these issues is excellent. But in the end, these functions are so fundamental that the real leadership capabilities need to be cultivated elsewhere.
The economic team at the State Department could and should play a greater role in this respect; Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Robert Hormats is a talented and experienced official. As I have written before, State also could and should develop a dramatically enhanced capability when it comes to emergency economic intervention -- pre- or post-crisis. And all the other economic agencies need to be prepared to collaborate on this, not on an ad hoc basis but through a permanent program promoting cross-training and what the military might call inter-operability. Call it an economic rapid response capability -- or call them economic green berets.
We need people we can drop into critical situations and help manage them with an eye to our security and political needs rather than traditional purely economic metrics. That's a critical role for which development officials are ill-suited, and we still don't really have the fully developed institutional structure we need to support it.
Looking at the issues faced by the United States today, while one can't help but admire much of what is being done, the strategic side of the international economic agenda is such that it warrants some real thought about how and with whom we should be meeting such challenges in the future.
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With new reports of flood-related calamity in Pakistan today, it is time to launch a different sort of international response to the problem in the Indus River Valley. Because as tragic as this disaster that has shattered the lives of perhaps as many as three New York Cities full of people has been, it is really only a prelude to even greater problems.
On one level, those problems are associated with the ever-present possibility of future floods, a threat that exists because of inadequate flood control infrastructure, flood warning mechanisms, and flood response resources within the country. On another level, as highlighted in Steve Solomon's insightful August 15 op-ed in the New York Times, perhaps an even greater problem in the years ahead -- due to both population growth and melting Himalayan glaciers that might even be a culprit in the current disaster -- will be linked to potential water scarcity, droughts, and resulting food shortages in the same region.
But there is a third looming problem, also addressed but not fully explored in Solomon's piece. That is the problem associated with the fact that the waters of the Indus are shared -- which is to say competed for -- by Pakistan and India. The less water for irrigation, drinking and energy production in the region, the more likely it is that there is conflict between these two nuclear states. Indeed, despite the ethnic and political tensions that have existed between these countries since Pakistan's founding, it could well be that water rather than religion or border disputes is the most likely trigger of future fighting, a prospect made deeply unsettling given the arsenal these two massive nations possess.
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What a good week for the subcontinent. India's elections are breathtaking in scope and their re-election of the government of Manmohan Singh, one of the world's wisest and most qualified heads of government, is heartening. That he is only the second Indian leader since independence to be re-elected after serving a full term suggests an India that is entering a phase of stable growth that should be appealing to those investing in its future and comforting to those, like the United States, who are increasingly dependent on it as an ally. But the success of this democratic experiment at such scale also sends a powerful message to countries like China who have long argued that such a system cannot work in nations of such scope and complexity.
Also, as to China, the position of U.S. Ambassador to China may be the second most important in the State Department after the Secretary's job. It has taken the Obama administration a long time to make their selection for this vital post. Their choice, Jon Huntsman, is an excellent one. He has almost all the traits needed to be the first envoy to that country since the general acknowledgement that it is our partner in the G2, our first, most important counterpart in the community of nations. He has extensive regional experience (from service as a missionary in Taiwan to that as an Ambassador to Singapore). He has very high-level U.S. and state government experience which not only gives him familiarity with a wide range of issues but also sends a message to the Chinese that only someone of high stature would do for the post. He speaks Chinese. And while some might quibble that he is not particularly close to Clinton and Obama, this is a small issue.
I have met with him a couple of times, once having had the opportunity for a long dinner time conversation with him a number of years ago, and I was struck with his intelligence, accessibility and political gifts. That he is legitimately seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate also will help with the Chinese and sends a message too about Obama's confidence as a chief executive. It also is an interesting parallel with one of Huntsman's past benefactors, George H.W. Bush, whose resume of diverse senior posts and significant international experience as well as a reputation as a sound centrist are being mirrored by this rising star of the Bush's party. Wouldn't it be interesting if the antidote to George W. Bush was a completely different kind of Republican modeled on his father?
Aung San Suu Kyi deserves to be the center of a more concerted, more visible effort led by America and her allies to win freedom for the Burmese dissident. If Burma's neighbors choose to sidestep the issue, the rest of the world has an obligation to step up the heat on what is one of the world's most repulsive regimes.
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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.