The Daily Demarche
By now I am sure that everyone has heard of Live 8- the concert series being staged around the world on July 2 in order to convince the leaders of the G8 countries to "erase poverty." As the Live 8 website
puts it:8 world leaders, gathered in Scotland for the G8 summit, will be presented with a workable plan to double aid, drop the debt and make the trade laws fair. If these 8 men agree, then we will become the generation that made poverty history.But they'll only do it if enough people tell them to.That's why we're staging Live 8. 10 concerts, 100 artists, a million spectators, 2 billion viewers, and 1 message... To get those 8 men, in that 1 room, to stop 30,000 children dying every single day of extreme poverty. We don't want your money - we want you!
The contradiction that is the first clause of the last sentence in that quote sums up the entire liberal, socialist ideal. We don't want your money- we want your government's money.
The idea that governments, at least in democratic societies, have no money of their own is completely foreign to this mind set. The idea that financial aid is merely a panacea, that having the rich throw money at the poor solves nothing is practically sedition to these folks. There is no talk of economic reform, of establishing a system under which these nations can become self sustaining, there is only this:"By doubling aid, fully canceling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future for millions of men, women and children."
Trade justice sounds like a good thing- until you stop to ask what, exactly, are these countries going to trade? Education systems are in shambles, infectious diseases run rampant and manufacturing or agriculture sufficient to trade are almost non-existent. Men like Mugabe remain in power and starve their nation as the left screams shrilly at the U.S. for having the temerity to send genetically modified corn as food aid
. But I am certain that Paul McCartney dressed as a member of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club will convince the Mugabes of the world to put an end to their evil ways.
I am not opposed to the idea of the concerts- I might even watch some of them on TV if I can catch the right acts. It is simply the temerity of the folks involved that peeves. How much money are the cities that host these concerts having to spend in order to create a safe environment? Police overtime, sanitation, construction of the stages, etc. Who is paying for all of this? We don't want your money.
Double the amount of aid given? We don't want your money.
Well, why not? Why don't you just come right out and say you want my money? Why are the tickets free? People pay $75 dollars and up to see a top performer- and these concerts include some stellar names. 2 billion viewers- where is the pledge drive? Maybe I am just cynical, but I am not impressed by this event.
Poverty, hunger, lack of economic opportunity and the associated societal ills that stem from them are all real issues. We have addressed on this site before, several times, why simply providing monetary aid is not the answer. The left simply refuses to hear the truth. Oh, well. Enough ranting and raving for today. Thanks for reading!
Regular readers will know that we organized a joint blog project on China
some time ago, and that many excellent bloggers offered up their ideas- see here
for more links to these posts. Well, the topic is still a hot one- for example Simon at Simon World
has a great post on what the next government in China (post communism) might look like. In addition, the other day I had lunch with my father and he mentioned a colleague who travels extensively and frequently in China for matters of trade and pleasure. This colleague is of the opinion that China is headed for civil war, as the "haves" and "have-nots" grow further apart from each other and the communist regime struggles to maintain control over an ever increasingly capitalistic economy. His opinion is that should China fall into chaos Latin America would become the "next big thing." While I am largely of the opinion that our neighbors to the south are already in chaos, I can see his point about China.
The conversation with my father covered a lot of ground on this topic, but centered on two ideas. The first supposes that the peasant class in China, encouraged and perhaps armed/led by the new capitalists were to stage a swift and unexpected revolt. The second scenario imagines a slow simmering buildup of revolutionary fervor in China with the eventual peaceful toppling of the Communists.
The question is what would we, and the world, do in each of these instances? We have a huge stake in what happens in China- all one need to do is look around their house and see how many items have the Made in China legend on them. A sudden, violent revolution that killed many, destroyed property and brought a halt to exports from China would have a strong, and not so positive, effect on our own economy. As companies that have moved production to China faced the loss of investment capital and the decline of stock they would be forced to cut jobs at home- the precious few that remain in many cases. Imports of low cost items which many households are accustomed to, if not reliant on, would be become scarce. The trickle down effect would be a tough wave to ride out. This line of reasoning brought me to a rahter disturbing thought- is our balance of trade and ratio of debt owed with China so precarious that we might find ourselves in the awkward, to the say the least, position of one day being forced to prop up the Chi-Com government to avoid financial collapse at home? I am not an economist, to be sure, but that thought scares me silly. And I am not alone:
The U.S. trade deficit with China is around $200 billion. Chinese imports are peculiar, however, because virtually all are made by American companies in China, sold in the U.S. and counted as imports just like any others that would be made by foreign companies. To China, these become dollar surpluses. They do not remain idle but are recycled back into the U.S. as purchases of corporate and U.S. Treasury bonds.
So the U.S. public deficit — closing in on $500 billion a year — is underwritten by Chinese surpluses earned from American companies selling production from China in the U.S. In 2004, some $200 billion flowed from China to the U.S. in support of debt, and 2005 is running higher.
Then there is this:
Last year, China ran a trade surplus with us of $162 billion, the largest in history. Almost half of that amount was attributable to China's surplus in trade in electrical equipment and computers. Since June 1995, the cumulative U.S. trade deficit with China is nearly $900 billion.
What has China done with the hoard? Bought T-bills to give her a claim on all future interest payments on the U.S. debt, begun to buy up companies like Unocal, Maytag and IBM's PC business, and bought weapons from Israel and Russia to prepare for the ultimate showdown with the United States.
China is behaving as we did in the 19th century. We used tariffs to protect U.S. markets and give our manufacturers a huge advantage over foreign producers. China does the same through currency control. Where Hamilton encouraged British textile makers to steal their secrets and come to America to set up shop, China is saturating this country with spies and thieving intellectual property from U.S.-built factories.
So the question is- if the Chinese people rise up in search of liberty, freedom and democracy in a sudden and violent manner, overthrowing their communist masters and wreaking economic havoc on the U.S. at the same time- what do we do? Do we help them to achieve their freedom? Or do we protect our economic interests? If the Chicom's call in the debt we owe them to fund the repression of a nascent pro-democracy revolution what call do we make? What will the rest of the world do? How will the the EU react if we move to support the Chicoms- since they will be fighting with EU supplied weapons? What would the North Koreans do if U.S. arms and money were used against the Chicoms? How would Japan react in either scenario?
I plan to follow this piece up with my thoughts on these questions, as well as to answer the question of where the investments might go if China becomes a hot bed or revolution- and my answer is not Latin America. In the meantime I'd love to hear what our readers and fellow bloggers have to say about the revolution scenario.
Us and them, part deux.
Thanks to everyone who left comments, sorry for the delay in posting but time is running out on my home leave and there are a million and one things to do and people to see- not enough hours in the day! I'd also like to thank those who sent in e-mails on this piece- one reader sparked the idea for me that as a nation of primarily European emigrants (at least initially) we may represent the end-game of an 18th century brain/risk drain on Europe:...in doing my research and talking with others also doing genealogical research it became apparent to me that one of the key differences between "them and us" is that we are descended (mostly) from Europeans who were more inclined to be more risk takering than the average Euro of a century and more ago.
You only have to research the actual trip itself to get an appreciation for the risks involved in moving from, say, Bavaria, to the middle of Ohio. In the case of some of my ancestors, for example, they left Mutterstadt (near Ludwigshaven) and ended up in Pike County, Ohio. The ocean voyage spanned the period 7 May to 15 August 1840. Two whole families moved, along with at least one mother-in-law. One of the two brothers, who were the family heads, died enroute; a daughter was born at sea to the other couple. I have to wonder at what motivated my ancestors to take such risks when the payoff most likely was so uncertain. Either they were under unbearable pressure in their homeland, or they were optimists and willing to risk it all for what they perceived as a better life. That story, with all kinds of variations, played out millions of times.
That is a powerful idea- that those who were inclined to depart from Europe rather than settle for their lot in life not brought the idea of self reliance to the New World, but also largely depleted from the Old. I would love to see the look on a risk averse Euro politician when that idea is floated in mixed company.
A brief anecdote before I continue- in the last post I mentioned that no European will identify himself as being from the EU. There is a corollary to this- very few Europeans want to hear where you are "from", as in the American habit of saying "I'm Irish- my name is O'Malley" or "My name is Schmidt, I'm German." This seems to really drive them nuts, as a very unscientific test I decided to claim that my lineage included whatever country I happened to be in at the time when I met a Euro-zoner. A few smiled politely and nodded, and a few were outright harsh in their denunciation of the facts. To be fair I agree with them, the whole hyphenated American thing drives me nuts, but they really seem to not want to have any ties to us- our forebears left, and good riddance to them, seems to be the attitude.
Another reader (from Australia) writes:I lived in the US for 16 years, got to understand the social system, the political system and most other "systems"in the US. The reason I say I got to understand the US is because I spent the time learning about my host country. What did I learn? I came away thinking it was the greatest nation on earth. I also came away thinking that it was also the most complex nation on earth. There are nuances foreigners simply do not understand about the US. Take the Presidential voting system. Most people cannot understand why it varies between the states. When I explain to them the American political system was never meant to be centralized, but rather it is a Republic in the true sense of the term they cannot fathom it.
Sixteen years is a long time to spend in a foreign land, longer by far than I will ever spend posted to another country. As this reader points out, it is long enough to learn a great deal, but still not long enough to be able to explain it to others who do not have a common experience on which to base their understanding.
I mentioned that I would delineate some similarities between us and them in my last post, so here are my topthree. If there is interest I'll try to flesh them out later, for now I'll keep it brief:
1. Immigration- the U.S. and the E.U. (remember I am talking about "old Europe" or "western Europe" here) have both been, and continue to be inundated with immigrant groups that do not assimilate. Many of ours are illegal, as are many in the EU. More worrisome for the EU is that many of their are pushing radical Islam in Europe, and they are in complete denial. Don't expect France to discuss the fact hat 70% of its prison population is Muslim anytime soon.
2. Declining birth rates in the U.S. and Europe combined with point number one beg the reader to consider this piece:
At present, the population of the EU is approximately 5% Muslim; France is 10% Muslim. Leaving aside the possible admission of the countries with large Muslims populations like Turkey and Bulgaria, the Muslim proportion of the EU population will probably grow to 10% overall by 2020 if current trends continue. If, however, the rate of immigration increases, the proportion of Muslims will rise significantly faster. Some observers believe that a surge in Muslim population may produce a Christian and Jewish flight from Europe. The controversy in France and elsewhere about the wearing of hijab in public schools is only the current idiom of discourse on the future of Europe.
3. Trade deficits-the U.S trade deficit with China hit $80 billion last year, the EU $37 billion. Overall the balance of trade is not good for eith entity, while some EU member nations have done better than others it is clear that both sides are dependent to a very large extent on foreign trade surpluses. One EU solution has been less than well received by most of the world- the sale of arms to China. Where are these gaps leading to? Good question. Oh, and by the way, we have a deficit of trade with the EU, too.
These are huge issues we have in common, and yet we tend to focus more on the differences than the commonalities. In a world dominated by the forces of globalization, where stock performance in one couintry can cripple another, and where the economic paradigm can best be described as smoke and mirrors, it stands to reason that there should be many more paths to success if we can find the means to work together. Do these means even exist, though, and if so what can we do to identify and implement them? How far are we, and the Euros, willing to go to stabilize the world and provide incentives that ensure our children and grand-children find themselves living in a society that at least resembles the one we grew up in? I don't pretend to have the answers to all these questions and the myriad others they spawn, but I have some ideas which I'll try to explore in the coming days. In the meantime, feel free to answer them yourself in the comments or to send us e-mail.
Us and them, as seen from abroad.
In my last post I promised to follow up with a bit on the differences between Americans and our neighbors across the pond, as seen from the point of view of an American living abroad. A few years in another country does not an expert make, and it serves even less to qualify me as competent to address the myriad differences between the U.S. and the EU as a whole. Of course lack of expertise has never stopped me before! What follows are my observations as to the similarities and differences between"us" and "them", and a few items on each side where we can all learn from each other. By them I mean what has traditionally been considered Western Europe- many emerging Eastern European countries are could easily follow the American model, or follow the herd into the EU lock, stock and barrel, it is just too early to tell. You may want to take all of this with a grain of salt, or you may have ha different experiences- if so please share with us in the comments section. Just a short warning- I am going to be writing in huge, sweeping statements that will in most circumstances not hold true for individuals or small subsets- this is my opinion and not a scholarly treatise, so please do not leave comments like the "the Basque goat herders do not blah, blah, blah." This might just well turn out to be a two, or more, part post, I'll just have to see how it flows.
An English friend once told me, on the occasion of his return to Europe after a long car trip in the U.S. that the difference between an American and an Englishman (and Europeans by extension) is that an American thinks a hundred years is a long time, and that an Englishman thinks a hundred miles is a long distance. That has really stuck with me over the years- while it is true on both accounts, it is demonstrative of the differences between the two sides. Most Europeans have no idea of the actual size of the United States. The idea of spending days in the car to cross a portion of one country is alien to them. At the same time we have a hard time imagining spending time in a building that was constructed 900 years ago. This small difference in perceptions is important to the understanding of what separates us from the Europeans, because there is no single large factor that makes us "us" and them"them."
Some factors are more important than others, though, first and foremost is the fact that the United States of America is a single cohesive nation which is never the less made up of diverse peoples who adhere to often divergent beliefs. The EU, on the other hand, is a loose confederation internally homogeneous states, made up of people who have remarkably similar beliefs, that have very little in common externally- other than a desire to "balance" America. Outside of Brussels there really is no "union" in Europe- no Italian who you meet in Central Park will tell you he is from the EU- every American you meet in Rome will tell you they are from America. To put it another way, there will never be a sports movie where a Spaniard defeats an American and the crowd breaks into a frenzied chant of "EU-EU-EU!"
In many ways Americans and Europeans have never been closer, at least superficially- we share the same pop-culture, most of it generated by Hollywood and New York. Many Euros resent this tremendously, calling the American global domination of the entertainment industry "cultural imperialism", as they are unable to comprehend that this is simply capitalism writ loud. more on that to follow. You can hear Britney Spears in a McDonalds anywhere in the world (as an aside I have been meaning to send a thank you letter to the good folks at McD's- we have utilized their restrooms in at least 10 countries, what a lifesaver!). Fashion, the kind real people wear, not the Paris runway type, is somewhat more divergent than our shared taste for block buster movies, but not but no by much. New York Yankees jersey are ubiquitous, as are baseball caps worn cockeyed and jeans several sizes too large. Spot an outfit like that anywhere in Europe and check out the feet to determine if the wearer is an American- the white socks will give him away. Between the clothes, the music and the multiple facial piercing, a seventeen year old from Annapolis is hard to tell apart from one from Amsterdam- at least until they open their mouths. Our Euro teen will most likely speak at least two languages fluently and have a smattering of a couple more, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of American kids.
No, in order to determine the differences one must delve into topics not generally considered polite conversation between relative strangers: politics and religion. Several fully modern European countries still cling to their monarchies as a tie to the distant past, even while they heap scorn or praise on their elected leaders. Come what may in the Parliament, the King or Queen is a link to their idyllic past, perhaps a past that includes a period of continental, if not global, dominance. While the ideals of personal responsibility may be slowly fading from the far left in America, most of us still hold dear the idea that the Government is ours- for and by the people- and that it is beholden to us. We would prefer to solve our own problems, not have the government intervene. This is a foreign concept for most Europeans. Any and all problems are to be solved by the government. A perfect example is the recent move by the French to have the EU curb British overtime; the stagnant French economy is losing out to the British. Rather than work more hours themselves the French seek to have the Government level the playing field by strangling the British ability to earn wages and get ahead financially. Politics in the Euro zone is far removed from what we are used to here. Party systems are less rigid with many small parties constantly emerging and fading from site (which is a good thing, I think) but at the same time more regulated- i.e. a certain percentage of women is required on every ticket in most countries, and since voters often have a choice of entire tickets and not individual candidates, there exists an appearance of widely accepted and desired gender equality that in fact is in reality electoral affirmative action.
With regards to religion, it is simply fading from public life in Europe. The European elites have no need for, nor tolerance of amongst their peers, religion or religiosity. Indeed in the major European cities the practice of Judeo-Christian religion is largely non-existent (Rome and Dublin excluded). Apart from the surging Islamic immigrant tide and elderly women most Europeans believe they have no need for religion. They have so firmly grasped onto the idea that the state will provide everything for everyone that they have put their belief in the government ahead of their belief in a Deity. As a result moral codes are often absent from the teaching of children- replaced by P.C. pap that leads today's young Europeans to want to analyze Islamofascism in the hope of finding something that the West has done to "deserve" the wrath of terrorists. Europe learned the lessons of World War II so well (don't attack a religious group identified as such) that they have lost the ability to discuss religion as central to any threat- hence the influx of radical Islam and the sharp rise in anti-Semitism in many parts of Europe It has become chic to vilify the United States for both being religious and for taking the fight to those who would see us subjugated or destroyed- evil as a concept that must be fought against has disappeared from Europe, unless by evil you mean America. The vast majority of Americans claim to believe in God, and many practice their religion openly and regularly. Our President (no matter which party he hails from) invokes the name of the Lord in every address he makes, and our current President is quite candid about his beliefs. The American Left is derisive of this, but carefully so- they know their fellow countrymen and generally respect their beliefs. So far I have identified a few of the major differences between the U.S. and the E.U.- I plan to continue this thread with some more similarities and what we might learn from each other, as well as to delve into how these differences and similarities affect our working relationship with our erstwhile allies. Stay tuned.
On The Road
I'd hoped to write a few more blog entries before I departed post, but a succession of farewell parties and housecleaning tasks has conspired against me on that score. Therefore I will leave you (for a while, at least) with today's offering and the advisory that blogging for me, as is the case with the good Doctor, will be sporadic over the next few weeks.
I'm finishing up my tour here, and the Smiley family soon will be winging its way back to the United States for some much needed home leave. I have great and wonderful plans for that period, and while it will be hard to say goodbye to good friends and to a tour that I've enjoyed, I am consoled by the fact that there is as much to be excited about in the future as there is to be sad about leaving behind.
The most exciting part in the immediate future concerns our plans for travelling around parts of the United States. First, however, we will head to my hometown, where my parents await. Smiley: the Next Generation (i.e. our child) was born overseas and has never been to the US. While my mother was able to make the trip out to see us after his birth, my father could not, so this will be the first time he is able to meet his only grandchild.
After that, we are taking a bit of a road trip, the mere thought of which makes my palms sweat with anticipation. We are going to see a beautiful swath of America, for it has been too long since I have been home. We are going to take inthe crisp, dry air of the Rockies; we are going to gaze into the stark sun and turquoise blue sky of the desert; we are going to smell the fragrant aroma of the sagebrush desolation
as we feel the ruddy soil crunch beneath our feet. I am going to put my infant child on my shoulders; together we will face the ocean as we feel the crisp air of the Pacific on our faces and watch the waves end their long journey on the beach below us.
We will also put in an appearance in Washington DC, which is only natural, considering it is the hub around which our organization rotates. Doctor Demarche and I will meet up, if our schedules mesh, and if my shattered knee allows it, we may attempt a game of golf or two.
It will be nice to travel around our great land, sharing the experience with the rest of the family. It will also be nice to re-accquaint myself with the wonderful inhabitants who live there. I look forward to renewing old friendships and making new accquaintances on our journeys.
I will, of course, attempt to blog as much I can while travelling, but I hope our readers will forgive me if I am not able to get in front of a computer as much as they might like. Nonetheless, I believe that the break will do me a world of good, and I hope to be able to come back to blogging invigorated and refreshed. In the meantime, I wish the best to all our readers. Don't forget to check out our fellow FS bloggers (New Sisyphus
, Consul at Arms
) and the many other bloggers in our blogroll.
(End of post.)
It has been a while. I’ve had lots to do, but most of it is behind me. The movers have packed our stuff, bundled it into vans, and dispatched it to be carried across the world to our new destination. Smiley: The Next Generation is teething, which occassionally keeps us up at night, so the lovely missus and I are a bit groggier than usual (although I don’t think my coworkers can tell the difference). I don’t have as much time as I would like to spend on the blog these days, but I should have some more time this week before I depart for post. So I’m going to keep this post short, although I have some longer posts in mind for later in the week.
To begin with, I’d like to thank all of the participants in our most recent group blogging event, especially Marc Shulman of American Future
and Eric Martin of Total Information Awareness
. Both of these outstanding bloggers did exactly what we hoped: conducted a spirited, well-informed debate that never once veered from the parameters of civility and decorum. An index of their efforts can be read here
. I encourage all readers of this blog to read their debate if they haven't already done so.
Since the subject of their debate centered on democracy promotion, I thought I would touch briefly on that subject today. I recently read an article by Richard Beeston in the Times of London, Sleeping Giant of the Arab World Awakes to Democracy
, written by Richard Beeston. The whole article is worth reading; I'm going to quote it at length below.
HIS hair has turned white, his children have grown up and George Ishaq should, like other Egyptian men of his age, be gossiping in Cairo coffee-shops and dozing over the newspaper.
“I have been waiting a quarter of a century for this moment,” said Mr Ishaq, whose flat in Cairo has become a centre, if a chaotic one, for a broad spectrum of opposition figures, who troop in and out, organising protests and picking up leaflets.
“We have finally broken the culture of fear in this country. People thought Mubarak was a half-president, half-god, that he was a Pharaoh, that he was untouchable. Now we have the right to challenge him and say 24 years of Mubarak and his regime is enough,” he said, punching the air with satisfaction.
Half a dozen independent newspapers feel free to criticise Mr Mubarak, his Government and even his family, when once that could have meant prison. Where the ruling National Democratic Party had a monopoly on power for three decades, now dozens of parties and political movements are springing to life. Where it was assumed that Mr Mubarak, 77, would rule for ever, now the main debate in Egypt is who will succeed him.
Egypt’s version of the “Arab Spring”, as the democratic changes sweeping the region are known, is particularly significant because it has the strong encouragement of Washington. President Bush has stated repeatedly that he wants Cairo to set the example for democracy and is putting pressure on his key Arab ally to introduce the necessary reforms.
Mr Mubarak does not have much choice. America provides nearly $2 billion annually in aid to Egypt. Its embassy in Cairo, the largest American mission in the world, is openly supporting pro-democratic forces. When Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, arrives in Cairo this month, democracy will be at the top of her agenda. Not long ago Cairo would look forward to such a visit; now there is unease. “I am sure they are dreading Condoleezza Rice coming out,” a Western diplomat said.
The apprehension is well founded. This month Mr Bush telephoned Mr Mubarak to berate him over the attack by activists of his ruling party on an opposition demonstration where women protesters were sexually assaulted. The Americans are pressing Cairo to accept international observers to monitor the elections. They intervened to help to secure the release from jail of Ayman Nour, a liberal politician who shot to fame after announcing that he would challenge Mr Mubarak in Egypt’s first multi-candidate elections in September. [Emphasis Added.]
It is important to remember that, the difficulties in Iraq notwithstanding, there is real movement towards democracy in the Middle East. Egypt, long considered the vanguard of the Arab world, could very well be the vanguard of democratic change in the Middle East. Naturally, there is still much work to be done, and Mubarak's willpower to change will frequently need the carrot-and-stick treatment, but if you are a fan of democracy promotion, this is definitely good news.
(End of Post.)
Inside the Foreign Service
Since I've arrived home I have explained to various and sundry people what I do for a living, and why I do it, at least four or five dozen times. I generally have to explain what the Foreign Service is, and what the life of a diplomat is like- most people only know the guy in the movies who visits an American in a foreign prison and helps them to escape, or have a vague idea of what an Embassy is like from the Bourne Supremacy. It is somewhat disturbing to me that you can see more foreign ambassadors on the West Wing than you will find useful information about our foreign affairs policy on television- but I digress. The next question is almost always "where have you been" or "where are you going", followed closely by that sly look and the wink, nudge, smirk "now tell me what you really do."
Explaining to people what we do, and how and why is often the hardest part. By and large our jobs are routine, and occasionally boring. Eyes start to glaze over after much more than a minute or two. When it seems like the person I am talking to might be more interested than most I'll refer them to a series of articles written by Nicholas Kralev
for the Washington Times that covered a lot of ground about American diplomacy and the Foreign Service (from the 8th article
):The life of a diplomat long has been associated with glitz and glamour, and to some extent, that perception holds true. American diplomats are still some of the most sought-after people in capitals around the globe, even though not everyone today wants to be a friend of the United States.
Foreign Service members are often in the company of kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, and their positions allow them to meet other famed personalities. Miss Hazzard, who has met Pope John Paul II, said her office at the embassy in Rome, a former royal palace where she worked in the late 1990s, used to be the Italian queen's drawing room.But life in the Foreign Service today, especially in Third World hardship posts, hardly matches the images of striped-pants diplomats sipping expensive cocktails at extravagant parties.
For Brenda Schoonover, acting ambassador to Belgium, the main challenge when she took charge at the embassy in the African state of Togo in January 1998 was making sure there was electricity in the building. "We would go 30 hours without power at a time," she said. Polluted drinking water, severe pollution, malaria and other diseases are facts of life in dozens of overseas posts. Constant security threats in countries like Colombia, Haiti and Liberia, and in areas such as the Middle East, make living conditions even harder.
So why do we do it? As my wife and I prepare to leave our families and friends to head off to a nation that is at this moment on the edge of civil war the question becomes harder and harder to answer. When you try to explain to your best friend from high-school or old college room mate that you believe intensely in the ideas of freedom and liberty, and that while not perfect the American way is a good sight better than any other being proposed, they tend to look at you like you are crazy. Try to tell them that you are hoping to spread some of those ideas along with th aid dollars we cast out into the world and they just shake their heads. When you explain what it is like to live in a country where the water is not safe to drink and the income is less than $10 a day (or lower) and tell them that the people living there have pride of nation and self, but want nothing more than to taste the American dream, it gets little awkward- after all your friends and neighbors have seen these folks standing on the corner hoping for a pick-up truck to slow down so they can jump in the back and head off to a days' wages. Sometimes I find myself vociferously opposing illegal immigration and waxing poetic over my time in Latin America in the same breath.
What I usually try to do is to explain what it has been like living abroad- interacting with the local people, making friends and facing the open anti-Americanism that while not frequent, is not rare either. I try to explain how others perceive us- largely as arrogant, rich, loud and unminding of our place in the world. While expalining this I am always extremely careful to not give the impression of having "gone native" and taking the side of the country I am describing- a popular slur to the Department and Diplomats in general. It is a fine line to walk- that of gaining the trust of the people who are our hosts and with whom we wrok closely, and at the same time delivering the messages that they might not want to recieve (unfortunately when we return with messages that Washington might not like the "gone native" argument has a tendancy to pop up.) Of course we would not have a "Republican Underground" if their were not a definite tilt to the Left in the service- but as Smiley and I have said many times, we both feel our colleagues do their best in the service to America- it is simply that America means many things to many people.
Anway, enough rambling for today- I might not post tomorrow- I am going out to sea for the day- but plan to follow this piece up with my observations on living in Europe over the past two years, just how similar and different the U.S. and the E.U. are, and what that might mean for future diplomacy.
“I LOVE GITMO” CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED
Well, I am home. It was a great trip, saw a portion of this beautiful land of ours I never had a chance to see, and met some great people. There's a ton of mail in the Demarche inbox (thanks!), so I'll spend the weekend getting through that, and should have a new post up by Monday. In the meantime, here is a press release that I found at the top of the pile-o-email. This, I am sure, is going to rub some folks the wrong way. Click the link to visit the site and see the bumber sticker that goes with this campaign.
Begin press release:“I LOVE GITMO” CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED BY MOVE AMERICA FORWARD
(SACRAMENTO) – The non-profit group that supports our troops and the war against terrorism, Move America Forward (website: http://www.moveamericaforward.org/
), has launched a campaign to rally public support for the Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The “I LOVE GITMO” campaign will take to the airwaves in the form of paid commercials urging Americans to support the men and women operating the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
The commercials will target those individuals who have put forth false charges about the operations at the facility so that their constituents can know about their “Blame America First” antics. One example is Illinois Senator, Dick Durbin who said GITMO and those running it had created an environment akin to the "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others."
“GITMO is a key arsenal in the fight against terrorism, and Americans must stand behind the heroic men and women of the Armed Forces who serve proudly there,” said Howard Kaloogian, Co-Chair of Move America Forward.
The campaign to support GITMO was launched on Thursday with the release of the “I LOVE GITMO” bumper sticker. Thousands of these bumper stickers have been sold in the first 24 hours they were available online at http://www.moveamericaforward.org/
“These terrorists detained are not common criminals; they are enemy combatants in our war against terrorism. They are not entitled to all of the rights that someone arrested in this country gets. Just like we held German and Japanese prisoners of war during World War II, we have to confine enemy combatants so they stop killing Americans serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Kaloogian added.
On the website Move America Forward notes that the food served to the terrorist detainees and terrorist suspects held at GITMO is better in many cases than the food being served to our troops in the Armed Services. Congressional decree prevents the military from serving MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat – vacuum packed sealed food bags served to U.S. troops) to detainees because it would be considered “abuse.”
Instead, in the past week the anti-American terrorists and terrorist suspects held at GITMO have been served:
*Orange Glazed Chicken
*Steamed Peas & Mushrooms
In addition, on Ramadan the terrorists held at GITMO are served lamb, dates and honey as part of their religious observance.
GITMO detainees also are provided prayer mats and prayer oils and are allowed to pray five times per day – something that even U.S. schoolchildren are forbidden from doing.
“In recent days we’ve seen certain liberal politicians have the audacity to undermine American troops by falsely accusing them of torture and misconduct, including bogus charges of desecrating the Koran” said Melanie Morgan, Co-Chair of Move America Forward.
“These shameless individuals, interested in selling magazines or rallying their leftist political followers, are willing to denigrate the important mission being conducted by our troops in Guantanamo Bay.
“By falsely provoking anti-American sentiment overseas, these domestic enemies who have fanned the flames of a ‘Gulag at Guantanamo’ are jeopardizing the lives and well being of our servicemen and women stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Morgan.
# # #
***NOTE*** This release has been posted online at: http://www.moveamericaforward.com/index.php/MAF/MAFNews
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - June 17, 2005 CONTACT: Mark Washburn, Executive Director – Move America Forward(916) 441-6197 or Mark@MoveAmericaForward.org
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Watch this space!
Smiley is in the process of packing out of his own Euro-post on his way to his next assignment, and I am about to take off for a week of sightseeing in the heartland. I've been away a long time and am looking forward to seeing a bit of the USA that I have never visited before. What does that mean for you? Well, most likely there will be nothing new posted on this site for the next week.
We hope you will click on a few of the links on our blogroll- be sure to keep an eye on American Future
and Total Information Awareness
as the continue the debate, and I expect The Reaction
and Security Watchtower
to join in on the debate at any moment as well, both are well written sites. Speakin g of the challenge, Michael in Taipei thinks this site
is worth reading when thinking of the U.S. as hegemon.
For something different check out Fred on Everything
, an excellent writer living the expat life in Mexico. A bit from his last column- A Continent of Clowns:WASHINGTONN (AP) -- Bursting into tears, eighth-grader Anurag Kashyap of California became the U.S. spelling champ Thursday. Tied for second place were 11-year-old Samir Patel, who is home-schooled in Colleyville, Texas, and Aliya Deri, 13, a Pleasanton, California, student. Indian kids have won first place in five of the last seven years.Might be there's a pattern here? Nah.A friend in California has an Asia wife (which both he and I recommend), and so is among the few whites plugged into the state's Asian community. He reports that the Asians are contemptuous of whites. ("Lazy, not very smart.") The evidence supports them. They also believe that the chief aim of schooling in America is to coddle blacks and Latinos, which baffles them. Me too, but it isn't my problem.
If you don't find something to offend you on that site you did not read enough articles. I love that blog. Then there is the Waiter Rant
, and of course Manolo For The Men
, for our sartorially challenged readers. Finally, fellow traveler A Guy in Pajamas
is home and posting again, so drop by and welcome him back.
We'll be back soon, feel free to drop us all the e-mail you want, and thanks again for reading.
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"The Challenge" revisited.
A few days ago I posted a challenge
to the blogosphere:We have e-mailed several of our fellow right-of-center bloggers and asked them to participate. Each of theses writers will then find and invite a blogger from the left with which to partner. Together the two will decide if they want to refine the topic any further, or if they want to keep it general. Each blogger will then produce an initial piece, aiming to release them at the same time so that neither initial offering is a rebuttal to the other. After the release of the first pieces each author will link to the other’s post and produce a rebuttal. The idea is not to simply deconstruct, or to “fisk” the other writer’s piece, but rather to examine the ideas offered and provide an honest evaluation and reply. This back and forth can go on as long as each pair wishes. We will host links to each debate as well, so that there is a central repository. Should a third (or beyond) blogger wish to contribute to the debate they would of course be welcome to do so- but the first two are under no obligation to respond.
Nearly every right of center blogger we contacted was game. So far only one from the left of center has accepted. If anyone out there knows a left leaning blog that might like to participate please have them e-mail me and I am sure I can match them up.
Here are the first two pieces from two outstanding bloggers:American Future
and Total Information Awareness
Enjoy, and hopefully there are more to come!
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1373 years later...
Today marks the anniversary of the death of the prophet Muhammad. Muslims in Iraq celebrated the anniversary
of the loss of the founder of the religion whose name means submission by killing 25 people.
Of course, it really is all our fault. Just ask the Boston Globe
. Had we, the West, simply minded our own business in the 700's none of this would be happening now:Given escalations of the war in Iraq together with widely reported instances of Koran-denigration by US interrogators, such trends in Europe make the global war on terror seem expressly a war against Islam. The ''clash of civilizations" seems closer at hand than ever.
To make sense of this dangerous condition, it can help to recall some of the forgotten or misremembered history that prepared for it, from the remote origins of the conflict to its manifestations in the not so distant past. As the story is usually told in Europe and America, the problem began when a jihad-driven army of ''infidel" Saracens, having brutalized Christians in the ''Holy Land," threatened ''Christendom" itself with conquests right into the heart of present-day France. Charles Martel is the hero of primal European romances because he defeated the Muslim army near Tours in 733. But for Martel, Edward Gibbon wrote, ''the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford."Across subsequent centuries, in the European memory, Islam posed the great threat to the emerging Christian order. But was that so? Lombards, Normans, Vikings, forces from the Slavic east, and violent contests among Christians themselves all wreaked havoc in Europe, even in Martel's time. As I learned from the historian Tomaz Mastnak, the threat from the Saracens was one among many. It was defined as transcendent only with the later Crusades, when Latin Christian armies set out to rescue that ''Holy Land" and roll back Islamic conquests. The crusading impulse presumed a demonizing of Saracens that was justified neither by the threat they actually posed nor by their treatment of Christians in Palestine. Indeed, chronicles of the earlier period take little or no notice of the religion of Saracens. Religious co-existence, famous in Iberia, was a mark of other lands conquered by Arabs. Europe's initiating ''holy war" with Islam, that is, was based on flawed intelligence, propaganda, and threat exaggeration.The poison flower of the Crusades, with their denigrations of distant cultures, was colonialism. The dark result of European imperial adventuring in the Muslim world was twofold: first, the usual exploitation of native peoples and resources, with attendant destruction of culture, and, second, the powerful reaction among Muslims and Arab populations against colonialism, a reaction that included an internal corrupting of Islamic traditions. The accidental wealth of oil in the Middle East made both external exploitation and internal corruption absolutely ruinous. The political fanaticism that has lately seized the Arab Islamic religious imagination (exemplified in Osama bin Laden) is rooted more in a defensive fending off of assault from ''the West" than in anything intrinsic to Islam. The American war on terror, striking the worst notes of the old imperial insult, only exacerbates this reactionary fanaticism (generating, for example, legions of suicide bombers).
So if I understand this correctly, a generation of German's, some still alive, that killed 6 million plus Jews and caused the deaths of countless millions of others should be forgiven
. But acts of religous war that are more than 1270 years in the past merit the reactions we see from Islamofascists today.
To the Globe I say this: there is no clash of civilizations, for that requires two civilizations to exists. As for the Koran being taught at Oxford- had the Muslims conquered Europe 1200 years ago there would be no Oxford. You may have noticed, after all, the dearth of Oxford level universities in the Muslim world. It is true that the Lombards, Normans, Vikings wreaked havoc in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. When, however, did you last meet a Lombard, Norman, or Viking? They were either destroyed, or joined the modern world. Finally, the idea that oil in the ME caused corruption may have a kernel of truth, but it was and continues to be the underlying lack of civilized society that allows corruption to continue.
Here is the "civilization
" the Globe lays the blame for at our feet:
August 2000: Amina Abdullahi is sentenced to 100 lashes in the state of Zamfara for having premarital sex.
November 2000: Attine Tanko, 18, is found guilty of having sex out of wedlock after the discovery that she was pregnant. Tanko's 23-year-old boyfriend, the father of the child, was also flogged 100 times and sentenced to jail time. The court ruled it would allow her to wean the baby for up to two years after she delivered before receiving the punishment of 100 lashes.
January 2001: Bariya Ibrahim Magazu, 17, is lashed 100 strokes after authorities discover she conceived a child out of wedlock the previous year. The girl, who gave birth and was breast-feeding at the time of the caning, had no representation at the trial where she said she was impregnated by one of three middle-aged men with whom her father pressured her to have intercourse.
October 2001: A court convicts Safiya Hussaini of adultery, a "crime" that, in the Sokoto state of Nigeria, comes with a sentence of death by stoning, because she became pregnant out of wedlock, even though the 35-year-old mother of five charged she was raped by a neighbor.
March 2002: Safiya Hussaini is acquitted
of charges of adultery. The Muslim appeals court overturns her conviction, stating that the law was not yet in effect when she become pregnant.
March 2002: Amina Lawal Kurami is sentenced to death by stoning for bearing a child out of wedlock in Katsina, a state in northern Nigeria. The man she identified as the child's father denied the accusation and was acquitted for lack of evidence last spring.
August 2002: Amina Lawal Kurami's appeal is denied
. The judge said her sentence of death by stoning will be carried out as soon as Ms. Lawal weans her daughter from breast-feeding.In other news
: "A weapons cache has been discovered at the Iraqi embassy in London, which was abandoned by staff in the run-up to the Iraq war in early 2003, it was reported on Wednesday."
Kind of makes you wonder, what would Jesus do?
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We have met the enemy- and he is us.
Earlier this week an alert reader sent me a link to an article entitled "Real Men Moisturize" at Townhall.com
. I did not, at the time, follow up on it. Now Little Green Footballs
has beat me to the punch. The Townhall piece refers to an article from "Hi
" magazine (Sharp-dressed Men
). I have long been an advocate of aggressive public diplomacy (see here
, and here
, and here
for a few examples), and I believe that the use of the Internet to reach out to audiences we may not reach with "traditional" methods, via an on-line magazine, is a great way get more bang for our PD buck. But this is ridiculous.
Mona Charen, the author at Townhall.com asks the following:Is this what the U.S. State Department thinks America is really like?
For what it is worth, I can only say: NO. I have not the slightest idea where the impetus for this article came from, but anyone who has ever visited an Embassy, Consulate or the Department of State would quickly realize that we are not a trendy, well groomed organization. My co-conspirator, Smiley, was not kidding when he wrote "The Foreign Service Fashion Deficit
":Which leads me to the other problem confronting FSO fashion failures: the problem of being trendy. You see, there are some FSOs out there who are capable of being trendy. The problem, however, occurs when they leave for the Far Abroad. Even if they are au courant when they leave Washington DC, and they arrive at post at the leading edge of fashion, style will change, as it always does, and they will return to DC from some far away place some years later, failing to comprehend that the fashion scene in the US just may have moved on, while the scene in, say, Niamey (Niger) may not have quite kept the pace. This is true of diplomats who have been abroad for any number of years; when returning to the Department one begins to believe that some people must have been overseas since the mid-seventies Â this is the only possible way to account for all the polyester grape smugglers and weird suits (plaid, linen, anyone?) one sees swishing through Foggy BottomÂs halls.
While Smiley and I like to poke fun at our leisure suit comrades, some of the commenters at LGF are none too pleased with this article, and I can't blame them:You gotta understand, people, that the goal of a certain class of people in this country is to blur the genders, to feminize men, to masculinize women, and to trumpet this fact to the world. Why? For the specific, stated purpose of ridding us of our macho culture. And so we must present ourselves as girlie-men (aka metrosexuals) to our opponents.
This is not some kind of blunder by the State Department -- it's a conscious policy decision. Maybe the next issue of this stupid magazine will include articles like "Real Men don't blow up children" and "Real Men don't commit honor killings" or "Real Men don't get bent out of shape cus somebody looked sideways at their stupid koran"
Maybe getting them to moisturize is just the first step down the road to being civilized.
I agree whole-heartedly with the second commenter quoted above, and have to assume that there was some editorial control over the article, so it certainly is someone's policy. What I can't figure out is why. Why are we not providing articles on Muslim success stories in America? Why aren't running interviews with scholars who think suicide bombers were promised 72 raisins
, not virgins? Why aren't there articles about Muslims in the US military, fighting for the freedom of other Muslims in the ME?
Instead of anything that might actually produce results, with all the possibilities out there for presentation to the Muslim world, we are running articles on metrosexuality, blind dating, smokers rights, basketball fans with faces painted as devils, and women in the workplace. And that is just the current issue! Has anyone on the staff of this magazine ever met an Arab male? Do they have any idea what these topics are like in an Islamic context? Let's see- vaguely homosexual overtones, non-traditional marriage, use of tobacco, apparent devil worship, women working outside the home. I can only imagine an al-Qaeda recruiter pointing to this site and saying "See! They admit it!" I am not saying that we should pander to the hardliners in the ME, but that a little common sense needs to be applied.
It is a wonderful thing that a man in America can choose to get a facial if he wants to, and that women can work, and that your parents don't force you to marry your cousin. The editors of "Hi" magazine missed the point, though- none of these things mean anything on their own, but the freedoms which allow these things are everything. When we can produce a magazine that speaks to Muslim men and addresses these issues we will have taken a step- but only a small one. When we can convert a few minds, a precious few, we will have taken another step. It too will be a small one. While we are fighting in the streets of the ME and telling the people there that when the fighting is over their men too can get pedicures while their wives, who they met on a blind date, smoke Marlboros at work we will continue to be our own worst enemy. I know that public diplomacy has its limits and that it will not turn ardent "death to America" types into globalists. But the least we can do is stop selling an image to the Arab world that is at best a snap shot of a small section of America, and at worst directly at odds with the real message, and promise, of freedom and liberty.
D-day plus 61.
Sixty-one years ago today the allied forces landed on the beaches of France, the first real steps on the ground to defeat Hitler and Natioanl Socialists. As any school child can tell you the French have been graciously grateful ever since.
They are so grateful in fact, that they created a special medal for the survivors of the D-day landing to commemerate the 60th anniversary. One small caveat, though- in order to receive the medal the veterans would have to go to France- again. Those who were infirm, or without the means to travel to France were simply out of luck. The thanks of a grateful nation apperently does know some bounds
:That's because the French government sent Massirio a letter dated April 2, 2004, denying him the badge. The letter stated: "I regret to inform you that the badge created by the Lower Normandy Regional Council will be bestowed only to the veterans who will go back to France for the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day."
This year, however at least one more deserving vet- John Massirio- will have received the award, no thanks to the French:The man responsible for making sure Massirio received the medal is Vito Rao. Rao, of Boca Raton, is the national service director for Italian-American War Veterans of the United States. He's responsible for representing the rights and entitlements of qualified veterans to the government."I wasn't going to rest until I got this done," Rao said. "To require John to go to France with his health and financial burden may not have been the best judgment of the French government, but I think they were well motivated and wanted to make it a spectacular 60th anniversary."
Here now recollections of D-day in the words of the men and women who lived it:'Dawn on D-Day'Well, the sky ... it was a windy, overcast day. At 7 o'clock, I don't remember the sun rising, but it was getting light. And you knew the direction of the beach, you knew where it was ...
And then suddenly ... bang, just like that, at the given moment of time, everything opened up. And you had these great monitors, these big ships with 15-inch guns, you had the cruisers, everything that could fire was firing. And then you had the chaps, and you knew what was happening, of course, the landing craft were coming in to the beaches.
Of course the Germans thought, 'This is a good idea, we'll fire too'. So you've got both sides firing away, and the light ... you were silhouetted against the dawn, really, a late dawn. I mean, the thing was getting light, the twilight. And it was very encouraging.
You thought, 'Well, you'll never ... never hear one of these things, barrages again in my life' - and I didn't. And it was tremendous. It was awe inspiring. I think that's the best thing you can say. And it was cheerful, because you knew then that you weren't alone. You weren't the only people.'The battle'[It] goes just through you. You just carry on. You're shouting, swearing, cursing. You're oblivious, only oblivious so ... to it. You're just carrying on. You got a job to do, and you're glad to get down near their gun.
You're glad to get down to their gun. Oblivious to anything, you know. You gotta run and get there. Zig-zag and run and get there.
You're oblivious to what's happened to number three and four gun, but you hear momentarily about number two gun, the shouts of mines and explosions. And you're zig-zagging.
You shut it out. You shut everything out. You shut it out, just shut it out. Until you get there. Then you say, 'aahh, that's it'. You get to the rear of the gun, and it's successful. At a price.'Growing up under fire'
As as the days went on, we thought to ourselves, or I thought to myself, 'It's a funny thing to say, but a few days ago you ... were just lads, you hadn't been out of school very long, and now ... you're just boys, and riding along on your push-bikes, and playing about with other lads and then you come up against this, and you feel ... that you've become a man all of a sudden, when you've gone through all this nightmare.'
It is a nightmare, of course, absolute nightmare. And I suppose that the German soldiers, the ordinary German soldier probably thinks the same.'Survival' (German soldiers's acount)On D-Day we were shocked, and I, as well as the others, we were defending ourselves, we wanted to survive. They were not our enemy ... we did not know them, and we had no chance to say yes or no to what was happening.
The opponent wanted to 'defeat' us, as it was called in those days, and we did our best in order to repel this opponent, and we did not think about the individual human being. When the landing troops arrived, we said that on every single boat there were more soldiers then in our entire bay of six kilometres.
Each ship had a few hundred, and we had about three to four hundred. Each resistance post had 20 to 25, and each boat was spitting out 30, 50, 100. In the beginning our artillery, which was already trained at the beach, was showing us the aim. And the artillery did manage to bring the attack to a stop in the first two to three hours
Some of our European friends may have lost sight of what that war meant, and what the sacrifices made by the forces who liberated their homelands cost countless families. Some of us in America may have as well, but not all of us by any means. God bless you, gentleman, everyone of you. Your memories live on, you will not be forgotten.
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The Best of Both Worlds- a challenge.
The Daily Demarche has long sought to be a place where divergent ideas can come together to be debated, explored, refined and commented upon. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out as planned and an echo-chamber of sorts has developed in our little corner of the web. While we have greatly enjoyed the interaction between ourselves and our readers, and the group-blog projects we have run in the past, we are always looking to grow the site and to find new directions.
If one is to believe the media reports on the subject we, as Americans, are becoming increasingly polarized politically and socially, and yet we are increasingly upset at the inability of our elected officials to work together. This combination of unilateral, party-centric thinking and general political malaise is especially evident in the blogosphere- this site is often a perfect example. We like to envision the web as a place where intellectual honesty (and courage of the anonymous sort) can be exercised. To that end we are inviting bloggers from the left and the right to pair up for a cross blog debate on the future of global democracy and the role which the United States should play in the spread of democracy to oppressed or less developed nations. The theme is wide open within that umbrella. Here is how it works:
We have e-mailed several of our fellow right-of-center bloggers and asked them to participate. Each of theses writers will then find and invite a blogger from the left with which to partner. Together the two will decide if they want to refine the topic any further, or if they want to keep it general. Each blogger will then produce an initial piece, aiming to release them at the same time so that neither initial offering is a rebuttal to the other. After the release of the first pieces each author will link to the other’s post and produce a rebuttal. The idea is not to simply deconstruct, or to “fisk” the other writer’s piece, but rather to examine the ideas offered and provide an honest evaluation and reply. This back and forth can go on as long as each pair wishes. We will host links to each debate as well, so that there is a central repository. Should a third (or beyond) blogger wish to contribute to the debate they would of course be welcome to do so- but the first two are under no obligation to respond.
It is our hope that at the end of the process, between the various posts written and the comments left that some of the pairs will have arrived at an agreement of sorts on their chosen topic. We do not expect that each pair will achieve bi-partisan unity, and I fully expect that some of the debate will degenerate into outright flame throwing. There will be no moderating of the debates, other than that provided in the comments by the various readers, so it is up to the authors to keep it civil and on topic.
While we have seeded this by inviting some of our blog-buddies the debate is open to anyone who wishes to participate. Just find yourself a partner and send us an e-mail so that we can post links. As always anyone who wants to participate but does not have a blog can utilize My Blog is Your Blog
Thanks for reading and for participating- we are looking forward to the debates!
(End of post.)
America’s DNA- genetic modification needed?
I am not the world’s biggest Tom Friedman fan- I think he writes well and has produced some great works, to be sure, but he often seems more intent on name dropping than providing substance. In his recent column America’s DNA
, however, I’d have to say he has struck a key theme.
The central idea of his piece is that we, America, must be careful about the official image we present to the world, through our words, actions and even our architecture:I worry that 20 years from now some eighth grader will be doing her National History Day project on how America's reaction to 9/11 unintentionally led to an erosion of core elements of American identity. What sparks such dark thoughts on a trip from London to New Delhi?In part it is the awful barriers that now surround the U.S. Embassy in London on Grosvenor Square. "They have these cages all around the embassy now, and these huge concrete blocks, and the whole message is: 'Go away!' " said Kate Jones, a British literary agent who often walks by there. "That is how people think of America now, and it's a really sad thing because that is not your country."
This sentiment is spot-on. Just recently, before departing my last post, I was given a tour of our host nation’s capital building. Several hundred years old, the building had suffered greatly during WWII. It has been refurbished twice since then, and is a shining example of old and new. Thousands of people stand in line for many hours each year to tour the building. I was commenting on the beauty of the building, and the elegance of that country’s embassy in DC to the young intern who was serving as my tour guide when he asked rather bluntly why our embassy was so ugly and outwardly hostile- while not the most diplomatic of questions, he had a point.
Let me set the scene: the embassy is surrounded by a tall, spiked fence. Access is controlled through a fortified box made up of thick steel walls and bullet resistant glass. Several one-ton concrete barriers form a serpentine to slow vehicle entrance and armed local police man check-points leading to the building. Bicyclists are made to dismount and walk past the building. Several abandoned store fronts on either side of the street from the embassy tell the story of the impact of the security on the neighborhood. The effect is ugly, vaguely sinister and not at all welcoming, and unfortunately largely necessary.
The African embassy bombings taught us a lot about the threats to softer targets in what had generally been low threat countries, as far as terrorism is concerned. So we no longer take chances, even in the heart of civilized Old Europe. But as Friedman recognized, we are taking a different kind of chance now. Friedman again:
The other day I went to see the play "Billy Elliot" in London. During intermission, a man approached me and asked, "Are you Mr. Friedman?" When I said yes, he introduced himself - Emad Tinawi, a Syrian-American working for Booz Allen. He told me that while he disagreed with some things I wrote, there was one column he still keeps. "It was the one called, 'Where Birds Don't Fly,' " he said.
I remembered writing that headline, but I couldn't remember the column. Then he reminded me: It was about the new post-9/11 U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, which looks exactly like a maximum-security prison, so much so that a captured Turkish terrorist said that while his pals considered bombing it, they concluded that the place was so secure that even birds couldn't fly there. Mr. Tinawi and I then swapped impressions about the corrosive impact such security restrictions were having on foreigners' perceptions of America. [Note the piece referred to here can be located at The Longbow Papers, Dr. D]
Obviously it is a good thing that the terrorists think twice about bombing the embassies and consulates in which we work. But is there a better way? Friedman thinks so, and puts his faith in that old government stand-by- a commission to study the problem:
Bottom line: We urgently need a national commission to look at all the little changes we have made in response to 9/11 - from visa policies to research funding, to the way we've sealed off our federal buildings, to legal rulings around prisoners of war - and ask this question: While no single change is decisive, could it all add up in a way so that 20 years from now we will discover that some of America's cultural and legal essence - our DNA as a nation - has become badly deformed or mutated?
This would be a tragedy for us and for the world. Because, as I've argued, where birds don't fly, people don't mix, ideas don't get sparked, friendships don't get forged, stereotypes don't get broken, and freedom doesn't ring.
By and large I agree with the idea- someone should indeed be keeping track of the impact our decisions have made. Should it be the government, or academia, or the people themselves in the form of journalism, blogs and correspondence with our elected officials? I favor a blend of the three. In addition, however, we must aggressively continue to get our message out- we do not want to work in prison-like embassies, we do not want to close our doors and shut the valve on the free exchange of visitors and ideas. But we will take the actions necessary to defend ourselves. There is a fine line between protection and isolation, and we are approaching that line bit by bit. If the rest of the world does not want us to completely disengage (and I am not sure that is the case), then we need their help. There can be no doubt that we do indeed have enemies- there is considerable doubt that we have true allies. Exchanges such as Friedman’s are encouraging- but they are not enough. We can only go so far alone in this new chapter of the eternal struggle for survival. I for one live for the day when we can relax the security of our embassies, and birds and ideas can fly through without the threat of terror.
As Friedman notes:
In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They "make you feel so unwanted now," said Mr. Das. America was a country "that was always reinventing itself," he added, because it was a country that always welcomed "all kinds of oddballs" and had "this wonderful spirit of openness." American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. "If you go dark, the world goes dark."
Muslim extremists in the ME are poised with one hand on the light switch, and we cannot possibly deter them alone. So Mr. Das, and Mr. Tinawi, and Mr. Friedman, and to my intern friend, know this- our ugly buildings and omnipresent security are not aimed at you, but they will not go away without your, and your nations’, support. Our DNA is intact, and we intend to keep it that way.
To our visitors from the "other side":
I've noticied that the comments left here have taken a slightly different turn as of late- "Spit on the baby killers!" in response to my piece on Memorial Day post comes to mind. It seems that these comments are a response to our humble little blog being mentioned by the American Street
and Jesus' General
by way of a letter from "Bart"- apparently a soldier serving in Iraq.
While I can't say that I welcome the above mentioned comment, I do say welcome to those who followed a link here from those sites. I hope you enjoy the blog, and perhaps gain some knowledge into what makes us 101st Keyboarders tick.
Feel free to drop us a line, leave comments or submit a guest post. I've mentioned it before, I am not looking to run an echo chamber. Tell your friends, too. The honest exchange of ideas is a founding principle of our country, and we welcome an opportunity to engage in debate with those who may not agree with us. Let's just try to keep it at something beyond a ninth grade level, shall we?
(End of post)
Home at last.
Well, Mrs. Dr. D, myself and the blog-pets are back in the States. The pets seemed to have suffered the least in the move- their travel kennels are much more spacious than coach! Every time I have to travel for official reasons I think of the $7.5 billion
the USG gave to the airlines after 9/11. Seems to me that we could have bought a whole bunch of business class seats for that price. The USG does provide business class if the travel time is over 14 hours, but if you have 12 hours and 40 minutes ahead of you- tough. Oh well. The perils of the service, etc, etc.
A lot has transpired in the past few days as we frantically prepared to move everything we own to our leave address, then to DC and then to the next post- or in some cases direct to the next assignment or somewhere in between.
Surprising me not at all, the MSM has failed to pick up on the story of an Iranian smuggling ring, via Mexico, that was recently broken up:A 39-year-old Iranian with permanent legal residency status who is suspected of having smuggled 60 other Iranians into the U.S. was arrested Thursday in Mesa, Ariz., according to the U.S. Attorney's Office
FBI officials said they had no reason to believe there were any terrorist connections to the case.
This time. When are we going to open our eyes and realize that the borders are NOT secure? I am more than willing to admit that we are addicted, as a nation, to the cheap labor that flows north from Mexico. Like any addict, we fear getting clean- and like any addict we run the risk of one bad dose killing us. Can anyone tell me why we have not brought our troops back from Korea, where they are no longer wanted as evidenced by demonstrations and rioting
in Seoul, to protect our
The French lived up to all expectations and surrendered to Germany, er, I mean voted no to the EU constitution, perhaps prompting the Dutch to follow suit. American Future has a few great pieces on the subject, worth the read. Of course, the venerable NY Times sees this only as bad news for the Bush administration:
The United States, as the premier world power and Europe's closest ally, would prefer to deal with one main authority in Europe on trade, political and security matters. The proposed constitution also would smooth the way toward the U.S. goal of an expanded European alliance.
Apart from the benefits of the constitution itself, the momentum to ratify it coincided with an easing of trans-Atlantic tensions over the unpopular U.S.-led war in Iraq. President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reached out to Europe this winter and asked for broad European cooperation on such shared goals as peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The constitution is meant to give a simplified framework for even greater integration among the members of the existing European Union and make the alliance easier to run after a historic expansion last year.
It would give the 25-nation bloc a common president and foreign minister, even as individual countries retain their elected governments. It would also provide greater coordination among national police and security forces, a potential boon to U.S. anti-terrorism and other security goals.
Only an organization as deluded as the Times could see the monstrosity that is the EU Constitution as a tool which would bring about simplicity. I've seen the EU at work up close and personal- it ain't pretty. Kind of like the U.N., but less efficient. Newsflash for the Times: we have worked with a Europe of independent nations from the birth of our nation. It may not have always been easy, but it beats the heck out of the mess in Brussels. Case in point: last month's EU vote to impose a limited work week on all member nations- enforced socialism and the death knell of European entrepreneurship.
The mysterious "Deep Throat" has finally been identified- and it was not George H. Bush (every liberals ultimate fantasy scenario). No, it was Mark Felt, as everyone now knows. Once one of the most closely held secrets in the country, the name of Deep Throat is now synonymous with the new American Dream:
According to several literary agents quoted in The Washington Post, Mr Felt could get an advance of more than a million dollars on a book deal and there were reports the Felt family was offering to sell family photographs to newspapers and magazines.
and, that my friends, is the end of the long, strange story story. Is Felt a hero, or a villain? Depends on who you ask and how you define the terms. Watergate was indeed a terrible moment in American political history- but the peaceful transition of power and the continuation of the Republic is fact of which we can all be proud. Many nations would not have survived the events that brought down a Presidency.
Anyway, I am glad to be home and plan to take it as easy as possible for the next month- I'll be posting still, maybe at a slower pace, but keep us bookmarked! The call for guest pieces is still open, too, so if you have something to contribute please fell free to send it along to us.