Saturday, March 29, 2008

Charges Dropped in Haditha Case

Do you remember Haditha? No one can find it on a map, but in November 2005 eight US marines were accused of indiscriminately killing 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children. After a time the story faded from the news cycle, but left the public with a general feeling that our boys were committing atrocities in Iraq.

Well, today the BBC reports that Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum (pictured), 26, has had all charges against him dropped. Moreover, he is the fifth of the eight to go free. The case continues to unfold and there may yet be convictions for the other three. But at the very most we are looking at an incident of much less gravity than originally reported. Don't expect Time magazine to run any front-page retractions, however...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Foreign Policy Has a Sex Appeal

Why sex and foreign policy aren’t as different as you might think

By Colin Parks

Would you believe that having sex can provide you with a better guide to effective foreign policy than any political theory out there? In fact, if our policy makers spent more time nurturing their sex lives, they could find themselves more attuned to the most effective tools of statecraft. This should come as no surprise and I’ll tell you why.

In order to have sex, you have three options. You can buy it, i.e. prostitution; you can take it by force, i.e. rape; or you can seduce it, i.e. the art of romance. Buying sex is usually only a temporary fix and an expensive one at that; most prostitutes don’t offer blue-light specials. Furthermore, it might not be the most desirable experience unless a dingy motel room, cheap champagne, and the incessant glow of neon lights is your idea of a romantic getaway. Forcing sex might be desirable for some but for most it simply isn’t worth the likely consequences, i.e. spending the rest of your life behind bars in an orange jump suit contemplating escape with a spoon and a bed spring.

How then, do you use seduction to get sex? You first need to possess certain elements of attraction such as good looks, an appealing personality, and some sort of alluring feature that compels your intended companion to get a little frisky with you; generally a few sprays of cologne will turn the trick. Second, you need to have a strategy; sex on first contact isn’t usually the rule but rather the exception. You need to take the time to get to know your companion, i.e. enduring a few awkward dates, engaging in conversation more enlightening than the weather, and actually noticing little things like eye color and the type of shoes your companion is wearing; observing bust size doesn’t qualify! Finally, you have to set the mood; a few candles and some sultry music will do. A little tender, loving, care can go a long way so don’t be afraid to sharpen your massage skills. What’s more, when the deed is done, you can’t just fall asleep or abruptly leave. It pays to cuddle and stay around for breakfast. While it might take a bit longer and require more finesse, if executed skillfully seduction can result in quality, long lasting, and meaningful sex, without the messy consequences of prostitution or rape.

So why is sex similar to foreign policy? If it isn’t already apparent, nations have three options when deciding how to achieve a particular foreign policy objective. Like sex, they can buy it, i.e. with bribery or economic sanctions; they can take it, i.e. with military force; or they can seduce it, i.e. creating an allure via soft power. The first two options are hard power methods frequently used to coerce or compel an adversary to succumb to your will, tangible instruments that clearly indicate a nation’s desire to alter behavior or gain the advantage in a given scenario. However, these options can have dire consequences. Economic sanctions, bribery, and war can be costly, extremely risky, and lacking in quality assurance. Moreover, military force and the careless use of economic sanctions can produce damaging ripple effects that can be difficult to suppress. One only needs to look at the situation in Iraq to ascertain that the friction and uncertainty of war can create more problems than solutions, and the case of Cuba to realize that buying your objectives doesn’t necessarily work.

The seduction of soft power attempts to alleviate some of the pains associated with the misuse of hard power by using public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy to persuade an adversary rather than coerce it. This implies confidence in one’s ideals and principles, and a willingness and ability to export them. For the United States, this means accentuating our most appealing qualities such as democracy, the rule of law, plurality, and freedom. It also means tapping into the alluring features of culture such as music and art. These elements can potentially convince an adversary to view the U.S. in a more positive light; a nation that finds us attractive is more likely to emulate our behavior and subsequently comply with our demands. Like a seductress, however, the purveyor of soft power must be patient and willing to invest in a little TLC.

So maybe the hippie mantra “Make Love, Not War!” has a point. If we take the time to seduce our target and tap into the softer side of foreign policy, we have a greater chance of securing our foreign policy objectives in a manner that ensures lasting relationships. Like a good lover, the U.S. must be willing to sustain its soft power initiatives over time by not abandoning these initiatives when the deed is done and sticking around for a little cuddle time.

Colin Parks is a graduate student at The Institute of World Politics in Washington where he studies the elements of statecraft in national security and foreign affairs. He can be contacted at,

Friday, March 7, 2008

Britain Kow Tows to China

The Daily Mail released a scathing article about the British Olympic committee's decision to gag its athletes at the Beijing Olympics. They write:

British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China's appalling human rights record – or face being banned from traveling to Beijing.

The move – which raises the specter of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 – immediately provoked a storm of protest....

From the moment they sign up, the competitors – likely to include the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips and world record holder Paula Radcliffe – will be effectively gagged from commenting on China's politics, human rights abuses or illegal occupation of Tibet.

Prince Charles has already let it be known that he will not be going to China, even if he is invited by Games organizers.

His views on the Communist dictatorship are well known, after this newspaper revealed how he described China's leaders as “appalling old waxworks” in a journal written after he attended the handover of Hong Kong. The Prince is also a long-time supporter of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader....

The [British Olympic Association] took the decision even though other countries – including the United States, Canada, Finland, and Australia – have pledged that their athletes would be free to speak about any issue concerning China.

To date, only New Zealand and Belgium have banned their athletes from giving political opinions while competing at the Games....

However, human rights campaigner Lord David Alton condemned the move as “making a mockery” of the right to free speech.

The controversial decision to award the Olympics to Beijing means this year's Games have the potential to be the most politically charged since 1936.

Adolf Hitler used the Munich Games that year to glorify his Nazi regime, although his claims of Aryan superiority were undermined by black American athlete Jesse Owens winning four gold medals.

More recently, there was a mass boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan....

Former Olympic rowing champion Matthew Pinsent has already criticized the Chinese authorities over the training methods used on children, which he regarded as tantamount to abuse. Young gymnasts told him they were repeatedly beaten during training sessions....

Lord Alton said: “It is extraordinary to bar athletes from expressing an opinion about China's human-rights record. About the only justification for participating in the Beijing Games is that it offers an opportunity to encourage more awareness about human rights.

“Imposing compulsory vows of silence is an affront to our athletes, and in China it will be viewed as acquiescence.

“Each year 8,000 executions take place in China, political and religious opinion is repressed, journalists are jailed and the internet and overseas broadcasts are heavily censored.

“For our athletes to be told that they may not make any comment makes a mockery of our own country's belief in free speech.”

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Merchant of Death: Arrested

This just in from the BBC: Viktor Bout, the international arms trafficking kingpin we told you about in October, has been arrested in Thailand. Though Thai police picked him up, it appears they acted on an American warrant which was related to Mr. Bout's arming of left-wing Columbian guerrillas.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union Mr. Bout, who appears to have some sort of military background, began snatching up both weapons and the transport planes needed to ship them around the world. The arms he supplied have fueled many conflicts in the Third World, often going to both sides in many wars.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Al-Qaeda is Losing the War of Minds

Contrary to popular belief, the US may not be losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world, so says Peter Wehner in a Financial Times guest piece from which comes today's post title. He writes,

In November 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (“Dr Fadl”) published his book, Rationalizations on Jihad in Egypt and the World, in serialised form. Mr Sharif, who is Egyptian, argues that the use of violence to overthrow Islamic governments is religiously unlawful and practically harmful. He also recommends the formation of a special Islamic court to try Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two and its ideological leader, and calls the attacks on September 11 2001 a “catastrophe for all Muslims”.

Mr Sharif’s words are significant because he was once a mentor to Mr Zawahiri. Mr Sharif, who wrote the book in a Cairo prison, is “a living legend within the global jihadist movement”, according to Jarret Brachman, a terrorism expert.

Another important event occurred in October 2007, when Sheikh Abd Al-‘Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. It states: “I urge my brothers the ulama [the top class of Muslim clergy] to clarify the truth to the public . . . to warn [youth] of the consequences of being drawn to arbitrary opinions and [religious] zeal that is not based on religious knowledge.” The target of the fatwa is obvious: Mr bin Laden.

A month earlier Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Mr bin Laden once lionized, wrote an “open letter” condemning Mr bin Laden. “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al-Qaeda?” Sheikh Awdah wrote. “The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq ... cannot make Muslims happy.”

Mr. Wehner goes on to describe what he calls the "Anbar Awakening":

Just 18 months ago Anbar province was the stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq; today it is known as the birthplace of an Iraqi and Islamic grass-roots uprising against al-Qaeda as an organisation and bin Ladenism as an ideology. It is an extraordinary transformation: Iraqis en masse siding with America, the “infidel” and a western “occupying power”, to defeat Islamic militants.

Finally, Mr. Wehner turns to the numbers:

Not surprisingly, al-Qaeda’s stock is falling in much of the Arab and Islamic world. A recent survey found that in January less than a quarter of Pakistanis approved of Mr bin Laden, compared with 46 per cent last August, while backing for al-Qaeda fell from 33 per cent to 18 per cent.

According to a July 2007 report from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “large and growing numbers of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere [are] rejecting Islamic extremism”. The percentage of Muslims saying suicide bombing is justified in the defense of Islam has declined in seven of the eight Arab countries where trend data are available. In Lebanon, for example, 34 per cent of Muslims say such suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified; in 2002, 74 per cent expressed this view. We are also seeing large drops in support for Mr bin Laden. These have occurred
since the Iraq war began.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Disturbing News out of China

There are two stories from East Asia today that are disturbing enough by themselves, but are particularly troublesome when read side by side. In the first instance, China has announced that it will be raising military spending 18% this year. But remember, the Chinese routinely lie about the size of their military spending. Expert estimates (such as the Pentagon's latest report on Chinese military strength) suggest that the real figure is two or three times the reported figure.

Simultaneously, a second story has come out, which was surely meant to be read in light of the first. Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, has been warned that Taiwan would pay a dear price for any independence-like moves. This threat is well-timed, of course, to coincide with a referendum in Taiwan on whether or not to press for UN membership, something China routinely blocks for the island.

"If the Chen Shui-bian authorities should stubbornly continue down the path, they will surely pay a dear price," a parliamentary spokesman in China said. "We are fully prepared to repulse any adventurous activities aimed at Taiwan independence, and prevent anyone from separating Taiwan from China."

That's a nice way of saying, "Remember that giant leap in military spending we just announced? We're not afraid to use it."

Sticking it to Western Europe

The BBC reports this morning that "Ukraine has said it may restrict Russian gas supplies to Europe if gas monopoly Gazprom goes ahead with further cuts in Ukrainian supply."

This makes perfectly good sense to me. For too long Western Europe has been cozying up to Putin's Russia and ignoring the desire to rebuild the Soviet empire in the "near abroad." Should Ukraine cut gas supplies to the rest of Europe, it would send a clear message: This is what the Russians want to do to the free world. Are you willing to stand with us or not?