Happiness research is a growing discipline in social science that is taken more seriously in the academy and increasingly among policymakers as well. AEI President Arthur Brooks has done research on the subject, finding the happiest people are those who have earned their success. That does not always mean making a lot money, but rather achieving success of any kind through enterprise, perseverance, creativity, and so on. Others, such as authors of the famous Grant Study, have found that "happiness is love," including family, friendships, and social relationships. This is only a small sampling of the literature. Why are these findings of relevance to policymakers? As Ronald Inglehart and Hans-Dieter Klingemann have written:
"A society's level of subjective well-being....is intimately related to the legitimacy of the socio-economic political system...if subjective well-being of an entire society falls sharply below its normal baseline, it can destabilize the entire political order."
If Inglehart and Klinemann are correct, China watchers and policy analysts need to start thinking differently about the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). There is something close to a consensus among Western observers of China that the CCP's legitimacy rests on two pillars. The first is performance -- sustained economic growth that translates into better living standards for all Chinese people. The second is a distinct kind of nationalism -- the CCP convinces the Chinese people that it and it alone can right the many wrongs of the past and restore China to its proper place of greatness.
The latter pillar actually makes more obvious sense than the former. The idea that legitimacy is based on growth in material well-being implicitly assumes that man can be reduced to homo economicus-that is, that man is interested in the material alone. The latter pillar, on the other hand, seems to be grounded in a better understanding of human nature. That is, man is driven by honor, pride, and anger as well as other emotions or virtues.
The findings of two social scientists, Jiayuan Li and John W. Raine, when combined with the conclusions of Inglehart et. al. about happiness and legitimacy has consequences for how we and Chinese leaders should think about the CCP's longevity.
By any measure, China has experienced tremendous economic growth since 1978. Living standards have improved markedly as has China's performance across a wide range of social indicators -- poverty reduction, school enrollment rates, life expectancy. And yet, Li and Raine's research shows a negative correlation between happiness and economic growth in China. Chinese are less happy than northwest Europeans, Mexicans, Thais and other Southeast Asians.
Li and Raine also found that China's happiness has declined over time. Li and Raine fully acknowledge the limits of their research. For example, one measurement they use is the number of grievance protests in Beijing. More Chinese petitioning of Beijing could indeed be a sign of increased unhappiness, it could also be a sign of increased happiness in that the Chinese people feel more like citizens than subjects and have some way to try and secure justice. And collecting statistics and conducting surveys in China is notoriously difficult.
Even so, their findings do not overly surprise me. Take the two findings about happiness mentioned above, earned success, and social networks. To really earn success one needs a strong sense that the playing field is level and fair. Given the levels of corruption in China and the special privileges afforded to the well-connected, it is doubtful that Chinese feel that they can truly earn success without somehow cheating or gaming the system. There is a serious loss of dignity -- a profound human desire -- in living in a society where people feel compelled to cheat to get ahead or that no justice exists when others cheat.
Then there is the issue of social and family relationships. Through the one-child policy, the Chinese government is destroying the traditional Chinese family. A generation of Chinese is growing up without siblings, cousins, uncles, and aunts. Given the importance in Chinese history of the extended family for social insurance and security as well as for the proper ordering of one's place in society, its destruction has broad repercussions for societal happiness. Add to that a general trust deficit in China and the findings of social scientists focused on happiness ring true.
Many thought the CCP's days were numbered after the fall of the Soviet Union. Given the patterns of democratization in East Asia, most China watchers and policymakers thought that more wealth would bring greater demands for political participation and democracy. Policymakers needed an explanation for why the CCP continues to monopolize power in China, despite the fall of other Marxist-Leninist regimes and more wealth. But now it may be time to develop other indicators to measure the regime's resilience -- societal happiness is a good place to start.
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[Update: Last night, Venezuelan electoral authorities agreed to a partial audit of Sunday's vote, although not the full recount demanded by challenger Henrique Capriles.]
After an ill-advised overture to Hugo Chávez's government last November, the Obama administration has regained its footing with a strong, principled stance on Venezuela's contested election. Based on the razor-thin margin and opposition protests of irregularities, the administration has yet to recognize as the winner Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chávez's anointed successor, and has instead supported a review of the vote count.
In appearances before both the House and Senate in recent days, Secretary of State John Kerry re-affirmed that position "so that the people of Venezuela who participated in such a closely divided and important election can have the confidence that they have the legitimacy that is necessary in the government going forward."
He said, "I don't know whether it's going to happen. ... [But] obviously, if there are huge irregularities, we are going to have serious questions about the viability of that government."
Kerry's statements brought the predictable howls of protest from Venezuela. "It's obscene, the U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela," Mr. Maduro said. "Take your eyes off Venezuela, John Kerry! Get out of here! Enough interventionism!"
But no one should be intimidated by such false bravado.
Maduro is in a panic. He knows he cannot handle declining socio-economic conditions in the face of a reinvigorated opposition, dissension in his own ranks, and an engaged U.S. government standing firm on principle regarding the legitimacy of his election.
Of course, the administration will face a vociferous public campaign by chavista sympathizers pressuring it to accept Sunday's disputed result. Already, the feckless Organization of American States Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has backtracked from the organization's initial strong statement on behalf of a recount and now has accepted the result.
Recognition proponents will tell us the United States faces "isolation" in the region if the administration doesn't recognize Maduro (only Panama and Paraguay have joined the call for a recount) and that its supposed intransigence plays right into Maduro's hands, allowing him to whip up nationalist sentiment.
Nonsense. Those proposing such arguments fail to recognize that governments are pursuing interests. Certain countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and even Russia and China, have benefited greatly from economic ties with Venezuela under Chávez and their short-sighted view is to try and keep that spigot open.
Most citizens throughout the region, however, tend to be more appreciative of principles, such as the security and integrity of one's vote. One can be sure that, in case of a disputed election in their own country, they would hope to count on external support for an honest accounting in their own electoral processes.
Secondly, as the election just demonstrated, Maduro is not Chávez, and his capacity to whip up anything but official violence against Venezuelans protesting in the streets is extremely doubtful (Warning: graphic photos here). In short, no one should be misled by the noisemakers.
A continued firm stand on behalf of a clean election will resonate positively throughout the region, sending a strong signal to all democrats that the United States does indeed care and that intimidation and violence have no place in any democracy. It is not likely that such sentiments will sway Maduro and his Cuban advisors to accept any sort of recount, but it will certainly place the United States on the right side of the debates and confrontations to come.
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The World Bank's most successful program -- "Doing Business," which ranks countries on the ease of starting and running a formal business -- has helped spark major free market reforms in over 100 countries during its 10 years of existence. It serves as a major "strategic conversation starter" for American diplomats, makes it easier for entrepreneurs to get access to bank loans, increases the number of business start ups in developing countries, and helps governments bring companies out of the gray economy into the formal economy. But it now is in danger of being weakened, outsourced, or done away with.
So why would anyone dislike Doing Business? Countries that rank poorly compared to their geostrategic rivals (such as China, India, or Argentina) or don't believe in free markets and the private sector as the primary driver of prosperity tend to dislike the index. This has resulted in an unfortunate effort inside the World Bank to do away with the index.
Doing Business reflects a broadly American and widely accepted view about development -- that the private sector is its main driver. A small number of influential, vocal countries on the board of the World Bank such as China, Brazil and India dislike where they end up on the DB rankings. As a result, they have called on bank management to change the methodology of the report to reflect aspects that they can perform more highly on and to stop ranking countries according to the ease of doing business. In addition, several quarters are calling for the World Bank Group to give the Doing Business project to another institution.
Jim Kim became the new president in July 2012, and with his ascent, anti-reform forces within the bank's bureaucracy and on its board sensed their chance to kill, cripple, or "outsource" the index. After a messy board meeting last summer where no consensus was reached, Jim Kim punted and convened a panel to review Doing Business. That panel is expected to release a recommendation about the fate of Doing Business in May or June. This weekend the World Bank hosts its spring meetings, and Doing Business will be one of the hot topics of conversation t. For my day job, I am hosting an event on Friday morning to recognize the 10th anniversary of the report. The World Bank cancelled a large research conference last December following the 10th release of the report because of the review and the "controversy" around the index.
Doing Business ranks countries by how hard or easy it is to start a "formal' (tax-paying, bank loan-taking) business. In many countries, setting up a business "by the book" can cost tens of thousands of dollars and conceivably years of fighting red tape. But operating in an informal economy is bad for prosperity: no access to bank loans, many opportunities for bribes, and less folks paying any taxes at all. Doing Business was incubated with strong support from the Bush administration through contributions to the methodology from USAID, funding from USAID, and political support from State and Treasury. The last three World Bank presidents, especially Bob Zoellick, were strong supporters of Doing Business.
The fact that the World Bank releases an annual ranking gives Doing Business power and influence in unique ways because of the bank's pull in developing countries. Attempts to "outsource" Doing Business to an academic institution will greatly reduce the power of the index.
At a time when the Obama administration and development thought leaders speak about the importance of funding activities that are "evidence based" and "data driven," the data and facts generated by the Doing Business indicators are undeniable and powerful. The data creates the ability to compare countries and local governments across jurisdictions and have made it possible to systematically study the effects of regulations and red tape on private enterprise. Reforms empower entrepreneurs and takes power from crony capitalists.
To the administration's credit, they have supported Doing Business but could use some help from Republicans. Through Congressional action, Republicans need to weigh in with the administration (especially the Treasury Department) and with the World Bank's leadership.
This is a great bipartisan opportunity for the chairman and ranking members of the Senate and House Appropriations, Foreign Relations, and Financial Services Committees to take action to support a pro-business development agenda. Because the World Bank should be a force multiplier of American influence in the world, Republicans supported (and rightly so) the renewal of the general capital increase of the World Bank. In return for supporting the GCI, the U.S. should be expected to retain its "big seat" at the table and exercise that influence with Jim Kim and bring in allied shareholders in favor of strengthening Doing Business. Killing, crippling, or outsourcing the index to another institution is one of the worst things the World Bank could do and would be a direct rebuke to the bipartisan support that the World Bank receives.
The U.S. renewed its commitment to the World Bank through the GCI, and it is time for the World Bank to renew its commitment to a proven program that supports free markets, cuts corruption, and empowers entrepreneurs.
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I wrote here a while back when Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was elected that we should give him a chance. I said this for several reasons, among them: 1) he and a majority of his party are of a new generation that has turned its back on the old patron-client system that characterizes so much of the developing world, and 2) he knows that to lift the half of the population that still lives in poverty and suffers from massive economic inequality he must increase economic growth, which is possible only if monopolies are smashed and foreign investment welcomed. He's off to a good start, bringing his party with him and building coalitions with the center-right PAN and others.
Three of his administration's actions demonstrate my optimism.
First, like the last PRI president before him, Carlos Salinas, Peña Nieto has shown his resolve and ability to put reform and the public above his cronies by having the head of the national teachers' union arrested on corruption charges (see here and here). No matter that she helped him get elected -- she opposed his reform to strengthen the hand of the state to hire and fire teachers at the expense of the union's overweening power. It is easy to be cynical and say that she was arrested for being a political opponent. Maybe that is exactly what happened. But maybe the president doesn't care who was or was not a supporter of his campaign for the presidency -- corruption is in his sights. In the end, if she is truly corrupt and found guilty, Mexico is better for it no matter what motivated the arrest. With his act he wins respect and not a little fear from the caciques of other sectors who might oppose his reforms and try to take Mexico backwards. We should remember that Mexico is not yet Switzerland or Sweden and is still an evolving democracy. Think Chicago, or Louisiana before Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Second, he is taking on the richest man in the world -- Carlos Slim, who has for decades controlled telecoms in Mexico. Slim controls 80 percent of the country's fixed lines and 70 percent of its mobile phones. The reform the president has put forward (see here and here) would give the government the right to break up monopolies that constitute 50 percent of a market and to make it easier for foreigners to invest.
And finally, the really big prize: reform of the nationalized oil sector. This is the third rail of Mexican politics after Salinas in the late 1980s reformed the communal land system. Peña Nieto leads a party that for decades led with the cry "the oil is ours!" as it nationalized and ran the industry. While the state hasn't run the industry into the ground as Chavez did, it has never lived up to its potential as a key funder of the government and for the last eight years has seen its production capacity drop. The problems stem largely from keeping significant foreign investment and technology out of the industry. The president means to change all that and got a good start at it by getting his party to vote in favor of the reform that now moves to Congress.
While it is unlikely that the leftist parties will support Peña Nieto's reforms -- and certainly not the oil industry reform -- the center-right PAN should and supporters of Mexico, free trade and the free market definitely should. U.S. policy should be to congratulate Peña Nieto and his party and to encourage Mexico to open itself further by these reforms. These are hopeful days for Mexico.
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No doubt many Republicans in Washington are experiencing a bit of schadenfreude over the controversies swirling around the newly installed chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez. He is a bare-knuckled partisan who never backs down from a political brawl. So investigations into his alleged advocacy on behalf of a major donor -- including a salacious sidebar of unsubstantiated allegations about underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic -- have not surprisingly stirred some to try and fan the flames of what they hope to be the Senator's immolation.
For example, a group called the American Future Fund (touting itself as, "Advocating Conservative, Free Market Ideals") published a full-page ad in Politico this week with the subtle title: "Senate Ethics Committee: Meet Your New Chairman of ‘Foreign Relations.'" Har har.
Of course, if the worst of the accusations turn out to be true, then no one disputes the fact that the Senator should immediately resign and face the consequences. But there are ample reasons to hope that they are not -- first and foremost, for the sake of the alleged victims. Secondly, conservatives reveling in the senator's current predicament may want to stop and consider what Menendez's possible fall from grace would mean for U.S. national security interests.
That's because on key foreign policy issues during his career -- pressuring Iran, defending Israel, and promoting regional security -- Menendez has been stalwart and, indeed, much more hard-line than his predecessor as chairman of SFRC, John Kerry, and, more importantly, than the next two Democrats in line of succession should he lose the chairmanship: the uber-liberal California Democrat Barbara Boxer and the nondescript, party-line Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat.
As just one example, Menendez recently bucked White House opposition by winning Senate passage of increased Iran sanctions in the 2012 Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act, as well as authoring Iran sanctions provisions in recent defense authorization bills.
Soon after assuming the SFRC Chair, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "I'm looking forward to working very closely with the administration, but I will always have my degree of independence on the things I care about." And those of us who have worked with him over the years know he cares about the right things: freedom, human rights, and taking the fight to America's enemies.
No, Menendez is not warm and fuzzy, and more than a few fellow Republicans have borne the brunt of his ire. But looking out over the international landscape, with the U.S. facing myriad challenges in Iran, North Korea, the Middle East, and North Africa, the country can certainly use an SFRC chairman who is unabashed and unapologetic about defending U.S. interests abroad.
Whatever is going to happen with ongoing investigations is going to happen. Conservatives should just let the process play out, without the bells and whistles. If he is found guilty, then he will have to be held accountable. But one thing is certain: If Menendez loses his chairmanship of SFRC, it is not just his loss and the Democratic Party's loss, it is America's as well.
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In concluding his elegant book On China, Henry Kissinger describes an ongoing debate within Chinese leadership circles. Some of its ruling class believes China should maintain its "peaceful development" strategy in accordance with a rules-based international order, while others demand that China now adopt a more aggressive posture that directly challenges American primacy. I've just returned from a month in China and experienced some of this debate firsthand. Visits to several cities, and meetings and conversations with Chinese officials, scholars, foreign business leaders, American officials and, yes, taxi drivers produce an amalgam of impressions.
The best way to make sense of the current state of affairs in China is to think of not one but several "Chinas" -- each is real, but none by itself is the full reality. The following are six of the "Chinas" that exist today; the question is which of these will command the future.
Rising Power: Chinese leaders are obsessed with their nation's rise, and see it reclaiming its historic position as a dominant world power. Many Chinese strategists also believe the U.S. is in decline. But their opinion splits on what this means. Those who see the U.S. primarily as an adversary (see below) welcome America's declension, while those who see the U.S. more as a partner in China's rise worry about the consequences of a diminished U.S. Several Chinese thinkers expressed their frustration with what they see as erratic American policy under the Obama administration, which has veered from the "G-2" embrace of 2009 to the now perceived hostility of the "pivot." Some Chinese interlocutors also pointed out the same fact that troubles many Americans: A White House pursuing massive defense cuts cannot adequately resource a bolstered posture in Asia.
Security Threat: The debate within the U.S. over whether or not China poses a threat often misses the Chinese perspective: many (though certainly not all) Chinese strategists see America as their principle adversary. The People's Liberation Army is operationalizing this attitude in its development of weapons platforms designed to counter the U.S. As I pointed out in a discussion with some Chinese scholars and officials, the standard American talking point demanding more "transparency" from China about its military modernization and expansion may be diplomatically requisite, but it elides the real issue. The U.S. does not merely want "transparency" from China; we want China to stop developing weapons directly targeted against American force projection capabilities -- if it doesn't intend to become our adversary.
Economic Dynamo: While China's growth is slowing and some of its numbers may be contrived, its economic strength is real and its long-term trajectory still looks promising. Virtually all Chinese speak with tremendous pride about their nation's economic boom, which they have experienced firsthand in materially-improved lives. Many Chinese believe that their nation weathered the global economic crisis relatively unscathed, which in their minds vindicates their model and equips them to meet future challenges such as the transition from export reliance to domestic consumption. Massive infrastructure projects such as the many new airports and high speed rail may excessively dazzle some Western visitors, but this should not diminish the genuine accomplishment they represent. Nor have corruption, bureaucracy and stacked decks dissuaded many international investors from still hungering to grow their stakes in the China market.
Fragile Kleptocracy: My own Tom Friedman-esque moment of analysis-via-taxi-drivers came one evening when all of the Beijing taxi drivers in the central part of the city had turned off their meters and were charging rates five times the metered rate for a ride back to our hotel. After some customary evasions, one of them admitted that this was their version of a work slowdown. Strikes are illegal, but the frustrations of Beijing taxi drivers, whose rates haven't been increased in ten years amidst surging expenses despite many pleas to the government, boiled over into illicit protest. Such resentments are multiplied across the country, crossing industries and rural and urban lines, resulting in tens of thousands of protests annually. Then there is the Bo Xilai case, which continues to reverberate, especially as Bo's fate is negotiated amidst maneuverings for the upcoming Party Congress and leadership transition. The Bo case is only exceptional in that it became public. Otherwise it is all too familiar in China, where corruption is pervasive, governance is brittle and a senior Party post commonly also includes control of a favored industry or company.
Reforming Autocracy: Yes, China remains a repressive autocracy, but nevertheless ongoing reforms and liberalizations are taking place, many enabled by communications technology that the government cannot entirely suppress. A major news story during my visit was the heinous forced abortion on a Chinese woman seven months' pregnant in Shaanxi province. Social networks in China erupted with popular outrage, as heartbreaking photos of the mother next to her dead baby circulated widely, and an embarrassed Chinese government responded by suspending the local officials responsible. This is a woefully deficient punishment, and the manifestly unjust one-child policy remains in force, despite China's looming demographic nightmare. But even a few years ago this crime would have never been disclosed at all, let alone prompted public protest and an official response.
Insecure Bully: Some revealing yet head-scratching moments came when Chinese interlocutors expressed their consternation at the U.S. Embassy Beijing's Twitter feed reporting on air quality in Beijing, while in the next breath they defended China's provocations such as its anti-satellite missile test, bellicose territorial claims on the South China Sea and support for North Korea. These are not the actions of a confident, responsible stakeholder, but of an insecure bully, obsessing over its international image while engaging in obnoxious behavior that does much more damage to its image than any American report on human rights or environmental quality. This insecurity also prevents China from coming to terms with its own history. While the Cultural Revolution is widely lamented, the Tiananmen Square massacre (whose 23rd anniversary passed with censorship even of the Shanghai Stock Exchange) cannot be mentioned, and Mao remains valorized. China's insecurities also help explain its foreign policies to shield the Syrian regime and Iranian nuclear program, and prop up the Kim dictatorship in North Korea -- all of these are short-sighted decisions, but short-term thinking is a hallmark of an insecure government obsessed with maintaining its hold on power.
Some of the "Chinas" above are positive, others are negative. Yet in understanding China all of these variations must be taken into account.The U.S. has a major stake in encouraging political reform and economic growth while discouraging the internal repression and truculent behavior towards its neighbors. Mistakes in China policy come from privileging one scenario over all the others -- for example the "China Fantasists" who believe the growing economy will inevitably lead to a democratic, peaceful China, or the offensive realists who focus on the Chinese military threat while ignoring the economic benefits the U.S. receives in the relationship, let alone China's internal fragilities.
This is also why China policy is such a challenge. Taken together, the multiple realities of China today defy any simple historical analogies about the management of rising powers, and demand an unprecedented wholeness of vision from the United States.
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Secretary of Defense Panetta's speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Shangri-La Dialogue has received considerable attention in the press. I was a delegate to the dialogue and was in the hall when Panetta spoke. Having had an opportunity to discuss the speech with officials from across the globe at the conference, and also to reflect upon it during a flight home that crossed half the globe, I'd like to share some thoughts.
Panetta gave a good speech and even better answers to questions from the audience. He provided a clear statement of the United States' enduring role as a Pacific power. As a native of Monterey, California, he spoke evocatively of how America has influenced, and been influenced by the Pacific. He also put more meat on the bones of the Obama administration's pivot/re-balance to Asia, noting that by 2020 the United States would deploy 60 percent of its navy in the Pacific, including six aircraft carriers and a majority of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. He also pledged to increase the number and size of exercises it conducts with allies and friends in the region.
Panetta's strong words were mirrored in the size of the U.S. delegation, the largest ever sent to the Shangri-La dialogue. The Chinese, by contrast, kept a much lower profile. For reasons still unclear, Panetta's Chinese counterpart, Minister of National Defense Liang Guanglie, decided to stay away this year after having attended last year's event.
Perhaps ironically, then, much of the discussion on the margins of the summit was about American staying power in the region. One word in particular hung over the conference like Singapore's oppressive humidity: "sequestration." Even without sequestration, however, there are real questions as to whether the Obama administration's defense program is sufficient to back its words with action.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of sea power. The Pacific is a maritime theater, and warships remain a major yardstick for measuring military strength. The size and composition of the U.S. navy is key both to assuring allies and deterring adversaries in peacetime as well as to fighting and winning the nation's wars. The Pacific is a theater where numbers matters. A ship, no matter how powerful, can only be in one place at a time.
In his speech, Panetta noted that the Obama administration has decided to retire a number of warships ahead of schedule, so that today's navy, which is already the smallest it has been since before the United States entered World War I, will get even smaller. He argued, however, that the United States would eventually replace retired ships with more modern, and more capable, combatants. That is only partially true: The upgraded Arleigh Burke-class destroyers will have more modern radar and combat systems than the Ticonderoga-class cruisers that are set to be retired. However, the Littoral Combat Ships that make up the bulk of the surface ships that the Navy is procuring are considerably less capable than the warships that are being retired.
There is, in fact, a growing gap between our commitments in Asia and our capability to protect them. It is a gap that both friends and competitors see emerging. As several colleagues and I argue in a newly released American Enterprise Institute report, the United States will need to go beyond current defense plans if it is to continue to play its historic role in the Pacific. We cannot just devote a larger slice of a smaller pie to the region. Rather, we will need new resources to modernize and expand the navy. We also need to explore new initiatives to enhance the credibility of the U.S. commitment to the region. These include working with our allies and friends to develop a coalition intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance network in the Western Pacific; expanding cooperation with our allies in undersea warfare; expanding the range of bases open to the United States; and enhancing nuclear deterrence. Unless we back our words with action, the United States will have difficulty bridging the capabilities-commitment gap.
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Tonight a small but enterprising Miami-based TV network, SoiTV, will air a revealing interview with former Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Eladio Aponte Aponte, who has been under the protection of the U.S. DEA for several days. The authors of this article had access to the interview results.
Judge Aponte Aponte is, so far, the highest official who has defected since Hugo Chávez came to power. His testimony presents a unique view into the criminal structure promoted by the current Venezuelan government. Aponte also names individuals who have committed serious violations of Venezuelan human rights and attacks on foreign interests.
Mr. Aponte confessed that he received direct orders from President Hugo Chávez to use his legal power against individuals that opposed the regime. As president of the criminal tribunal of the Supreme Court, Aponte had supervision of all criminal courts in the country and practically on all judges, with a capacity to influence almost any judicial decision.
Moreover, in his testimony Mr. Aponte says he also received calls from Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, Venezuela's Defense Minister and Hugo Carvajal, who until recently was the head of military intelligence, among others, ordering him to "manipulate judicial proceedings." Both Rangel Silva and Carvajal have been designated by the U.S. Treasury as "drug kingpins" for their ties to the narco-terrorist FARC guerrilla army in Colombia. Moreover, Aponte alleges that he has "evidence" of the high officials' ties to narcotics traffickers. An example he cites is that of a drug shipment that was safeguarded overnight in a Venezuelan military base. Aponte says he was ordered to provide legal cover for the drug shipment as it made its way from the border to "the center of the country" (on the coast, where Venezuela's ports are located).
Aponte also admits to having been linked to other important figures designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury as international drug traffickers, such as Walid Makled who, according to a federal indictment in New York, sent hundreds of tons of cocaine into the U.S. with the help of top-ranking Venezuelan officials. Makled's "trial" began a few days ago in Venezuela.
It was, in fact, Aponte's link to Makled that led to Aponte's removal from the Supreme Court by the General Assembly of Venezuela and his subsequent defection to Costa Rica, where the DEA picked Aponte up. Makled had been arrested in Colombia nearly two years ago and extradited to Venezuela in 2011. While in a Colombian prison, Makled was interviewed by various U.S. law enforcement agencies, and his testimony implicated Aponte in drug trafficking. Since Chávez has had Makled in his jails for nearly a year, Chávez knew what Makled was going to say at his trial about Aponte, and therefore Aponte had to be "sacrificed" to save Chávez and what the Venezuelan people call his "narco-generals."
Numerous reports from the U.S. State Department and international human rights monitors indicate that the Venezuelan judicial system is used by the President Chávez as a tool to punish and persecute opposition leaders, as well as to obtain the release of drug traffickers.
Aponte's testimony is probably the most important evidence so far to show the lack of independent institutions in Venezuela, the existence of political prisoners, and the links between high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government to drug trafficking and criminal organizations such as Colombia's FARC.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Follow him on Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
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It is bad enough to read that the military has launched a coup in Mali and ousted the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré. Even those of us who believe that Francis Fukuyama made a sound and defensible point about the "end of history" know that there will continue to be setbacks for a long time in much of the developing world. Just because there is now no credible social, economic, or political argument in defense of tyranny does not mean that there won't still be attempts to make that argument by self-serving or even well-meaning putchists.
But it is most disheartening to learn how and why the coup came about just weeks before a scheduled election that was to peacefully replace Touré, only the second democratically elected president of a democratic Mali. Worse still to learn of the reaction to this coup by Malians who should know better.
Mali was somewhat of a success story in the African Sahel region. Only five years ago it hosted the Community of Democracies gathering attended by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. As we planned for this event (I was then the deputy assistant administrator for democracy and government programs at USAID), there was considerable internal discussion of how well things might go and what the optics would be like for the world's democracy promoters (states as well as NGOs) to gather in Bamako for this important meeting. All were aware that there was of course still much poverty and lack of development in Mali along with unresolved tribal and sectional strife. But the elected government of Touré had been for several years working with the IMF and World Bank and other international donors to cut spending and regulation and improve governance. So it was deemed worthwhile to hold the meeting there. It was a success and the Malian government was a gracious host.
Fast forward to today, a few days after an ill-planned coup by what appear to be incompetent military leaders who have already broken their promises to begin restoring democratic order. Sanctions have been imposed and there are reports that the rebels in the north have taken advantage of the chaos and are furthering their rebellion and implementing sharia law, while as many as 200,000 people are fleeing.
So, democracy has been violently interrupted and al Qaeda, which has designs on Mali as it does in the rest of the Sahel, now has a widening gap in which to insert themselves and to work their wicked will.
But all these problems are compounded by the reaction of the Malians themselves. The coup has been welcomed by various civic groups, peasant leaders as well as other important sectors. Their interest in maintaining democratic processes is as weak, apparently, as the Touré government. The reason is because they have not seen sufficient improvements to their livelihood and an end to the northern rebellion. They have also grown fed-up with the way in which foreign interests have been able to, in their view, exploit the country and its land resources. Their motto is "peace first, elections later."
This is the enduring problem we see in several areas of the developing and democratizing world: Democracy and markets cannot make enough headway before the people become disillusioned to the point of being willing to welcome a coup if it will achieve the objectives they seek. There seems to be no permanent turning away from democracy and polls continue to show that people support democracy and want it for their country. We see this in parts of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. But some people in some states and regions are not willing to endure the progress that democracy can make only slowly. And there is a severe shortage of indigenous far-sighted leaders who should be encouraging the public to work tirelessly and patiently for democratic success instead of taking advantage of public disillusionment and rancor to promote themselves.
This is not a flaw in democracy, representative institutions, or law-based governance. The question is not whether freedom and liberty under law is the solution to lack of development and disorder. They are the only elements that can bring sustained order and progress.
The question is how long will it take and will the public endure the wait? That question is answered only by cultural factors, but Western and international forces can help with wise policy and firm commitments to the democratic path. Now is the time for the West and the U.N. and related organizations to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with African organizations and the leaders of other African countries who are condemning the coup, imposing sanctions, and insisting on a return to normal democratic order. It is also time to support, encourage, and even warn Mali's civil society leaders that they should not make a deal with the devil, as it were, by welcoming violations of democratic order in hopes that good can come of it. Good is very likely not to come of it, especially with a deepening and widening rebellion in the north that the incompetent military cannot control and that is being used to its advantage by terrorist groups like al Qaeda.
GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
Looking at the various "Arab Spring" movements, I am struck by how events in each country have influenced other countries and shaped the broader revolution. The very fact that it is known as the "Arab Spring," (or "Arab Uprising," or any number of other variations) emphasizes its transnational character. This might even be expanded further beyond the "Arab" dimension, if we consider the 2009 Green Movement in Iran as one of the catalysts, or the recent protests against recrudescent Putinism in Russia as one of the fruits. Yet for all the transnational characteristics of this movement as a mass uprising against autocracy and repression, it is also a series of unique national movements with particular characteristics and diverse outcomes. These differences are evident in Tunisia's cautious progress, Egypt's imperiled transition, Libya's post-conflict fragility, and the crucible that is Syria, just to cite a few.
In each of these countries the uprisings have been comprised of motley crews and mixed motives, ranging from peaceful and democratic reformers who seek genuine freedom for themselves and their fellow citizens, to militants and Islamists whose purposes are more suspect. Even as the democratic reformers work to advance a positive vision grounded in human dignity and liberty, their efforts risk being eclipsed by non-democratic elements, and their stories risk being forgotten.
Here an important new resource has just been launched that will highlight the work and lives of these reformers, not only in the Middle East but from every continent: the Freedom Collection of the George W. Bush Institute. Shadow Government readers are encouraged to check out the Freedom Collection website.
The Freedom Collection preserves the stories of activists in repressive countries who have devoted their lives to the cause of liberty. Using a combination of video and oral interviews and a unique documentary archive, it features profiles of dissidents and reformers from every continent, of diverse faiths and backgrounds, and a common commitment to advancing human rights and democracy. Their backgrounds are remarkably diverse, and include well-known figures such as Vaclav Havel, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Dalai Lama, to others whose stories deserve to be highlighted, such as Chinese house church leader Bob Fu, Venezuelan democracy activist Cristal Montanez Baylor, and Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid. These leaders represent the very incarnation of courage, and yet "courageous" seems almost trite and insufficient to describe the suffering that many of them have endured, and why they have endured it.
The Freedom Collection communicates to reformers and dissidents around the world that they are not alone, that while the path they walk may seem isolated and perilous, their efforts are remembered. And not just remembered, but can serve as both inspiration and practical tool for other would-be reformers in other repressive countries.
It will also be a resource for scholars, who seek to understand better what drives such movements, and in particular what motivates the people who led such movements. In a way the Freedom Collection will also offer a contribution to the perennial debate over what drives change, human agency or structural forces. While both play a role, the Freedom Collection highlights the personal dimension of human agency -- the unique attributes of intrepid individuals who resist cultural and governance barriers in their efforts to promote better lives for themselves and their nations. Finally, I hope the Freedom Collection can put a human face on what are sometimes needlessly partisan debates over the question of democracy promotion in foreign policy. While the policy questions are manifestly complex, that complexity should not obscure the individual lives that are at the center of these questions, and whose voices should also be heard at the policy table.
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Vice President Joe Biden was in Central America this week attempting to staunch the hemorrhaging of regional support for the U.S.-led War on Drugs.
His trip follows one last week by Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who similarly decamped to the region to buoy a faltering U.S. flag as drug cartel-fueled violence continues wreaking havoc on Central American societies.
What's caused this flurry of high-level administration attention to the region is a number of recent public statements by sitting Latin American presidents openly questioning the effectiveness of current counter-narcotics policies and calling for multilateral discussions on legalizing or decriminalizing the use of illicit drugs.
Those speaking include the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, but they also have received the sympathetic ears of President Santos of Colombia and President Calderón in Mexico. Their unprecedented statements can be seen as a measure of their collective frustrations at the ravaging of their countries by drug gangs just to feed the drug habits of recreational users in the United States.
But they also are indicative of the failure of the Obama administration to provide strong leadership and support as the drug cartels have reacted to strong government policies against them in Colombia and Mexico by relocating their operations to much more vulnerable countries in Central America.
Doubts about the administration's commitment to the drug fight were also fueled by the president's 2013 budget request, which includes a 16 percent reduction in counter-narcotics assistance to Latin America -- including a 60 percent drop in aid to Guatemala. That is hardly the way to win friends and influence people who are risking their lives against brutal and uncompromising enemies wealthier and better armed than they are.
It may be that these leaders don't really have any intention of decriminalizing or legalizing the use of drugs at home (profoundly risky, to say the least) and instead are desperately trying to get Washington's attention to the crises, but that is hardly comforting. Four decades of cooperation between Latin American governments and the United States on enforcement and eradication of illicit narcotics shouldn't come to this; instead of pushing forward to confront new challenges, we're are left trying to recoup lost ground.
To be sure, combating drug cartels is not a pretty business. One does not have to be a member of a peace brigade to be concerned about the impact of drug violence on Latin American communities, but excessive sentimentalism is rarely a sound basis for public policy. Especially when trying to confront drug gangs that have killed tens of thousands, fueled corruption by buying off public officials and undermining democratic institutions, and terrorized local populations.
Nor is lethal assistance the sole answer. These countries need across the board assistance to build up their judicial and penal systems and more economic opportunities for their people to depress the lure of the drug trade. But nothing is possible without re-establishing peace and security and that means employing superior force against those who prefer it the other way.
Unless the administration's approach to the increasing drug violence in Central America becomes more of a priority, they will continue to be confronted by counterproductive distractions like the current statements out of the region. For example, next month President Obama will travel to Colombia for the sixth Summit of the Americas. There are many issues to discuss with responsible governments looking to better the lives of their peoples. Drug legalization should not be one of them.
Even though Vice President Biden said all the right things during his trip this week -- "...there is no possibility that the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization" -- the problem is he had to say it at all.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Even before Hugo Chavez revealed he is battling cancer, his political star was on the wane in Latin America. More and more, voters in the region have simply realized that class warfare, polarization, and centralization of power are not prescriptions for economic growth and political stability. (As a case in point, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, a one-time Chavez acolyte, couldn't run away fast enough from the Venezuelan leader during his recent successful campaign - even if he had no qualms about taking Chavez's cash.)
Still, the fading appeal of the Chavista model is of cold comfort to those still suffering under radical populist rule elsewhere in the region. Specifically, in Ecuador, Rafael Correa continues to trample democratic institutions, although regrettably nowhere to be found is any expression of concern by the Obama administration.
In late July, in a "trial" that lasted less than a day, a cowed Ecuadorean judge sentenced prominent newspaper columnist Emilio Palacio and three of the directors of his newspaper, El Universo, to three years in prison and fined them $40 million for publishing a column critical of Correa last February.
The defendants said they will appeal -- but so did Correa. He says he wants the full $80 million in damages he requested when he filed his defamation suit.
"We're making history, my friends, we won't retreat," he said after the verdict. "There's no room for magnanimity in the face of such miserable humanity."
Even as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and every major international media defense organization denounced the verdict, nary a word of concern has been expressed by the Obama administration.
Intimidating the media and using the judicial system to quash freedom of freedom expression are hallmarks of Chavismo, ones that Correa has embraced with relish. He has sued, fined, and seized control of numerous outlets since his rise to power in 2007. Where the government once owned one media outlet, under Correa it now controls 19 television and radio stations and newspapers.
MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images
It is not fair to criticize the Obama administration too harshly for its failure to come up with a single, robust policy regarding the spreading street unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. The administration has been playing catch-up and has often been a step or two behind, but I think that is inevitable when one is confronting revolutionary cascades. Moreover, the region is dotted with very different governments, ranging from friendly autocrats who have been liberalizing (albeit too slowly) to thuggish despots who used almost every tool at their disposal to oppress their people and frustrate U.S. interests in the region. The popular movements rising in the region may share some features in common, but the regimes they are threatening are very different. It would be very hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all policy that would endure given these conditions.
So I have some sympathy for the way the Obama administration has handled, for instance, the situation in Bahrain. The regime there has supported key U.S. policies over the years, and securing long-term access to the home port of the 5th Fleet is an important U.S. national interest. The ethnic mix in Bahrain is volatile, and the Sunni rulers have good reason to fear Iranian adventurism -- long a staple in the region. For precisely those reasons, however, the administration is right to use its influence to pressure the regime into avoiding bloodshed and accommodating legitimate political grievances of the protesters. Calibrating the pressure and the message is hard, but the core U.S. interests involved are fairly straightforward.
I have less sympathy for the same equivocation with regard to Libya. The Qaddafi regime is no friend of the United States. While Qaddafi did make a major concession on WMD in 2003 on the heels of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is likely that that deal would be honored (or an even better one secured) by any regime installed after its ouster. Moreover, the level of atrocities the regime has inflicted upon the street protesters goes well beyond what the other regional autocrats have done. Full-throated condemnation would seem an easy call for the administration. As former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz notes in a tough column today, the U.S. message has not been all that full-throated, not yet anyway.
The Obama administration needs to do more, but I would not go as far as some who advocate having U.S. forces impose a no-fly zone. I share their outrage at the way Qaddafi had his Air Force strafe defenseless citizens, but involving the U.S. military in this way would constitute a major escalation and it would be hard to walk back if the situation further unraveled. What if Qaddafi shifted to tanks? Would we then be obligated to have our planes destroy the tanks? And without U.N. authorization, the United States would be entirely on its own. Not even our European allies, who otherwise would join in condemning the Qaddafi regime, would approve of U.S. military action without U.N. authorization.
The United States has acted without U.N. authorization before and rightly so, most famously in the Kosovo war of 1999, although there we were joined by all of our NATO allies. (Academics also debate whether the 16 prior UNSC resolutions on Iraq provided adequate legal cover for the 2003 invasion of Iraq or whether the Bush administration needed a 17th.) But in these cases, the action came after considerable diplomatic efforts at the United Nations and elsewhere. Other avenues of pressure were tried and found wanting, and only then was a resort to extraordinary force taken.
As Wolfowitz and others note, there is much the United States can do and pressure other states into doing short of unilateral military actions. The Obama administration should take those steps, and quickly.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and to a lesser extent Jordan have led both administration officials and the chattering classes to conclude that democracy is on the march in the Middle East. Having once again been caught by surprise by events overseas -- one wonders where our intelligence agencies have been hiding -- the Obama administration is now trying to push itself into the forefront of those seeking democratic change in the region.
Yet it was not democracy that led a young Tunisian to immolate himself and, apart from English-speaking educated intellectuals, it does not appear that democracy is what most people have been demonstrating about. Instead, what they are seeking, first and foremost, is economic opportunity unfettered by corruption and favoritism. Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire because he was prevented from earning a modest living. Three Egyptians have burned themselves because of lack of job opportunities.
Secondly, Tunisians and Egyptian appear to be seeking responsive government, which is quite different from Western notions of democracy. In fact, it is arguable that they and other demonstrators in the Arab world would be quite comfortable living under a Chinese-style system, where there is a high and consistent level of economic growth and standards of living continue to rise. Would Tunisia have overthrown Ben Ali if its economy grew, as it had in the 1990s, and if the President's family curbed their greed? Would Mubarak be in the trouble he is now if he had a far greater percentage of the population benefitting from Egypt's economic growth?
It is noteworthy that for all the talk of upheavals in the Arab world, there has so far been little unrest in the traditional Gulf emirates or in Saudi Arabia. The rulers of the smaller Gulf States have long made it their policy to distribute wealth widely among their citizens. (Non-citizens don't count, of course. And if they made any trouble they would be deported.) Despite predictions of their imminent demise over the past two decades, the Saudis likewise have so far remained quiet. The al-Saud family recognized some ten years ago that it needed to spread more wealth to ensure the support of its increasingly younger population; so far so good.
Even Bahrain, which might have been expected to be the scene of riots, given the secondary status of the majority Sh'ia population, has not witnessed any major demonstrations. Again, most of the Bahraini Sh'ia appear to recognize that a stable Bahrain means more wealth for them too -- even if they do not achieve economic parity with the dominant Sunnis. They also know that Saudi tanks are not far from the causeway that links their state to its much larger and more powerful neighbor, and that those tanks would be quick to cross into the island kingdom if the ruling family came under siege.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
That's what the new Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wants to know. In a letter to the State Department last week, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) expressed her grave concern over reports that the administration was trying to pressure the Honduran government to absolve disgraced former President Manuel Zelaya of his crimes that precipitated the 2009 presidential crisis there.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen wrote, "It is troubling to consider that the importance of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Honduras would be undermined by attempts to coerce the Honduran government to take steps that run counter to its legal and constitutional processes in order to pave the way for Manuel Zelaya to return to Honduras without facing judicial consequences." She called on the administration to "immediately cease any efforts being taken to undercut the judicial system in Honduras by pressuring the current government to absolve Zelaya of his crimes."
Indeed, absolving Zelaya of his crimes would open the door to his return to Honduras, which appears to be the new administration policy on Honduras. In little-noticed remarks in a December 2010 trip to Tegucigalpa, Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela said that, "national reconciliation will advance further when Honduras is able to resolve the issue of the return of former President Zelaya so that the country can regain its place in the [Organization of American States]."
Yet advocating for Zelaya's return is nothing short of reckless, resulting most assuredly in a return to rule of the mob and anarchy. Since his removal from power, the oligarch-turned radical-populist has shown no contrition for his abuses of power and disrespect for the country's constitution. He has continued to wave the bloody shirt while in exile in the Dominican Republic. His actions then and now demonstrate he cares not a whit about endangering Honduran lives in the service of his political agenda.
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Nouri al-Maliki appears close to a deal that will
put Iraq's Shi'ia parties in power. After seven months of political
wrangling, it would be tempting to believe that any government formed by Iraq's
squabbling political leaders is progress. It is not.
The political slate that garnered the most seats in the parliamentary elections, Ayad Allawi's non-sectarian bloc, ought to have had the first shot at forming a government. Prime Minister Maliki's manipulations of electoral commission findings and superseding of judicial decisions accrued that advantage instead to his second-place finish.
Even with the advantages of incumbency in a system newly empowered and without strong legal constraints, Maliki has been unable to cobble together a coalition. Other parties fear a "soft coup" of Maliki consolidating power and have been unwilling to join a government with him as prime minister.
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
I have a few more musings on the
the war clocks" issue, specifically the question of accelerating the
Afghan battle clock by getting more help from Pakistan. What might the
outlines of a deal with Pakistan look like? I don't have specifics, but I
can think of some design features and suggest some out-of-the-box things to
think about. In the spirit of stimulating the strategic policy planners
who have better access to the information necessary to do this exercise right,
here are some considerations.
General Design Features
The absolutely essential element is explicit quid pro quo. It is fine for us to offer intangible, mood-setting quids, but their quo better be tangible and clearly spelled out in advance. The entire deal would not have to be public; indeed perhaps some elements would have to stay confidential. But the deal would have to be worth it to risk the inevitable leaks and set-backs and it is only worth it if Pakistan delivers concrete action.
The United States would also have to be willing to step back from the deal if
the other players are not doing their part. This is harder to do than it
sounds because, once established, every "deal" develops political
inertia and American leaders can be reluctant to break it off even when it is
clearly not delivering.
What should we ask for?
I would let General McChrystal draw up the list of asks, but I am pretty sure it would involve the movement of sizable Pakistani military units to put pressure on the areas that most affect the Taliban's freedom of movement as well as the sharing of intelligence that would substantially change the local balance of power on either side of the Durand line.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
For too long, Beijing has coddled, excused, shielded, subsidized, and appeased the indefensible -- Kim Jong-Il's nightmarish regime in North Korea.
China is the key to solving the Korean quandary. The Middle Kingdom is North Korea's largest trade partner, most generous aid donor, and only real friend. Without help from China, North Korea is not viable -- if such an impoverished and benighted nation can be said to be so. In what should be an embarrassment to modern business and political leaders in Beijing, relations between China and North Korea are still conducted by their recondite and fossilized Communist Parties.
Again, the North has crossed the line of civilized behavior -- if indeed it has ever resided on the proper side of that boundary -- by torpedoing a South Korean ship and killing 46 sailors. This is not new behavior. In October 1983, North Korean agents attempted to blow up South Korean President Chun Doo-Hwan during a wreath-laying ceremony in Burma. The attempt failed, but killed 21 people, including several of Chun's cabinet. In the 1970s and 1980s, North Korea kidnapped dozens, if not hundreds of Japanese and South Korean citizens, ripping them from their families to exploit them for their knowledge of the outside world. In the 1990s, Pyongyang's policies of meeting military needs first and autarky starved more than 1 million North Koreans. Later, North Korea exported nuclear weapons material and technology to Libya and Syria.
In response to the North's latest atrocity, Chinese Premier Dai Bingguo toured Northeast Asia, urging restraint and maintaining studied neutrality between the aggressor and the aggrieved. Surely, this is a prelude to asking the United States, Japan, and South Korea to make further concessions to Pyongyang. At the same time, North Korea seems to be implementing plans for Kim Jong-Eun to succeed his father, perhaps after a period of regency. Undoubtedly, Pyongyang consulted its Chinese patrons on this plan. But rather than perpetuating this monstrous dynasty, Beijing should seize the opportunity for change.
JAPAN POOL/AFP/Getty Images
Sunday was another tragic day in Iraq, more than 150 people were killed and another 500 injured in attacks on the Ministries of Justice and Interior in Baghdad. The devastation was another sad reminder of how fragile are the gains bought so dearly by Iraqis and Americans -- military and civilian -- working every day in that country to consolidate progress toward a secure and representative Iraq.
Those who believe Iraq was "the wrong war," or that violence and authoritarianism are endemic in a country with such deep sectarian divisions, or those who practice the soft bigotry of low expectations (as President Bush so nicely phrased it in a different context), and believe Muslims incapable of democracy will likely see these attacks as justification for accelerating our disengagement from Iraq. Such a conclusion is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the domestic politics of Iraq in the run up to their January provincial elections.
War is the extension of politics by other means, as Clausewitz teaches, and domestic politics is what these attacks were about. Iraqi security forces are struggling to prevent such attacks. Prime Minister Maliki's confidence in their ability has always run ahead of their actual performance (as early as 2005 he advocated a security hand over) and he has been party to politicizing their ranks.
But Maliki is running on a platform of providing security and negotiating the U.S. withdrawal. Anything that calls security into question or precipitates a return by American military forces into Iraq's cities (from which we had withdrawn on June 30 in accordance with the Strategic Framework Agreement) hurts Maliki's claim. And it doesn't just hurt Maliki, it hurts other incumbent politicians, like the Mayor of Baghdad, who also argued for removing blast walls to facilitate movement and commerce and a return to normalcy in the capital.
After the last spectacular attack, against the Foreign Ministry on Aug. 19, Prime Minister Maliki responded in a stridently partisan fashion, blaming Sunni and al Qaeda as one, conducting arrests and crackdowns that have a suspicious political tilt against his political opponents. While the U.S. military spokesman tried to put a good face on the Iraqi government's reaction, comparing it to the crasser political manipulation of the Aug. 19 bombings, Maliki's statement in the aftermath speaks for itself:
The cowardly acts of terrorism which occurred today must not weaken the resolution of Iraqis to continue their journey and to fight the followers of the fallen regime, the Baathists and al-Qaeda."
This, before the government had any reasonable idea of who conducted the attacks. There are numerous political factions that could benefit from delegitimizing the Maliki government's record, not least rival Shi'ia who excluded him from being their standard bearer in the election.
But the good news is that political pluralism has taken root in Iraqi politics. Maliki couldn't win the support of a Shi'ia-only slate organizing for the January elections, so he opted to build a cross-sectarian slate. He's not trying very hard, mind you, as his statement blaming Sunni for Sunday's bombing shows. But his effort to appeal across sectarian lines was his Hail Mary (so to speak) and shows he believed voters would reward the choice. Vice President Tariq al Hashimi, a Sunni, is likewise tacking beyond sectarianism to broaden his prospective political base.
This is a hugely important development, seldom seen in fragile societies. Usually, as with the Balkan elections of the early 1990s, politicians prey on voters' mistrust and trend toward extremes which is why elections in factional societies are so often polarizing and foster an upward spiral of violence.
In the last provincial elections, nearly all incumbents were voted out of office, a strong signal that average Iraqis believed they weren't doing their jobs. And voters weren't just "simplifying the map," moving to the sectarian extreme out of fear: Shi'ia voted out Shi'ia, Sunni voted out Sunni, Kurd voted out Kurd. What Iraqi political elites took from that election is the fundamental commandment of democracy everywhere: Thou Shalt Respect the Voters.
Talking to Iraqi politicians (as I did the past couple of weeks around their country), what is most striking is the extent to which they sound like small-city politicians in our own country. They worry about power outages and sewer systems and the quality of education for youngsters. They're mad at the central government for not funding activity they consider its responsibility. They rail against corruption -- even as many of them practice it -- and fear exposure by the free media that is burgeoning. Accountability has come to Iraqi politics, and the politicians know it.
A representative government is struggling to emerge in Iraq. It may not succeed in bridging the sectarian tensions, corruption, and long shadow of decades of authoritarianism that inhibits initiative. In Iraq, strong cultural undercurrents cut against the kinds of behavior that make successful democracies successful. But Iraqis want it, and political elites are responding. This is good news for Iraq and for the advancement of our values in the world.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.