Monthly Archives: January 2012

superman denounces american citizenship

While Robert Kagan, Drezner, and Walt and others continue  to debate about the decline of America, DC comics is pretty clear. Its new comic series Justice League International  sees  a nation-less, border-less world led by the UN ( and headed by British, Russian, and Chinese officials). Superman is clear which way the world is headed.

In April 2011, Superman — fretting that his close association with the United States had undercut his ability to defend anti-government demonstrators in Iran — went to the United Nations to renounce his American citizenship. “Truth, justice and the American way — it’s not enough anymore. The world’s too small. Too connected,” Superman tells the U.S. president’s national security adviser. “I’m tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy,” he adds. Superman may not be a fan of American exceptionalism, but he’s still inclined to go it alone.

read the rest here


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Filed under america, united nations

urination distraction

i wrote a piece for the sunday guardian on the controversy about us marines urinating on the taliban. see the piece here. here is a post on duckofminerva that continues in a similar vein.

In fact, urinating on corpses, torturing prisoners, and cheering deaths is predictable in any war.  Indeed, it shows that the military training necessary for most people to kill another human being is working.  No doubt it also shows a failure in training on the laws of war – but there is little doubt which of these two courses of instruction is more fundamental to our military.  Of course we should have laws of war and use them to prosecute violators.  But we should not be surprised if ordinary people placed in contexts of peril and power act brutally.
Low-level prosecutions also divert attention from the higher-ups who are most responsible.  Of course, some at the bottom may truly be sadistic.  But for the most part, they are ordinary men and women caught up in the fury of warfare.  Much of that fervor is in fact drummed up by superiors – through public statements or tortured legal opinions.  Prosecuting a few small fry for understandable if condemnable behavior makes it less likely that those at the top, who made it all possible, will face prosecution.

Most fundamentally, condemnations and prosecutions preserve and legitimate the war itself. They portray it – or at least our side’s engagement in it – as rule-bound, controlled, rational.  By making a show of censuring young men and women caught up in the awfulness of war, those in power deflect attention from the far greater awfulness and futility of the war itself – for which they are responsible.

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Filed under afghanistan, america, army, published

re-defining national interest

a piece in foreign policy, All Silk Road Lead to Teheran by Neil Padukone about the gains that america could make by working with iran in enabling regional trade and security is essentially an argument for how ‘interests’ can be, and necessarily  so, re-defined. While it is in the American interest to prevent a nuclear Iran, it is also in its interest  to stabilize the middle-east.  The security dilemma that Iran and America are embedded  in can arguably only be escaped if interests are re-defined.

In contrast to the zero-sum logic that defines the current escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, the two countries share substantial interests in increasing regional trade and stability. Tehran hopes to stabilize Afghanistan and export its own natural gas and petroleum — 16 percent and 10 percent of the world’s total reserves, respectively — to the world. Indeed, its existing infrastructure — albeit in need of much improvement — is better suited to bring Turkmen natural gas to market than alternate plans to construct new pipelines across Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, or all the way through the Caspian, Caucasus, and Turkey.

read rest here

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iran has yet to violate international law

perhaps the most sensible piece i have read on iran so far…Yousaf Butt writes in Foreign Policy, Stop the Madness

The many rounds of sanctions put in place against Iran over the past several years go far beyond anything related to its nuclear program. To satisfy the conditions that would allow sanctions to be lifted, Iran would not only have to abandon its nuclear program but basically dismantle the current regime. The sanctions legislation passed last year demands that Iran release all political prisoners and detainees, cease violent repression against peaceful Iranian protesters, conduct a transparent investigation into the killings of Iranian protesters, and make progress toward establishing an independent judiciary. Just in case those conditions are insufficiently implausible, the president must certify further that the Iranian government “has ceased supporting acts of international terrorism.” Even if Iran miraculously did this, it is unlikely that the president could certify it.

Those are certainly noble goals, but they go far beyond the narrow aim of ensuring that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon. Given these far-reaching provisions, Tehran probably senses that no matter what it does with its nuclear program, the sanctions are here to stay. If it is going to be sanctioned anyway, why cooperate with the IAEA on the nuclear issue?

If the United States and Iran hope to escape these sadly familiar episodes of heightened tension and warmongering, they need to reach a simple grand bargain that will cut through the sanctions’ impossible conditions. Perhaps the best way to do so is to offer Iran a simple quid pro quo: If Iran agrees to more intrusive inspections under the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, both the unilateral and U.N. Security Council sanctions will be dropped.

Such an agreement has a chance to convince doubters that Iran is not on the reckless path to a nuclear weapon that Heinonen outlines. Only through shifting the conversation from the impossible goal of eliminating Iranian nuclear capability to a focus on better monitoring it can the world prevent another harmful rush to war.

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public opinion in syria

An older blog entry about Syria essentially argued, to quote the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, ‘ dont just do something, stand there’.  An article in The Guardian this week provides further support to my argument.

The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a spectre that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria’s borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future

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Whats surprising then is how the situation in Syria continues to be reported by western media. The question of what the Syrian public wants is mostly absent from commentary. Rather, the discussion continues as if they simply do not exist; instead, they only seem to discuss the western options in dealing with syria. For example, today’s Washington Post lead on Syria reads,

 Growing indications that a deeply divided international community is either unable or unwilling to intervene to halt the violence in Syria are fueling an armed rebellion that risks plunging the country, and perhaps the region, into a wider war. ( read article here)

Look at how the sentence is constructed. It seems as if the lack of international involvement is causing a war in Syria/ the wider region. The focus is on the international community, not on Syria.

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hypocrisy from the land of the free

an insightful piece by Jonathan Turley, 10 reasons the US is no longer the land of the free.  While the United States defends its intervention in the domestic affairs of other states in the name of liberty and human rights – human security over state security – it does quite the opposite at home. Turley highlights legal developments in the past decade which show that the US is no longer the land of the free.  Consider the issue of war crimes –  the Obama administration said in 2009 that it would not allow CIA employees to be investigated; this while other countries such as Iran, Chile, Syria, and China continue to be called out for their non-compliance with international law. ‘The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free’, writes Jonathan Turley. Read the article here

see also another piece by Turley on the same subject, The Hit List: The Public Applauds as President Obama Kills Two Citizens as a Presidential Prerogative. Turley is a professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.

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Filed under america, human rights, international law

the pursuit of happiness

re-reading pico iyer’s piece also reminded me of another piece, which i have been meaning to post since i read  – the idea of happiness, by ashis nandy.

Nandy argues that

The self-conscious, determined search for happiness has gradually transformed the idea of happiness from a mental state to an objectified quality of life that can be attained the way an athlete after training under specialists and going through a strict regimen of exercises and diet wins a medal in a track meet.

He is concerned with

 the emergence of happiness as a measur­able, autonomous, manageable, psychological variable in the global middle-class culture. And the two events can be read as parts of the same story. If the first factoid – discovery of happiness as a teachable discipline – suggests that in some parts of the world happiness is becoming a realm of training, guidance and expertise, the second reaffirms the ancient “self-consoling” “naïve” belief that you cannot always be happy just by virtue of being wealthy, secure or occupied. You have to learn to be happy.

The determined pursuit of happiness is now seen as a response to a disease called unhappiness. In the second post-world war period, unhappiness in some parts of the world has been systematically medicalised. It is now the domain of professionals, where the laity by itself cannot do much except cooperate with the experts. To acquire normal happiness, one now requires therapy, counselling or expert guidance – from a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst or professional counsellor or, alternatively, from a personal philosopher, wise man or woman, or a guru.


There survives another concept of happiness, more nuanced and yet, at the same time, more down-to-earth. It affirms that healthy, robust, authentic happiness – “authentic” in the sense existential psychoanalysis deploys the term – must have a place for unhappiness. Aoki talks about the sadness of unrealised hope and the struggle to acquire a language in which to talk about happiness. In such instances, the presence of the unpleasant does not necessarily mean the diminution of happiness. It becomes part of a happy life that oscillates between the pleasant and the unpleasant, achievement and failure, being and becoming, work and play. In such a life, work becomes vocation and leisure need not be reinvented as the antithesis of work. Vocation includes leisure, exactly as a pleasurable pastime may comprise some amount of work. The idea of perfect happiness is consigned either to the domain of the momentary or the transient or to the mythic or the legendary. It cannot be achieved in life, but may be realised in exceptional moments.

( read the rest of the article)

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