Winston Churchill characterized Soviet Russia in terms of riddles and enigmas. Pakistan today can be characterized as seemingly implacable contradictions and collisions between immovable objects and immutable forces — potentially creating the "mother of all quagmires."
The ability of Americans to believe that Iran secretly wants to be just like us but is repressed by unrepresentative political candidates never ceases to amaze me. The dynamic is at work once again surrounding the funueral of “dissident” Grand Ayatollah Mir Hussein Montazeri.
While the end of the Cold War signaled a victory for the forces of democracy, today’s global setting is in flux and democracy faces an uncertain future. Democracy assistance no longer consists of consolidating pro-democracy movements through training, capacity building and technical support. Current challenges require new approaches that are more responsive and relevant, especially in the Arab and Muslim world where extremists reject democracy as a Western construct. The U.S. should not falter from championing democracy. Not only is democracy the best system of governance to realize human potential, it also advances U.S. national security by providing a political alternative to those who might otherwise mistakenly conclude that they can advance their aspirations through sensational violence.
In April, the announcement that Islamic law would be implemented in Pakistan's Swat Valley made international headlines. The threat to Islamabad, which is less than six hours away, resulted in a quick assault by the Pakistani military which restored control. Since then, there has been little discussion about the state of the people there and the long term strategy to combat the forces of religious extremism in the belt.
It was all but unnoticed in the U.S. press, but a recent free trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea is a development worth pondering. In the current environment– with the US Congress reluctant to pursue new trade deals (or for that matter, even ratify the FTAs already concluded with Panama, Columbia and South Korea that have been on hold for more than a year) and with the Doha Round of global trade liberalization at best uncertain and at worst, moribund– the future of trade liberalization may well be in “second best” bilateral and regional agreements.
The 21st century has ushered in changes in the global political landscape that demand a transformation of the mindset of policymakers around the globe. NATO and the European Union no longer inhabit a world of black and white, with a clear and defined set of antagonists and allies. Global issues that bring together North America and Europe and help create partnerships with other countries around the world too often separate the allies.
Late to the Caspian energy game, China is the first to plug in in a big way. This weekend, only two years after the project was announced, Chinese President Hu Jintao opened the 1140-mile long pipeline that will carry up to 40 bcm of gas from Turkmenistan to China. This is a huge boon for China’s energy security, but also for China’s regional influence.