Shaun Randol: Censor See, Censor Do

The sophistication of China’s Great Firewall, the catchy name for the complex, internet censorship apparatus, is well known. Bloggers, journalists, regular Chinese citizens, and visitors passing through the country have all experienced frustration at not being able to read, view, or post so-called “sensitive” information on the web. By many measures, the Great Firewall has been a frustrating success. It appears now that by example and by proposal, China is exporting its internet censorship practices.

The latest move came on January 5, when China’s Ministry of Public Security announced a new initiative to crack down on websites with pornography. Google, Baidu,, and other popular Chinese websites are targets of this new drive. There are fears, however, that this enterprise is a Trojan horse—that the real aim is to punish websites that, on occasion, publish material antithetical to the state’s political and economic agendas. For example,, a very popular internet forum famous for exposing hoaxes and scandals (sometimes with political implications), is named as a target of this new program.

It is no surprise, then, that other countries have taken notice of the Great Firewall’s achievements and are instituting some of their own internet censorship protocols. Just across the Sea of Japan, Tokyo is also considering a plan to crackdown on websites featuring pornographic images of underage participants. Not that a restriction on underage sexual exploitation is bad news, mind you, but it opens the door for further online limitations.

Jonathan Power: Obama’s Inheritance and the Gitmo Problem

The courtrooms of America sometimes take us by surprise. Last week, Charles “Chuckie” Taylor, the son of the former Liberian president and notorious warlord, Charles Taylor, was sentenced in a Miami court to 97 years in prison for torture. It was the first time that an American court had applied a law passed in 1994 allowing the prosecution of citizens who commit torture overseas. (Taylor was born in the United States, but then moved to Liberia to join his father.)

Is there now one law in America for those who commit torture overseas and those who commit it at home with the authority of government? Perhaps not for much longer. In a recent television interview, President-elect Barack Obama said that his designate for attorney general, Eric Holder, would investigate whether some senior members of the Bush administration should be prosecuted for their part in torture, although he said that his belief was that “what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future.”

Also, last week, Obama said that he had given his new appointees to top intelligence positions a clear charge to restore the nation’s stance on human rights. “Under my administration the United States does not torture.” Obama should also have reminded his audience that it was during the presidency of Ronald Reagan that the U.S. helped push for the United Nations to agree to a legally binding treaty against torture, and then propelled Congress to rapidly ratify it. (It is this treaty, mind you, that provides the legal underpinning for the prosecution of Taylor.)

Ian Williams: Pinochet’s Echoes Today

Ian WilliamsSeptember 11 is a day that will live in infamy: a terrorist attack on a landmark building whose aftermath left more than 3,000 dead. Yes, Chileans will always remember the coup of September 11, 1973, when their military commanders—with tacit, and indeed active, support from Washington—bombed their own presidential palace, setting up a repressive regime that imprisoned, tortured, and executed supporters of the deposed government while driving untold more into exile.

But while Osama bin Laden is being hounded around the North West Frontier, one of the architects of the Chilean coup, Henry Kissinger, is a revered advisor to governments; the other, Augusto Pinochet, died without facing trial for his involvement.

“He had taken full advantage of the rights guaranteed to him by due process—rights that his victims were denied—and postponed his day of reckoning indefinitely.” On the day he died, “My feelings of hate toward Pinochet and what he represented had waned through the years; instead I felt a serene contempt for the man,” concludes Heraldo Muñoz in The Dictator’s Shadow, a highly readable, fascinating, and revelatory account of the General’s career.

Muñoz, now Chile’s ambassador to the United Nations and one of those who had to flee his country in 1973, has written a remarkably restrained memoir assessing just how big a shadow Pinochet cast, both globally and historically.

David A. Andelman: A New Year, A Fresh Start?

Davis Andelman, EditorThe first Monday of the new year began in Baghdad with a unique debut: the ribbon-cutting for the world’s largest and most opulent American Embassy, and at the very moment the administration that made it most necessary (and least affordable) is headed for the exits.

We are indeed, as the Chinese proverb so aptly notes, living in interesting times. Some of Wall Street’s wisest prognosticators (if that is not an oxymoron in itself) are predicting a market surge this year that could rival that of 2000 when the Internet bubble was in full flight and companies with nothing but bottled air for products commanded stratospheric prices on the wings of inflated expectations.

Over the past year, our expectations have fallen to a new low, or at least our confidence. So does this signal a rock bottom of despair? Perhaps. How indeed could things get much worse than today?

There is always something worse. War in Gaza could expand to include southern Lebanon and Hezbollah, drawing Iran into the equation. Markets could resume their slide even in the face of mega-wealth pouring in from every leading central bank around the globe. The diplomatic packet on Monday from India to Pakistan detailing Islamabad’s role in last year’s Mumbai terror attacks could simply be a prelude to armed conflict along that always tense frontier. China could decide to stop funding the excesses of the American consumer, sending the dollar into a fatal tailspin. Oh, and then there’s oil: as desperate a case at $40 a barrel as $140.

Ian Williams: Untangling the Oil for Food Knot

Ian WilliamsMichael Soussan’s Backstabbing for Beginners: My Crash Course in International Diplomacy (Nation Books, 2008) is a compelling, fascinating, and humorous account of his years working with the UN’s Oil for Food program. This by no means a definitive account of the program, but rather a personal and highly impressionist view from an insider. But his impressions have the ring of truth for anyone who has observed the UN at close range and even more so for anyone who knows the characters with whom he worked. As a writer, he was blessed, since the Oil for Food program was short on gray bureaucrats and big on distinctively eccentric characters.

In fact, he does not appear to realize just how much the pugnacity and stubborn-ness of his boss, “Pasha” Benon Sevan, may have been critical in getting the program up and running. If he had played by the bureaucratic rules, Iraqis would have been waiting for their rations while memos piled up on desks across the Secretariat.

But eccentricity has its limits. There are echoes of Catch 22 in Soussan’s narrative, not least of which is a female ex-PFC Wintergreen, “Cindy,” the administrative assistant, whose attempt to secure promotion and recognition included fighting a war of bureaucratic attrition that at times almost brought the program (that was feeding the bulk of the Iraqi population) to a halt.

Inexperienced and idealistic, Soussan soon realized that had joined “an organization riddled with internal turf wars, petty office politics, dramatic personal rivalries, and in our case, a shameless competition for control over more money than the UN system had ever seen.”

Jonathan Power: Nuclear Matchsticks on the Indian Sub-continent

However tense the relationship between India and Pakistan becomes, the government of Manmohan Singh is highly unlikely to initiate or participate in a nuclear war with Pakistan. That would go against the deeply held moral beliefs of the prime minister. Both he and the Congress Party chairman, Sonia Gandhi, have told me privately that they both are utterly repulsed by such an act.

Immediately after the Mumbai atrocities, tough talk towards Pakistan seemed to billow like smoke from the Taj hotel out of quarters of India’s military and foreign affairs establishment—but, to his credit, Singh quickly fanned it away.

On the Pakistani side, President Asif Ali Zardari appears to be in a peace-making mood. Not long before the atrocities in Mumbai, he publicly abandoned his country’s “first use” doctrine, which held that Pakistan could use its nuclear weapons even without an Indian nuclear attack. He has also, like General Pervez Musharraf before him, reached out to India for a deal on the central flash point: the disputed state of Kashmir. Neither this president nor Musharraf (once he was in power) ever showed they were the type to reach for their nuclear guns.

Nevertheless, Singh has had few qualms about supporting the build up of India’s nuclear deterrent—regarding it as an inevitable process given India’s place in the world—and has been a passionate advocate of the new nuclear deal with the United States, which has recently lifted its 30 year-old embargo on nuclear supplies for India.

But does that mean we don’t have to fear a nuclear war between India and Pakistan?

Leon Hadar: Obama the Mideast Peace-Maker?

Leon HadarSince the publication of my retrospective article on Israel in the fall 25th anniversary issue of World Policy Journal, a few colleagues have wondered if I considered revising my somewhat “pessimistic outlook” (the way one of my correspondents put it) about the chances of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian with Barack Obama in office. So have I changed my tune?

First, what I was trying to do in my WPJ article was to highlight the gap between the high expectations that many of us seemed to share regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 1991 (the end of the Cold War, increasing globalization, etc.) with the depressing reality of today’s Holy Land—post-9/11, post-Iraq War, and amidst the present global economic crisis. If anything, my retrospective reflected my sense of realism about the ability and willingness on the part of Israelis and Palestinians—with or without outside intervention—to settle their differences and achieve peace in the near future.

I was not encouraged after reading David Unger’s article in the same issue of WPJ that seemed to be trying to lift our spirits by forecasting that “by 2033, two states, Israel and Palestine, will be living side-by-side in uneasy peace.” Unger makes all the right arguments to support his thesis that a resolution of their conflict would serve the long-term interests of both the Israelis and Palestinians. But same arguments that focus on the horrific human and economic costs of a long and protracted conflict and the potential enormous benefits resulting from a peace agreement could apply to the national, ethnic, and religious clashes over Cyprus, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Darfur. These are just few of the regional disputes that have remained unresolved and to some extent “frozen,” neither full-blown war nor peace. The main reason for that reality is that, for most players in these conflicts, the costs of challenging the status-quo outweigh the perceived benefits of taking action to end the dispute (either through military victory and/or a peace settlement).

This kind of cost-benefit analysis explains why President George W. Bush and his aides decided after 9/11 not to invest too much time or resources in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Operating under the assumption (or self-delusion) that the promotion of the “Freedom Agenda” in the Middle East, starting with Iraq, would create the conditions for resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians (witness the oft-repeated neoconservative argument that the “road to Jerusalem leads through Baghdad”).

Indeed, Bush’s advisors were committed to the axiom that what is good for America is good for Israel (and vice versa). They argued that a Pax Americana in the region would also tilt the balance of power in favor of Tel Aviv, forcing the Palestinians to accept an arrangement that would favor Israeli interests. Hence, it made no sense to spend Washington’s diplomatic capital by pressing Israel, a so-called “strategic ally in the war on terror” to relieve the pressure from, and to make concessions to, the Palestinian leadership. Instead, Washington decided to “park” the Palestinian issue while trying to remake the Middle East by force. 

However, by moving beyond the Palestinian-Israeli issue and dealing with the threat of “Islamo-fascism,” the Bush administration has pursued policies that have only exacerbated Israel’s relations with other Arab countries. Hence, it tried dissuade Israel from pursuing Turkish-backed negotiations with Syria (a junior member of the Axis of Evil). Bush also gave Israel the green light to attack the Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, leading to a war that ended with a strategic stalemate and possibly tipped the balance of power against the American-Israeli alliance.

In any case, when Bush’s Middle East “Freedom Agenda” crashed into the reality of the Hamas’s electoral victory in Palestine and the strengthening of Iran and its satellites in the region, the administration decided to placate the members of the Saudi-led Arab-Sunni coalition by going through motions of a grand peace-process in Annapolis earlier this year. This same Saudi coalition, based on neoconservative wishful thinking, was expected to form a “strategic consensus” with Israel to contain Iran.

Belinda Cooper: Barack Obama, the Berlin Wall, and the Elusive Quest for Unity

Belinda CooperSince Barack Obama’s victory on November 4, I’ve been musing about the parallels between this amazing moment and another world-altering event I was privileged to witness in November almost two decades ago—the demise of the Berlin Wall. Then, too, a barrier that had seemed insurmountable fell. Then, too, the desire for unity helped propel momentous change. For Germans, though, ambushed by their own differences, unity has proved elusive. Their experience may be a cautionary tale for Americans working to bridge our own particular divides.

I lived in West Berlin in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, and had been making regular forays across the Wall to East Berlin, helping dissidents and getting to know their society. After sharing in their struggles, in a small way, for two years, I watched East and West Germans party together and experienced the joy and disbelief, the exhilaration and sense of limitless possibility that accompanied the unexpected end to decades of German separation.  

Last month, I watched a similar outpouring of emotion as Barack Obama was elected our first black president. Once again, I saw people dancing together in the streets, yearning to transcend longstanding divisions. It was, once again, a moment full of hope. But I was also reminded that change does not happen overnight, and that overcoming legacies of distance and distrust—as Germany’s experience shows—is an ongoing and difficult process.

Shaun Randol: The Rise of China’s Human Flesh Search Engine

One of the many reasons Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games was that, it was hoped, a massive influx of international visitors—journalists in tow—would help push the central government to lessen restrictions on China’s own domestic media. One dramatic outcome would have been a lasting breach in the Great Firewall of China, the country’s highly advanced internet censorship apparatus.

While policies relaxed for foreign journalists reporting from China during the Olympics appear to be a welcome, permanent fixture, citizens reporting on events within China still have their work cut out for them. Four months after the lighting of the Olympic torch there seems to be little official progress in the movement to expand internet free speech to the masses of the great Middle Kingdom. China’s citizens, however, think otherwise.

Glowing praise issued from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on the success of the Beijing games conveniently did not mention the few crackdowns, arrests, and internet censorship activities that occurred during the month-long spectacle.

Such admonishment was left to others, like Human Rights Watch’s Minky Worden, who chastised the IOC for leaving out of its fact sheets “the extent to which the International Olympic Committee lowered its standards on human rights around the Beijing Olympic Games.” Similarly, Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) commented, “I think, in the end, the government’s approach to the media hasn’t changed that much.”

Indeed, a recent report from CPJ concludes “more Internet journalists are jailed worldwide today than journalists working in any other medium…45 percent of all media workers jailed worldwide are bloggers, Web-based reporters, or online editors.” China continues its ten-year streak at the top of this list.