By Fareed Zakaria
“Thanks to ambiguity about what it means to be ‘primarily’ concerned with ‘social welfare,’ political activists have reaped a bonanza for years while the IRS ignored their chicanery," writes Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times.
“And once again, now that the agency has tried to regulate, the regulated parties have blown its efforts up into a ‘scandal.’ It's amusing to reflect that some politicians making hay over this are the same people who contend that we don't need more regulations, we just need to enforce the ones we have. (Examples: gun control and banking regulation.) Here's a case where the IRS is trying to enforce regulations that Congress enacted, and it's still somehow doing the wrong thing.”
In normal presidential elections, it is only the candidates and their platforms that matter. Not so in Iran, argues Mohsen Milani in Foreign Affairs.
“There, the key player in the upcoming presidential elections is the septuagenarian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is constitutionally barred from running for the office. He recognizes that the election result will have a profound impact on his own rule and on the stability of the Islamic Republic. So behind the scenes, he has been doing everything in his power to make sure that the election serves his interests. But the eleventh-hour declarations of candidacy by Hashemi Rafsanjani…and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei…have made his task more difficult.”
“I think the question of whether the U.K. should remain part of the EU is a closer call than either side wants to admit, writes Clive Crook in Bloomberg, suggesting Britain might really be poised to leave the European Union.
“If the EU responds to the economic crisis with new strides toward a United States of Europe, the costs for the U.K. will surely outweigh the benefits: Britain just doesn’t want to be part of that enterprise. If EU membership will require eventual membership of the euro area – and that’s the prevailing model, as though the crisis had never happened – Britain should again say no thanks.”
By Fareed Zakaria
Instead of solving the North Caucasus issue, Vladimir Putin has created a monster, writes Ben Judah on Bloomberg. “To end the fighting, he cut a deal with Chechnya’s rebel Kadyrov clan: In exchange for loyalty to the Kremlin, they received power and reconstruction aid. This was a medieval deal that made Akhmad Kadyrov, a rebel commander and Sufi mufti, Putin’s feudal liege. The aim was to co-opt the more religiously moderate Sufis among Chechnya’s rebel fighters, marginalize the Salafist jihadists who appear to have fascinated the Boston bombers, and enable the Russian military to declare victory and draw down.”
“It was a false triumph. Kadyrov was assassinated in 2004. But under his son, Ramzan, Chechnya today remains a gray zone, neither independent, nor under Russian control, nor at peace.”
“I fear the truth is that Syria may be a harbinger of things to come,” says Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian.
“In the former Yugoslavia there was the overwhelming presence of one set of like-minded powers: Europe and the west. Russia was a countervailing force, as was China to a lesser degree, but neither felt its vital national interests were at stake in Serbia – whereas many outside powers do in Syria. And still it took 10 years, more than 100,000 dead and millions uprooted, before we reached an untidy peace.”
“Austerity is a dangerous idea, because it ignores the externalities it generates, the impact of one person’s choices on another’s, and the low probability that people will actually behave in the way that the theory requires, writes Mark Blyth in Foreign Affairs. “ To understand why such a threadbare set of ideas became the Western world’s default stance on how to get out of a recession, we need to consult a few Englishmen, two Scots, and three Austrians.”
By Erlan Idrissov, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Erlan Idrissov is minister of foreign affairs in Kazakhstan. The views expressed are his own.
The view that chaos and violence inevitably await Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force in 2014 is misguided. Indeed, this sort of prognosis is a potentially dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy.
The fact is that there is actually cause for some optimism that with the right level of assistance from its friends and neighbors, and through the creation of a peaceful environment in its immediate neighborhood, Afghanistan can overcome its historical isolation and take its rightful place in the heart of Asia.
This week, Almaty – Kazakhstan’s second city – will host foreign ministers participating in the Istanbul Process in support of Afghanistan. The meeting, building on a process launched in November 2011, will provide important opportunities to increase the level of regional cooperation and coordination ahead of the transfer of security control in Afghanistan from international to Afghan security forces in 2014.
By Fareed Zakaria
Didn’t we just take care of spiraling health care costs with Obamacare? Afraid not, writes Michael Kinsley in the New Republic.
“The big flaw in President Obama’s health care reform, as everybody is now beginning to realize, is that it does almost nothing that would actually make health care less expensive. It concentrates on who pays for health care and on making it more widely available. There are some ‘across-the-board’ spending cuts, to be sure. But an ‘across the board’ cut with no more details amounts to saying, ‘Take care of this, won’t you?’ It doesn’t say how.”
Beijing has weathered the most recent economic storm, “largely because it injected huge sums of cash into the economy – about $600 billion in stimulus and billions more in other bank lending, both of which helped to stave off a wholesale collapse in economic growth,” write Evan A. Feigenbaum and Damien Ma in Foreign Affairs.
“But the effectiveness of these tools will diminish in the years ahead. The government cannot simply rely on stimulus after stimulus, and such a strategy would only further deepen imbalances in China’s economy. In the five years since China achieved its peak GDP growth rate of 13 percent in 2007, its growth rate has dropped significantly and the leadership now targets a more balanced 7.5 percent.”
By Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sir Malcolm Rifkind is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Kensington. He is a Defense and Foreign Secretary and currently serves as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The views expressed are his own.
News last week that Britain’s government plans to speed up visas for Chinese nationals is a reminder of the growing importance of the world’s second largest economy to Britain.
“The message will go out in China that we want people to come and do business here,” The Telegraph reported a cabinet source saying, before noting that the red tape associated with processing Chinese visas costs the U.K. economy $1.8 billion a year.
Yet though the economic opportunities are ripe, a telling anecdote from a few years back underscores some of the challenges Britain and others face in coping with China’s rapid ascent.
By Fareed Zakaria
With the emergence of cheap natural gas from shale, coal is no longer the most competitive energy technology in America, write Matthew Stepp and Alex Trembath on Bloomberg.
“Crippled, too, by increased production costs and more stringent federal regulations on pollution, coal is being used less and less in the U.S., even as the rest of the world uses more. Today, just 38 percent of U.S. electricity comes from coal, down from 50 percent in 2007. And shale emits far less pollution and carbon than coal does. By using more electricity from plants powered by natural gas, Pennsylvania, for instance, has been able to drastically reduce air pollution.”
A “global shadow realm” has been created over the last few decades, “with bases on all continents, a parallel economy that escapes all democratic scrutiny, and from which many profit,” according to an article in Der Spiegel.
“The number of tax havens has gone from a handful only a few decades ago to 60, 70 or even more today. Years ago the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Belize, the Cayman Islands, Cyprus and the Marshall Islands were, in some cases, dirt-poor – until they decided to charge no or almost no taxes on money brought into the country, as well as guarantee the owners of the asset anonymity through company and foundation structures. In return, they collected fees from the offshore companies.”
Targeted sanctions could be Washington’s secret weapon against Chinese hackers, argues Zachary Goldman in Foreign Affairs.
One reason that “targeted financial sanctions would work well in the cyber context is that, unlike reciprocal attacks in cyberspace or the use of military force, they are proportionate in scale to cyberinfiltrations, such as the discreet theft of intellectual property from U.S. businesses, and can be carefully calibrated to produce their desired effect,” Goldman writes. “Sanctions could therefore act as a brake on escalation and add leverage to diplomatic negotiations on cyber issues, which the United States and China both appear to welcome. Finally, if Washington imposed targeted financial sanctions on cybercriminals, the effect of the sanctions would likely reverberate beyond U.S. borders, because financial institutions around the world often refuse to do business with sanctioned entities.”
By Global Public Square staff
For 14 years, Hugo Chavez was a troubling global presence. He was an avowed critic of American capitalism…and yet he generated billions selling oil to the United States. He was a populist, whom some revered but others despised. One thing's for sure, Venezuela’s president was a fighter: last year it seemed he might even have defeated cancer.
But the cancer returned, and when he couldn’t attend his own swearing-in ceremony, it sparked a natural set of questions in Venezuela and around the world: what's next?
Whoever inherits the presidency, Chavez has cast a long shadow.
Look at his record. On the one hand, the poorest are actually better off. According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, poverty has declined by 50 percent since 2004. Extreme poverty has declined by 70 percent. Over the same period, college enrollment doubled, and millions of Venezuelans gained access to health care. Many are getting free housing – Chavez announced on public television last year he would build two million homes for the poor.
By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.
The forced budget cuts, known in Washington as sequestration, are now in force in the United States and $85 billion in spending cuts are in the process of being implemented, with about half of them coming out of Washington’s spending on international engagement. The impact on America’s capacity for global leadership will not be felt overnight. But these reductions in defense spending, anti-terrorism activities, foreign aid and the budget for the State Department will shrink the U.S. footprint around the world, with consequences for the projection of both U.S. hard and soft power.
In the wake of the sequester, the questions now heard outside the United States include “what does this say about Americans’ willingness to pay for future global commitments?” “How much of this austerity is driven by Tea Party sentiments and influence?” And, most broadly, “are American fiscal rectitude and isolationism converging?”
The answers are not clear cut – in part because it’s possible that the Obama administration and Congress will rejigger the terms of the spending cuts in the months ahead.
By Fareed Zakaria
China’s much-discussed cyber activities reflect the country’s weakness, not its strength, suggests Thomas Barnett in TIME.
“China’s leadership can deal with these domestic challenges in the same innovative fashion America once did (having to invent Chinese democracy along the way, mind you), or it can cling to the mistake of single-party rule and the closed thought it represents. The more it succumbs to the latter, the more cyber- thievery we’ll see (along with the more desperate everything). Again, we can mistake this for ‘power’ and ‘confidence’ and ‘aggression,’ but it’s mostly about a nation running on fear.”
A lack of understanding of America’s history of complicity in illicit trade has contributed to it “grossly distorting” the effect, argues Peter Andreas in Foreign Affairs.
“To fight the perceived menace of illegal immigration, the U.S. government doubled the size of its border patrol in the 1990s and then doubled it again during the last decade…Last year, the Obama administration devoted more funds to immigration control – some $18 billion – than it did to all other federal law enforcement activities combined,” Andreas writes.
“There is no doubt that cross-border crime and illicit trade harm individuals and communities and pose challenges to governments, including the United States. But the panicked discourse and frenzied law enforcement policies that define Washington’s current approach are an alarmist overreaction.”
By Kathi Lynn Austin, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kathi Lynn Austin is a former U.N. weapons inspector and executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project, an NGO that investigates and documents major arms traffickers. The views expressed are her own.
Viktor Bout, the poster boy for international arms trafficking, is back in the news.
Last week, Bout’s legal defense team submitted an appellate brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. It claims Bout was wrongly convicted of five counts to commit conspiracy and terrorism. It asks for his 25-year prison sentence to be overturned, based on a list of complaints he has repeated before.
So what’s the news here?
Ironically, Bout’s appeal helps us better understand specific weaknesses in the U.S. approach for containing the world’s worst arms traffickers – those that intentionally enable terrorists, perpetrators of atrocity and U.N. sanctions-busting.
By Fareed Zakaria
The unrest the past few days in Egypt “felt darker, more anarchic, than the uprising of 2011,” The Economist notes.
“The peaceful protests that began on Friday in Cairo to mark the two-year anniversary of the revolution by Sunday had been overtaken by the armed street battles in Port Said. In the coastal city at the northern mouth of the Suez Canal, 33 civilians and two police officers were killed after relatives tried to storm a prison housing 22 local football fans sentenced to death on Saturday over a bloody stadium stampede last year.”
Such turmoil is frequently taken as “evidence of the inherent dysfunctionality of democracy itself, or of the immaturity or irrationality of a particular population, rather than as a sign of the previous dictatorship’s pathologies,” writes Columbia University Prof. Sheri Berman in Foreign Affairs.
In a nice history lesson that gives hope – in the long run – Berman says:
“Most countries that are stable liberal democracies today had a very difficult time getting there. Even the cases most often held up as exemplars of early or easy democratization, such as England and the United States, encountered far more problems than are remembered, with full-scale civil wars along the way. Just as those troubles did not mean democracy was wrong or impossible for North America or western Europe, so the troubles of today’s fledgling Arab democracies do not mean it is wrong or impossible for the Middle East.”
By Joseph Szyliowicz and Sigurd Neubauer, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Joseph Szyliowicz is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. Sigurd Neubauer is a Washington, DC-based defense and foreign affairs specialist. The views expressed are their own.
Celebrating nearly a decade as Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed confidence in his 2011 election victory speech that newly emerging political actors across the Middle East would look to Ankara for leadership, revealing a clear ambition to establish his country as a preeminent power in the region. However, nearly fifteen months later, instead of achieving this goal, Turkey appears increasingly marginalized, lacking the ability to shape events even along its own southwestern border with Syria and Iraq. Indeed, Turkey’s “zero-problems” foreign policy has resulted in the aggravating of its relations with Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Moreover, as the Syrian crisis lingers into its second year, President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled Alawite regime struggles to contain a rapidly increasing Sunni insurgency, and a particularly serious toll has been taken on Turkey as policy stirs domestic violence and dissent. It has also had to accommodate approximately 200,000 refugees who have crossed the border for shelter against successive Syrian air strikes.