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Dennis the Menace: Rodman Visits North Korea

God Bless Dennis Rodman. At last America has someone who is willing to take the fight for freedom to North Korea. President Obama and his administration barely say anything about a country that has taunted America for decades. They'd prefer for the problem to just go away, which it won't. The most White House spokesman Jay Carney would say is that he wasn't saying anything about Rodman's "outburst."

Rodman was indeed in the highest dudgeon. It was a mesmerizing performance, surpassing anything he performed on the hardwood court. Chomping on a cigar, wearing a pair of shades, and surrounded by a phalanx of former NBA players, who had made great sacrifices, as Rodman emphasized during an interview on CNN, he was treated in an opprobrious manner by the host Chris Cuomo. His motives were impeached, his statements aspersed.

When all Rodman wanted to do was to bring a little lovin' to the Hermit Kingdom. He apparently first bonded with Kim when he and the Harlem Globetrotters visited the North. Now Rodman has become a true globetrotter, consorting with a world leader that almost no one has met. Rodman declared his "love" for newly minted leader Kim Jong-un, who is fresh from polishing off his uncle Jang Song Thaek, and proclaimed that his visit was a "great idea for the world." A slam dunk, in other words.

Might Rodman persuade his new buddy to ease tensions with America?

Breaking Down the Freedom Agenda

The multifaceted push by the George W. Bush to inject more democracy into the Middle East—a set of policies sometimes grouped under the label of the “Freedom Agenda”—has generated much debate about its effectiveness that even several years of added perspective have not resolved. The advent of the Arab spring three years ago led defenders of Bush's policies to claim this phenomenon as a positive consequence of those policies, while critics could still point to some glaring negative consequences.

An impediment to temperate discussion of this issue is how the biggest initiative not just of the Freedom of Agenda but of Bush's entire presidency—the attempt, known as the Iraq War, to inject democracy into the Middle East through the barrel of a gun—was such a blunder and debacle that it overshadows what Bush got right about the political ordering of the region. What he got right was more the diagnosis than the cure. The Middle East was—and still is, the Arab spring notwithstanding—more of a democratic desert than most other regions. And the paucity of channels in the Middle East for peacefully pursuing political objectives and acting on grievances can affect the United States, especially by providing a more fertile breeding ground for violent extremism.

Why Ariel Sharon Could Have Saved Israel

Secretary of State John Kerry is on a peace offensive, or at least he is acting as though he is on one. He has just embarked on his 10th visit to the Middle East, but the frequency of his visits doesn't appear to be producing anything other than frequent flyer miles. The most he seems to have been able to accomplish is to persuade the Israelis to delay the bids for new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem until he departs on Sunday. If this constitutes progress, then it is hard to see where it is progressing other than towards a prolonged exercise in futility between the Israelis and Palestinians. Kerry is in danger of becoming the Dan Snyder of the State Department, promising a revival, only to watch continual meltdowns.

So what else is new? What's new is that former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who is 85 and has been in a coma for eight years, is apparently about to die. His demise provides the melancholy backdrop to Israel's current predicament. Sharon, whom I met once at Blair House, where he came across as genial and earthy, humorous and shrewd, was a great man. Not greatness in the sense that he had an impeccable record. Far from it. But he was a realist--tough, forceful, a visionary who could chuckle to himself about the peculiarities and fascinating qualities of the land he represented.

Let's Be Honest on Iran

Here's a New Year's resolution that participants in policy debate in Washington, and especially those in Congress, should make: be honest about your position on Iran. Say what you really want, and make your best arguments on behalf of what you really want, and don't pretend to be working in favor of what you really are working against. The main vehicle for debate about Iran once Congress reconvenes is a bill introduced by Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that would threaten still more sanctions on Iran and purchasers of its oil, would impose unrealistic conditions to be met to avoid actually imposing the sanctions, and would explicitly give a green light to Israel to launch a war against Iran and to drag the United States into that war. As Colin Kahl has explained in detail, passage of this legislation would be very damaging to the process of negotiating a final agreement with Iran to keep its nuclear program peaceful.

2014: Is This Latin America's Big Year?

The 1980s were unkind to Latin America. Surging drug violence, economic turmoil, and a staggering debt crisis all led to our southern neighbors’ “lost decade”. Yet since the 2000s, things have been looking—and going—up. In fact, thanks to its strong economic growth and growing international influence, 2014 has the potential to be Latin America’s best year yet.

Latin America’s economic growth will only increase in its upward trajectory in 2014, driven by countries such as Brazil, Chile and particularly Mexico. According to the U.N., “Based on promising signs of private consumption and manufacturing, the region will see [expected] growth rates of 3.6 in 2014 and 4.1 percent in 2015, according to World Economic Situation and Prospects 2014, a report that launches in January.” The U.N. Economic Commission on Latin America forecasts that Latin-American Economic development will be the highest of all global regions for 2014. Brazil is slowing down compared to its explosive performance in recent years, but still very strong. Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega said in December that foreign direct investment continues to be robust and, according to the Wall Street Journal, “pointed to $8.3 billion in foreign direct investment posted in November as a strong signal investors continued to favor the country. In October, the figure was $5.4 billion.”

Benghazi and the Sources of Anti-American Violence

David Kirkpatrick's investigative piece in the New York Times about last year's lethal attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi is well worth reading, though not because its conclusions ought to have been surprising to any disinterested observer of what was going on in Libya at the time. Once dust from the confusion in the very first hours after the incident settled, the conditions that gave rise to the incident were fairly clear. One was widespread popular outrage, exhibited not only in Libya but also beyond its borders, from a scurrilous video that many Muslims found insulting to the founder of their faith. Another was lawlessness that has prevailed in Libya ever since the overthrow of Muammar Gadhafi—and continues to prevail there—and that is characterized by a mélange of militias and other armed groups with a variety of interests and grievances, some of them antipathetic to the United States.

Japan and the Rebirth of Nationalism

The surprising thing is not that Japan is trying to revive patriotism. It is that it did not happen sooner. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine last Thursday, a place of worship that also pays respect to World War II war criminals, or at least those dubbed criminals once the war ended. For nationalists in Japan have never really conceded that Tokyo did anything wrong before or during the war. 

Quite the contrary. Visit Hiroshima or just about any Japanese museum and you will be hard-pressed to find much, if any, mention of Japan's wartime alliance with Nazi Germany. The nationalists, a number of whom are professors, cannot bring themselves to admit that their intellectual ancestors embarked upon a ruinous path in the attempt to create a Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere. Instead, Japan emerges as a power that was simply trying to defend its own interests. The atomic bombs, it seems, were dropped out of nowhere on a defenseless Japan. The one thing both the Japanese left and right can agree upon is that the use of nuclear weapons against Japan was a bad thing. 

But the nationalists also bridle at the moral guilt that outsiders have tried to affix to Japan, whether it is the 1937 invasion of Nanking, which they argue has been falsely turned into a genocidal act, or the use of so-called "comfort women" in Korea. Japan, they suggest, was acting like any ordinary power. There was nothing unusuall about its behavior, whatever victor's justice might suggest. And even if untoward things did occur, was Japan really so different from any other world power in the midst of battle?

Leaks and an Irresponsible Press

One end-of-year retrospective assessment that ought to appear in the press, but probably won't, concerns how the press itself has handled stories involving compromise of classified information. One reason we seldom see this particular type of self-evaluation by the media is the rarely acknowledged pro-leak bias on the part of the media. Leaks are red meat for the press. They provide material for the writing of nifty stories and the selling of newspapers.

The very media on which the public relies for information and analysis about the legitimate and important issue of balancing national security and civil liberties thus present a strongly biased treatment of this issue—and not just in pro-leak commentary on editorial pages. The bias has been readily apparent in coverage of the biggest story of 2013 about compromise of classified information: the wholesale disclosure of such information by the defector and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The attention the press has paid to the damage caused by Snowden's actions has been tiny compared to the prominence it has given to the issues of privacy on behalf of which Snowden claimed to be acting.

Five Big Historical Events on Christmas

Whether you view Christmas as a religious celebration or just a good excuse to indulge in eggnog, the holiday provides an excellent opportunity for historical reflection. TNI throws its hat into the end of year’s “best of” lists with our top five foreign-policy events that happened on Christmas day.

5. 1914: Christmas Truce, WWI

Perhaps the most well-known, but least historically impactful of this top five is the well-documented “Christmas Truce” of 1914, in which German and British troops on the dreaded Western front held a temporary ceasefire during WWI on Christmas day. The sides exchanged “gifts” aka cigarettes and food, sang carols, and played soccer (it is rumored that the Germans won 3-2). Canonized as a shining episode of sanity in the WWI bloodbath, the idea is likely more sunny than the reality, but it bears mentioning for its embrace of the Christmas spirit in otherwise grim times.

4. 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev Resigns as President of USSR

Ruffled Relations with Turkey

The several reasons that Turkey has long been important for U.S. foreign policy, with a significant role in multiple issues, are still valid. It is one of the stronger states in its neighborhood, which is a tough neighborhood. It is a member of the North Atlantic alliance that sits astride the juncture of Europe and the Middle East—bordering, among others, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It is the historical heir to an empire that once encompassed most of its surrounding region. It is a majority Muslim country, with what is usually described as a “mildly” Islamist government, that has been looked to as a worthy model of moderation and stability for nations to its south that have been beset with a shortage of both moderation and stability.

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April 20, 2014