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Very British Republicans

Very British Republicans

Very British Republicans

Very British Republicans

Very British Republicans

December 28, 2009
December 2009
Very British Republicans
How can we understand that stalwart band of forty Republican nay-sayers in the Senate, determined to prevent health reform no matter how necessary, determined to embarrass their president no matter how much they embarrass their country? The Republicans are behaving as if they have lost their way and somehow turned up in the British parliamentary system. They are like mean kids who show up for every baseball game with no gloves or bats but only skates and hockey sticks. The Republicans have deluded themselves about the American way of legislating for some time...

Tribal Politics

Tribal Politics

Tribal Politics

Tribal Politics

Tribal Politics

February 3, 2008
February 2008
Tribal Politics
In 1962, when we were both young, I spent a good number of hours with Mwai Kibaki in Nairobi, listening to him explain the complexities of Kenya tribal politics. He was an official of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the party that would lead the colony of Kenya to independence a year later, and I was a Ford Foundation fellow studying the new nations of Africa. I would drop by his office every week or so and, if he was not busy, he would take time to reply to my questions. He was polite, soft-spoken and matter-of-fact, not charismatic at all, and it never dawned on me that he might become president of Kenya some day...

Blather about Iraq

Blather about Iraq

Blather about Iraq

Blather about Iraq

Blather about Iraq

September 26, 2007
September 2007
Blather about Iraq
Recent weeks have brought us so much blather about the war in Iraq that it is difficult to hold on to realities. But let’s try. The President gave us his latest speech on Iraq in September. I often wonder who listens to him any more, who believes him any more. Yet I can’t help finding a certain fascination with his oratory. I am always astonished at what he will come up with next. He has a new though clunky slogan: Return on Success. Since the success is imperceptible, his pullback of troops is insignificant. But he does not say that, of course...

Letting Go of Iraq

Letting Go of Iraq

Letting Go of Iraq

Letting Go of Iraq

Letting Go of Iraq

April 11, 2007
April 2007
Letting Go of Iraq
The enthusiasts who stormed into Iraq are incapable of letting go. It is not so much that President Bush and Vice President Cheney cannot face defeat. Far more important, they cannot face the enormity of the mindlessness that powered them to war. So they are hanging on with a stubborn show of honor and even political courage, persuaded that, despite their mistakes and misadventures, history will absolve them. To keep on in the face of congressional harassment and public discontent, they are spewing a lot of cant about terrorism, micromanagement, chaos and patriotism. It is not easy to see the awful situation clearly...

Transparency at Ban Ki-Moon’s United Nations

Transparency at Ban Ki-Moon’s United Nations

Transparency at Ban Ki-Moon’s United Nations

Transparency at Ban Ki-Moon’s United Nations

Transparency at Ban Ki-Moon’s United Nations

January 22, 2007
January 2007
Transparency at Ban Ki-Moon’s United Nations
The last ten years have been the most transparent in the history of the United Nations. Scholars, reporters and the public learned more about the machinations behind UN scenes than they ever had before. But that openness may be difficult for Ban Ki-Moon, the new Secretary-General, to maintain. Ban is a veteran South Korean diplomat, and diplomats are notorious for their joy at working in secret and commenting afterwards in words of mush. In one of his first interviews, Ban boasted to Warren Hoge of the New York Times that the press in South Korea used to call him "the slippery eel" because "they could never grab me..."

Kofi Annan at the UN: An American Waste

Kofi Annan at the UN: An American Waste

Kofi Annan at the UN: An American Waste

Kofi Annan at the UN: An American Waste

Kofi Annan at the UN: An American Waste

December 4, 2006
December 2006
Kofi Annan at the UN: An American Waste
This is the season for summing up the legacy of Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General whose ten-year reign comes to an end on December 31. Just a few weeks ago, I attended a day-long seminar at Georgetown University assessing his "legacy for Africa." The forty scholars, diplomats and civil servants agreed that Africa had benefited from his campaigns against AIDS and poverty, his hectoring against military coups, his championing of peacekeeping missions, and his remarkable doctrine asserting that the UN has the right to trump sovereignty and cross any border to stop a government from abusing its peoples...

Defaming Kofi Annan

Defaming Kofi Annan

Defaming Kofi Annan

Defaming Kofi Annan

Defaming Kofi Annan

September 10, 2006
September 2006
Defaming Kofi Annan
I was applying some last touches to my biography of Kofi Annan on August 10th when I was surprised to read an ad by the Anti-Defamation League on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. The ad had a simple and stark message. It said: "UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: How many more Israeli civilians must die before you condemn Hezbollah? And when will you extend condolences to Israeli victims." It was signed by the Anti-Defamation League’s national chair, Barbara B. Balser, and by its national director, Abraham H. Foxman. The accusations were scathing. The source, moreover, was dispiriting for any admirer of the Secretary-General...

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case

July 9, 2006
July 2006
History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case
[OPINION] Historians are hailing accused 19th-century spy Alfred Dreyfus as a hero, not a simple victim of anti-Semitism. In 1899, a broken Alfred Dreyfus accepted a presidential pardon — and its implication that he had committed treason against France. It was a matter of life or death, for Dreyfus feared that he would not survive the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island, where he had been sent after a military court convicted him of betraying his country. Those who believed that he was innocent and had called for his exoneration were deeply disappointed. "We were prepared to die for Dreyfus," said poet Charles Péguy, "but Dreyfus was not." His decision to accept a pardon is one of the cornerstones of a long-standing French perception that Dreyfus is the model of a submissive victim. But on the eve of the 100th anniversary of his exoneration in 1906 and the official end of the tumultuous affair that convulsed France for a dozen years, that view may be changing. Indeed, some historians see Dreyfus the patriot, not Dreyfus the victim...

It works well. Tweak it.

It works well. Tweak it.

It works well. Tweak it.

It works well. Tweak it.

It works well. Tweak it.

November 6, 2005
November 2005
It works well. Tweak it.
[OPINION] AMERICAN POLITICIANS have urged U.N. reform for decades. Lately, the cries have become so loud and incessant that it is hard to imagine what will satisfy the critics. Abolish the veto for all nations save the United States and elect John Bolton as secretary-general? Strange as it seems, even those steps might not be enough -- not for critics whose demands for reform mask a deeper goal. They will not be satisfied unless the U.N. submits to the will of the United States. I do not doubt that the U.N. needs reform -- just look at the scandal in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program for Iraq. But let’s put this into perspective...

Bolton and History

Bolton and History

Bolton and History

Bolton and History

Bolton and History

March 24, 2005
March 2005
Bolton and History
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, she proclaimed that he would serve in the tradition of our best ambassadors “with the strongest voices.” She cited Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jean Kirkpatrick as the models. But the Bolton nomination hardly fits any historical tradition. It is a defiance of history...

Unidentified Sources

Unidentified Sources

Unidentified Sources

Unidentified Sources

Unidentified Sources

February 5, 2005
February 2005
Unidentified Sources
While covering French President Francois Mitterrand on a trip to Martinique in the 1980s, we in the press corps were told he would meet us in his hotel suite for a conversation “à bâtons rompus.” That French idiom — literally “with broken sticks” — meant that the discussion could shift from one subject to another and that Mitterrand would be less formal and more open than usual. But the aides cautioned, his replies would be “off” — a new French journalistic expression that is an abbreviated form of the English “off the record.” In short, Mitterrand could not be quoted...

Inaugural Fog

Inaugural Fog

Inaugural Fog

Inaugural Fog

Inaugural Fog

January 31, 2005
January 2005
Inaugural Fog
I have finally read the complete text of our 43rd President’s Second Inaugural Address. Although I had not seen the ceremony on television, I had tried to read the speech a couple of times the day after but found it impossible to penetrate the fog of glitter that enveloped his words. I was put off, I think, by the gnawing conviction that I must be reading the valedictory speech of some high school senior. The words were highfalutin, the themes were lofty, and the concoction bore no relation to the world around us. Each paragraph vanished in my mind as I tried the next. So I gave up...

Bitter Returns

Bitter Returns

Bitter Returns

Bitter Returns

Bitter Returns

November 3, 2004
November 2004
Bitter Returns
In 1952, the first time I ever voted, I cast my ballot for Adlai Stevenson. Since then my presidential choice, always a Democrat, has lost more often than not. But no loss has been as dispiriting and bitter as this one. It is hard to take. The Iraq adventure is a catastrophic failure, launched on arrogance and faith, managed with ham hands and closed minds. The cost has been awful. Yet the know-nothings who launched and managed it have received a resounding endorsement. Bush and his ideologues will face no accounting for failure and stupidity...

Removing Tyrants

Removing Tyrants

Removing Tyrants

Removing Tyrants

Removing Tyrants

October 4, 2004
October 2004
Removing Tyrants
More than 30 years ago, during the dark days of the despicable Idi Amin, I would yearn for some way for the world to rid itself of tyrants. As a foreign correspondent covering Africa for the Los Angeles Times, the injustice of it all would torment me. Why should innocent people be forced to endure the terror and poverty inflicted upon them by the cruel whims of Idi Amin? Why should they be condemned because of their accidental birth in an unwieldy country put together by European colonial pooh-bahs in the 19th century? Could not some international entity like the United Nations be empowered to pluck him away?

The Chaos of Iraq

The Chaos of Iraq

The Chaos of Iraq

The Chaos of Iraq

The Chaos of Iraq

June 7, 2004
June 2004
The Chaos of Iraq
So much wonderful critique of the Bushites, the foolish war, the botched occupation and the torture scandal has come forth recently (especially the articles by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, the daily news coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and the extraordinary book of James Mann on Bush’s Vulcans) that there is no need to add comment. But I would like to summarize a little...

United Nations in Crisis: The American Challenge

United Nations in Crisis: The American Challenge

United Nations in Crisis: The American Challenge

United Nations in Crisis: The American Challenge

United Nations in Crisis: The American Challenge

May 7, 2004
May 2004
United Nations in Crisis: The American Challenge
A case can be made that the American and British invasion of Iraq a little more than a year ago enhanced the moral force and international standing of the United Nations. The Security Council, after all, had refused to be bullied. Most of its members, even the weak ones, had stood up to the United States and made it clear they would not pass a resolution authorizing the invasion. The American failure to obtain UN authorization galvanized demonstrations throughout Europe and elsewhere against the invasion. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the United States had no right to topple a tyrant, no matter how evil and dangerous, if the UN did not agree. The UN was clearly the world’s only anointed keeper of peace and war...

American Policy Gave Hussein Reason to Deceive

American Policy Gave Hussein Reason to Deceive

American Policy Gave Hussein Reason to Deceive

American Policy Gave Hussein Reason to Deceive

American Policy Gave Hussein Reason to Deceive

February 8, 2004
February 2004
American Policy Gave Hussein Reason to Deceive
[OPINION] If Saddam Hussein had few or no weapons of mass destruction, why did he act as if he possessed arsenals of them? Why did Iraqis harass U.N. inspectors, bar their entry into certain buildings and sneak trucks out the back gates of compounds if there was nothing to hide? Analysts have been quick to suggest reasons. A prevailing view is machismo -- Hussein was trying to conceal his weakness, not his strength. Some experts, such as former weapons inspector David Kay, have said that scientists, seeking to enrich themselves with funds for phony projects, hoodwinked Hussein, not the inspectors. But one factor, just as important as the others, has been overlooked. U.N. inspections were undercut from the start by U.S. policy.

Dancing With the Dictator

Dancing With the Dictator

Dancing With the Dictator

Dancing With the Dictator

Dancing With the Dictator

January 4, 2004
January 2004
Dancing With the Dictator
[OPINION] A little more than 50 years ago, the United States signed a pact with Generalissimo Francisco Franco allowing U.S. military forces to use air and naval bases in Spain. The agreement was a momentous event for Spain, and its repercussions still matter. For Americans, however, the pact, though significant, was a minor moment in the Cold War. U.S. historians barely mention it. The 50th anniversary passed in September with hardly any notice in Washington. Yet, the event should not be overlooked, especially at a time when the president proclaims his commitment to whip up democracy throughout the Middle East. The pact is a bald and astonishing example of how easily the United States can abandon a commitment to freedom -- even one for which almost 300,000 American soldiers died during World War II. What counted more in 1953 -- and probably still does -- was stability and the U.S. perception of what is best for the United States in the short term...

Fact-checking and The Da Vinci Code

Fact-checking and The Da Vinci Code

Fact-checking and The Da Vinci Code

Fact-checking and The Da Vinci Code

Fact-checking and The Da Vinci Code

December 23, 2003
December 2003
Fact-checking and The Da Vinci Code
The editors of Doubleday, headquartered at 1745 Broadway in New York, would surely have raised their eyebrows and grabbed their red pencils if a best-selling novelist had submitted a manuscript that placed the Empire State Building on Central Park West, the United Nations on Broadway and Yankee Stadium on Fifth Avenue. Yet Doubleday has published a novel - number one on the best-selling lists for a good many weeks - rife with so much confusion about the sites of Paris that it is hard not to wince. This might be excusable if Paris played a minor role in the book. But the main setting of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is Paris. Someone should have supplied him with a map...

Democracy: One Man, One Vote, Once

Democracy: One Man, One Vote, Once

Democracy: One Man, One Vote, Once

Democracy: One Man, One Vote, Once

Democracy: One Man, One Vote, Once

November 14, 2003
November 2003
Democracy: One Man, One Vote, Once
More than 40 years ago, I sat in the Western Nigeria House of Assembly in Ibadan and marveled at how well the British colonial government had implanted its democratic parliamentary system into this new African country. An African page in blue knee breeches and red stockings walked into the chamber carrying a mace. “The Speak-uh,” he cried. The Speaker, a tall African in white wig and black robes, entered, strode across the chamber and sat in his enormous chair. The page carefully put the mace on its stand on the table below the Speaker and saluted him...