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Near Abroad: Putin, the West and the Contest Over Ukraine and the Caucasus

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 15:21:14 +0000

Gerard ToalOxford University Press20179780190253301A Review by Julia Sinitsky Russia’s foreign policy has been under scrutiny for a number of years, as its penchant for foreign interference only seems to grow. Two works, Near Abroad, written by political scientist Gerard Toal and The Near Abroad penned by historian Zbigniew Wojnowski give insights into Russia’s post-soviet foreign policy and the deeply ingrained belief systems driving its diplomacy on the world stage. These motivations, often oversimplified by western political analyst as merely power plays, often have deeply ingrained historical and cultural roots. These two books provide a balanced perspective, both of Russia’s world view and its continued desire to influence post-Soviet space. Toal revisits Russia’s interference in the two most recent conflicts, the war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia with Georgia in 2008 and the Crimea/Donbass Crisis of 2014 in Ukraine. He carefully explains the significance of both regions to the Russian Federation and the political leanings of the populations living in these areas. He also delves deeply into the reasons why a majority in certain segments of the population, such as those living in South Eastern Ukraine and Crimea supported Russia’s cause. The ties to Russia in some regions, not just social, religious, cultural, or linguistic, but also economic and political, were too strong to reject and abandon. In this analysis, Toal claims that the US projection of its values onto other cultures contributes to a misreading of the intentions behind Russia’s policies.  To a question posed in the book – “Why does Russia invade its neighbors?” – he offers an analytical answer that empathizes with the Russian perspective. Russia, much like the United States, and many other present and former great powers, sees itself entitled to protect norms and behaviors that it itself creates. In a post-Cold War World, this behavior took the rest of the West, including the United States by surprise.  The overall tone is mildly sympathetic to Russia and critical of the post–Cold War US neoconservative perspectives that he views as damaging to US interests. And he provides ample backing for his views. From the start, Toal outlines the history of Soviet geopolitics in contrast to US perceptions of the same. Russia’s great-powers view is less liberal than the US perspective, and this results in numerous misunderstandings. The book then explores the nuances of both into the Georgia crisis of 2008 and the Ukraine crisis of 2014.  While Toal does not exonerate Russian actions in these conflicts, he does point out, that Russia, cannot be fully blamed for either conflict. For example, the EU admitted that then Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili began the offensive in the Ossetia crisis: “It was obvious to us from the start that Saakashvili started this. There was no doubt.” Similarly, Toal describes the tensions brewing in Eastern Ukraine prior to the intervention in Crimea and Donbass.  Dysfunctionalities were brewing in Ukraine prior to the Crimean annexation, and perhaps as many as 50 percent of people in Eastern and southern regions in Ukraine rejected the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. Such observations extend depth to a conflict receiving largely black and white media coverage in the West for a limited period. In addition, Toal reiterates that when the Berlin Wall fell in 1991, the West guaranteed Gorbachev that NATO would not expand any further. Yet by 2004 most Eastern European countries were members. Soon, the United States was looking to add Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia. NATO had, in fact, crept up to Russia’s borders without considering Russian preferences or thoughts on the matter. Toal characterizes much of EU and US action as more careless and thoughtless than threatening or malicious. He suggests that the EU took little consideration of how Russia could and did react to an expansion of both NATO and the EU. In addition, Toal sees complex sociocultural, ethnic and geopolitical real[...]



Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 17:16:39 +0000

Michael Wolff Henry Holt and Company2018978-1250158062A Review by Susan Froetschel  Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House confirms the worst characterizations of the US president and reports of chaos, with gory details supporting one senator’s observation that the White House had transformed into an adult day care center. Journalist Michael Wolff ridicules desperate attempts by White House staff and cabinet members to normalize an inexperienced, insecure president. Republican Party leaders, fearing their shrinking base, viciously turn on one another.  Most alarming for the rest of the world is that a sizable number of Americans, about 30 percent of the electorate, expect that political bullying, manipulation, lying, with the ends justifying any means, might produce policies of benefit.   The book warns that foreign policy is Donald Trump’s weak point: “If the Trump White House was as unsettling as any in American history, the president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among its most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two. He was enamored with generals and determined that people with military command experience take the lead in foreign policy, but he hated to be told what to do.” For some leaders, Trump’s lack of experience opens the door to a “do-over” in relations with the United States.  Much of the book is gossipy with coarse language because its subjects are this way. Few White House staff will appreciate the portrayal. Despite the campaign’s populist anti-globalist messages, many staff members are described as crassly ambitious, coveting the chance to join “the ranks of former government officials profiting off the ever growing globalist corporate-financial-government policy and business networks.”  A few endure humiliation for a higher cause, not abandoning the country to even more fools, and Wolff suggests “this sense of duty and virtue involved a complicated calculation about your positive effect on the White House versus its negative effect on you.” Working at the White House centers on pleasing the president, and staff use tragedies like the April chemical weapons attack in Syria to make Trump seem more “presidential.” Professionals like Dina Powell, deputy national security advisor, openly worry about being linked to Trump’s brand or, worse, becoming part of “historical calamity.” For Trump, when others win, he is losing. Staff are on an unending quest via trial and error for unattainable balances of flattery and self-assurance, submission and sophistication, wealth or background of hard knocks that might convince him to listen and heed advice.   The Trump team might have regarded Wolff as a savior had the author settled for recording the administration’s first 100 days as originally planned. From the book’s start, Wolff proffers a likely possibility that the Trump team, despite attracting a swarm of people with questionable Russia connections, was too naïve for deliberately colluding with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The family’s election goal was to magnify the Trump brand, not win. But win they did, and chaos and panic ensued.   The book highlights former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s ongoing feud with the Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner. The couple, newcomers to Washington, were handed top advisor slots and a hefty portfolio including bringing peace to the Middle East. The couple sought out experts, but Wolff describes the amateurs as “less interested in bending to advice and more interested in shopping for the advice they wanted.” Ivanka and Jared long for respectability while Bannon’s goal is revolution. The two sides were irrevocably divided with the early rollout and failure of a travel ban for refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations. Other staff members, contending with th[...]



Art and the Global Economy

Sat, 23 Dec 2017 12:27:49 +0000

Chapter 2, Museum Exhibitions in the Era of Globalization, Pages 64 to 67 John Zarobell1 The Allure and Mechanics of the Blockbuster …. For collecting institutions, the blockbuster is a way of winning recognition of the significance of the collection. You may have walked by that painting the last time you were in the museum, but now that you see it in its proper context, you understand its significance and world-class standing. It is also, quite frankly, a cash cow, and though it may be quite expensive to organize, it will drive so much traffic to the museum that proceeds from new memberships, ticket sales, and auxiliary services, such as shops and restaurants, can more than offset any deficits from the fiscal year. This popularity that yields so much income has resulted in a number of transformations that have significant implications for museums (Alexander 1996). Even institutions whose collections are major tourist attractions have been transformed by the development of an exhibition program that is reliant upon blockbuster-like success to sustain the growth that has resulted from previous blockbusters. The number of blockbuster exhibitions has increased significantly as a result of globalization. Both the spread of information across previously differentiated cultures and the increased network that allows art works to be transported safely to a much broader area than previously conceivable have increased the scope of the blockbuster phenomenon considerably. This has implications for every art museum, and it has produced something of a backlash. As Blake Gopnik wrote in the Art Newspaper, “The quaint old notion of the museum as a haven for the contemplation of the art it owns has given way to the museum as a cog in the exhibition industrial complex” (Gopnik 2013, n.p.). Since the number of works available for blockbuster exhibitions has not increased, the number of loan requests for works of art has skyrocketed (Barker 1999; McClellan 2008). This dynamic forces collecting museums to determine what the best interest of the art work is and to square that against their own exhibition ambitions. While conservators and collections managers sometimes cry foul, reciprocity is the name of the game: every loan request accepted yields a favorable approach to one’s next loan request, while every loan request refused opens the door for the next loan request to be rejected on similar grounds. One doesn’t have to be an economist to figure out that the more exhibitions succeed, the more they will be proposed, and further, the more in demand works of art that might be put to such uses are, the more difficult and expensive blockbuster shows will be to mount as time goes on (Moss 2011; Waterfield 2011). It seems almost an impossible conundrum until one remembers that collecting museums are always seeking new funding streams, and that funding a blockbuster exhibition, whether as an institution or a private organization, is very likely to yield a profit no matter how much it costs. Blockbusters have thus become a global business model, changing museums from within and without. The idea of the blockbuster exhibition may be a relatively new development (the term began to be used in the United States in the 1970s), the roots of the blockbuster go further back, at least to the nineteenth century. The Crystal Palace Exhibition, held in London in 1851, began a tradition of World’s Fairs, originally designed to highlight advances in manufacturing and trades, but that also featured the works of artists and designers (Csaszar 1996–97; McClellan 2008). The first section under the rubric of Fine Arts appeared at the 1855 Exposition universelle in Paris and drew throngs of visitors to both monographic galleries of prominent French artists (Eugene Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, among others) and to an  international competition for contemporary paintings and sculpture from around the world (Mainardi 1987). As time went on, photography and architecture were added t[...]



Kings and Presidents

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 15:37:34 +0000

Bruce RiedelBrookings Institution Press2017978-0815731375Susan FroetschelAs the Middle East edges towards another era of convulsion with President Trump’s decision about Jerusalem, a new book helps put the turmoil in perspective.  Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States Since FDR is a timely analysis of the relationship’s history, a careful and respectful dance between a democratic superpower and an autocratic monarchy, in managing common interests including the oil trade and security since 1945. Author Bruce Riedel’s perspective is insightful due to his long career with the US Central Intelligence Agency followed by positions with the US National Security Council, the Department of Defense and NATO. Over the course of a seven-decade alliance with the United States, Saudi Arabia has consistently emphasized one foreign-policy goal – resolution of the Palestinian conflict with Israel and end to Israeli occupation. But with new players, the alliance has entered a new phase with tradition, cautions and promises shoved to the side.  The unresolved Palestinian crisis is the book’s most persistent theme. The book’s final chapter addresses the issue as one of three major stumbling blocks to Saudi-US relations along with women’s rights and religious extremism. And the book offers ample context for the newest players, Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.  Saudi leaders may have seen promise of good ties wth Trump, and Riedel describes the president’s May visit to Saudi Arabia and lavish welcome. But Riedel also outlines a number of “near death” experiences over the years for the alliance and expresses wary anticipation for more unpleasant surprises.  The most recent is Trump’s plans for the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the embassy there from Tel Aviv. The December 6 announcement rejects decades of work by Trump’s predecessors and pleas from previous Saudi kings. The plight of the Palestinians, a rallying issue for extremists throughout the Muslim world, has been a consistent priority for Saudi kings. Riedel keys in on that issue more so than on oil or Iran, and a quick summary does not justify the years of painstaking diplomatic effort: Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman al Saud in 1945, seeking support for displaced Jewish people as World War II ended and exposed the horrors of the Holocaust. Roosevelt promised that the United States would pursue “full and prior consultation with both Jews and Arabs” before adjusting policy, but King Faisal was soon disappointed by Harry Truman’s support for establishment of Israel. Dwight Eisenhower pressed for Israel’s withdrawal from Jerusalem. King Faisal expressed doubt to Richard Nixon that real peace could be achieved without Jerusalem’s return to Arabs and Palestinian self-determination. Jimmy Carter, determined to achieve a peace agreement when entering office in 1977, saw danger in an independent Palestinian state and managed a separate deal with Egypt. Ronald Reagan called for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the creation of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan. King Fahd, insisting that the Palestinian issue was the source of turmoil for the region, responded with a plan for creation of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as capital. George H.W Bush and Bill Clinton each focused intense diplomatic efforts on negotiations. Crown Prince Abdallah refused to meet with George W. Bush without action on the issue, and that president offered the first formal American commitment to a Palestinian state. Barack Obama also tried to revive the peace process, and Trump promised to do the same.   But years of inaction on the Palestinian issue may have taken its toll. The United States under Trump has lost interest in the pursuit of democratic reforms, and Saudi Arabia has come to regard its rival Iran as the region’s [...]



Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States Since FDR

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 14:01:52 +0000

Pages 188 to 198Bruce RiedelThree Stumbling Blocks Three fundamental issues hamper the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. On these issues kings and presidents have basic disagreements about core goals and objectives. Interest and mutual accommodation can overlap, but it is difficult to find them. The three issues – the Israel-Palestine conflict; the role of Wahhabi Islam in Saudi policy at home and abroad; and the pursuit of political reform in the Arab world – are likely to be disruptive factors in the relationship in the years ahead and will require creative diplomacy to manage…. For American presidents it is vital to understand the centrality of the Palestinian issue in Saudi national security policy. A vibrant and effective peace process will help cement a strong relationship between king and president; a stalled or exhausted process will damage their connection. The Saudis emphasized the Palestinian issue in their public statements about Trump’s meeting with Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Trump has promised he will seek a deal. The best approach for America to take is to pursue a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, with the endorsement of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world when a deal is made. Of course, history shows that success in this arena is very difficult to achieve and, therefore, unlikely. Nonetheless, working toward such a deal is the right course of action.   The second major disruptive issue in U.S.-Saudi relations is more complex and less susceptible to direct diplomacy. Saudi Arabia has a unique connection with a unique form of Islam. The Kingdom is founded on the alliance between the House of Saud and the House of al Shaykh, the descendants of Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al Wahhab. This alliance is at the center of what makes Saudi Arabia the special country it is: an absolute monarchy combined with a strongly conservative theocracy. This alliance between the royal family and the clerical establishment has evolved over the decades. The kings have tended to push the process to ensure the survival of the state. Ibn Saud was ready to work with the United Kingdom and then the United States, two foreign Christian powers, which his predecessors would have regarded as the epitome of evil and just targets for jihad. He accepted borders for his state, something the first Saudi state in the eighteenth century would never had accepted, even from a fellow Muslim state, the Ottoman Empire. King Faisal introduced reforms, such as female education and the abolition of slavery, that were questioned by many clerics. He was assassinated for introducing television. Fahd and Abdallah were both reformers in their own ways. So the Saudi family has successfully nudged the al Shaykh establishment into a more tolerant and modern world. But there are limits to how far and how fast change can be made, and every Saudi king is acutely aware of them. The clerics are popular. For example, the eleven most popular Twitter handles in the Kingdom are those of conservative Wahhabi clerics. (6) Saudi Arabia cannot abandon Wahhabism and survive in its current form. Nor does the royal family want to abandon its faith. King Salman built the capital city to be a symbol of the alliance with the ulema. Salman has devoted his life to raising funds to promote the cause of the mujahedin from Afghanistan to Palestine. The importance of Saudi religious belief is especially critical on the question of gender equality in the Kingdom. As one Saudi expert has written, the status and place of women “are what makes Saudi Arabia unique and dif­ferent from other Arab and Muslim countries.” (7) The Saudi Wahhabi interpretation of Islam is founded in a large corpus of religious legal findings. An estimated 30,000 fatwas or religious decrees have been blessed by the clerics in the last half-century to regulate every aspect of female life in the Kingdom and cement its gender policies. (8) Women live s[...]



After a String of Failures, Saudi Crown Prince Monopolizes Power

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 18:04:54 +0000

In 2013, Prince Muhammad bin Salman, at 28, was a lawyer and his career soared after his father became king of Saudi Arabia in 2015. In swift order, he became the country’s defense minister, head of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, chairman of the Public Investment Fund, deputy crown prince, head of the Supreme Council of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company and then crown prince – a Middle East version of the Game of Thrones, according to author Dilip Hiro. “A young, inexperienced heir to the Arab world’s most powerful throne, Bin Salman consolidates his power by crushing potential centers of power outside the Royal Court,” Hiro writes, noting need is urgent after a string of failures. Under the crown prince, Saudi Arabia hastily intervened in Yemen’s civil war and organized a blockade against Qatar, both moves destabilizing the region. He also exaggerates the threat from Iran in counterproductive ways. The crown prince claims to be a reformer by extending some rights to Saudi women and a crackdown on corruption that targets powerful rivals. The distractions may not be enough for citizens or foreign investors to overlook unemployment exceeding 12 percent, inequality and a lavish lifestyle for royals, tepid growth and an economy dependent on oil, as well as harsh rule of law and rejection of human rights. – YaleGlobal After a String of Failures, Saudi Crown Prince Monopolizes Power Saudi’s crown prince claims to be a reformer – hasty military moves and corruption crackdown may be attempts to mask failures Dilip HiroTuesday, November 14, 2017Son also rises: Saudi Defense Minister and then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomes US President Donald Trump; under bin Salman’s command, Saudi aircraft bomb Yemen capital of Sana’a LONDON: In 2013, a 28-year-old Saudi prince described himself simply as “lawyer” to a visiting BBC journalist. On 23 January 2015 he was appointed Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, overseeing the third highest defense budget after the United States and China. At the end of that month, he was named head of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs and, two months later, became chairman of the Public Investment Fund after its transfer from the Finance Ministry. On 15 April 2017 he was promoted to deputy crown prince and two weeks later appointed head of the Supreme Council of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, the globe’s largest petroleum corporation. To cap it all, on 21 June, he was elevated to crown prince at the expense of his 56-year-old cousin. Meet Prince Muhammad bin Salman – overambitious and cunning, a heartbeat away from succeeding his 81-year-old father King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, reportedly suffering from dementia – leading his own Game of Thrones in the Desert Kingdom. A young, inexperienced heir to the Arab world’s most powerful throne, Bin Salman is consolidating his power by crushing potential centers of power outside the Royal Court. The need is urgent after his string of failures, including initiatives in Yemen and Qatar, and all-consuming, counterproductive hatred of Shia-majority Islamic Republic of Iran. He is the first of six sons born to King Salman’s third and last wife, Fahda bint Falah bin Sultan, nearly 20 years junior to her husband who ascended the throne on 23 January 2015. According to Bin Salman, his father made him read a book every week, and his mother ordered staff to arrange extracurricular courses and fieldtrips. Unlike his four elder half-brothers who enrolled at Western universities, he obtained his undergraduate law degree in 2007 from King Saud University in Riyadh. He proudly describes himself as a member of the generation that grew up playing video games.     Since becoming deputy crown prince, Bin Salman colluded with his father to undermine designated Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef with a series of ill-disguised rebuffs. The climax came on 21 June. The mona[...]



A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 17:36:48 +0000

Richard HaassPenguin 2017978-0399562365Review by Kai Chen“Disarray” is the dominant characteristic of 21st century international relations, argues Richard A. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations since 2003. This means “some rivals are sometime partners,” and joint efforts are essential to deal with common challenges, Haass explains in A World in Disarray. A distinguished foreign-policy practitioner who is now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Haass overviews the history of international relations from the Peace of Westphalia through the end of the Cold War, analyzing key foreign policy challenges and advancing recommendations for United States and other countries for dealing with the world’s disarray. The first three chapters explore the dynamics of international relations before 1990s, when balance of military power and economic independence was a guarantee against disarray. The Cold War could be a transformational period, in which American unipolarity “never really existed,” and “the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.” During this period, US foreign policy, especially national security, has been “guilty of a geographic bias that constitutes a strategic distortion.” For instance, the United States devoted major efforts into the Middle East and yet, at the global and local levels, demonstrated limited ability to “translate its clear advantages in wealth and military power into influence,” offset by the relative advantages of potential competitors and rivals, including terrorist and extreme groups.   The second of three sections focuses on international relations of the post–Cold War era, a transitional period with “increased globalization and increased regionalization,” and according to Haass, a departure from the past four centuries. He describes the era as “nonpolar” rather than “multipolar,” a world dominated by several principal powers with wider distribution of power and influence. He adds that “power is more distributed in more hands than at any time in history” and numerous non-sovereign actors share power and influence with the principal powers. Based on many cases, Haas stresses the realms of international relations involving numerous actors – like cyberspace, public health and nuclear proliferation – and explains the reasons for the disarray that has emerged in the post–Cold War era, including governments prioritizing short-term interests over long-term goals. Haas maintains that “little in history is inevitable,” and in the final section, advocates the concept of “sovereign obligation,” referring to “a government’s obligations to other governments and through them to the citizens of other countries” with “realism updated and adapted to meet the exigencies of this global era.” He presses this point: “Governments would have the obligation not just to avoid engaging in prohibited activities but also to do everything in their power to prevent other parties from carrying out those activities from their territory.” The United States and other nations have undertaken huge efforts on sovereign obligations – from the US war on terror to China’s One Belt, One Road. But such endeavors are time-consuming. Such goals can disrupt internal trajectories for any country and create a new source of risk for triggering unilateral actions or resorting to military force. US foreign policy has long been characterized by an openness to immigrants and trade, as well as longstanding commitments to allies. For Haass, dysfunctional politics, particularly “frequent reversals run the risk of unnerving friends and emboldening adversaries.” Interviewed for the Financial Times after his book’s publication, he refers to Trump administration striving to overturn many policies of his predecessor: "a lot of people are new to government and foreign policy[...]



The Islamic Challenge and the United States

Fri, 26 May 2017 15:16:11 +0000

Ehsan AhrariMcGill-Queen's University Press2017ISBN: 978-0773548169Susan FroetschelSingling out an enemy or adopting a monocausal approach to analyzing complex challenges like terrorism or oppression is tempting, but unhelpful. While prioritizing targets makes sense, focusing on a single culprit is limiting. Too often, practitioners of this technique overlook vast histories and systemic roots, then express puzzlement as to why the sore they pick at continues to fester.    Such has been the US approach to conflict in the Middle East, as exemplified by Donald Trump’s May 21 speech to the Muslim world from Saudi Arabia. Before a summit of Arab leaders, he pointed to “one goal that transcends every other consideration.… to meet history's great test – to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces of terrorism.” Trump then singled out Iran as “a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region” – this just hours after Iranian voters re-elected pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani over a hardliner.  Trump’s words overlooked the Saudi role in spreading fundamentalist ideologies or funding extremist groups like the Islamic State terrorists who viciously target Iranian Shiites. The US president may not realize that the United States and the United Kingdom, hoping to prevent nationalization of the Iran’s oil industry, conspired to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1953, instead embracing a despot. He refuses to consider that Iran has reasons for worry after US-led invasions of countries in either direction, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. The United States has singled out enemies in the past. Egypt was a centerpiece of US foreign policy during the 1960s and then Iran after the 1973 revolution. Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Syria have also had turns – and now again Iran.  And global terrorists can be charged with the same error as their main fight is with the United States as lone superpower. Of course, the challenges are far more complex, as thoughtfully revealed by The Islamic Challenge and the United States. The book by Ehsan M. Ahrari, written with Sharon Leyland Ahrari, offers thorough background for those intent on understanding the intricate foreign relations, numerous and ongoing conflicts, and factors contributing to terrorism. The author is a former professor with the US Air War College, and despite the book’s title, he does not resort to analysis of Muslim-majority nations vis-à-vis the United States. Instead, the book offers systematic, concise examination of history, unfolding connections along with the many reasons for action and inaction. Ahrari places responsibility on autocratic leaders who “loathe quality education and its most crucial features – the promotion of critical thinking, original ideas, innovations, and creativity – that might also lead to demands for political change from their citizenry.” Low education standards weaken political, legal and moral opposition, and this contributes to violence, poverty, militaries that secure regimes rather than citizens, prisons that radicalize, and a form of populism that maintains only violent militancy can bring about political change, not by advancing societies but by dragging them back to the seventh century and erasing a history of despair. Global powers may destroy the functioning of groups like Al Qaeda, but will struggle to eliminate the ideology without substantive changes in foreign policy. There is hope, though, in Pew Research Center findings that strong majorities in many Muslim-majority countries prefer democracy over strong leaders and support freedom of religion.  Ahrari is precise, defining Islamism as a “politico-religious movement focused on the acquisition of territory, and then declaring those territories as part of their caliphate.” He reviews the history and philosop[...]



Energy and Human Resource Development in Developing Countries: Towards Effective Localization

Wed, 29 Mar 2017 17:52:46 +0000

William HickeyPalgrave Macmillan2017978-1137576309A review by Rachel Wu Poverty and climate change among the world’s thorniest challenges, and William Hickey, in Energy and Human Resource Development in Developing Countries: Towards Effective Localization, ambitiously seeks an overarching way to solve both. The result is a lengthy and stimulating manifesto in favor of human resources as the best way to approach these problems. Human resource development “becomes a competitive advantage and national resource in its own right” in the effort to empower individuals to make decisions. In aggregate, that empowerment combines to create a more sustainable future for us all. Endorsing the macroeconomic concept of endogenous growth theory, Hickey writes that “the more know-how a country has, the more it can entertain a wider portfolio in the energy mix,” emphasizing the potential of nuclear power. With less knowledge, resource-rich emerging countries remain dependent on foreign companies and “simplistic but heavily polluting, fossil fuel burning to power cars and trucks, boats and planes, and spin turbines.” Indeed, abundant stores of fossil fuels too often become a resource curse. The paradoxical phenomenon and accompanying stagnant growth have afflicted societies with the most valuable commodities, extending back to the 16th century Spanish discovery of silver mines in South America and continuing to many African nations today.    Hickey is pessimistic about the potential for economics and finance to address inequality and global warming. He posits that carbon taxes and carbon trading are easy to game in systems lacking stringent enforcement mechanisms. Developing countries with sovereign wealth funds often use them – and natural resources, by proxy – to invest in foreign capital and not their own people, even while receiving World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans. Human resource development, when implemented poorly, can exacerbate the problem by centralizing money at the top. By offering vivid firsthand accounts of the disparities he witnessed at the Kazakh national oil/gas company and Chinese power plants in Sri Lanka, Hickey drives home the urgency of implementing effective human-resources policy. For Hickey, the key to human resource development’s success in improving the economic situation of all is localization – “finding local citizens to do the jobs that are held by many foreign expatriates in host countries.” He proposes eliminating production-sharing agreements that provide negative incentivizes for localized management, as self-regulation often leads to wasteful spending on expatriates. Another compelling policy is “spatial sectoring,” ensuring that education is local and not centered in the country’s metropolises.  Localization is relevant as the currents of nationalism and isolationism pulse through much of the Western world. Because urban elites often siphon resources from rural areas where many oilfields and mines are located, development must be tailored on a “meso” level of communities and not just the “macro” level of nations. Another step of localization is actually delocalization, which occurs when local development becomes successful enough to go global. In keeping with the zeitgeist of populism across America and Europe, this book makes a point to vilify the elites, depicting the “gods of high finance” and corrupt politicians as myopic and selfish, an attitude that may strike readers as an oversimplification of unresolved debates. The book provides many case studies as helpful examples for how not to implement a policy of localization. While governments can learn from the past to avoid exploitive contracts with oil companies, they cannot simply mandate localization. The similar failures of localized steel production in China’s Great [...]



Putin Country: A Journey Into the Real Russia

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:30:00 +0000

Anne GarrelsFarrar, Straus and Giroux2016ISBN: 978-0374247720A Review by Julia SinitskyComing as yet another publication in a bout of renewed interest on contemporary Russia, Putin Country gives the reader at once an ordinary and original perspective. Anne Garrels, as a journalist for NPR, traveled to Russia many times over two decades as the country opened to the world, at times embracing and rejecting western economic and political influences. Garrels does well to avoid many of the clichés about new Cold War tensions. Despite the title, Putin Country is not about Vladimir Putin’s personality, the Kremlin or Moscow at all, but about the lives of ordinary, working-class Russians trying to make a living in 21st century Russia. Of course, the Kremlin’s centralized decision-making affects Russians, and Garrels reminds that the Russia beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg is often a world distant to Moscow-centered corruption, oligarchs and major players. Instead, she focuses on Russia’s polluted industrial heartland and Chelyabinsk, a city on the border between Europe and Asia. This work covers a number of topics, all nuanced and socially relevant, with themes including political and social stability, identity, family, healthcare, prisons, religion, ecology, nuclear energy, freedom of speech and many others. Each topic is presented through intertwining anecdotes that involve ordinary Chelyabinsk residents some of whom she has known for years. Garrels, by examining an array of social topics, combined with the fact that Chelyabinsk itself is part of the Russian periphery, offers a kind of country diagnosis unburdened by dry statistics or other social science measures. Readers get a feel of daily life in modern Russia by following Garrels on her journeys and getting a rare glimpse into private lives, some struggling for years under a system which accommodates corrupt practices over hard and honest work. Others of Garrels’ interviewees more easily adapted to the difficult life in post-Soviet Russia and try to improve the lives of those around them. Garrels writes that in 2012, though Chelyabinsk would not be mistaken for Moscow, it is still unrecognizable from the failing industrial center she first visited in 1993, when New Russia was just forming as a state. Since then, she has visited several times and comments on the changes due to capitalism which developed during the Yeltsin and Putin eras and free-market transformations, including western goods, public health care and education, and the ability to travel abroad. The Russian government, through poorly run privatization schemes has created a new world of haves and have nots, with few people in between. Most people Garrels meets around Chelyabinsk live from paycheck to paycheck, contrasting wildly from nouveau rich Russians who thrive even in times of economic turmoil. But for either party, their daily life leave little time to dwell on human rights violations, government reforms or other pressing social concerns.  Many Russians blame the West as much as their own leaders for Russia’s many problems, and this mindset is not likely to change. Economic transitions have been difficult. “Shock therapy, advocated by the West to replace the Soviet economic system, was most shocking in the countryside…as farms fell apart, land was either stolen by crafty managers or redivided among the ill-prepared workers,” Garrels writes. “With no infrastructure to back them, most couldn’t make it on their own.” The focus on devastated rural and peripheral industrial centers is a timely critique in the wake of what seems like a worldwide protest against neoliberal globalist values. Many families never fully recovered from the economic and emotional shock of the collapse of the Soviet Union and cannot escape poverty, corruption and crime[...]