Executive Swap

Posted January 3, 2008

Categories: Articles

In 2002, Boston University established the lyrical-sounding Presidents in Residence program for former African leaders. The idea was to lure the dictatorially inclined away from their countries so that a new generation of democratic leaders could take their place. As a spokesperson for the program put it more tactfully, “The vision is that having a very respectable position, which honors the individual and his achievements, will be seen as an enticement to those in power, or perhaps newly out of power but contemplating a return, that there is an appropriate civil course for them to pursue.” Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia was the first recipient of the fellowship.

What better way out of the current fracas in Zimbabwe than to bring Robert Mugabe to Boston for a little academic R and R. Mugabe was part of the great generation of African leaders who guided their countries to independence. But now he has become an obstacle. At 84, he presides over a country that has fallen into economic ruin. As the world awaits the outcome of the recent elections – the opposition claims to have won a parliamentary majority while the ruling party demands a recount and a presidential runoff – it would be the perfect time for the West to reach out to Mugabe. After all, as Heidi Holland has argued in The New York Times, isolation has certainly not worked.

But why should this business of academic fellowships be a one-way street?

Africa should return the favor by inviting Northern politicians of dubious democratic credentials for a year of exposure to what colonialism and neo-liberalism have wrought. I propose that the first Robert Mugabe Presidents in Residence Program at the University of Zimbabwe go to, drum roll please: George W. Bush.

In his one-year stay at the University of Zimbabwe, Bush would be able to get a firsthand glimpse of the dismal effects of economic sanctions, privatization, and debt. He could see exactly how little his AIDS initiatives have done to address the problem. Meanwhile, seminars on how to conduct free-and-fair elections would be eye-opening to the former U.S. president, who could use a few pointers after Florida (2000) and Ohio (2004).

Indeed, as FPIF contributor Patrick W. Quirk points out this week in Democracy Promotion Doublespeak, Bush and the United States need some serious brushing up on the democracy front. For all its talk of promoting democracy abroad, and particularly in Zimbabwe, the Bush administration has done a poor job of it at home: permitting only selective access to outside election observers, cutting funds for civic education, and keeping the United States at the bottom of the list of democracies in terms of voter turnout. “U.S. citizens deserve the same attention to democratic process as the U.S. government claims to offer the world’s dispossessed,” Quirk concludes.

Imagine how refreshing it would be for a U.S. president to visit another country to learn about democracy. This small measure of humility would likely do more to promote democracy than any number of election observer teams, high-priced consultants, and regime change efforts coming out of Washington.

Dealing with Iran

Parliamentary elections in Iran last month were a good reminder of two things: that Iran has a functioning (if flawed) democracy and that the hardliners on the inside have only been strengthened by the hard-line policies from the outside. The victory of the hardliners in the elections to the Majles only underscores the importance of negotiations. “Despite the gains by hardliners in the Majles, Iran is, at its core, a rational actor,” write FPIF contributors Patrick Disney and Danny Hosein in Dealing with Iran’s Hardliners. Hardliners do not want war with the United States. Economic woes and a split between Iran’s government and its people over relations with the West make fertile ground for negotiations; hardliners in Iran recognize this opportunity.”

Iran remains an important topic in the U.S. presidential race, with both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton calling for negotiations without conditions. There are some important differences between the Democratic contenders’ positions, but they pale in comparison to the competition. “John McCain proposes isolation only, with no call for providing Iran incentives to change its behavior,” writes FPIF contributor Frankie Sturm in The Candidates on Iran. “If sanctions and isolation do not work, he is willing to act militarily. With the price of oil hovering around $100 a barrel, the United States bogged down in Iraq, and China, and Russia reluctant to punish Iran for uranium enrichment, Iran will feel confident that it can weather whatever storm of sanctions the United States might put together.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. press still hasn’t learned its lessons from the woeful miscoverage of the lead-up to the Iraq War. Eric Umansky has an important article in the latest Columbia Journalism Review on how the media – deju vu all over again – is swallowing the Bush administration’s line on the “perfidious” and “recalcitrant” Iran.

The Other Guantanamo

No, it’s not a famous Mexican muralist, but don’t feel bad if you don’t immediately recognize the name of Diego Garcia. It is perhaps the most secret of U.S. military bases. Located in the Indian Ocean, the small island has been a key launch pad for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as a rendition center for terrorism suspects.

Thanks to FPIF contributor David Vine, however, you can learn the whole, sordid story of Diego Garcia and the U.S. navy’s Strategic Island Concept, “a plan to identify small strategically located islands with small local populations that the United States or its western allies could acquire as future base sites and that would be insulated from any local threats. Quickly Diego Garcia emerged as a prime target for acquisition given its relative proximity to potential conflict zones from the Persian Gulf to southern Africa and southern Asia, space for harboring an armada of ships and an airstrip, and a small, little known population whose removal would generate little attention,” Vine writes in The Other Guantanamo.

In South Korea, meanwhile, the United States is transforming its bases presence into a “brave new world of lily pads and rapid deployment forces,” writes FPIF contributor Jae-Jung Suh in Korean Bases of Concern. “This latest military transformation involves turning Cold War-vintage heavy armored forces into high-tech, agile, rapidly deployable fighting forces for the 21st century. The military is being restructured into modular units that can be put together in innumerable combinations, like Lego blocks. U.S. bases overseas are being realigned to maximize the efficiency of the transformed, restructured forces. In early March, U.S. forces held military exercises in Korea to test the existing plan and to facilitate the process of realigning the military bases and restructuring the military deployment.”

Our strategic focus on the U.S. military footprint also extends to the final frontier. As FPIF contributor Marko Beljac points out in Arms Race in Space, the Bush administration can’t wait to extend full spectrum dominance even further. The Pentagon recently spent $100 million to shoot down an ailing satellite. The operation “came immediately after Russia and China put forward a detailed, but flawed, proposal for a treaty to ban space weapons at the United Nations,” Beljac writes. “In response, the United States immediately reaffirmed its unwillingness to participate in any arms control accord covering space.”

Climate Economics

Most environmentalists concerned about climate change speak of the costs involved in using less fuel, becoming more efficient, and planting more trees. But few consider the more profound economic changes that the threat of global warming requires.

FPIF columnist Walden Bello tackles these questions head-on. “In the social and economic system that will be collectively crafted, there will be room for the market,” he writes. “However, the more interesting question is: will such a system have room for capitalism? Will capitalism as a system of production, consumption, and distribution survive the challenge of coming up with an effective solution to the climate crisis?” Read Can Capitalism Survive Climate Change? to find out.

In an example of tired economic thinking about climate change, the world’s wealthiest countries have decided that the World Bank, of all institutions, should be taking the lead on the issue. “In an initiative with pledged contributions from the United States, the UK, and Japan,” write FPIF contributors Daphne Wysham and Shakuntala Makhijani in World Bank Climate Profiteering, “the Bank will oversee $7-$12 billion for ‘climate change mitigation and adaptation projects in developing countries.’ The funds – the Clean Technology Fund, the Forest Investment Fund, the Adaptation/Climate Resilience Pilot Fund, and the Strategic Climate Fund – are moving forward despite having come under fire from developing countries as well as from environment and development organizations.”

Finally, this week in our coverage of the U.S. presidential elections, FPIF contributor Sammy Loren looks at how the race has transfixed one of the world’s most populous countries. Indians of all political stripes have been avidly following the race, particularly the Democrats. “Even back in 2004, half a million protestors greeted President Bush on his diplomatic visit to India,” he writes in The Candidates and India. “Four years later, Bush and the America he represents are about as appetizing to India’s predominantly Hindu and Muslim population as a stack of juicy T-bones and plump pork chops.”

FPIF, April 7, 2008

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