Asia: The Ghosts of 1914

On the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, Europe is at peace. There are no major border disputes. The countries form a unified economic bloc instead of a patchwork of jostling alliances. In the last 70 years, the only large-scale violence took place during the unraveling of Yugoslavia, which ended 15 years ago. In Sarajevo today, where World War I began with the assassination of...
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Ensuring Free and Fair Elections

For decades, the Communist governments of East-Central Europe held elections. And for decades, these elections produced more-or-less the same results. The Communist Party candidates – or the candidates of the parties aligned with the Party – won the elections by absurd margins. The Party in Hungary was the poorest performer in this regard. In the 1980 election, it won with only 99.3 percent...
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The Empire’s New Asian Clothes

In a future update of The Devil’s Dictionary, the famed Ambrose Bierce dissection of the linguistic hypocrisies of modern life, a single word will accompany the entry for “Pacific pivot”: retreat. It might seem a strange way to characterize the Obama administration’s energetic attempt to reorient its foreign and military policy toward Asia. After all, the president’s team has...
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The File

Once, at the request of my employer at the time, I filed a Freedom of Information Request to get his FBI file. It took a while, but eventually an envelope arrived from the U.S. government. My boss eagerly opened it up. A great deal of the materials had been blacked out. On some pages only one or two words appeared floating in the sea of black. He was disappointed by all this “redaction.” He...
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Iraq: Revisiting the Pottery Barn Rule

In 2006, a visitor to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England accidentally became an artwork. Let’s call him Dude Descending a Staircase in honor of that merry prankster Marcel Duchamp. This particular visitor tripped over his feet as he was going down the museum stairs. As he fell, he knocked into three large Qing Dynasty vases that rested on their mounts in a recess. All three vases...
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