Bernd Debusmann

In Afghanistan, history rhymes

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 29, 2010 14:09 UTC

The faltering war in Afghanistan brings to mind a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain and a less famous one by Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Twain: “History does not repeat itself but it rhymes.” Gates: “Tough decisions: … how to get out, when, and without losing face.”

The Gates quote, in his 1996 memoir (From the Shadows), refers to the Soviet leadership which by the mid-1980s had decided to end its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan but had not figured out exactly how to do that.

The last Russian soldier left Afghanistan in February 1989, at the end of an exit strategy which began with a sharp increase in the number of troops and centered on building up government forces to fight an insurgency rapidly gathering momentum.

Sound familiar? Since taking office, President Barack Obama has ordered an additional 51,000 troops into Afghanistan “to provide the time and the space for the Afghan government to build up its security capacity, to clear and hold population centers that are critical, to drive back the Taliban to break their momentum.”

Next, a transition phase, beginning in July 2011, “in which the Afghan government is taking more and more responsibility for its own security.”

A comeback for the American melting pot?

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 18, 2010 14:12 UTC

When U.S. President Barack Obama’s white mother married his black African father, in 1961, black-and-white marriages were one in 1,000 and inter-racial marriages were banned by law in 15 American states. Even where they were legal, mixed marriages were widely considered taboo.

Fast forward to the present and more than six out of 10 Americans approve of marriages between whites and non-whites. In 2008, one out of seven of all new marriages in the United States were between spouses of different races or ethnicities, according to a study that looked at blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics.

The 2008 rate, a record, was double that of 1980 and six times that of 1960, partly because of weakened cultural taboos and partly because of successive waves of immigrants from Latin America and Asia, says the study, by the Washington-based Pew Research Center. It is one of several analyses culled from census data in advance of the release later this year of the results of the 2010 U.S. census. (The census is conducted every 10 years).

Obama, Iran and Alice in Wonderland

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 11, 2010 15:02 UTC

Here we go again. That shape-shifting entity known as “the international community” has moved once more to try and stop Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. In the process, the community shrank by two countries, Turkey and Brazil.

That is the conclusion one can draw from President Barack Obama’s statements on the U.N. Security Council’s vote on June 9 to sanction Iran for failing to halt its production of nuclear fuel. The vote, Obama said, was “an unmistakable message” by the international community and showed its united view on Iran and nuclear arms.

That doesn’t quite square with the fact that Turkey and Brazil, two increasingly important players on the world scene, voted against the 15-member council’s resolution. (Lebanon abstained). But it confirmed an apparent tendency by Western leaders to draw inspiration from Alice in Wonderland (where Iran is concerned).

George W. Obama and immigration fantasies

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 4, 2010 13:38 UTC

In the waning days of his presidency, George W. Bush listed the failure of immigration reform as one of his biggest disappointments and deplored the tone of the immigration debate. It had, he said in December 2008, undermined “the true greatness of America which is that we welcome people who want to work”.

The way things look a year and a half into the administration of Barack Obama, he too may end his presidency deploring the failure to fix America’s dysfunctional immigration system. The tone of the debate is even more rancorous now than it was when Bush pushed reform and it features the same arguments, including the fantasy that you can fully control the frontier between the U.S. and Mexico, the world’s busiest border.

That illusory target was set in the Secure Fence Act of 2006, signed into law by George W. Bush on October 26 of that year. It provided a definition of the term “operational control”, one of the most frequently used buzz phrases of the debate. (The other is “securing the border”). Under the letter of the law, operational control means “the prevention of all unlawful U.S. entries, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”

Performance reviews – a global scourge

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 1, 2010 13:51 UTC

It is time to kill the annual performance review, for decades a feature of corporate life around the globe, dreaded both by those who do the reviewing and those who are reviewed.

It is a corporate sham and one of the most insidious, most damaging and yet most prevalent of corporate activities. It is a pretentious, bogus practice that produces nothing that could be called a corporate plus. It is universally despised yet few people do anything to kill it.

So says Samuel A. Culbert, a consultant and professor of management at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in a just-published book entitled, Get Rid of the Performance Review! The book grew from a 2008 article in the Wall Street Journal which, Culbert says, prompted a thousand letters to the editor and a flood of online comments, mostly in favour of his argument.