Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

A return of “ignore Germany” under Obama?

Photo

It’s not quite as bad as it was back in 2003 when Gerhard Schroeder publicly chastised George W. Bush for invading Iraq and Condi Rice introduced a new policy in the White House called ”ignore Germany” (France was to be punished and Russia forgiven for their opposition to the war).

But relations between Berlin and Washington are probably as poor as they’ve been since Angela Merkel replaced Schroeder in 2005 and set Germany on a course of reconciliation with the United States.

After becoming accustomed to dinners in the White House, barbecues and back-rubs with Bush in his Europe-friendly second term, Merkel and her advisers in Berlin are agonising over a series of slights (perceived or real) from Obama since he came to office in January. 

First came the message from Washington that Obama might not continue the regular videoconferences Merkel held with Bush. In the end the White House came around, but it took two months to set one up.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Two views on Obama’s handling of Karzai

With President Hamid Karzai now looking all but unassailable in Afghanistan's August election, two articles out this week - one from Washington and the other from India - offer mirror-image analyses of President Barack Obama's handling of the Afghan leader. They should really be read as companion pieces since both offer insights into the workings of the Obama administration and the complexities of Afghan politics.  Reading both together also highlights how different the world looks depending on your perspective, whether writing from America or Asia.According to this article in the Washington Post by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (highlighted by Joshua Foust at Registan.net) the Obama administration had decided to keep Karzai at arm's length. It says Obama's advisers faulted former President George W. Bush for forging too personal a relationship with Karzai through bi-weekly video conferences and as a result creating such cosiness that it became hard for his administration to put pressure on the Afghan government."It was a conversation. It was a dialogue. It was a lot of 'How are you doing? How is your son?'" it quotes a senior U.S. government official who attended some of the sessions as saying. "Karzai sometimes placed his infant son on his lap during the conversations.""Obama's advisers have crafted a two-pronged strategy that amounts to a fundamental break from the avuncular way President George W. Bush dealt with the Afghan leader," the report said.  "Obama intends to maintain an arm's-length relationship with Karzai in the hope that it will lead him to address issues of concern to the United States, according to senior U.S. government officials. The administration will also seek to bypass Karzai by working more closely with other members of his cabinet and by funnelling more money to local governors."Retired Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, has a rather different reading on the wisdom of the Obama administration's approach. In this article in the Asia Times Online, headlined What Obama could learn from Karzai, (highlighted by Marie-France Calle on her French-language blog), he says the Americans allowed themselves to be outmanoeuvred by the Afghan President by keeping him at arms-length."In retrospect, United States President Barack Obama did a great favour to Afghan President Hamid Karzai by excluding him from his charmed circle of movers and shakers who would wield clout with the new administration in Washington," he writes. "Obama was uncharacteristically rude to Karzai by not even conversing with him by telephone for weeks after he was sworn in, even though Afghanistan was the number one policy priority of his presidency."But Karzai, he says, had the last laugh, as the opprobrium heaped upon him by the west raised his standing in Afghan eyes. Karzai had been able to manoeuvre himself into a strong position through weeks of Afghan-style backroom negotiations, capped by a decision by a popular candidate to pull out of the election race."The Afghan experience with democracy offers a good lesson for Obama: it is best to keep a discreet distance and leave the Afghans to broker power-sharing on their own terms, according to their own ethos and tradition," he writes. "However, Obama has a long way to go in imbibing the lessons of democracy in the Hindu Kush ..."(Reuters photos: President Karzai, and Karzai with President Obama and Vice President Biden. Photos by Yuri Gripas and Jonathan Ernst)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Defending women’s rights in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Barely had President Barack Obama outlined a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan meant to narrow the focus to eliminating the threat from al Qaeda and its Islamist allies, before the U.S.-led campaign ran into what was always going to be one of its biggest problems in limiting its goals. What does it do about the rights of women in the region?

The treatment of women has dominated the headlines this week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a new law for the minority Shi'ite population which both the United States and the United Nations said could undermine women's rights. Karzai has promised a review of the law, while also complaining it was misinterpreted by Western journalists. 

“Vietnam the war” back in the frame after Afghanistan

Photo

 For many, Vietnam has always been two things – a war and a country. Since probably the mid-1990s, though, when Washington and Hanoi established diplomatic relations, the balance — in terms of headlines at least — started to tip decisively toward “Vietnam the country”.

 

Vietnam’s economic transition and integration with the world has, indeed, made for some decent reading. So it’s been interesting to note since moving to Hanoi a few months ago the strong comeback that “Vietnam the war” has made in the form of articles about Afghanistan and the Obama presidency.

Keeping an eye on the Taliban

Photo

By Jonathon Burch
 
“Contact at Woqab. They’ve made contact,” says Devos calmly before running to the edge of the rooftop to have a better look into the distance with his binoculars.

“What do you mean they’ve made “contact”?” I ask, trying to see where his binoculars are pointed. “Small arms fire at Woqab,” he says pointing beyond a line of trees in the distance. Suddenly I feel exposed, standing in the open, three storeys off the ground.
 
The place is Musa Qala in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province and Devos is a 26-year-old soldier from Nepal serving in the British Army’s 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles. His job is to man the lookout on top of the British base inside the district centre, about a 30-minute helicopter flight across the desert from Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

How will Obama tackle militants in Pakistan?

Read President Barack Obama's speech on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he said a year ago and it's hard to see how much further forward we are in understanding exactly how he intends to uproot Islamist militants inside Pakistan.

Last year, Obama said that "If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan's border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot." Last week, he said that, "Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders.  And we will insist that action be taken -- one way or another -- when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama takes Afghan war to Pakistan

U.S. President Barack Obama set out his strategy to fight the war in Afghanistan on Friday, committing 4,000 military trainers and many more civillian personnel to the country, increasing military and financial aid to stabilise Pakistan and signalling that the door for reconciliation was open in Afghanistan for those who had taken to arms because of coercion or for a price.

He said the situation was increasingly perilous, with 2008 the bloodiest year for American forces in Afghanistan. But the United States  was determined to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan", he said, warning that attacks on the United States were being plotted even now.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Talking to the Taliban and the last man standing

The debate about whether the United States should open talks with Afghan insurgents appears to be gathering momentum -- so much so that it is beginning to acquire an air of inevitability, without there ever being a specific policy announcement.

The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, became the latest to call for talks when he told France's Le Monde newspaper that reconciliation was an essential element.  "But it is important to talk to the people who count," he said. "A fragmented approach to the insurgency will not work. You need to be ambitious and include all the Taliban movement."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama’s choice: 17,000 extra troops for Afghanistan

President Barack Obama, in his first major military decision, has authorised the Pentagon to send an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, saying the increase is needed to stabilise a deteriorating situation there.

Obama's Afghan strategy has been discussed at length, including on this blog (most recently about balancing the need for regional support with the demands of countries like Russia for concessions in return, the military challenges of devising an effective counterinsurgency strategythe views of the Afghan people and Pakistan's own struggles to contain a Taliban insurgency there.)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: the Great Name Game

Afghanistan is beginning to accumulate cliches. If it's not "Obama's Vietnam", then it's the "graveyard of empires".  (The British press, never one to be bamboozled by the big picture, says it's the end of bully beef for the troops.)

It is perhaps a measure of how little people really know about Afghanistan after more than seven years of war that such a complex conflict has to be simplified into labels.  Afghanistan's history of defeating the British in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th century certainly lends itself to dramatic comparisons. But they are not entirely accurate. Britain's failed Afghan campaign in 1838 was not the graveyard of the British empire -- it went on to defeat the Sikhs and rule India for another 100 years.  And the Soviet Union's disastrous occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 may simply have accompanied rather than precipitated the collapse of an empire that had been rotting from within years before Soviet troops reached Kabul. 

  •