Gregg Easterbrook

The spy novel-like case of Raymond Davis

Feb 23, 2011 17:10 UTC

PAKISTAN-US/SHOOTINGRaymond Davis, an American who shot and killed two men in Lahore, Pakistan, under disputed circumstances, has just been revealed to be a CIA contractor. What a mess. And it’s a mess that makes me reflect on when I lived in Lahore, in the late 1980s.

Lahore is the cultural capital of Pakistan, home to writers, artists and intellectuals. Variously ruled in recent centuries by the Mughals, the Sikhs and the British during the Raj, Lahore is the great ancient city of the Punjab. There is magnificent old architecture, crazed and crowded marketplaces, sprawling slums. A sense of intrigue is part of the city’s lore, as one would feel in Marrakesh or Kathmandu.

Driving in the old-city areas of Lahore is unlike anything experienced in the West. Roads are bumper-to-bumper, drivers flagrantly disobey traffic laws — roaring the wrong way down a one-way street is practically normal. Davis said his car was wedged in by traffic, a common problem in the city, when he was approached by two men with guns. Having driven in the old-city areas of Lahore, I am sure that being in a wedged-in car and approached by armed men — roving thieves plague Pakistan, and there is nothing equivalent to the reliability of 911 — would be frightening. Whether Davis was justified in opening fire is something the courts must determine.

The revelation that Davis was working for the CIA has roiled Pakistan and embarrassed the United States, because Davis entered Pakistan on a diplomatic passport. Officially, such passports are only for diplomats and their dependents. On a practical basis, the United States and many other nations — surely, at some point, including Pakistan — grant diplomatic covers to intelligence agents. But when a bogus diplomatic status is exposed, this shames the nation involved. The United States looks extra-bad because after the shooting, American officials including President Barack Obama insisted Davis actually was a diplomat, a member of the administrative staff of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad.

Whether diplomatic immunity applies to Davis is a matter of keen debate. Often, intelligent agents caught in situations such as this are quietly spirited out of the country as the host government agrees to look the other way. Because the Davis case has stirred such controversy in Pakistan — was it really robbery, why did Davis fire so many times, what about the U.S. staff car that struck and killed a bystander while speeding toward Davis? — slipping him out of Pakistan would cause general outrage.

Family rule is under siege, at last

Feb 18, 2011 17:15 UTC


Dictatorship is under siege throughout the Arab world: fingers are crossed that democracy will prevail. Something else is under siege, too — the notion of family rule. This is among the oldest, and most harmful, concepts in human society. Is it about to vanish at last?

For centuries, in some cases for millennia, regions and nations have been ruled by families — either formally as royalty, or de facto via warlords, khans and shoguns who in most cases inherited their positions. As recently as a century ago, families still ran most of Europe, all of Russia and Japan, while an assortment of warlord-like figures with inherited standing ran much of what’s now South America and the Middle East, and kings and emperors controlled the subcontinent and most of Africa.

Today family rule has been vanquished, or reduced to constitutional status, in most of the world. The big exceptions are Cuba, North Korea, the Middle East, and parts of Africa and Pakistan. The fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, following a 30-year warlord-style rule — and the unlikelihood that his sons will inherit control of the country, as Mubarak planned — represents a major subtraction from the remaining portion of the globe under family control.

Rethinking hiring and employment

Feb 10, 2011 15:18 UTC

In all respects save employment numbers, the United States economy is back to normal. Real growth in 2010 was 2.9 percent — not spectacular, but any developed nation would take that figure. The adjusted U.S. GDP just rose back above its prior peak of late 2007 — meaning U.S. economic output has never been higher than right now. Sales numbers are good across most industries, corporations are sitting on ample cash, banking and equity liquidity is fine, no primary resource is scarce and the index of Standard & Poor’s 500 earnings per share is at an all-time high.

That’s a healthy economy — except for unemployment. Job numbers have improved somewhat but are nothing to write home about. Even considering that hiring usually trails a recovery by several months, unemployment numbers are spooky. President Barack Obama just implored the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to “hire and invest”.

Let me propose an uncomfortable notion. Namely: two mainly unrelated phenomena happened at once, the recession and a job contraction. Though the former triggered the latter, they actually had little to do with each other. The job contraction would have happened regardless.

Obama, don’t fear change in Egypt

Feb 1, 2011 21:11 UTC

EGYPT-USA/Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has announced he will not stand for reelection in the fall, Reports are that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak will not stand for reelection in the fall, and one reason for Mubarak’s decision is that President Barack Obama privately urged this course.

That’s a step in the right direction — but President Obama needs to go much farther. He should publicly, and enthusiastically, back the protesters who are demanding a new dawn in Egypt.

Yes, many things could go wrong if there is sweeping change in the world’s oldest nation. But many things could go right, too. America’s highest ideal is freedom. The United States strongly supports freedom for itself, for Europe, for China and Japan. Why not for Egypt?