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Michael Cohen thinks journalists are bad foreign policy analysts, taking aim at one particularly pathetic example of journalism — Tom Friedman. He accuses Friedman and other journalists of over-dramatizing.

I feel like it’s endemic in the profession – a propensity to make grand simplistic pronouncements based on anecdotal experiences rather than rigorous analysis. Granted this is a problem in not just foreign policy, but it seems particularly bad in this field. Maybe its because foreign correspondents are seen to have some sort of unique insight; when in fact the opposite is quite likely true because they are basing their analysis on immediate experience rather than actual historical or cultural study. Or maybe it’s the difficulty that journalists face in getting to the heart of a story – a point bravely raised here by Jerome Starkey in regard to Western coverage of NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan.

Cohen’s main argument is that journalists gain an exaggerated picture of reality by relying on anecdote — which their jobs often requires — over academic study. I don’t think I’d make as sweeping a statement as he does. Robert Fisk is a prime example of a journalist who both tells good stories and understands cultural and historical nuance. Even academics fall victim to the Manicheanism Cohen blames on journalists. Case in point: neoconservatives.

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Pakistan is about to pass a set of constitutional amendments that attempt to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions. No one said it could be done–but there you have it folks, the so-called incompetent politicians achieved something for the greater good.

The most interesting part of the proposal is that it will make Pakistan’s prorogation procedures–the procedures that determine when and how a Parliament can be dismissed–more democratic than Canada’s. Only the National Assembly will have the power to dismiss itself (before its five-term limit is over) or to prorogue, whereas in arcane Canada, the Governor-General possesses that power de jure. In practice, it’s even more autocratic because the prime minister ultimately decides when to prorogue because the Governor-General defers to the judgment of the elected head of government.

General Ashfaq Kayani, Chief of the Pakistani Army, and a delegation of Pakistani ministers are in Washington, D.C. this week to begin a “strategic dialogue” with the U.S. Although he holds no civilian office, Kayani is the head of Pakistan’s strongest political institution, its military, and so has the credibility to negotiate on the behalf of the Government of Pakistan. The president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been sidelined, and Pakistan’s foreign policy is now blatantly in military hands. The Pakistani delegation brought with it a 56-page document–a wish list that includes demands for new and cool helicopters, drones, and U.S. financial assistance. Considering the fact that Pakistan has spent so much blood and treasure in the fight against the Taliban along its Afghan border, the aid and weaponry are in many respects overdue. Yes, the country has received billions since 9/11, but what is currently at stake–peace and stability in Afghanistan–has required Islamabad to alter its strategic orientation, which was primarily focused on its eastern neighbour, India. And for this, Washington should be grateful and generous.

But Pakistan has more than money on its mind: it is seeking recognition as a legitimate nuclear power and a civilian nuclear energy deal on par with the deal the Bush administration gave to India in 2008. Some have argued that Pakistan deserves such a deal. That suggestion is, however, irresponsible and ignores fundamental realities in Pakistan.

There are three main concerns about the prospects of such a deal. Firstly, as the Washington trip this week demonstrates, Pakistan’s civilian government has little to no control over the country’s defence and foreign policies. It was the country’s chief general who headed the Pakistani delegation, not its President. Pakistan’s political system is also notoriously unstable, swinging from democracy to dictatorship at a whim. Entrusting Pakistan with a nuclear deal would hand over precious fuel and technology to an unstable government, where the possibility of an unfriendly Islamist government coming to power is always plausible.

Secondly, Pakistan’s nuclear program makes no distinction between the military and the civilian sector. The military reigns supreme and manages the country’s nuclear energy needs. A civilian nuclear agreement would be one only in name. A nuclear deal for Pakistan would mean handing over fuel and technology to the Pakistani military, which would obviously divert away resources towards its nuclear weapons program. Some suggest that oversight over Pakistan’s nuclear facilities would allay such concerns. India famously refused American oversight over its nuclear facilities, and Pakistan–far more paranoid of American regional ambitions–would outright deny any access to its facilities.

Pakistan’s record of nuclear proliferation offers the most convincing argument against any attempts to recognize the country’s legitimacy as a nuclear power. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the former head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, admittedly transferred nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. And he did so with few repercussions: he faced no trial and continues to reside in Islamabad, albeit under house arrest.

Pakistan’s political instability, its military’s enmeshment with the country’s politics and civilian institutions, and its record of nuclear proliferation should disqualify it from receiving recognition as a nuclear power and any assistance from the U.S. The Obama administration would be right to scoff at Pakistan’s suggestions that it deserves to be legitimate nuclear power.

A flurry of commentary has appeared in recent days concerning Pakistani policy in Afghanistan. Analysts are wondering if Pakistan’s intelligence cooperation with the U.S. and its military operations in the tribal areas signal some sort of shift in the Pakistanis’ strategic mindset. Of course, some analysts question if Pakistan’s recent actions can even be considered helpful (for example, the capture of Baradar did more to hurt peace negotiations than help.) Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria is in the optimist camp, claiming that there has indeed been a shift in Pakistan’s Afghan policy and that this is largely the result of the White House’s well-orchestrated Pakistan policy. (Note: There are eerie similarities between the current Obama administration policy in Pakistan and the recommendations made by the Center for American Progress report on Pakistan published in November 2009.)

Max Fisher at the Atlantic wonders the same: “Is Pakistan finally on our side?” Fisher, more pessimistic, believes that Pakistan has not really changed its strategy at all. There may be short-term cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan, but “the underlying factors that led to Pakistani support of the Taliban may very well remain: Poverty and all the rage it creates, anti-Western sentiment, religious fundamentalism, and fear of India.”

Finally, Jeffrey Dressler and Reza Jan of the American Entreprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project provide an overview of the main arguments for and against the possibility of a more U.S. friendly Pakistani policy in the region. Dressler and Jan think that “[t]here appears to be a fissure in Pakistan’s long-standing support for the QST,” but how and why this fissure exists is unclear. They stress that the outcome–of Pakistan’s anti-Taliban stand–is more important than why Pakistan is shifting policy.

My dear friend and confidante Allison McNeely wades into a sticky debate with her latest post, “Let’s avoid ethnocentric solutions to women’s issues.” Commenting on The Daily Beast founder Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit, Allison asks, “Do we really know how to improve the lives of women in Saudi Arabia or India?” She raises an important question: is the liberal democratic framework a) ethnocentric, and b) can it apply to all. Essentially, do we consider liberal democracy truly universal or is it particular to Western societies.

This is the debate Francis Fukuyama ignited in writing his treatise, The End of History and the Last Man. Does modernity necessarily mean an inevitable progression towards Western-style liberal democracy? Or can we have separate modernities, shaped by the peoples of the developing world themselves?

Allison would rather have women from the developing world organize such conferences, instead of the seemingly patronizing efforts of Western feminists, who she sees as ethnocentrists imposing their ideas on the rest. While I see the merit in the separate paths thesis, I do think that historical progress in developing societies will require engagement with the West. Liberal democracy to me isn’t simply an cultural order or political tradition particular to the West, but a universal ideal. I say this because liberal democracy as we understand it is not rooted in Christendom or the history of Western civilization alone; it is the product of the Enlightenment.

It signifies the triumph of human reason and scientific principles over mysticism and the Church, a sort of scientific revolution for government. In other words, liberal democracy is a technological innovation–albeit a political technology–that allows societies to better organize themselves and to arrive at rational, peaceful government. Just as the scientific inventions of the Enlightenment have been adopted by developing societies, so too must the governmental inventions of the Enlightenment–if developing societies hope to mimic the progress of the West.

For the past few weeks, as some of you may know, I’ve been compiling news stories and analysis about Afghanistan and Pakistan for HuffPost‘s At War blog. I’ve made several observations over this time, and I’m going to offer one today: there is no analysis of Afghanistan coming from the right. None. It’s mainly the American Left and centrists who seem concerned about the conflict, which is even more appalling considering that 30,000 more American troops are due to land in the country.

What explains this? My first instinct is to say that the GOP is the party of no ideas. That was easy, but not sufficient.

The dearth of conservative analysis of the issue is perhaps best explained by the fact the conservatives messed up Afghanistan–big time. Now we know that it was all along possible to force Pakistan to cooperate with the U.S. The Obama administration’s regional strategy is working; him, Holbrooke, and McChrystal have coaxed Pakistan into cooperating, something the Bush administration utterly failed at. Caught in the delusions of Musharraf’s pronouncements, they failed to see that Pakistan had not shifted its national security strategy in the region. And though it still continues to reportedly support certain factions of the Taliban, it is more or less making significant gains. Obama gave Pakistan an offer for influence in Afghanistan, and Pakistan agreed to abandon its outright support for the Taliban. That’s called foreign policy.

J’ai dit “ouch” en lisant la chronique critique de Patrick Lagacé ce matin. Il attaque un éditorial publié dans le Globe and Mail, qui accussait les québécois de l’intolérance envers les immigrants mussulmans. En particulier, l’éditorial visait la décision de la Ministre Yolande James d’expulser Mme. Naeema Ahmed du cours de francisation parce qu’elle refusait d’enlever son niqab. L’article original, écrit dans La Presse, a “apporté les nuances et les détails nécessaires, y compris les multiples tentatives du cégep pour trouver un arrangement avec la jeune femme.” Ce n’était pas ni un cas de l’intolérance de la presse québécoise ni de l’intolérance du gouvernment. Après plusieurs tentatives d’accommodation, la femme elle-même s’obstinait de coopérer. Au Canada anglais, on a l’habitude de déclarer chaque exemple d’affrontement entre le Québec et ses immigrants comme étant preuve de l’intolérance innée de la belle province. Mais, dans ce cas, je partage l’opinion de la majorité. Or, Je ne crois pas que les québécois sont intolérants. Je les juge peut-être ignorant, mais pas rempli de haîne.

I don’t usually–actually rarely–comment on Israeli-Palestinian issues, mainly because it’s one foreign policy topic that goes beyond simple policy to most people. It evokes fury and passion from both sides. Even the distant observer is dragged into the morass of identity politics, religious ideology, human rights, and nationalism that is the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

The same can be said about the debate over American foreign policy on the issue. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby was caricatured as both “realist” (by those who liked its arguments) and “anti-Semitic” (by those who hated it). The thesis of The Israel Lobby was that a coalition of pro-Israel Jews, evangelical Christians, and neocons exercised a disproportionate influence over U.S. policy in the region. By skewing American foreign policy in the pro-Israel direction, the Lobby was harming U.S. national interests. Whether America’s strong support for Israel does damage to American national interests remains open to debate to many. It’s the question of whether the pro-Israel lobby is dramatically impacting U.S. policy that’s been of significant controversy recently. Those who believe in the Israel Lobby are described as suffering from the Israel Lobby Syndrome–that is, “the belief that the organized, insistent power of American Jews as deployed through organizations like AIPAC is primarily responsible for American support of the Jewish state.”–according to Walter Mead.

Mead argues that the folks who believe in the Lobby are missing the key point: that a majority of non-Jewish Americans support Israel. It’s not that American Jews are behind the policy, but that Americans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. That’s perhaps because of their religious beliefs (evangelicals, for example) or their support for a fellow democracy. Poll after poll shows this. Some would counter-argue that, well, it’s the Zionist mainstream media that propagates pro-Israel views. Really? Since when does Sarah Palin, who describes herself as the antithesis of the mainstream media, get her “intellectual”–putting the words “intellectual” and “Palin” in the same sentence is so painful–views from the powers that be in the media?

[W]hatever the sources of Ms Palin’s opinions on a very wide range of subjects, the mainstream media has not played a major role in her intellectual formation. And what is true for her is true for a great many other Americans who disagree with the mainstream media virtually across the board. They are more likely to disagree with the mainstream media than to mindlessly parrot its views — so why does it seem even remotely credible to assert that Palin and so much of the rest of the country is pro-Israel because of Jewish media power?

Of course, while I think this is an ingenious point, and I completely agree that the media doesn’t control our opinions, here’s my critique: Ms. Palin’s views are shaped by Fox News, which, though part of the mainstream media, provides a socially conservative perspective. This merely means that while the mainstream media disagrees about social issues or even economic policy, it remains pro-Israel, regardless of its political leanings. Now, is this pro-Israel slant the result of a Jewish cabbal or merely a reflection of the pro-Israel values of most Americans? I side with the latter.

Haider Mullick, a fellow at the Joint Special Operations University, has written a monograph about Pakistan’s national security doctrine. Here’s a pretty good review written by Erum Haider. And here’s a lengthy excerpt:

The question persists, though: why does the Pakistan Army single-handedly continue to define national security, despite the installation of a democratically elected government at the centre? If analysts such as Mullick are correct, then the army has outwitted fate – by creating a problem and then solving it. Secondly, such an argument claims that it is perfectly reasonable to expect Pakistan to have national security concerns against India and deal with them in any way it sees appropriate, while simultaneously fighting terrorists that have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians.

It doesn’t take a military strategist to understand that what has happened in the Pakistan Army’s calculus is not a “paradigm shift,” but a “selective readjustment.” India is still the number one enemy, and militants are still the best resource for the Pakistan Army to maintain its influence in the region.

Although Pakistanis do not like the US government telling us our army harbours militants, we are not ready to admit that, at some level, our national security concerns are driven entirely by the “Indian threat.” Some seek solace in the fantasy that perhaps India is behind the terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil. Many among the public are willing to believe that Islamic hard-liners in Waziristan and Punjab take orders from Hindu agents, rather than admit the obvious.

I feel that I have to qualify my previous after reading this:

Sanjay Sharma’s film Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun will, for the first time in Bollywood history, feature a gay kiss. The plot centres on a struggling model who moves to Mumbai in search of fame, and then begins a relationship with another man. In a country that only decriminalized homosexuality last year, it’s no surprise that the premise has some filmgoers squirming. (In fact, until recently, even heterosexual kisses—or “lip-locks”—were taboo, although that is changing.)

India’s answer to Brokeback mountain. If the producers can pull this off without incident–unlikely–then I’d hail this as a victory for sexual freedom in India. Never, ever would you see this in Pakistan. You know how they say never say never? Well, I’m sayin’ never.

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