In the Middle East, the Obama Administration is Still Failing to Live up to its Rhetoric

In a speech earlier this week to the U.S. – Islamic World Forum Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again exposed tensions at the core of the Obama administration’s response to popular uprisings for human dignity throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These inconsistencies leave human rights and democracy activists in the region wondering which side the U.S. government is on, and how far it is prepared to support a new vision for a region grounded in democratic government, respect for the rule of law and human rights.

The general theory of the administration’s approach to the region is clear enough: denying the legitimate rights and aspirations of people throughout the region is not a sustainable way for governments to rule.  In her speech secretary Clinton spoke of “exposed myths…that governments can hold on to power without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights.”

Problems come when the administration is required to apply its theory in practice in the form of specific policies designed to deal with the challenges presented by specific country situations.  Here the speech is laced with caveats and qualifications: will the Arab spring result in lasting reforms?  Well, “these questions can only be answered by the people and leaders of the Middle East and North Africa themselves. The United States certainly does not have all the answers…” Hardly a ringing endorsement of the reform agenda.

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Innovation of the Week: Land Grabs

Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Over the last few years, China, India, and the Middle East have invested heavily in African land, spurred on by the global food and economic crises—as well as the threats of climate change, population growth, and water scarcity. By controlling agricultural land in Kenya, Ethiopia, and elsewhere on the continent, these nations hope to secure future food supplies for their populations, even as sub-Saharan Africa faces increasing hunger. At least 23 million people are currently at risk for starvation in the Horn of Africa. And this increasing foreign investment in African land has largely remained under the global radar. In addition, the push for alternative energy sources is driving investors to purchase land for energy crops, like corn and sugar cane, which can be used to produce biofuels instead of food.

Some experts argue that “land grabbing” or the investment in foreign soil is progress for agriculture, by bringing development and big agriculture to impoverished countries through the introduction of new technologies and jobs. But, as the article, The Great Land Grab, co-authored by Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group member Anuradha Mittal, explains, “corporate agribusiness has been known to establish itself in developing countries with the effect of either driving independent farmers off their land or metabolizing farm operation so that farmers become a class of workers within the plantation.”

Land grabs can come at a great cost to local farmers and communities. In Pakistan, for example, the United Arab Emirates purchased 324,000 hectares of land in the Punjab province. According to a local farmer’s movement, this purchase will displace an estimated 25,000 villagers in the province, where 94 percent of the people are subsistence farmers only utilizing about 2 hectares of land each. Because of these “land grabs,”not only are farmers removed from land, but the local economy also suffers.  Many hunger-stricken countries, such as Sudan and Kenya, will have to import foods that were once grown locally.

We Are a Nation in Decline

By: Inoljt,

On the eighth anniversary of 9/11, a professor of mine made a comment that caused a lot of soul-searching for me. He remarked, quite casually, that the United States is in decline.

Those words angered me. Nobody likes to hear their country characterized in that manner. But ever since then I've been considering that casual statement.

I think it accurately describes the state of our nation.

We are a nation in decline.

We are in decline for a variety of reasons, some more controllable and some less so. Economic weakness has something to do with it, as does the popularity of anti-Americanism (thank you, George Bush). Misadventures in the Middle East and the rise of China also play a participating role.

But enough about why we are in decline. What can be done to stop it?

More below.

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Mike Huckabee says Palestine has no right to exist

(On an unrelated note, I checked with Jerome today, and will start some regular lite blogging on weekdays. Hence this post.)

I had the chance to meet Mike Huckabee in January 2008. As Republicans go, I'd always been impressed - but from John McCain to Chuck Grassley, Republican stars have a way of losing their shine, and Huckabee is no exception. From Think Progress:

On a visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories this week, former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee supported Israel's right to build settlements on Palestinian land. He also stated his opposition to a two-state solution, saying that there is no room for a Palestinian state "in the middle of the Jewish homeland":

Speaking to a small group of foreign reporters in Jerusalem, Huckabee, seen as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012, said the international community should consider establishing a Palestinian state some place else.

"The question is should the Palestinians have a place to call their own? Yes, I have no problem with that. Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That's what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic."

So Huckabee joins Eric Cantor in slamming the American president while on foreign soil - a far cry from the way their party called Dubya's critics unpatriotic. You also have to wonder why Huck ignores history - the middle of the Jewish homeland? Well, yes, it is the Jewish homeland, but the Palestinian people have also been there for centuries upon centuries. It's not just a Jewish homeland, but rather a two-culture homeland.

Matthew Yglesias' headline goes too far: "Huckabee Calls for Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian Territories." No, he didn't say the people should be removed, just that Israel had a right to be the region's sole government, and that if Palestine has a state, it should be somewhere else. He didn't say the people should be forced to live in that state - that'd be like saying Florida Jews should be deported to Israel. Still, what he did say is pretty bad on its own.

I'd rather see the Republicans nominate Huckabee than I would Palin or Romney, but if Huckabee does emerge as a major 2012 contender, his opponents would be wise to focus on his foreign policy failings. This is not unlike his 2007 slips on Pakistan and Iran.

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What Planet Is He On?

(cross-posted at kickin it with cg and motley moose)

On the way to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia the New York Times is reporting that President Obama told Laura Haim on Canal Plus, a French television station, that the "United States also could be considered as 'one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.'"

This comment, predictably, has set off some controversy. Case in point is Robert Spencer of Jihadwatch, who asks "what planet is he on?" Answers Mark Leon Goldberg,

I'm guessing "earth." Because according to the Pew Research Center, there are an estimated 2.35 million Muslims in Amerca.  This means that if the United States were a member of the 57 nation Organization of the Islamic Conferences it would rank, in terms of Muslim population, above Albania, Kuwait, Brunei, Benin, Togo, Djbouti, Suriname, Gabon, Gambia, Guyana, Guinea-Bissau, Comoros, Qatar, Lebanon, and the Maldives.

Obama went on to say:

"What I want to do is to create a better dialogue so that the Muslim world understands more effectively how the United States, but also how the West thinks about many of these difficult issues like terrorism, like democracy, to discuss the framework for what's happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and our outreach to Iran, and also how we view the prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,"


"I think the most important thing I want to tell young people is that, regardless of your faith, those who build as opposed to those who destroy I think leave a lasting legacy, not only for themselves but also for their nations.  And the impulse towards destruction as opposed to how can we study science and mathematics and restore the incredible scientific and knowledge -- the output that came about during centuries of Islamic culture.

After 8 years of clumsy buffoonery - I guess this is what real diplomatic efforts look like.

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