Saturday, February 28, 2009

U.S. will not attend Durban 2

The United States will boycott the forthcoming U.N. Durban "conference on racism", which will essentially be a forum for the vilification of Israel, Haaretz reports. The move suggests that other nations may follow the U.S. example.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

History's greatest heist

A new book by Sean McMeekin, assistant professor of international relations at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey, examines the apparent mystery of how the Bolsheviks managed to stay in power during the five long years of the Russian Civil War. The Moscow Times has a review.

(via Marius)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The grand accusation

On the 'Z' Word site, a remarkable interview by Michelle Sieff with Terror and Liberalism author Paul Berman. At one point, Berman discusses the historical underpinnings of contemporary anti-Semitism:

The Nazis are generally regarded as the worst, most evil political movement in all of history - a political movement that not only committed crimes but stood for the principle of crime. By comparing Israel to the Nazis, people mean to suggest that Israel is likewise one of the worst, most evil political institutions that could possibly exist. The accusation is cosmically huge. And the cosmically huge accusation makes perfect sense - if you keep in mind the venerable idea that the Jews stand in the way of mankind's achievement of a perfected system of universal justice and happiness.

Discovering why Russia backs al-Qaeda - 2

On her blog, Kejda Gjermani explores some more connections. (via LGF)

See also: Discovering why Russia backs al-Qaeda

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The faces of British Fascism

At Harry's Place, Edmund Standing examines the continuity of the British Fascist movement from the 1930s to the present day.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Russia's passport offensive

An AP feature describes how,"claiming humanitarian grounds for ex-USSR citizens, Russia is building vast communities of citizens outside its borders". The article discusses the situation in Georgia, Moldova, Trans-Dniester, Estonia and Ukraine. According to the Federal Migration Service, since the year 2000 Russia has given passports to nearly 2.9 million former Soviet citizens.

(via Marko Mikhkelson)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who won the Russian-Georgian War?

Russia and Georgia at War has published a translated collection of summarized articles by the Russian journalist Yulia Latynina. Such was the barrage of lies and propaganda unleashed during the conflict and after it, she concludes that the only victor of the war was the South Ossetian regime and its out-of-control leader:

President Kokoyti solved all his problems. Georgian enclaves that used to irritate him with their wealth and affluence are burnt down. Georgian hospital and apartment blocks are destroyed. “We razed everything there to the ground” he said. All Tskhinvali residents know that Georgians were running around Tskhinvali and were killing children, while Georgian warplanes were bombing them, - all at the same time. Entire Tskhinvali population knows the name of their savior, the great leader Kokoyti. Those in South Ossetia who doubt it are guaranteed to have problems.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Surprising Strings

In the WSJ, Will Friedwald writes about the work of the British jazz researcher and archivist Anthony Barnett, and reviews three new releases of historic and jazz violin recordings issued on Barnett's AB Fable label.

Words and meanings

This blog has a lot of lively and informed news and commentary about literary translation - especially from the Nordic languages.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Books from Finland on the Web

Books from Finland, the English-language literary magazine which has been published quarterly since 1977, is now available in a new Web format. The style of the magazine's contents continues to be the same as before, with translated extracts from recent Finnish and Finland-Swedish fiction, non-fiction and poetry, as well as plenty of book reviews, illustrations and short bibliographical summaries. Soila Lehtonen writes:

BfF, a weblication:

Spread the word, please!

Soila Lehtonen
Books from Finland, the online journal
of writing from and about Finland:

P.O. Box 250, FI-00171 Helsinki
+358 (0)20 131 345

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Defendants acquitted in Politkovskaya murder trial

Three men accused of involvement in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006 have been acquitted, the BBC reports. A fourth man still remains at large, but was also apparently acquitted by the jury.

HRW's Tanya Lokshina says (audio link) that the verdicts "send a chilling message" to critics of the Russian government, as they indicate that those who perpetrate killings of journalists, human rights defenders and others now have immunity from prosecution.

9/11 and the heirs of Stalin

The historian and Soviet GRU defector Victor Suvorov (pen-name of Vladimir Rezun) has published another controversial book which examines the origins of the Second World War and purports to show that far from fearing Hitler or mistrusting him, Stalin saw Germany's aggressive moves in 1939 as a valuable pretext for a major war against Germany, which would ultimately lead to a Soviet conquest of Europe. It was this, Suvorov argues, that led to Germany's preemptive war plan and the Nazi invasion of the USSR.

On his website, JR Nyquist reviews the book, and draws some parallels with the present day:

When asked by a journalist why so many historians missed the role that Stalin played in starting World War II, Suvorov responded: “Are you asking why they are all so brilliant?” If someone asks today why the CIA and FBI haven’t grasped Moscow’s role in 9/11, I must give Suvorov’s answer. It is an amazing truth, that most events aren’t properly examined after the fact. Myths are propagated and false interpretations become set in stone. This is because normal people don’t question first impressions. They are superficial in their analysis. That is the way the world works. To question a myth, one has to have a questioning mind. Facts speak truth only to the few. As Suvorov points out, “Poland was divided not in the Imperial Chancellery, but in the Kremlin.” We might also recall that modern terrorism wasn’t invented in Baghdad or Kabul, but in Moscow.

(via Mark)

On civil liberty

It's interesting to see the waves of hyperbolic indignation that are currently sweeping sections of the Western liberal media in connection with the banning from the United Kingdom of Dutch MP Geert Wilders. In the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash compares the UK to East Germany and Burma, and writes that in Britain civil liberty is facing "death by a thousand cuts". In the FT, Larry Siedentop argues that for civil liberty to work in the UK, it must be extended universally, as an absolute principle, for otherwise the Muslim migrants will see themselves as discriminated against.

These are blind and wrongheaded arguments, which above all make the victim into the culprit. For it's precisely the aim of demagogues like Wilders to undermine civil liberty and increase social and inter-ethnic tension. The British authorities were therefore quite justified in excluding him. A central tenet of our Western democracy is that free speech is not an absolute and universal right, but a privilege that must be earned by responsible speech and behaviour. Critics of the Home Secretary's decision refer to a "moral decline" in British political life which they claim is evidenced by the Wilders banning, and they particularly point to what they say is a similar "decline" in the United States.

The fact that the United States and United Kingdom are conducting a courageous and difficult fight against a surge of international terrorism sponsored at least in part by despotic rogue states that include Iran, Syria and Russia seems to escape the advocates of this spurious notion of liberty. Personally, I see the moral decline in those critics of the U.S. and Israel who are currently generating dangerous currents of Western public opinion that are redolent of the 1930s.

See also in this blog: Wilders in Moscow

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Russia's Northern Sea Route

The Barents Observer reports on Russia's imminent attempt to appropriate for its own use what may become a commercial shipping route between Europe and Asia as the Arctic sea ice melts.

(Thanks, Leopoldo)

Anti-Semitism now

In the Independent, Howard Jacobson takes eloquent and damning issue with the growing ranks of Britain's anti-Semites.

(via normblog)

Point of no return - 2

Prague Watchdog's Dzhambulat Are has some further comment [my tr.].

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Point of no return

The Russian government, in collaboration with the Kadyrov-led Chechen authorities, continues to exert every means at its disposal to persuade Akhmed Zakayev, the London-based prime minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) government-in-exile, to return to Chechnya. In a new development, an aide of President Medvedev has suggested that Zakayev could be offered an amnesty if he agrees to go before a Russian court and proves his innocence. It seems unlikely that he will comply, however. Having refused an invitation from Ramzan Kadyrov to visit Grozny, Zakayev is understandably cautious, pointing to the fact that the many political murders have taken place in Russia during recent years mean that no guarantee of personal safety can be trusted.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Soros on the geopolitics of cheap oil

The financial broadsheet Vedomosti has published an article (in Russian) by the international financier and philanthropist George Soros in which he gives his assessment of the effects of the economic crisis on the global political landscape. In his analysis he suggests that the recent dramatic fall in the price of oil may not be entirely a bad thing, as it is likely to promote some realism in Teheran, and make Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's return to power in Iran's June 12 elections that much less probable. On the other hand, there are dangers elsewhere. In Russia, Soros continues, the loss of oil revenues is likely to propel the leadership towards more adventurism abroad and greater repression at home. Nationalism has replaced Communism as the official ideology, and the people who are currently in power in Kremlin have few scruples about using the enormous might of the state to further their own individual ends.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Discovering why Russia backs al-Qaeda

At LGF, a further report on a prolonged dispute between U.S. web sites throws light on the Internet activity of pro-Putin and pro-Serb nationalist lobbyists who seek to exploit the Western public's fears of terrorism in order to gain credibility for their views.

As an LGF commenter points out, perhaps one of the most succinct analyses of this phenomenon was given by a former lieutenant colonel in the Soviet KGB, who in 2007 wrote, among other things:

Americans generally believe that Russia is afraid of Islamic terrorism as much as the U.S.A. They are reminded of the war in Chechnya, the hostage crisis at the Beslan School in 2004 and at the Moscow Theater in 2002, and of the apartment house blasts in Moscow in 1999, where over 200 people were killed. It is clear that Russians are also targets of terrorism today.

But in all these events, the participation of the FSB, Federal Security Service, inheritor to the KGB, is also clear. Their involvement in the Moscow blasts has been proven by lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB Colonel. For this he was illegally imprisoned, and is now suffering torture and deprivation of medical assistance, from which he is not likely to survive.

A key distinction between Russian and American attitudes towards Islamic terrorism is that while for America terrorism is largely seen as an exterior menace, Russia uses terrorism as an object as a tool of the state for manipulation in and outside the home country. Islamic terrorism is only part of the world of terrorism. Long before Islamic terrorism became a global threat, the KGB had used terrorism to facilitate the victory of world Communism.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Xenophobia and stability in Crimea

At Maidan, Halya Coynash writes about attempts by propagandists who derive their support in the Russian federation to aggravate inter-ethnic tension in Ukraine's Crimea, and defends moves to counter this activity:

...when highly-placed politicians of a neighbouring country in no way conceal their position regarding Ukraine’s sovereign rights, and not only did not hide, but openly demonstrated their attitude to the territorial integrity of another neighbour just a few months ago, then surely it is not unreasonable to expect some flickering instinct for self-preservation?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chavez bars entry to Walesa

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has said that Polish Solidarity union leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Lech Walesa will be denied entry to Venezuela if he attempts to lend his support to opposition groups. Via

Calling Walesa an "Idol with feet made of mud," President Chavez went on national television to admonish the Foreign Minister:  "Nicolas, beware! Evaluate and give me recommendations on how to react!" The text of the President's speech was also made available in a transcript of the broadcast circulated by the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication & Information (Minci), which is generally seen as the government's mouthpiece.

  • According to the Minci text Chavez said "We are obliged to demand respect for Venezuela's dignity. He (Walesa) can say whatever he wants abroad, but NOT in here in Venezuela."  Chavez also claimed that the former Polish President is part of an international "plot that aims to generate a violent path" to overthrow his revolutionary government.

Wilders in Moscow

Dutch MP Geert Wilders sings the praises of Western democracy in the studios of Russia Today. Watch out for some odd nuances here and there.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lex Nokia

Finland's so-called "Lex Nokia", which would allow Finnish companies, including the mobile phone maker Nokia, to spy  on the log data of their employees' email messages, is causing quite a stir in the country. A report on FinRosForum, citing a Russian publication, even suggests that if Nokia does not get its way and the act is not passed, the company may move to Russia. However, it now looks as though the change to the law will go through after all.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The more things change...

Commenting on US Vice-President Biden's Munich Declaration, George Friedman at Stratfor remarks on the striking continuity between the foreign policy of George Bush and that of Barack Obama, and suggests that the course of historical events may be a decisive factor:

Willingness to talk is important, but what is said is much more important. Obama’s first foray into foreign policy via Biden indicates that, generally speaking, he understands the constraints and pressures that drive American foreign policy, and he understands the limits of presidential power. Atmospherics aside, Biden’s positions — as opposed to his rhetoric — were strikingly similar to Cheney’s foreign policy positions.

We argued long ago that presidents don’t make history, but that history makes presidents. We see Biden’s speech as a classic example of this principle.

Anti-Semitism in Sweden and Britain

Z-Word Blog has posts (here and here) on recent manifestations of anti-Semitism in Sweden, where public opinion and government policy appear to be almost universally hostile to Israel, and the UK, where the hostility is even breaking out in senior diplomatic circles.

Stability in the North Caucasus

On WikiLeaks, an interesting study (pdf) by CRS Russian and Eurasian affairs specialist Jim Nichol entitled Stability in Russia’s Chechnya and Other Regions of the North Caucasus: Recent Developments. Among other things, the paper  [published in August 2008] notes that

The Bush Administration generally has supported the Russian government’s efforts to combat terrorism in the North Caucasus. However, the Administration and Congress also have continued to raise concerns about the wide scope of human rights abuses committed by the Russian government in the North Caucasus. The Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY2008 (P.L.110-161) included $8 million for humanitarian, conflict mitigation, human rights, civil society, and relief and recovery assistance for Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and North Ossetia. The Act also repeats language used for several years that directs that 60% of the assistance allocated to Russia will be withheld (excluding medical, human trafficking, and Comprehensive Threat Reduction aid) until the President certifies that Russia is facilitating full access to Chechnya for international non-governmental organizations providing humanitarian relief to displaced persons.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Biden's Munich Declaration

Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release February 7, 2009
Hotel Bayerischer Hof
Munich, Germany
12:49 P.M. (Local)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much. Ladies and gentleman, it's an honor to be back in Munich. I've attended this conference many times as a United States senator, and three of my congressional colleagues are here with me today. But I am honored to be back here, as well, as the Vice President of the United States, representing a new administration and, hopefully, a new day.
Today I am especially honored to represent this administration. And we've gone through the oldest of our traditions: that is the peaceful transfer of power. And now, I bring the regrets of two friends who are usually here. But because we are still grappling with legislation relating to our so-called stimulus package to deal with our economic issues -- both Senators John McCain and John Kerry were hoping to join my three House colleagues here today, they are usually here, but they send their regrets.
I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration, and an administration that's determined to set a new tone not only in Washington, but in America's relations around the world. That new tone is rooted in a strong bipartisanship to meet these common challenges. And we recognize that these challenges, the need to meet them, is not an opportunity -- not a luxury, but it's an absolute necessity. While every new beginning is a moment of hope, this moment -- for America and the countries represented in this room -- it is fraught with some considerable concern and peril.
In this moment, our obligation to our fellow citizens is to -- in our view -- put aside the petty and political notion that -- to reject the zero sum mentalities and rigid ideologies, and to listen to and learn from one another, and to work together for a common prosperity and security of all of us assembled in this room. That's what, in our view, this moment demands. And that's what this new administration is determined to do.
For 45 years, this conference has brought together Americans and Europeans -- and, in recent years, leaders from beyond the Transatlantic community -- to think through matters of our physical security. But this year, more than ever before, we know that our physical security and our economic security are indivisible. We are all confronting a serious threat to our economic security that could further spread instability and erode the progress we've made in improving the lives of all our citizens.
In the United States -- like many of you -- we're taking aggressive action to stabilize our financial systems, to jumpstart our economy, and, hopefully, lay a new foundation for growth in the 21st century. Working with the Congress, we'll make strategic investments that create and save we believe 3 to 4 million jobs, and in the process, boost our competitiveness in the long run.
Our plan includes doubling the production of alternative energy over the next three years; computerizing our citizens' medical records to drive down cost; equipping tens of thousands of our schools and colleges with 21st century classrooms, laboratories and libraries; expanding the broadband across America; and investing once again in science, research, technology -- all the things that spur innovation. We're looking -- we're also working to stabilize our financial institutions by injecting considerable amounts of capital, purchasing some assets and guaranteeing others. These remedies are going to have an impact, as you all know, far beyond our shores, just as the measures all of you are taking will be felt beyond your borders, as well.
And because of that, to the greatest extent possible, we're going to have to cooperate to make sure that our actions are complementary, and to do our utmost to combat this global crisis. The United States is trying to do its part. And President Obama looks forward to taking our message to the G20 meeting in London in April.
And even as we grapple with an economic crisis, we're also -- have to contend with a war in Afghanistan now in its eighth year, and a war in Iraq well into its sixth year. And we have to recognize, as mentioned by both the Chancellor and President Sarkozy earlier today, that there are other forces that are shaping this new century: The spread of weapons of mass destruction and dangerous diseases, endemic disease; a growing gap between the rich and poor; ethnic animosity in failed states; and a rapidly warming planet and uncertain supplies of energy, food, water. The challenges to freedom and security from radical fundamentalism must be added to that list, as well.
In meeting these challenges, the United States will be guided by this principle –- and the principle is: There is no conflict between our security and our ideals. We believe they are mutually reinforcing.
The force of arms won our independence, and throughout our history the force of arms has protected our freedom. That will not change. But the very moment we declared our war of independence, at that moment we laid out to the world the values behind our revolution and the conviction that our policies must be informed, as we said at the time, by a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind."
Our Founders understood then, and the United States believes now, that the example of our power must be matched by the power of our example. And that is why our administration rejects a false choice between our safety and our ideals. America will vigorously defend our security and our values, and in doing so we believe we’ll all be more secure.
As hard as we try, I know -- I know -- that we’re likely to fall short of our ideals in the future, just as we have in the past. But I commit to you, this administration will strive every day -- every day -- to honor the values that animate American democracy and, I might add, that bind us to all of you in this room.
America will not torture. We will uphold the rights of those who we bring to justice. And we will close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
But tough choices lie ahead. As we seek a lasting framework for our common struggle against extremism, we’ll have
to work cooperatively with nations around the world -- and we’ll need your help. We’ll need your help. For example, we will ask others to take responsibility for some of those now in Guantanamo, as we determine to close it. Our security is shared. And so, too, I respectfully suggest, is our responsibility to defend it.
That’s the basis upon which we want to build a new approach to the challenges of this century. America will do more, but America will -- that’s the good news. The bad news is America will ask for more from our partners, as well.
Here’s what we’ll do, and what we hope our partners will consider. First, we’ll work in a partnership whenever we can, and alone only when we must. The threats we face have no respect for borders. No single country, no matter how powerful, can best meet these threats alone. We believe international alliances and organizations do not diminish America's power -- we believe they help advance our collective security, economic interests and our values.
So we’ll engage. We’ll listen. We’ll consult. America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America. But we say to our friends that the alliances, treaties and international organizations we build must be credible and they must be effective. That requires a common commitment not only to listen and live by the rules, but to enforce the rules when they are, in fact, clearly violated.
Such a bargain is the bargain we seek. Such a bargain can be at the heart of our collective efforts to convince Iran, for example, to forego the development of nuclear weapons. The Iranian people are a great people; the Persian civilization is a great civilization. But Iran has acted in ways that are not conducive to peace in the region or to the prosperity of its own people. Its illicit nuclear program is but one of those manifestations.
Our administration is reviewing our policy toward Iran, but this much is clear: We will be willing to talk. We’ll be willing to talk to Iran and to offer a very clear choice: Continue down the current course and there will be continued pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism, and there will be meaningful incentives.
Second, we’ll strive to act preventively, not preemptively, to avoid whenever possible, or wherever possible the choice of last resort between the risks of war and the dangers of inaction. We’ll draw upon all the elements of our power -- military and diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement, economic and cultural -- to stop crises from occurring before they are in front of us. In short, we're going to attempt to recapture the totality of America's strength, starting with diplomacy.
On his second full day in office, President Obama, went to our State Department, where he stressed the centrality of diplomacy in our national security. The commitment can be seen in his appointments, starting with the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It can be seen in the President's decision to name two of America's most tenacious diplomats -- Senator George Mitchell and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke -- to contend with two of the world's most urgent and vexing and complex challenges: the need for a secure, just, and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and the imperative of stopping the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan from providing a haven for terrorists.
In both these efforts, America seeks your partnership.
Senator Mitchell just completed his first trip to the Middle East. Above all, he went to listen. In the near term, we must consolidate the cease-fire in Gaza by working with Egypt and others to stop smuggling, and developing an international relief and reconstruction effort that strengthens the Palestinian Authority, and not Hamas. Neither of these goals can be accomplished without close collaboration among the United States, Europe, and our Arab partners.
Then, we must lay the foundation for a broader peacemaking effort. In the past -- well, look at it this way -- it's long time passed for us to secure a just, two-state solution. We will work to achieve it. And we'll work to defeat extremists who perpetuate the conflict. And in building on positive elements of the Arab Peace Initiative put forward by Saudi Arabia, we'll work toward a broader regional peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and we'll responsibly draw down our forces that are in Iraq in the process.
The United States will continue to work for a stable Afghanistan that's not a haven for terrorists. We look forward -- we look forward to sharing that commitment with the
government and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and with all of our allies and partners, because a deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat not just to the United States, but I would suggest somewhat presumptuously, to every one of you assembled in this room.
President Obama has ordered a strategic review of our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan to make sure that our goals are clear, and that they are achievable. As we undertake that review, we seek ideas and input from you and all of our partners. And we genuinely seek those ideas. I've already had bilateral meetings. I'll have the opportunity to meet with the President of France and others this afternoon. I had an opportunity to meet with the Chancellor this morning. We are sincere in seeking your counsel.
As we undertake this review, there's a lot at stake. The result must be a comprehensive strategy for which we all take responsibility -- that brings together our civilian and military resources, that prevents terrorists a safe haven, that helps the Afghan people develop the capacity to secure their own future. But no strategy for Afghanistan, in my humble opinion, can succeed without Pakistan. We must all strengthen our cooperation with the people and government of Pakistan, help them stabilize their Tribal Areas, promote economic development and opportunity throughout their country. In the case of my government, we feel it's urgent to move from a relationship that was transactional to one that is based upon a long-term relationship.
Thirdly, America will extend a hand to those who, as the President said, will unclench their fist. The United States of America does not believe, our administration does not believe, in a clash of civilizations; there is nothing inevitable about that. We do see a shared struggle against extremism -- and we'll do everything in our collective power to help the forces of tolerance prevail.
In the Muslim world, a small -- and I believe a very small -- number of violent extremists are beyond the call of reason. We will, and we must, defeat them. But hundreds of millions of hearts and minds in the Muslim world share the values we hold dearly. We must reach them. President Obama has made clear that he will seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect. It was not an accident that he gave his very
first interview as President of the United States to Al Arabiya. That was not an accident.
To meet the challenges of this new century, defense and diplomacy are necessary. But quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, they are not sufficient. We also need to wield development and democracy, two of the most powerful weapons in our collective arsenals. Poor societies and dysfunctional states, as you know as well as I do, can become breeding grounds for extremism, conflict and disease. Non-democratic nations frustrate the rightful aspirations of their citizens and fuel resentment.
Our administration has set an ambitious goal to increase foreign assistance, to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015, to help eliminate the global educational deficit, and to cancel the debt of the world's poorest countries; to launch a new Green Revolution that produces sustainable supplies of food, and to advance democracy not through the imposition of force from the outside, but by working with moderates in government and civil society to build those institutions that will protect that freedom -– quite frankly, the only thing that will guarantee that freedom.
We also are determined to build a sustainable future for our planet. We are prepared to once again begin to lead by example. America will act aggressively against climate change and in pursuit of energy security with like-minded nations.
Our administration's economic stimulus package, for example, includes long-term investments in renewable energy. And we believe that’s merely a down payment. The President has directed our Environmental Protection Agency to review how we regulate emissions, start a process to raise fuel efficiency, appoint a climate envoy -- and all in his first week in office, to demonstrate his commitment.
As America renews our emphasis on diplomacy, development and democracy, and preserving our planet, we will ask our allies to rethink some of their own approaches -- including their willingness to use force when all else fails.
When it comes to radical groups that use terror as a tool, radical states who harbor extremists, undermine peace and seek or spread weapons of mass destruction, and regimes that systematically kill or ethnically cleanse their own people, we
must stand united and use every means at our disposal to end the threat that they pose.
None of us can deny or escape the new threats of the 21st century. Nor can we escape the responsibility to meet them.
And we are not unmindful in the United States how difficult it is to communicate these notions to our public who don’t want to hear much of what needs to be said.
Two months from now, the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will gather to celebrate the 60th year of this Alliance. This Alliance has been the cornerstone of our common security since the end of World War II. It has anchored the United States in Europe and helped forge a Europe whole and free. Together we made a pact, a pact to safeguard the freedom of our people founded on the principles and the documents referring to democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. We made a commitment to cooperate, to consult, to act with resolve when the principles we defended are challenged.
There is much to celebrate. But we there’s much more to be done. We must recommit our shared security and renew NATO, so that its success in the 20th century is matched in the 21st century.
NATO's core purpose remains the collective defense of its members. But faced with new threats, new realities, we need a new resolve to meet them and new capabilities to succeed. Our Alliance must be better equipped to help stop the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons, to tackle terrorism and cyber-security, to expand the writ of energy security, and to act in and out of area more effectively. We continue to develop -- we will continue to develop missile defense to counter the growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost-effective. We'll do so in consultation with you, our NATO allies, and with Russia.
As we embark on this renewal project -- as we like to think of it -- the United States, like other allies, would warmly welcome, and we do warmly welcome, the decision by France to fully cooperate in NATO structures. That's the main reason the President got our speech. (Laughter.) You were supposed to say nicer things about me when you got the speech, Mr. President. (Laugher.) That's a joke. (Laughter.)
In a recent discussion with President Sarkozy, President Obama underscored his strong support for France's full participation in NATO, should France wish it. France is a founding member of NATO and a major contributor to its operation. We would expect France's new responsibilities to reflect the significance of its contributions throughout NATO's history, and to strengthen the European role within the Alliance.
We also support the further strengthening of European defense, an increased role for the European Union in preserving peace and security, a fundamentally stronger NATO-EU partnership, and a deeper cooperation with countries outside the Alliance who share our common goals and principles.
The United States rejects the notion that NATO's gain is Russia's loss, or that Russia's strength is NATO's weakness. The last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between Russia and the members of our Alliance. It is time -- to paraphrase President Obama -- it's time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia.
Our Russian colleagues long ago warned about the rising threat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Today, NATO and Russia can, and should, cooperate to defeat this common enemy. We can and should cooperate to secure loose nuclear weapons and materials to prevent their spread, to renew the verification procedures in the START Treaty, and then go beyond existing treaties to negotiate deeper cuts in both our arsenals. The United States and Russia have a special obligation to lead the international effort to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world.
We will not agree with Russia on everything. For example, the United States will not -- will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. We will not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances. But the United States and Russia can disagree and still work together where our interests coincide. And they coincide in many places.
This conference started in the shadow of the Cold War. Now it takes place in a new century with new threats. As one great poet, an Irish poet, once wrote about another
circumstance, he said: "All is changed, changed utterly: a terrible beauty has been born." Well, all changed, changed utterly. And we must change, too, while remaining true to the principles upon which this Alliance was founded. And we must have the common courage and commitment of those who came before us to work together, to build together, to stand together. In sharing ideals and searching for partners in a more complex world, America and Europeans still look to one another before they look to anyone else. Our partnership has benefitted us all. It's time -- it's time to renew it. And President Obama and I look forward to doing just that.
Thank you for your indulgence. (Applause.)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Biden: no "sphere of influence" for Russia

Speaking at the 45th Munich Security Conference, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden has rejected the notion of a "sphere of influence" for Russia. In addition, he announced no review of the European missile defence plan, stating that the U.S. will continue to pursue the defence system, provided it is not too costly and can be shown to be effective against the threat from Iran. Furthermore, the IHT reports Biden as saying that the U.S. will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent:

"...We will not recognize a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances."

The report notes that

...any chance for a rapprochement between Washington and Russia at this conference all but evaporated, foreign policy experts said, after officials of the Obama administration concluded that Russia had pressed Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic, to close the U.S. military base in that country. The base is crucial to the U.S.-led fight in Afghanistan that Obama has identified as his central national security objective. Obama plans to deploy as many as 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan over the next two years; shaky overland supply routes through Pakistan would make it difficult for the United States to adjust to the loss of the base, in Manas, Kyrgyzstan.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Lines being drawn between Moscow and Brussels

Reports from Moscow indicate  that the beginnings of a gradually increasing confrontation between Moscow and Brussels are now underway. The political murders in Russia, the gas crisis and the Russia's invasion of Georgia have all figured in EC President Barroso's discussions with President Medvedev, with EU representatives also making it plain to the Moscow regime that its thuggish conduct is becoming more and more unacceptable.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Two Poems

By Pia Tafdrup
(my tr.)

The west-facing panes of the stable
gather the sun’s rays
one mild evening
of swallows.
Round and round they chase
in a ring
about the tree in the middle of the courtyard.
Round and round,
my father
holds my head tightly
with both hands, no answer,
forces me
to stare in
at the stone wing’s sharply illuminated windows.
A needle pricks a hole,
the swallows cry white.
– “Look!”
says my father.
– “Look, the sun!”
It isn’t the courtyard
going up in flames but me
being dazzled by the light in the glass.
Suddenly I’m certain:
My father doesn’t know
what he’s doing.
Against the wheel ―
my head rests,
the horses
have broken loose.
Long-legged flight
towards a black horizon.


My father doesn’t remember how well-read
he is.
In his bookcase I spot
Rilke’s Briefe an einen jungen Dichter.
Like the first peal of a heavily
floating bell
one bronze-still morning,
Germany presents itself...
I wanted to visit the girl who was my pen friend
in spite of protests.
My mother couldn’t bear
the sound
of the German language ―
she heard Hitler
in every word.
During the war like my mother my father was
to flee to Sweden,
but on his shelves in the bookcase
there were German books.
DA stieg ein Baum. O reine Übersteigung!
O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr!

− Remember,
it doesn’t matter which family you visit,
said my mother
and sleepless sent
her sixteen year old daughter away,
they all – in different ways
took part in the war.
I understood her pain,
but wanted to overcome it.
In “my” family, with Rosi,
pretty Rosi,
needles could not be used.
Rosi’s father
couldn't bear the sight
of needles ―
he saw Hitler
in every needle.
Rosi’s father had experienced something during the war
that could not be talked about, not even
in his own house
− was the first thing the women told me.
If I wanted to sew
I would have to go somewhere else
like Rosi, her mother and old Oma.
− My father knows something about needles
women don’t know,
whispered Rosi one evening
on the way home from the discotheque,
where she
and her at least as pretty Gerhard,
on the dance floor
under the brilliance
of the reflecting glass globe
were chosen as couple of the evening,
without so much as a button popping...
DA stieg ein Baum,
wanted to dance round and round,
just be allowed
to live,
but Rosi’s father had experienced something
to do with needles that burned
and stuck into Rosi,
something that long after the war was over
still kept her father blindingly awake.

(from Tarkovskijs heste [Tarkovsky's Horses]
Gyldendal, 2006)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Al Jazeera problem

Ever since Al Jazeera TV began its English-language broadcasts in November 2006, a section of media and liberal opinion in the UK and US has greeted the new news channel, with its extensive list of high-profile Western broadcasters and journalists, as a respectable source of information and analysis related to events in the Middle East. The Independent newspaper even offers readers of its website a daily broadcast of the Al Jazeera headlines. During the Gaza conflict, there was a consensus among "right-thinking" media people that the channel was to be congratulated on its coverage, which was all the more sought after because of the fact that it was one of the few news outlets able to beat the Israeli security blackout.

Now, however, it appears that Al Jazeera has begun to broadcast statements by figures in the Islamic world which are clearly not only inflammatory, but also obviously aimed at stirring up anti-Semitism and extremism in the West, In a recent statement, the Islamic cleric Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradawi called for a Second Holocaust and openly endorsed the policies of Adolf Hitler:

Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.

Why is Al Jazeera promoting this kind of material? And what is the reaction of those British, American and European journalists and media personalities who have put their names and talents to work for the channel?

Via Harry's Place

Monday, February 02, 2009

King of kings

The BBC reports that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been chosen as this year's chairman of the 53-nation African Union at the AU summit in Ethiopia.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says it was the turn of North Africa to lead the bloc, and Col Gaddafi was seen as the obvious choice. However, some African leaders believe the Libyan leader is too erratic to be AU chairman.

Before he arrived at the summit, he circulated a letter saying he was coming as the king of the traditional kings of Africa and he wanted to be seated as the king of kings, our correspondent says.

Col Gaddafi has previously outlined his vision for African unity.

He wants a single African military force, a single currency and a single passport for Africans to move within the continent.

Last August, a meeting of more than 200 African kings and traditional rulers bestowed the title "king of kings" on the Libyan leader. 

Hat tip: Leopoldo

Brodsky in Iceland

Joseph Brodsky with the Icelandic poet Jóhann Hjálmarsson (left) and yours truly in the garden of Jóhann's home in Reykjavík, June 1978. The tree in the photo was the tallest in Iceland at that time. (Morgunblaðið, 23 October 1987).

Iceland: a chillier Dubai

In an interview for the Sunday Times, Dorrit Moussaieff, the wife of Iceland's President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, describes her view of Iceland's future. Excerpt:

Indeed, she’s hoping to turn the country into a sort of deluxe haven where cosseted clients from around the world can come and pick up treats: a chillier version of Dubai, with fish and geysers instead of sand. Moussaieff has stumbled upon a disused airbase in Iceland and hopes to transform it into a store for art collections that people will then be able to visit. She has teamed up with her great friend the art collector and heiress Francesca von Habsburg for the scheme.