We at World Affairs congratulate President Obama for his reelection, wish him well, and pass along some bracing insight of best-selling author P. J. O’Rourke, who argues that the president’s zero-sum philosophy and the wealth redistribution it invites is doomed to stifle initiative and stagnate the economy. While not denying its inherent and universal appeal, P. J. argues that zero-sum redistributionism has been tried and has failed and that the president does a disservice to America, and the world, when he proposes to “wipe the smile off the faces of people with prosperous businesses and successful careers . . . [to] make the rest of us grin.”
As the administration begins its second term, and the 113th Congress convenes this month, its members would do well to read Joel Brinkley’s grim account of America’s international (re)distribution efforts, this time in the form of foreign aid to Afghanistan, during the past decade. Brinkley, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a former New York Times foreign correspondent, reports on the unique ways in which some $100 billion-plus in US aid has been squandered there. It will surprise no one that the road to foreign aid hell was paved by exorbitant waste, corruption, neglect, and gross incompetence with nary a trace of accountability. Brinkley’s story gives new meaning to America’s capacity to inspire shock and awe in a war zone. Perhaps Congress should consider tightening the purse strings until we find a better way to offer a helping hand.
NPR’s Tom Gjelten offers readers a more reassuring assessment of American efficiency in his update on the cyber warfare front, reporting that the US security establishment has abandoned its previous dependence on defensive cyber strategies and has shifted into high gear with the aim of developing superior, first-strike, offensive capacities. DARPA—the agency that brought us the Internet, stealth aircraft, GPS, and, now, cyber war planning’s “Plan X”—and a host of other agencies have dramatically ramped up America’s efforts to understand and dominate the cyber battlefield because, as one expert put it, “There’s no way that we are going to win the cybersecurity effort on defense.” As Gjelten reports, the preemptive Stuxnet attack—widely reported to have administered a significant setback to Iran’s nuclear ambitions—has helped to open a window into cyber warfare’s brave new world, complete with its cadre of anti-social hackers, Defcon conferences in Vegas, and a race to develop “back door exploits,” as the strategies are called that identify a potential enemy’s “zero day” vulnerabilities. These developments are accompanied by a complex array of security, legal, order of battle, tech transfer, and civil liberties challenges, and Tom has done his usual terrific job of decoding them.
Columbia University’s Lincoln Mitchell reviews the recent “upset” election in Georgia that revealed Emperor Saakashvili was not as well dressed as had been represented by his adroit public relations apparatus and his fan club of Western policy and opinion makers. But, besides exposing Saakashvili’s unpopularity, the victory by Bidzina Ivanishvili—a billionaire political novice of inclinations as yet unknown—gives some hope, Mitchell argues, that new life has been breathed into the aspirations of the previously given-up-for-dead Rose Revolution. We’ll keep you posted.
Moving further west, Gordon Bardos takes us into the heart of a largely ignored but troubling story that has simmered in Bosnia since the Balkan wars—how Iran has woven itself into the country’s military, intelligence, and social fabric. Today, Iran’s largest diplomatic contingent in all of Europe resides in tiny Sarajevo. One of the men serving in Bosnia’s three-man presidency is Bakir Izetbegovic, the leader of the pro-Iranian faction in Bosnia and the son of the late president, Alija Izetbegovic, who began the integration of Iran’s radical regime into Bosnia’s political and security apparatus. Meanwhile, the Sarajevo newspaper Dnevni Avaz warns that pro-Iranian factions are “reactivating para-intelligence cells” throughout the country. And now Western governments have become increasingly vocal about Bosnia’s Iran ties, past terror activities and links, and the future threat they represent. If you already thought the Balkans had too much history, read this article.
Turning back to post-election America, in the coming weeks, the Senate will lose Joe Lieberman, perhaps the last vestige of the Democratic Party’s liberal hawks in the style of John Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and Scoop Jackson. In his excellent essay about this throwback to a better time, Jamie Kirchick chronicles and dissects the last decade or so of Lieberman’s four heterodox and turbulent, but notable and worthy, Senate terms. Lieberman’s career encapsulates the twists and turns of recent domestic politics. In 2000, of course, he was the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee. In 2004, the New Republic endorsed the popular Democrat for president. Then, barely two years later, the senior Connecticut senator was defeated in his party’s state primary by an antiwar political no-name. Lieberman then ran as an Independent—and won handily. In 2008, he expressed his newly found independence by endorsing Republican Senator John McCain for president because he was wary, at the time, of candidate Obama’s dovish tendencies on defense.
Despite the abrupt (and politically driven) rises and falls of Lieberman’s saga, one thing was always constant in the senator’s career: his appreciation for America’s indispensable role in the world and his policy prescriptions that never subordinated tough choices to political expediency. As Kirchick makes clear, Joe Lieberman has been a steady hand and generous spirit in the country’s ever more polarized and less civil political dialogue. His good nature and intellectual gravitas will be missed.
There’s more in this Christmas stocking of an issue—Michael Totten writes on the global assault on free speech, lead by Islamists and fronted by Muslim diplomats and heads of state who propose to criminalize blasphemy and “insults” against the Prophet Muhammad. Alan Johnson explains why Israel is justified to draw a red line on Iran’s bomb development, and why Israel’s threats to destroy the bomb-in-waiting should be taken seriously. Finally, Vladimir Tismaneanu reports that a recent coup attempt in Romania shows that democratic gains remain fragile and reversible in parts of Eastern Europe.
Best of the holiday season to you. As always, let us know what you think.
— James S. Denton