Ghana's Wireless Revolution

Youth in Ghana are pressing for political reform from their cell phones, according to 27-year-old Mac-Jordan Degadjor. He says the rapid rise of a mobile phone culture has been revolutionary for Ghana—so much so that Internet cafes have become downright passé.

Speaking to World Affairs from the Ghanaian capital of Accra on Wednesday, Degadjor explained:

We have a youth culture of mobile Internet users. Also, the youth is actually accessing information on their phone. They no longer need to go to [an] Internet café to check their e-mail or check their news because … they are able to, like, check Internet on their phones. That is why we are using social media to reach out to the youth more, because if you look at the demographics, a lot of the youth have access to mobile phones or the Internet and they are able to access all of this information on Twitter, and on Facebook, and on blogs, on everything, right from their homes. They don’t need to go to an Internet café anymore.

The Iraq Invasion's Anniversary

I remember the start of the invasion of Iraq well. As it happened I was at a long-scheduled celebratory dinner at Le Cirque, though it didn’t feel that celebratory because the restaurant was nearly deserted. Everyone was home glued to their TVs. Everyone was worried, as I was, that there might be a chemical weapons attack on our troops or some undreamt-of atrocity committed by Saddam. This wasn’t a right-wing plot; it was something that seriously worried journalists who had scored embeds with the invading forces. Jokes about the chemical-protection suits they’d been issued scarcely concealed their fear.

Like so many people I knew, I supported the war, not so much to disarm Saddam Hussein or to stop him from developing WMD, but to free his long-suffering people and promote democracy in the Middle East. We imagined something like the Arab Spring, as it turned out, but we thought we could bestow it on the Iraqis as—in Fouad Ajami’s apt phrase—“the foreigners’ gift.”

Hanging with King Abdullah

Jeffrey Goldberg has a fun new piece in The Atlantic about Jordan’s King Abdullah, with whom he got to spend some quality personal time.

It is not necessarily good to be the king of a Middle Eastern country that is bereft of oil; nor is it necessarily so wonderful to be the king during the turmoil and uncertainty of the Arab Spring. It is certainly not good to be the king when the mystique that once enveloped your throne is evaporating.

But when a squadron of Black Hawk helicopters is reserved for your use, and when you are the type of king who finds release from the pressures of monarchy by piloting those Black Hawks up and down the length of your sand-covered kingdom—then it is still good to be the king.


It was obvious to me that King Abdullah was looking forward to flying his helicopter—but not so much to the meeting that awaited him in Karak. “I’m sitting with the old dinosaurs today,” he told me.

The men he would be meeting—a former prime minister among them—were leaders of the National Current Party, which had the support of many East Bankers of the south, and which would almost certainly control a substantial bloc of seats in the next parliament. What the party stood for, however, beyond patronage and the status quo, was not entirely clear, even to the king. Shortly after the eruption of the Arab Spring, the king told me, he met with Abdul Hadi al-Majali, the leader of the party. “I read your economic and social manifesto, and it scared the crap out of me,” the king said he told Majali. “This makes no sense whatsoever. If you’re going to reach out to the 70 percent of the population that is younger than me, you’ve got to work on this.” The party manifesto, the king told me, “didn’t have anything. It was slogans. There was no program. Nothing.” He went on, “It’s all about ‘I’ll vote for this guy because I’m in his tribe.’ I want this guy to develop a program that at least people will begin to understand.”


The 30 or so men (and one woman, a daughter of one of the tribal leaders) sat on couches against the walls. Tea was served. The king made a short plea for economic reform and for expanding political participation, and then the floor was opened. Leader after leader—many of whom were extremely old, many of whom merely had the appearance of being old—made small-bore requests and complaints. One of the men proposed an idea for the king’s consideration: “In the old days, we had night watchmen in the towns. They would be given sticks. The government should bring this back. It would be for security, and it would create more jobs for the young men.”

I was seated directly across the room from the king, and I caught his attention for a moment; he gave me a brief, wide-eyed look. He was interested in high-tech innovation, and in girls’ education, and in trimming the overstuffed government payroll. A jobs plan focused on men with sticks was not his idea of effective economic reform.

As we were leaving Karak a little while later, I asked him about the men-with-sticks idea. “There’s a lot of work to do,” he said, with fatigue in his voice.

We boarded the Black Hawk and took off. I was seated behind the king. He asked me whether I wanted to make a detour: “Have you ever seen Mount Nebo from the air?” He flew northwest, toward the mountain from which, the Bible tells us, God showed Moses the Land of Israel. The Dead Sea shimmered just beyond. I suggested a quick detour to Jerusalem, which was 30 miles away. “The cousins like to have more warning,” one of his aides said with a smirk. “The cousins” are the Israelis.

Read the whole thing.

Duma Leaders Accuse Kremlin Critic of Treason

In the decorative rubber stamp that is today’s Russian State Duma, Dmitri Gudkov is a rare voice of opposition. Last June, he and a handful of colleagues organized Russia’s first-ever parliamentary filibuster, forcing the chamber to consider some 400 amendments (many of them purposefully absurd) in an effort to delay the adoption of a law raising fines for “violations” during street rallies. In December, he was one of just eight members of the Duma who voted against “Herod’s Law,” which banned adoptions of Russian orphans by US citizens. He has publicly supported the Magnitsky Act, which provides for targeted US visa and financial sanctions against Russian officials implicated in corruption and gross violations of human rights.

Can the UN Stop Kim’s Human Rights Crimes?

The hopelessly feckless United Nations Human Rights Committee has finally come up with a seemingly worthwhile project: A serious investigations of human-rights violations in North Korea.

When most people think of North Korea, the first problems that come to mind are nuclear weapons and long-range missile tests, or the bellicose threats against South Korea and the United States, or the country’s general hostility to the Western world.

Yet what lies behind that, seldom discussed, is a world of human-rights abuses. A new United Nations study finds that two-thirds of North Koreans have no idea where their next meal is coming from. About one quarter of the state’s children grow up stunted for lack of nutrition during the first year of life. (This under a regime that sends military aircraft to China to bring back take-out Big Macs and fries for government leaders.)

Media Rights Compromise in UK?

Great Britain has never been a haven for press freedoms. For one thing, most British despise the media, as a BBC-sponsored poll indicated some years ago: at the time only one-third of British respondents said they approved of their news organizations, and I suspect it is even fewer these days. For another, much of the British media deserve their derision.

Americans Give Up on Middle East Peace

According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, American public opinion favors the Israelis over the Palestinians by a six-to-one margin. Only nine percent of the country sympathizes more with the Palestinian Authority.

As some would have it, the American left sides with the Palestinians while conservatives support Israel, but obviously this is wrong. Even if all nine percent of pro-Palestinian Americans are on the political left, they make up less than a fifth of those who voted for Barack Obama. Conservatives are more likely to support Israel, but the bipartisan consensus is iron-clad.

At the same time, an overwhelming majority think the United States should take a pass on leading peace negotiations. I can’t read the minds of hundreds of millions of people, but I’m pretty sure most recognize that peace talks are futile right now, so why should we take the blame when they fail again? There is nothing Barack Obama can do to make the two sides sign a deal. Not a thing. And it isn’t his fault. He might as well try to halt gravity.

The United States should mediate peace talks if and when both sides are serious. This might actually happen after the regimes in Syria and Iran are overthrown or reformed out of existence.

Sunni Arab governments haven’t waged a war against Israel for forty years. The 1973 Yom Kippur War was the last time it happened. Only the region’s non-Sunni governments in Syria and Iran, along with their Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist proxies, have bothered to keep the war going. Who knows what might happen when Damascus and Tehran have changed? Without patrons, Hamas and Hezbollah will feel an unprecedented amount of pressure to make deals with their enemies. Even if they refuse, they’ll be shadows of their current selves. Then the United States should consider getting involved again.

The so-called “linkage” theory, which places the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the center of the Middle East’s Gordian knot, is ludicrous. Syria’s civil war won’t be resolved with a peace treaty, nor will Iran’s nuclear weapons program be put on ice, nor will tensions abate between  the region’s Sunnis and Shias, nor will secularists and Islamists achieve a modus vivendi in unstable post-Arab Spring countries like Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. But all that said, it’s still in the United States’ interest to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and it will be worth pursuing the minute it’s viable.

In the meantime, conflict management rather than conflict resolution is the best we can reasonably hope for.

The next American president might see an opportunity where Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have failed. The next American president might think he or she is more clever than the last three and can pull it off with some stroke of genius. Such is the hubris that accompanies election to the White House. The American public, however, will surely remain skeptical and will laugh at jokes like the one in Adam Sandler’s ridiculous film, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. “They’ve been fighting for 2,000 years,” says the lead character’s mother. “It can’t be much longer.”

Why Missile Defense? Because China Is Arming North Korea

On Friday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the Obama administration’s decision to add 14 inceptors to the nation’s rudimentary missile defense system. The new ground-based missiles, scheduled to go into service in 2017, will be located at Alaska’s Fort Greely. Hagel’s announcement essentially reversed the administration’s 2010 decision to cap the number of anti-missile missiles in Alaska and California at 30.

The 30 currently deployed interceptors are positioned to defend against warheads launched from Asia, one country in particular. “The United States has missile defense systems in place to protect us from limited ICBM attacks,” Hagel said on Friday, “but North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and has engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations.”

An Isolated Yanukovych

A behind-the-scenes powerbroker most people have never heard of has some interesting things to say about the Yanukovych regime and the Regionnaires in a recent interview. The 63-year-old Hennadi Moskal has occupied a variety of highly placed positions in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Security Service and has also served as governor of Luhansk and Zakarpattya provinces and as President Yushchenko’s permanent representative to the Crimea. In a word, Moskal knows both the “power ministries” and the country. He also happens to have been a parliamentary deputy for a few years, most recently having been elected in October 2012 on the democratic-opposition ticket.

Yevgenii Kuzmenko, of the Social Communication website Obkom, interviewed Moskal on January 29th. What, Kuzmenko asks, does Moskal think of the fact that President Yanukovych is appointing “his exclusive little soldiers” to positions of authority?

Last Chance to Pre-order an Autographed Copy


UPDATE: Orders are now closed. The book will be released in April, so you can buy a trade paperback or electronic version at that time from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Powell's, Kobo, iTunes, etc.

Kremlin Propaganda at Its ‘Best’

Even seasoned Western Kremlin-watchers sometimes have trouble realizing the full magnitude of manipulation and misinformation that Russia’s state-run television—still the main source of news for tens of millions of voters—feeds the country’s citizens on a daily basis. The lies become especially malicious when it comes to the Russian pro-democracy opposition, which is usually presented to viewers as a “fifth column” of the West working to undermine Russia’s national interests.

Syrians Protest Al-Nusra

Syria's war against Bashar al-Assad is merely stage one.

Anti-regime activists took to the streets of rebel-held Mayadeen in eastern Syria on Wednesday for a third straight day to demand that jihadist Al-Nusra Front fighters leave the town, a watchdog said.

"For the third day in a row, protests erupted in Mayadeen calling on the Al-Nusra Front to leave the town," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Protests erupted after the Islamist Al-Nusra Front -- blacklisted in December by the United States as a "terrorist" organization -- set up a religious council in the east of Deir Ezzor province, where Mayadeen is situated, to administer affairs in the area.


"The protests are an important indicator that people in eastern Syria -- where people do not have a culture of religious extremism -- do not welcome the imposition of religious law," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

When Assad falls—and fall he will, at least eventually—the Free Syrian Army will go to war with Jabhat al-Nusra. There is not enough room in that country for al-Nusra and everyone else.

The Shangpu Revolution

On early Sunday, a reported 3,000 police and security troops surrounded the Chinese village of Shangpu. They fired tear gas, severed communications, shut off the electricity, and removed wrecked vehicles. They cleared off roadblocks that residents had erected. Some 30 to 40 villagers were hurt in fierce fighting. “It’s an extremely serious situation,” one resident told AFP. “They injured many people.”

The incident began in February when villagers fought pitched battles with dozens of thugs sent by Li Baoyu to break up a protest against a seizure of 33 hectares of farmland. Li, the Communist Party chief of the village, had arranged for the land to be transferred to Wanfeng Investment, controlled by businessman Wu Guicun. Wu had planned to build factories making electrical cables.

Yanukovych’s Information Bubble


One of Ukraine’s best investigative journalists, Serhii Leshchenko, recently revealed a tidbit about President Yanukovych that shocked me. Read the following excerpt from his blog and see if you catch the jaw-dropping, eye-popping, mind-blowing part:

That Yanukovych doesn’t hear journalists is half the problem. He doesn’t hear his citizens. He wakes up in [his palatial estate outside Kyiv], which is surrounded by a six-meter-high fence and guarded, not by the Berkut special forces, but by an Anti-Aircraft Defense unit of Ukraine’s armed forces. He travels in a heavily guarded cortege along the Kyiv-Nova Petrivka highway…. Then he takes cordoned-off streets to get to [the presidential building], where he ends up in the closed bubble of the presidential administration…. His circle of associates is confined to his closest advisors, hunting friends, and his fawning subordinates. Every time Yanukovych goes out he is accompanied by an army of guards… There is no computer in Yanukovych’s office.

For Awlaki, Trial by Drone

Sometimes it helps to be a history major. Here’s a fact most contemporary chroniclers either don’t know or choose not to recall: John Adams, who eventually became the second president of the United States, once let it be known that he, Adams, thought George Washington was so terrific that he should be referred to as “His Highness, the President of the United States and Protector of the Rights of Same.” (Washington declined the honorific.) I reflect on that Adams suggestion every time I read about the killing, in late 2011, of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. When you think about it, it’s awfully easy to slip—even after a revolution—from a democrat to an autocrat.


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