Monthly Archives: October 2011

Seven Billion and Counting

Baby photoToday the world’s population passes seven billion, more or less. Population is growing by about 200,000 a day and nobody really knows when it passed, or will pass, this milestone. But UN officials declared October 31 as their best guess.

This led to some silliness about declaring one person to be the “seven billionth baby” — proof that people like stories better than statistics. Since India is the country with the most babies being born, and Uttar Pradesh the most populous state in India, with 11 new babies every minute, why not pick a baby there as the lucky number 7 billion?  Why not indeed? “A primary health centre in Sunhaida village has predicted the baby will be born to 25-year-old Pinky Pawar, wife of a local shopkeeper.”

Then a couple of NGOs that focus on the skewed sex ratio of boys and girls, the result of sex-selective abortions, decided to pick a girl baby in Uttar Pradesh, in order to draw attention to their issue. They picked the newborn daughter of a poor farmer, Baby Nargis, to symbolize how great baby girls are (what’s not to like?)

But why cede ground to India? International relations is a competitive business after all. The Philippines got a jump by declaring Danica Camacho the 7 billionth even though she was born two minutes before midnight. Her mother said simply, “She looks so lovely.” But a Philippines health official warned, “We should really focus on the question of whether there will be food, clean water, shelter, education and a decent life for every child … If the answer is ‘no,’ it would be better for people to look at easing this population explosion.” Easier said than done.

Recently I have been lecturing about the encouraging decline of armed conflict worldwide in recent decades. At almost every event, someone in the audience asks whether it isn’t true that the world’s growing population and a shortage of natural resources will send war back into an upswing. My answer is mostly no. The partial truth behind this idea is that poverty is a big risk factor for civil war Economist Paul Collier has written clearly about the “conflict trap” in which war keeps poverty in place while poverty makes war more likely. To the extent that growing world population makes it harder for the poorest countries to get economic growth going, those countries will be at greater risk of civil wars. However, we can see from the example of India that rising population and some festering little civil wars do not necessarily hold back a big country from getting its economic legs under it. India’s economy is growing robustly, its birthrate has been falling for years, and its war-proneness is also gradually abating. The same is generally true for the world as a whole.

As for fighting over natural resources, I don’t really buy it. It’s one thing to see small bands of thugs, I mean armed militias, grabbing diamonds or coltan in very remote locations in very poor countries in Africa. But the idea of big wars between countries fought over water or oil or food doesn’t fly. After all, this was the model of Japan in the 1930s — use military conquest to secure access to needed natural resources — and of Germany’s military expansion to gain “living room” for its growing population. How did that work out for them?

Today China has some conflicts with its neighbors over, say, oil in the South China Sea. The moment a war breaks out, nobody will be able to pump oil there. Or take Israel and Lebanon, trying to figure out who owns newly discovered natural gas deposits offshore near their border. Fighting over them will not allow the gas to be developed. Rather, the way to get the goods is through negotiation, agreeing on a line or a division of the spoils, and using international institutions to monitor compliance. In the Caspian Sea, vast oil deposits were discovered just after the Soviet Union broke up and the international boundaries were unclear. But no war resulted. Instead the countries yelled at each other for a few years, then got out the maps, drew some lines, and started pumping oil.

Thinking about the big wars of recent decades, none of them were fought over access to natural resources: The Ethiopia-Eritrea war,the Iran-Iraq War, the India-Pakistan Wars, the Vietnam War, the Korean War. Some people look at the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a grab for oil, but if so it sure didn’t work out.

Wealth these days comes from trade, not land. Trade is disrupted by war.  Countries used to encourage patriotic baby-production to create larger armies. Now technology trumps size in military conflicts. Therefore a growing population does not mean growing levels of violent conflict.

As for baby Danica Camacho in the Philippines and baby Nargis in India, they arrive in a world wired for Internet, not for war. Just Google “Danica Camacho billion” — 200,000 results, impressive for someone not yet a day old. And “baby Nargis billion”?  2.4 million pages. We have a winner!  You go baby!

Tunisia — Democracy and Islam

The Arab Spring came to fruition Monday in the first democratic elections in the country that started it all, Tunisia. By any measure they were a smashing success — peaceful, fair, high-turnout. Although the vote-counting continues, the Islamist party Ennahda is taking a strong plurality of votes, about 40 percent.

The elections could have gone wrong in any number of ways, but didn’t. Erik Churchill’s account summarizes the remarkable successes:

Tunisians I spoke with almost seemed surprised that their bureaucracy could function so well. Hedia, a family friend excitedly told me, “The observers didn’t try and do anything — they just let us vote on our own.” Living in a country that has never held free elections, Tunisian voters seemed to surprise themselves by the efficacy of the process.  … There were four great tests for the Tunisian election: non-violence, turnout, pluralism, and fairness. Their success was anything but assured.

As in other Arab Spring countries, Tunisian Islamists were the best-organized political force in the aftermath of the revolution, since they had spent years holding together a political party under repression by the authoritarian government. Therefore their strength may diminish in the future, as other parties get organized, if they do not govern effectively and serve all segments of society.

The Ennahda leadership immediately reached out to liberal, secularist parties to try to form a broad-based government of national unity — a smart move. In turn, the leader of one of those parties, a doctor and human rights activist, said “We are going to fight for civil liberties and we are going to do everything to protect women’s rights, but we are not going to fight against Islamists.We don’t want an ideological war between secularists and Islamists.” The Ennahda leaders have said they do not intend to enact Shariah law or impose Islamic morals on European tourists who enjoy Tunisian beaches.

Today Ennahda’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi met with executives from the Tunisian stock market to drive home the message that the new government will be business-friendly. Meanwhile at a rally last night a party official declared, “We suffered from dictatorship and repression and now is an historic opportunity to savor the taste of freedom and democracy.” A woman candidate from the Islamic party, notably lacking a head scarf, sang pop songs for the crowd.

The model here is not the Palestinian Islamic armed faction Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and not the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is no relation to the Islamist militancy of the fading al Qaeda. Rather, the model of the day is Turkey’s Justice and Development Party. It emerged from an underground Islamist force under a military government; it attended to daily needs of poor people in slums (garbage, electricity, jobs); it rode to power on the charisma of its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who became mayor of Istanbul, then prime minister of Turkey. Erdogan has battled back the fiercely secular Turkish military, firmly establishing democratic civilian control after decades of military interference in politics. He is pro-business and pro-Europe. And his brand of Islamist politics is taking root far beyond Turkey’s borders.

The rise of Ergoganism, against the backdrop of the death of bin Ladenism, is a hopeful sign that democracy continues to gain strength in the world while violence (though still clearly with us) continues to diminish. Way to go Tunisians; now on to Egypt.

Update – Azerbaijan Makes the UNSC

Today was the Azerbaijan-Slovenia showdown over the Eastern European seat. After17 inconclusive ballots, Azerbaijan was in the lead by 116 to 77 but still 13 votes short of the two-thirds needed.  Slovenia, in a spirit of “OK already, we can’t win so let’s all go home,” withdrew from the race and Azerbaijan was elected. Congrats to the Azeris. As the saying goes, “the 18th time’s the charm.”

 

UN Security Council election update

UNSC photo

Well, the votes have been counted, the dust has cleared, and five new members of the UN Security Council have been elected for two-year terms starting January 1 — Pakistan, Guatemala, Morocco, and Togo.  Oops, that’s only four, isn’t it?

The Eastern Europe seat has gone to ten ballots so far without a winner, that is, a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly.  (In an earlier post I erroneously stated a simple majority was needed.) Azerbaijan and Slovenia will slug it out again starting Monday. Hungary has dropped out. At the last vote, Azerbaijan had an edge (113 to 77) but was 14 short of the two-thirds needed for election.

The new UNSC membership is considered less likely to vote for Palestine’s admission to the UN as a member state. Two regional giants, Brazil and Nigeria, will leave at the end of the year and be replaced by smaller countries — Guatemala and Morocco — considered more easily influenced by the United States. Morocco is a member of the Arab League but also relatively pro-American, and the strongly pro-Palestinian Lebanon will also rotate off the Council, as will pro-Palestinian Gabon.

All of this matters because if the Palestinian bid cannot muster 9 “yes” votes among the 15 UNSC members, it will fail without the United States having to use a veto. American leaders are doing all they can to bring about that outcome, fearing that a U.S. veto would poison relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds. Palestinians, naturally, are pushing for a vote on membership before the end of the year, preferably on Nov. 11, so that the current UNSC members will decide the matter. Even there, however, they count only eight votes: Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Lebanon, Nigeria and Gabon. With Colombia apparently turning down Palestine, the last hope seems to be Bosnia. However, my instinct says that Bosnia, which owes its survival to U.S. support in the 1990s, is not going to be the one to force the USA into a veto.

After Pakistan narrowly defeated Kyrgyzstan for the Asian seat in play, India welcomed Pakistan’s election and predicted the two countries would work together well on the Council (India has one more year in its term). Pakistan even put out the word that they were sure India voted for them despite India’s official position for Kyrgyzstan. In the past, Pakistan diplomats apparently have snuck a peek at India’s secret ballot for UNSC election (that time also for Pakistan), and that may have happened again. Last year, Pakistan voted for India’s membership on the UNSC, so reciprocity seems to be at play here.

Togo took three ballot rounds to defeat Mauritania for Africa’s second seat at stake, after Morocco took the first.

Congratulations to the new members, may the Force be with them, and standby for the exciting conclusion to our drama on Monday when it’s Azerbaijan versus Slovenia in UNSC Smackdown.  Let’s face it, Slovenia is a really nice country and Azerbaijan has a large amount of oil — you make the call.

Libya — It’s Over

Cellphone picture of Gaddafi capture

Cellphone picture reportedly shows Gaddafi after capture today.

The reports may be “unconfirmed” but by all indications the Libyan rebels have killed or at least captured Colonel Gaddafi and taken control of his last holdout, the town of Sirte. Massive celebrations are taking place in Tripoli. Building democracy in Libya after four decades of dictatorship will be difficult, but today I am hopeful that fighting is basically over and the next phase can proceed.

The humanitarian intervention in Libya finally got it right after a number of flawed interventions over the past twenty years. Unlike Kosovo, the western powers intervened with backing from the UN Security Council — the world’s unique source of real legitimacy in such actions. Unlike Somalia, they stayed the course when things took a while to succeed. Unlike Bosnia, they did not try to stay neutral between bad guys and good guys. Unlike Iraq, they supported local rebels with air power rather than invade and occupy. Unlike Rwanda, the international community did not stand by and allow a mass atrocity event to occur (it was hours away in Benghazi when NATO took action). Lessons learned, and applied. (Jon Western and I make this case in a Foreign Affairs article that will be out any day now.)

Libya also provides a lesson in power. Gaddafi lacked allies and therefore found himself outgunned when NATO entered the fray. As I argued on this blog at various points (often too optimistic about the timing but always right about the basic dynamics of the conflict), Gaddafi lost his power advantage step by step, as rebels got organized, as his army and officials defected, and as NATO blasted his heavy weapons. “Realism” in international relations is quite useful in making predictions in these conflicts. As “Goldstein’s law” has it, the side with the most tanks usually wins. Gaddafi had more tanks than the rebels, but NATO had a lot more tanks than Gaddafi.  So what is the lesson for practitioners of international relations? Mind your alliances!

The same logic shows us that Syria is not moving inexorably toward Assad’s downfall the way Libya did. Assad has allies — Russia and China both vetoed a recent UN Security Council resolution against him. He has far more tanks than the opposition, and most of his military is not defecting.

Congratulations to Libya’s transitional government. Plenty of commentators will note how long it took, how many problems remain, the uncertainty around the role of Islamists in Libya’s governance, and the potentials for rifts in Libya’s social fabric. But hey, the rebels won, they did it as efficiently as might be expected from a bunch of dentists and engineers who took up arms against a police state, and they are sincerely trying to build a better society. Let’s leave the nitpicking for another day. Today belongs to the Libyan people.

UNSC — A Seat at the Table

On Friday, the UN General Assembly will vote for five new members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) for 2012-13. Since the UNSC alone has power to compel action by sovereign governments and to confer legitimacy on international actions, everyone wants a seat at the table. Five countries get that seat, and veto power, permanently. (They are the winners of World War II: USA, Britain, France, Russia, China.) After that, only ten others can get onto the UNSC for two years at a shot (five elected each year).

Members are chosen by two-thirds [not majority as originally posted] vote of the 193 countries in the General Assembly, and there the fun begins. Who can put together the votes to get in? The UN Charter says little about it: “The General Assembly shall elect ten other Members of the United Nations to be non-permanent members of the Security Council, due regard being specially paid, in the first instance to the contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization, and also to equitable geographical distribution.”

In practice, that geographical aspect has become the central element in recent decades. The Assembly has a norm of electing UNSC members nominated by each of several regional caucuses from different parts of the world. So this time, for instance, as Brazil’s term ends it will be replaced by Guatemala as a result of consensus in the Latin American group. Because of different sizes, Eastern Europe gets one nonpermanent member, Africa three, and the others two each.

This round, the drama is about Pakistan, which is being challenged for the Asian caucus nomination by Kyrgyzstan, a much smaller country that has not contributed the many peacekeepers over the years that Pakistan has. Kyrgyzstan does have a vital air base that the USA uses in the Afghan war effort, and a vote against Pakistan could be a way to show displeasure with that country’s policies on terrorism and the Afghan war. Some people have wondered if Pakistan would get along with India, whose UNSC membership enters its second year in 2012 (and which is supporting Kyrgyzstan). In truth, the two rivals tend to get along very well indeed within the UN, as when their troops serve side by side in peacekeeping missions. My call is, Pakistan wins by a big margin.

Another race is shaping up in the Eastern Europe caucus, among Azerbaijan, Slovenia, and Hungary. Recently Colombia, which enters its second year on the UNSC next year, threw its support behind Azerbaijan. The regional dynamics are often shadowy, and in this case I don’t have a clue who will come out on top.

An informal rotation system also comes into play in choosing UNSC members. Pakistan, for instance, usually serves a term every eleven years (and is due up again this year). The norm here is to give the important UN members who lack permanent UNSC membership more chance to serve on the UNSC, compared with the smaller countries that only rarely may get on. The current UNSC includes South Africa, Nigeria, India, Brazil, and Germany, while last year Japan, Turkey, and Mexico rotated off. These are all big important players in world politics.

The caucus known as “Western Europe and Others” is an oddity, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, sometimes Turkey, and since 2001 a limited membership for Israel — which was orphaned by its exclusion from the Asian caucus that includes its Arab neighbors. Not only UNSC membership (which Israel has promised not to seek) but many other UN committees and positions come through the caucus system, so being without one has been a source of Israeli frustration with the UN in general.

Current UNSC members whose terms expire at the end of this year are Brazil, Nigeria, Gabon, Bosnia, and Lebanon. Those continuing for a second year are India, Colombia, South Africa, Portugal, and Germany.

If Palestine’s bid for UN membership drags on into 2012, the Security Council being elected this week will inherit that issue. In fact, the UNSC has been busier than ever lately, with most of the world’s conflicts now being sent there sooner or later. Currently that includes Libya, Syria, Yemen, and other hotspots.

Since UNSC seats are in such demand, perhaps the UN should just auction them off for cash. This simple market-based solution could help solve the UN’s chronic budget shortfalls. (No! Just kidding!)

China, Russia, and World Trading Rules

China currency photoYesterday the U.S. Senate passed a bill aimed at forcing China to raise the value of its currency, by mandating tariffs on countries that keep their currencies artificially low. Luckily the bill is unlikely to become law, because I’m not a fan of legislating foreign policy, at least not in the current U.S. Congress. But the bill has stirred up tensions with China.

The Bank of China immediately responded by intervening in currency markets to push the value of the yuan (China’s currency) lower, not higher. A simple “take that!” message. Or as the Christian Science Monitor phrased China’s message, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” China’s official news agency added a list of complaints about America’s recent “unwise” and “uncooperative” actions — hosting a White House visit by the Dalai Lama, selling arms to Taiwan, and now the Senate bill. However, the article went on to note that yesterday U.S. and Chinese officials met for the second time under a new arrangment set up in June to discuss Asia-Pacific affairs. The article concluded that “China-U.S. ties remain on track towards a cooperative partnership,” which is also my opinion.

China is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) but does not entirely comply with norms of the international trading regime. This is an ongoing source of conflict with the United States and other trading partners. Copyright law is very weakly enforced, leading to a loss of income for non-Chinese producers whose movies, software, or books sell in China. The legal system in China is underdeveloped and corruption is widespread, making a difficult environment for foreign companies to do business in China. And for quite a few years the yuan has been pegged at a fixed rate to the dollar, or to a basket of currencies, instead of floating freely as other major currencies do. This makes Chinese exports artificially cheap and imports from other countries into China too expensive. The result has worsened the U.S. trade deficit with China and led to a loss of some U.S. jobs (though it is hardly a central reason for U.S. economic troubles). Since 2005, China has allowed the yuan to appreciate by about 30 percent, but most non-Chinese experts think it is still significantly undervalued.

The problem with pegging China’s currency instead of letting it float is that China’s economy is growing rapidly while the U.S. and other economies are quite sluggish. Inflation is China’s problem whereas recession is America’s problem. Normally this would lead the respective governments to take opposite currency actions (China print less; America print more) but the peg prevents this. The resulting corrective effects if the currencies could float do not happen, and things remain out of balance. So the U.S. Senators are right to  be concerned, but the bill to whack China over the head is not a productive way to manage relations. China’s vice foreign minister said it could lead to a “lose-lose” trade war. In the end, trade is all about reciprocity.

Russia, meanwhile, is the most important economy not in the WTO, and it has been trying to join since 1993. Since the WTO operates by consensus — an extreme form of reciprocity — every member must approve Russia’s entry before it can happen. That includes Georgia, which fought a war with Russia in 2008 and is currently unsatisfied with the outcome of recent talks it has held with Russia. However, the United States is pressuring Georgia to yield, because the USA wants increased trade with Russia.

Politicians and experts in and outside Russia have predicted that Russia could join by the end of this year. However, prime minister Vladimir Putin sounded ambivalent last week:  “We are in a debate with our businesses to see how important the WTO is for us, or if the WTO is really a dying entity.” It is true that the current Doha Round of WTO talks has been stalled for years, but even under the previous rounds there are many trade benefits to be gained. So Putin’s remarks amount to a signal to the United States that if it wants trade with Russia, it should lean harder on Georgia and not expect Russia to accept Georgia’s terms. In truth all sides would benefit from Russia’s membership so I predict that in short order Putin will decide to come on board and the Georgians will step aside in light of the pressure they feel from their great-power backer, the USA. Trade is a great incentive for international cooperation because it creates wealth. More money, anyone?

Syria Still Stuck

Tammo funeral photoThe most important focus in world politics continues to be the Arab Spring. With Libya’s revolution wrapping up, and Yemen possibly approaching a turning point but still unclear, my focus is on Syria which remains stalemated despite superficial signs of movement.

The most important development came last Wednesday in the UN Security Council, when Western powers introduced a resolution to put sanctions on Syria for its brutal repression of peaceful protests, repression that has led to nearly 3,000 deaths by UN estimates. Both Russia and China voted no, vetoing the resolution. Russia has close ties historically with the Assad regime in Syria, and China is scared stiff that the Arab Spring could waft democratic fumes over to Asia.

The veto irritated Russia’s relations with the West, and tested the “reset” of relations that has characterized U.S.-Russian relations during the Obama years, after strains during the Bush Administration. American leaders accuse Russia of being on the “wrong side of history,” while Russian leaders claim that NATO exceeded its UN mandate in Libya and seeks to impose regime change in the Arab world, using the UN Security Council as a tool. It is unlikely that the important “reset” will be derailed by something as tangential as Syria, however — great powers keep the big picture front and center.

In Syria itself,the opposition last week formed a Syrian National Council (SNC) to coordinate efforts and act as an alternative government. The opposition has been meeting in Turkey, once an Assad friend but now strongly demanding change in Syria. No outside country has recognized the Council as a legitimate Syrian government and the Assad regime has warned them not to do so.

A prominent member of the SNC and popular Kurdish politician was assassinated in his home Friday, and his funeral yesterday turned into a rally of 50,000 people, at which security forces fired into the crowd and killed five people. This is a significant development, since the Kurdish minority (about 10 percent of the population) has so far remained relatively inactive in the anti-Assad protests. That may change now.

In response to the assassination, anti-Assad protesters in Europe attacked Syrian embassies in several cities. They were arrested with minimal property damage and no injuries. Syria’s foreign minister responded:  “I warn the countries who do not protect the Syrian missions in their countries, we will treat theirs equally in Damascus.” This is a sensitive point because the U.S. ambassador has been attacked by crowds after visiting opposition rallies, and because an Egyptian crowd recently occupied the Israeli embassy. As a reminder, embassies are legally sacrosanct and must be protected by the host country, a very basic and central principle of international law.

Some protesters in Syria have begun turning to armed resistance, as defectors from the government’s armed forces have fought back in several locations. The government recently retook one such town. Overall, the opposition remains committed to nonviolence, and a turn to armed struggle would be a huge strategic mistake, playing into the government’s narrative and picking a fight with forces that are much more heavily armed and organized. Support for the regime remains strong among Assad’s minority group and some others, who fear persecution and revenge in a post-Assad Syria.

Hence the continuing stalemate: The opposition gains strength, gets better organized and unified, draws in the Kurds. The government remains steadfast and committed to violent repression, has support from its ethnic base, and knows its outside allies (particularly Russia) will protect it from international action. Given that the side with the most tanks usually wins, I don’t see how the government of Syria is going to fall anytime soon. Like it or not (I don’t), it appears that in this case history itself is on the wrong side of history.

U.S. Foreign Aid Cuts

Good news and bad news: It appears the U.S. Congress has finally found bipartisan consensus, but it’s on the dumbest imaginable response to the deficit — deep cuts in U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy. Thanks to the New York Times for shining a spotlight on these cuts with today’s front-page story. Both the Senate and House bills now moving through Congress would “cut spending across the board, and around the world,” the Times reports. A leader of the aid group Mercy Corps summed up the impact of the aid cuts nicely: “The budget impact is negligible. The impact around the world is enormous.”

These cuts are founded on three pillars of ignorance — misunderstanding of the amount of money, misunderstanding of the effects of the spending, and misunderstanding about the extent of poverty in the world and its impact. Look at them one by one.

1. Do the math. When Americans were asked in a poll less than a year ago how much money goes to foreign aid, the median response was 25 percent of the federal budget. When asked how much it should be, they said 10 percent. This has been consistent over recent years through a number of polls. The actual budget (before being cut) is only 1 percent.  Only 20 percent of Americans think foreign aid should be that little.

That 1-percent budget for foreign aid and diplomacy was $55 billion in fiscal year 2010, less than a tenth of the military budget. And that was the peak after a decade in which, post-9/11, both parties realized that engagement with the world mattered. Last year it dropped by $6 billion. Then in last April’s Chicken game over a government shutdown, it was cut by $8 billion, “the single largest cut to any one department under the deal…” (NY Times). Now the House and Senate are each proposing further multi-billion-dollar cuts for next year, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton describes as 16 percent for the State Department and 41 percent for humanitarian aid. The only sacred area exempt from cuts is $3 billion in foreign aid for Israel. (There is also a crazy proposal in the House of Representatives, unlikely to become law, that would cut U.S. funding for UN peacekeeping and make UN dues “voluntary.”)

2. Look at the effects. Diplomacy and foreign aid do things that military power cannot do. Indeed we’ve seen the limits of military power in the past decade, and with U.S. troops withdrawing from Iraq in the coming months, who is expected to pick up the slack and exert ongoing U.S. influence there? The State Department.

The proposed cuts would devastate recent efforts to use “smart power” (a term attributed to Obama and Clinton in the NYT but properly credited to Harvard’s Joseph Nye), meaning that military power alone cannot effectively project American power around the world. Diplomacy and aid, along with intangibles such as our rhetoric, also influence the world’s powers and peoples. Then-secretary of defense Robert Gates even proposed taking money away from his own department to beef up the State Department. Unfortunately the United States is on a path in which we have only one tool, a hammer, and everything looks like a nail.

Some ignorant people claim that foreign aid is just money wasted, and doesn’t do any good in poor countries. Tell that to people living in poverty in Africa and South Asia, where child and maternal mortality rates have been cut dramatically in the past decade or two. Vaccination drives are working, infectious diseases are being contained, and AIDS medicines are reaching far more people in Africa thanks to the efforts of President Bush, pushed by evangelical Christian groups (foreign aid is not a Democrat issue).

3. Understand poverty. Many Americans are ignorant of the extent of poverty in poor countries. Lately there is a feeling that we have our own problems at home so we can’t afford to help people in other countries. This new isolationist sentiment is possible only because people do not see how desperate our fellow human beings are and how little it would take to help them. For example, Rep. Kay Granger from Texas criticized $250 million spent by the State Department to help Pakistan after devastating floods, since after all Americans also have floods. But the amount here is a less than a dollar per American and the Pakistanis’ situation is far more desperate than that of any flooded American. They are fighting for their lives, by the millions, with little or no government help, no savings, no infrastructure, everything wiped out — this in one of the world’s poorest countries, one of central strategic importance to the United States, the hotbed of Islamic militancy, the location of a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, and the source of many problems in next-door Afghanistan. We are officially spending nearly $100 billion (with a B) per year in Afghanistan, so picking on the $250 million (with an M) in Pakistan flood aid just makes no sense. And Rep. Granger can only say that because she has no idea what poverty in Pakistan really looks like and how different it is to be flooded out in a rich country versus a poor country.

Well, I’m a flag-flying patriot but sometimes I do wonder about our Congress. How can we ever advance the national interest when political rhetoric is founded on ignorance, and politicians whip up sentiment against foreigners who are gobbling up our hard-earned tax dollars for no good reason. Seriously people, you don’t have to be Professor Nye at Harvard University to see that slashing the State Department and foreign aid budget just ain’t “smart.”