Thursday, January 05, 2012

My thoughts on the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs

Did I mention that my interview with Charles Mann, author of 1491 and 1493, is up on my writing blog?  It is!  Please go read, then go read his book.

When I finally treated myself to an issue of Foreign Affairs this summer, I felt like I'd found my home.  Between this publication and Agatha Christie, this was a delicious summer.

I finally finished the Nov/Dec 2011 issue, just in time to start digging into the Jan/Feb 2012 issue.  (Hey, it's not all my thought- the first issue was a month late.)  I share here my brief thoughts on the articles and essays.  I'm throwing in links, even though some of them are only available for "premium users".  They're worth a read, even you end up at your library (which I never think is a bad idea).

The title of this issue is "Is America Over?"  This makes you think that most of it is going to be about the US in decline, but it's not.  I come away from this feeling like we're still much better off than almost anywhere else and will probably stay that way for quite some time.

The Problem Is Palestinian Rejectionism: Some background about and ramifications of the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  For what it's worth, I don't think this should be a make or break issue.

Israel's Bunker Mentality: ... but Israel has problems of it's own.  Some uncomfortable statistics about the mistreatment of Arab Israelis.  Not surprisingly, I see parallels in the US right now... speaking of uncomfortable.

The Broken Contract: Here's the meat of "Is America Over?", and if this is all they've got, I'm not too worried. I thought this was the lightest piece of the issue, but the insights into the shift in 1978 are interesting.

The Wisdom of Retrenchment: Do we need to go in with guns blazing for everything?  No, and the costs of doing so are outweighing the benefits.  (Would "no kidding?" be too cheeky?)

Humanitarian Intervention Comes of Age:  Advocates continued aid in situations like Libya.  I might have felt better about this if it had dissected why some areas have been considered more worthy of aid than others.  (Is it too cynical to use the word "oil"?)  This piece also reminds us that our failures in the 90s are still felt today (Somalia and Rwanda especially, but to some extent even the former Yugoslavia).

The True Costs of Humanitarian Intervention:  This piece reminds us that even our "successful" interventions were not without a price.

Can Europe's Divided House Stand?:  When this went to press, the eurozone was a mess.  As I write this some three months later, the eurozone is still a mess, and there's some history explaining how we got here in the first place.  As with the US, it wasn't just inadequate laws, it was also inadequate enforcement.  This piece suggests a mix of better enforcement and better policy, but it's going to take a long time.

Why We Still Need Nuclear Power: Why?  Because it's cheap and less polluting... provided we don't have a disaster.  In fairness, I have to agree that many of the accidents could be prevented with better design and regulation (did I mention that "regulation" became one of my favorite words in 2011?).  A big problem we face in the US is the storage of nuclear waste.  Interestingly, no mention here of peak uranium.

The Dying Bear: Russia is in a demographic quagmire and it's affecting public health and education, among other things.  The article ends with the warning that these trends could create an unstable rogue state, but frankly I think that's wishful thinking.  Everything was easier when we could fear the USSR- er, Russia.

Is Indonesia Bound for the BRICs?: In a word, no.  Yeah, they've got some good stats, but they've also got endemic corruption and a decaying infrastructure.

The Sick Man of Asia: Next time any of us want to complain about our healthcare system, take a look at China, shudder, then be very grateful.  (Maybe I feel this way because I live in Massachusetts?)  They've got both infectious and chronic diseases; the incidences of diabetes and depression are shockingly high, and the loss of productivity due to illness from smoking is mind-boggling.  Some insight into why Falun Gong became so popular and so irksome to the Chinese government.  My tangent: we've been touting alternative medicine in this country for approximately the same amount of time the modern Chinese have.  I'm guessing, after reading this, that most people in China would be ecstatic to have Western medicine.

Counterrevolution in Kiev: Oh, Ukraine- having alienated your own population, you're not going to be able to play the EU and Russia off of each other very well.

Worth a read.  Excuse me for a bit while I read the next edition.  I'm curious to see what contemporaries thought of Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin- I'm sure I'll be disappointed.

Deb in the City

No comments: