A New Take on UN Week in NYC

I have to admit, having been to my first UN General Assembly week in NYC for a few years–it was pretty exciting, for many of the reasons noted in this piece:

For years, there had been nothing to see at the General Assembly. It consisted almost solely of top diplomats meeting in back rooms while the press and the public stood behind security barriers. Now, there are numerous large events in which the public can participate.People could attend United Nations events by signing up for particular sessions or meetings. The Social Good Summit, founded six years ago, drew 1,800 participants, up from 1,600 last year. The Global Citizen Festival, which provided free tickets to the Central Park concert to those who had engaged in charitable efforts, attracted a crowd of 60,000.“It’s about turning U.N. week inside out,” said Pete Cashmore, founder and chief executive of Mashable, who helped start the Social Good Summit. “Rather than a few powerful people deciding the fate of the world, how do we get everyone involved and engaged in a dialogue?” For the first time, similar gatherings were held in Washington and London this year.

Source: Forget Coachella and Bonnaroo: The U.N. Is the Place to Be – The New York Times


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In Putin we trust? Syrian Solutions.

What did we learn about the Russian leader called “the man without a face” by Masha Gessen this week in Charlie Rose’s interview? (Republican candidate Marco Rubio has already drawn his conclusions.)

First, from a stylistic approach–what’s with al the fawning? Aren’t journalists–especially experienced, successful, and respected ones like Rose—supposed to be able to stand up to power and to elicit truth? The interview seemed to be a dinner party chat rather than a journalistic exchange.

Next, we hear the Russian point of view on concerns about terrorists currently fighting in Syria that potentially return home to foster mischief (or worse). After two interactions at the UN between Putin and Obama we see little agreement.

On a strategic level, how can the U.S. hope to defeat ISIL and to remove Assad from power? Vali Nasr explains why Vladimir Putin is the solution to the Syrian Civil War.

The United States has from the outset been reluctant to get involved in the Syrian debacle. Its support for opposition to Assad has been ineffective and so have its attempts at finding a diplomatic solution. By contrast, or perhaps as a consequence, there is now recognition across the board that Russia is central to an end game in Syria.

Source: Putin: Syria’s Only Hope – POLITICO Magazine

For a contrarian view, Fred Kaplan sees weakness–not grandmaster chess moves–occurring in Russia’s repositioning forces in Syria.

In the past decade, Russia has lost erstwhile footholds in Libya and Iraq, failed in its attempt to regain Egypt as an ally after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, and would have lost Syria as well except for its supply of arms and advisers to Assad—whom it still may lose, despite its desperate measures.

The portrayal of Vladimir Putin as a grand chess master, shrewdly rebuilding the Russian empire through strength and wiles, is laughable. Syria is just one of two countries outside the former Soviet Union where Russia has a military base (the other being Vietnam, and its naval facility there, at Cam Ranh Bay, has shrunk considerably). His annexation of Crimea has proved a financial drain. His incursion into eastern Ukraine (where many ethnic Russians would welcome re-absorption into the Motherland) has stalled after a thin slice was taken at the cost of 3,000 soldiers. His plan for a Eurasian Economic Union, to counter the influence of the west’s European Union, has failed to materialize. His energy deal with China, designed to counter the west’s sanctions against Russian companies, has collapsed.

Source: Slate – Desperate in Damascus

Regardless what is really happening, Syria gives Putin a distraction from the situation in Ukraine.

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The New Berggruen Institute Builds Bridges

Ideas matter, and philosophy, too–according to the new Santa Monica, California-based think tank. Using the expected tools of “prizes” and contests the Berggruen Institute plans to do something novel. Employ the power of philosophy to promote cross-cultural understanding.

You could say that they are taking the long view.

In November 2013, the council held a meeting with the senior leadership of China, including President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi, Mr. Berggruen recalled, began the meeting by citing China’s 5,000-year-old culture.“He started the whole discussion not with short-term political or policy issues,” Mr. Berggruen said, “but by sort of saying: ‘Listen, before we have a relationship, you have to understand who we are. We have to start with understanding and respect for very different views of the world.’ ”Bridging conflicting views, Mr. Berggruen said, is at the core of the center’s mission. “We want to find solutions, not just underline differences,” he said. “We want to come up with new ideas.”

Source: Nicolas Berggruen Wants to Bridge the East-West Gap – The New York Times

Notable names who have lined up to be a part of this include Jared Cohen, Amy Gutman, Mohamad A. El-Erian, Daniel Bell, Juan Luis Cebrian, Ernesto Zedillo, and Arianna Huffington.


Kissinger the Freedom Fighter – WSJ

A new book by Nial Ferguson makes that case that Kissinger was an “idealist”, of sorts. Is his book, Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, credible?

As Kissinger observed, there was something unforgivable about the way the “protest movements [had] made heroes of leaders in repressive new countries,” oblivious to “the absurdity of founding a claim for freedom on protagonists of the totalitarian state—such as Guevara or Ho or Mao.” The student radicals failed to see that they were living through a fundamental transformation of the postwar international order. “The age of the superpowers,” Kissinger announced, “is drawing to an end.”

Source: Kissinger the Freedom Fighter – WSJ

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Blame Germany? How diplomacy exacerbates Europe’s refugee crisis

Tensions are boiling over in Hungary as refugees clash with police today. Austria’s generosity could reward its far right parties. As contours of the crisis begin to unfold in their larger implications, Clemens Wergin writes that Germany needs to face a reckoning.

It was not for a lack of alternatives. In 2013 one of Germany’s most seasoned diplomats, Wolfgang Ischinger, and others warned that Syria risked becoming another Balkan crisis, and advocated a no-fly zone inside Syria and humanitarian corridors. Mr. Ischinger, hardly a hawk, even called for limited military intervention to force a diplomatic solution, as was done in Bosnia. Needless to say, the German government disagreed, opting instead for a diplomatic approach, without the military teeth.The spread of the Islamic State and the beheading of American citizens last summer set off a fierce debate in the United States about the limits and the costs of President Obama’s policy of disengagement. Unfortunately, the refugee crisis has not caused a similar reckoning in Germany so far.

Source: Germany’s Real Refugee Crisis – The New York Times

Foreign Affairs Luminary Stanley Hoffman, 1929-2015

Portrait by Stu Rosner, via harvardmagazine.com

Known as “the embodiment of what [academia] had once been”, Stanley Hoffmann was Harvard’s double-thread:  an influential intellectual and a serious academic–according to Yascha Mounk.

His views on international organization and law were paramount to an understanding of the field. But he approached the area differently than Huntington or Mearshimer:

There was little grand theory, or Rube Goldberg machine to organize and to understand the world. There is no Hoffmann Theory or Hoffmann École. The comparative historical treatment he preferred was being pushed aside by more deductive ways of thinking and by quantitative tests. The self conscious formalism of hypothesis testing were not appealing to him. On any given topic he wrote trenchant analysis, but on “ theory building” or concept building, he had few “tag lines” associated with his name. What you did learn from Hoffmann was how to connect complex constructions of variables: with Aron, he saw interactions, of ideas, interests, institutions and leadership. You had to learn how these worked in specific situations and that could not be formulaic. Teaching Hoffmann resembles teaching de Tocqueville: deep structure of relationships, but not simple formulas.

Source: Stanley Hoffmann has died. He changed how America thinks about France and Europe. – The Washington Post

I would have liked to have taken a course with him–as many of the current posts are referencing their own experiences under his tutelage. Writing in the New Republic, Art Godlhammer reveals Hoffmann’s pedagogical genius:

He even encouraged it in people like me, who knew far less about the subject under discussion than he did. He pretended to learn from debate even as he was teaching. This was one of his secrets as a teacher: He knew that the best way to bring a student to recognize the inadequacy of her thinking was to encourage its full expression. His remarkably gentle corrections then taught you to enlarge your own thought, and even if you continued to disagree with him, he was lavish with his praise of your progress toward greater depth, nuance, and complexity—for him, the touchstones of true understanding.

via R.I.P: Stanley Hoffmann Was One of the Great Professors of Our Time 

Hoffmann was active in debating, reviewing, explaining, and assessing the nature of power. One of his recent works [here] on American foreign policy in the post-9/11 world was noted by Ronald Krebs  to reveal “an eloquent [voice] in making the case for international norms and institutions that would impart a measure of order to international politics and forestall Hobbesian anarchy.”

What it takes to win Toastmasters: Mohammed Qahtani’s excellent hook.

Soccer has the World Cup. Football has the Superbowl. And Toastmasters International has an international speaking competition, of course. What does it take to win? A lot. But it helps to start strong–a common mistake made by many speakers:

Qahtani starts his speech with a sight gag, pretending to consider lighting up a cigarette before the audience’s reaction convinces him not to. He transitions from this into a sober defense of the tobacco industry before saying, straight-faced, that all of the facts and figures he cited were made up. The audience then roars with laughter.”When you get an audience laughing, you’ve got them on your side,” Qahtani says.However you choose to engage an audience, by getting them to laugh, cheer, gasp, or any other emotional reaction, it’s important to get them on your side from the beginning. Qahtani says it can be easy for a speaker to forget that an audience wants a performer to do well and is waiting to be entertained.

Source: Toastmasters public-speaking champion Mohammed Qahtani – Business Insider

Want to improve your own public speaking skills? Start with these TED talks from Julian Treasure, Joe Kowan, Melissa Marshall, and others–recommended to help you overcome stage fright, lead others to greatness, and explain complex ideas to the masses.

Timothy Snyder on the Holocaust with Lessons for Today

Recently, Timothy Snyder was at the barricades in Ukraine, complaining that Western voices were drowned out by “really effective propaganda apparatus” even as Crimea was annexed.  He should know something about how oppression looks. His last book was a very sobering–but essential read–about how much Poland suffered in WW II between the Germans, and then later, the Red Army. Now, the Yale historian wades into the lessons of the Holocaust, in an effort to refocus our understanding on it in a new book, seen as “not a conventional history“:

“It’s become much less about causes, and much more about pictures and remembering and honoring,” he continued. “What honoring leads to is a lot of respectful silence. That has its place, but it doesn’t generate knowledge.”

In Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, Snyder aims to elevate our understanding of less-known Eastern European voices. These quotes from the NYT book review should serve to introduce an important (and undoubtably much-discussed) new book:

“Our shorthand for talking about this stuff has been Poles and Jews, Germans and Jews,” Mr. Snyder said. “I think it should be states, institutions, micro-level sociological explanations, economic behavior.” Source: Timothy Snyder’s ‘Black Earth’ Puts Holocaust, and Himself, in Spotlight – The New York Times

Will Diplomacy Work? Debating the Iran Deal

If the New York Comedy Cellar can hold a debate the Iran issue, why shouldn’t everyone?

First, it seems that an Iran deal may be part of a larger Obama strategy. Can diplomacy prove to be a defining success for the administration–not only in Iran but with regard to other conflicts and global challenges?

Fatigued by the warfare of recent years, the world in effect is testing whether it can work out at least some of its problems at the bargaining table instead of the battlefield. For Mr. Obama, the flurry of negotiations offers a chance to leave behind accomplishments in a foreign policy arena that otherwise has been dominated by stalemated armed conflicts in the Middle East.

“Part of our goal here has been to show that diplomacy can work,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times. “It doesn’t work perfectly. It doesn’t give us everything that we want.” But, he added, “what we can do is shape events in ways where it’s more likely that problems get solved, rather than less likely, and that’s the opportunity we have now.”

Source: Obama’s Iran Deal Pits His Faith in Diplomacy Against Skepticism – The New York Times

Dig in to better understand the various arguments, deal particulars, and opposing interests with these key points:

To explore more supporters and opponents, see James Fallows in The Atlantic Online for a lengthier list–and a somewhat incomplete but very far-ranging discussion.


Scientist studies Diplomacy game to reveal early signs of betrayal

The polite ones are most likely to betray you–and other research insights:

Via Scientist studies Diplomacy game to reveal early signs of betrayal


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