March 7, 2012
YANGON, MYAMAR—Few of us like to be reminded of mistakes made by heroes, particularly heroes of conscience. Who among us remembers that Martin Luther King Jr. failed miserably when he tried to take the nonviolent strategies that worked so well in the segregated south of the United States to the industrialized north? Who likes to remember that Nelson Mandela all but ignored the HIV/AIDS crisis raging across South Africa during his presidency, which eventually took the lives of millions, including his own son?
February 23, 2012
YANGON, Myanmar— During the years he lived as a child in Indonesia, President Barack Obama learned the culture of Jakarta, spoke the language, survived chicken pox, and recalls frequently feeling “the sting of [his] teachers’ bamboo switches.” As a young military officer training in the United States, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known as SBY, parachuted out of planes with Fort Benning’s storied 82nd Airborne Division and attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. It is an interesting parallel between presidents that each spent formative years in the other’s country.
December 2, 2011
WASHINGTON—Watching the Republican primary race is a lot like being at a carnival. There’s the roller coaster of polling numbers, the kind that has Herman Cain surging to the top one week, then collapsing as Newt Gingrich rises. Then there’s the candidates themselves, who sometimes seem more like sideshow acts — each trying to top the next with a more outrageous statement — than actual contenders to be the next president of the United States.
November 15, 2011
LONDON— Twelve centuries ago, the political leader who ruled the Islamic Abbasid Empire from his seat in Baghdad—named Abu Ja’far al-Mansur—was asked what it took to govern the massive swath of land that stretched from modern-day Tunisia to Pakistan. He said, “There are four people I need by my side: the chief judge, the chief of police, the chief of taxation, and the postmaster—who keeps tabs on the first three and writes me reliable reports about them.” Clearly, Iraq’s reputation as land of corruption, infighting and double-dealing has deep roots.
October 6, 2011
JAKARTA—One of the mesmerizing dances performed here is Jaipongan, a style that mixes Indonesian martial arts with village ritual music. It features graceful arm movements and slow, lunging steps that create the appearance of forward momentum. While the dancer floats across the floor, you never really notice that she’s moving in a circle until the dance ends and she is standing back where she started.
September 22, 2011
WASHINGTON— Sixty-four years ago today, one of the most prescient memos in American history was placed on the desk of George C. Marshall, the United States Secretary of State. It was written by Loy Henderson, the director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs. Coming less than a month after a special committee of the United Nations had recommended partitioning Palestine into two states—one Jewish and one Arab—it precisely predicted the violent future that partition would bring.
September 15, 2011
LONDON— It was the first time that cattle cars would be used in the 20th Century to carry people to concentration camps, a systematic annihilation of a whole population so horrific that a new word had to be invented to capture its brutality: genocide.
September 1, 2011
BALI—Set upon a blue background, the flag of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations depicts 10 yellow rice paddy stalks drawn in the middle of a red circle with a white border. The interesting thing about the banner is not merely that it represents the main colors of all ten ASEAN member state flags: Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines. It is that 44 years to the day after ASEAN was founded, on August 8th—in a development that received little attention outside Asia—the flag was hoisted for the first time alongside the banners of all member states at hundreds of embassies and diplomatic missions around the world.