The Downward Path of Upward Mobility

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

This week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll reveals what we have all sensed, that most Americans are increasingly concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor in this country. The issue quickly divides along partisan lines, as do so many, with liberals urging government to do more to reduce this gap and conservatives opposing such measures. (Overall, a significant majority does favor government action.)

But on an issue even more significant than income inequality, there does appear to be bipartisan agreement: the importance of social mobility. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) accurately noted that “upward mobility from the bottom is the crux of the American promise.”

Some believe we’re still doing fine. In his address to the Heritage Foundation last month, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared, “Class is not a fixed designation in this country. We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.” Ryan contrasted social mobility in the United States with that in Europe, where “top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class.”

In fact, over the past decade, growing evidence shows pretty conclusively that social mobility has stalled in this country. Last week, Time magazine’s cover asked, “Can You Still Move Up in America?”
The answer, citing a series of academic studies was, no; not as much as you could in the past and — most devastatingly — not as much as you can in Europe.

The most comprehensive comparative study, done last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that “upward mobility from the bottom” — Daniels’s definition — was significantly lower in the United States than in most major European countries, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Another study, by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany in 2006, uses other metrics and concludes that “the U.S. appears to be exceptional in having less rather than more upward mobility.”

A 2010 Economic Mobility Project study found that in almost every respect, the United States has a more rigid socioeconomic class structure than Canada. More than a quarter of U.S. sons of top-earning fathers remain in the top tenth of earners as adults, compared to 18 percent of similarly situated Canadian sons. U.S. sons of fathers in the bottom tenth of earners are more likely to remain in the bottom tenth of earners as adults than are Canadian sons (22 percent vs. 16 percent). And U.S. sons of fathers in the bottom third of earnings distribution are less likely to make it into the top half as adults than are sons of low-earning Canadian fathers.

Surveying all the evidence, Scott Winship, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, concludes in this week’s National Review: “What is clear is that in at least one regard American mobility is exceptional. . . .

[W]here we stand out is our limited upward mobility from the bottom.”

When you think about it, these results should not be so surprising.

European countries, perhaps haunted by their past as class-ridden societies, have made serious investments to create equality of opportunity for all. They typically have extremely good childhood health and nutrition programs, and they have far better public education systems than the United States does. As a result, poor children compete on a more equal footing against the rich.

In the United States, however, if you are born into poverty, you are highly likely to have malnutrition, childhood sicknesses and a bad education. The dirty little secret about the U.S. welfare state is that it spends very little on the poor — who don’t vote much — lavishing attention instead on the middle class. The result is clear. A student interviewed by Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan group founded to address these issues, put it succinctly, “The ZIP code you’re born in shouldn’t determine your destiny, but too often it does.”

Tackling income inequality is a very difficult challenge. Tax increases on the rich will do relatively little to change the basic trend, which is fueled by globalization, technology and the increasing gains conferred by education. (Getting back to the 1990 levels of income distribution in the United States, for example, would mean hundreds of billions of dollars of redistribution every year, which is exponentially larger than the biggest tax hikes anyone is proposing.)

But we do know how to create social mobility — because we used to do it. In addition, we can learn from those countries that do it so well, particularly in Northern Europe and Canada. The ingredients are obvious: decent health care and nutrition for children, good public education, high-quality infrastructure — including broadband Internet — to connect all regions and all people to market opportunities, and a flexible and competitive free economy. That will get America moving again — and all Americans moving again.

comments@fareedzakaria.com

13-47

Ahmadinejad’s Economic Savvy

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

‘He’s giving back half of the 60 billion dollars in savings directly to the people in monthly deposits. So every Iranian, man woman and child, is eligible to receive the equivalent of 40 dollars a month.’

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

2011-08-26T105634Z_682489454_GM1E78Q1GTX01_RTRMADP_3_IRAN-PALESTINIANS-AHMADINEJAD

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves to worshippers before speaking at Friday prayers on Jerusalem Day in Tehran August 26, 2011.

REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

From the White House to London’s House of Commons and beyond…few Westerners have anything nice to say about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But there’s one group that has glowing words of praise for Iran’s President – and it’s based not in Tehran, but in Washington.

The International Monetary Fund’s latest report paints a pretty picture of Iran’s economy.

It says growth has hit 3.2%, and will accelerate still further.

Inflation has dropped from 25% to 12% in just two years.

And Tehran has managed to do what every major oil exporter can only dream of accomplishing: It’s slashed subsidies on gas to recoup 60 billion dollars in annual revenue. That one-sixth of Iran’s entire GDP.

Why is this happening? And how can it be despite years of economic sanctions?

What in the world is going on?

Some say the IMF’s numbers can’t be right.

But we have no reason to doubt their work. The fund reasserted this week that its projections were independent of the government.

The real story here is that Iran has actually begun implementing some economic reforms. For decades now, Iranian leaders have tried to wean its people off cheap oil – oil that is subsidized by the government.

Cheap oil that has no connection to real market prices is not sustainable. Iran knows it, and so does every country from Saudi Arabia to Venezuela. But in the same way that any talk of tax increases here in America is considered heresy, people in oil-rich countries believe as an article of faith that they deserve cheap oil.

So how did Iran finally cut out the freebies?

The backstory is a complex game of chess between Ahmadinejad and someone much more powerful – the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

One theory goes like this: The Ayatollah thought cutting subsidies would make Ahmadinejad deeply unpopular. An ensuing revolt would then remove the one man who’s come to challenge the Supreme Leader’s power.

Another theory is that Ahmadinejad felt confident enough to go ahead with the reforms because he’s crushed the opposition Green Movement.

Either way, he’s played a smart hand. He’s giving back half of the 60 billion dollars in savings directly to the people in monthly deposits.

So every Iranian, man woman and child, is eligible to receive the equivalent of 40 dollars a month.

That kind of money won’t make any difference to Tehran’s upper classes.

But that’s not Ahmadinejad’s constituency.

On the other hand if you’re poor, if you have many children, and if you make sure the whole family signs up for the deposits, you’ll probably be saying “Thanks, Mr. President”.

The key thing to note here is that President Ahmadinejad had no choice, and neither did the Ayatollah.

Iran could not afford the subsidies anymore. Its economy is highly dysfunctional with many massive distortions and subsidies. And Washington’s recent targeted sanctions are beginning to bite.

It is now harder than ever before for Iran to do business with the world. Most of the major international traders of refined petroleum have stopped dealing with Iran. Tehran now has to rely on much costlier overland shipments for its exports.

And it is now almost impossible to conduct dollar-denominated transactions with Iran. So we were left with the bizarre case last month of China resorting to the barter system to pay Iran for 20 billion dollars worth of oil.

The IMF has a point. Iran is implementing some needed reforms and as a result its economy is doing better. The irony is that it’s happening – in some part – because of our sanctions. Talk about unintended consequences.

13-36

Obama Job 1: Create Jobs

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

Democrats are finally up for a fight — with President Obama. Having despaired that Obama gave in to the Tea Party on the debt deal, they now criticize him as too cautious in his proposals to boost American jobs. They’re right that Obama should present a sharp distinction to the public between his efforts and the Republican Party’s utter passivity in the face of a national employment crisis. But perhaps Obama realizes that the most important factor that will help his reelection — and Democratic prospects more generally — is a rise in employment. And to have any impact on the actual economy, Obama needs proposals that can get through Congress, not ones that sound good on TV.

The problem before the country is more acute than people realize. It goes beyond the indebtedness issues that are surely depressing the recovery. In June, the McKinsey Global Institute published an eye-opening report called “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future.” It points out that for 20 years, America has had huge difficulties creating jobs. After every recession since the Second World War, once gross domestic product recovered to pre-recession levels, employment also returned to pre-recession levels within about six months.

Until 1990. In the recession that began in 1990, it took 15 months for jobs to come back after GDP had recovered. In the recession of 2001, it took 39 months for jobs to come back.

And now? Since the start of this year, American GDP has returned to its pre-crisis levels — but with 6.8 million fewer workers. At the current rate of job creation, it will take 60 months — five years! — before employment returns to pre-recession levels.

Even these numbers mask the problem. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence has found that of the 27 million jobs created between 1990 and 2008, 40 percent were in government and health care — sectors that can’t keep growing at their previous pace. Meanwhile, employment in the tradable sector of the U.S. economy, the sector that produces goods and services that can be consumed anywhere, such as manufactured products, engineering and consulting services — which accounted for more than 34 million jobs in 1990 — grew by just 600,000 jobs over the same 18-year period.

Why is this happening? Nobody knows for sure, but it does seem as though the timing coincides with the two great tidal waves that have been powering the global economy since 1990. The first is information technology, which expanded from a narrow, data-processing function in the 1980s to streamline every aspect of every business. Today, computer programs that do conceptual searches are used at law firms to read and code documents, replacing the dozens of young associates who used to be hired and paid handsomely to do the same job.

The second big shift is, of course, globalization, which has created a worldwide supply that allows companies to make new investments in regions where labor is cheap and newly emerging middle classes are eager for their products. The results have been great for American companies, but these same forces place enormous pressures on the American worker. The decline in American education has left Americans less able to compete in a world in which skills are the only path to high-wage jobs. As Bill Gross, the founder of the world’s largest bond fund, Pimco, succinctly put it, “Our labor force is too expensive and poorly educated for today’s marketplace.”

If we’re going to solve this problem, it will take a determination to make jobs Job One. Everything we do as a country should be geared toward the central task of boosting employment. Some of this will involve government spending. An infrastructure bank that uses current low interest rates, includes the private sector and chooses projects based on merit rather than patronage is one of the best ideas to come out of Washington in years. Obama should take his proposals to the country and press for a project to rebuild America.

But there are many cost-free policies that could boost jobs. Tourism is one of the largest growth industries in America, and yet because of exaggerated fears of terrorism, bureaucracy and politics, we have lost market share in global tourism over the past decade. We should make it much easier for tourists to get visas and work hard to make them feel welcome. They are, in the words of Starwood Hotels CEO Frits van Paasschen, a walking stimulus program.

The key is to subordinate politics to a national goal of job creation.

Right now, a smart program to rationalize the patent process, which could unleash thousands of start-ups, is languishing in Congress not because of some principled opposition but because of turf battles between congressional committees. We can’t keep doing this.

13-35

Why the 21st Century Will Not Belong to China

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited transcript of Fareed Zakaria’s opening and closing statements at the Munk Debate where he joined Henry Kissinger in arguing against the proposition: “The 21st Century will belong to China.”

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

China is not going to be the dominant power of the 21st century for three reasons: economic, political and geo-political.

Economic

One thing we’ve realized over recent years is that nothing goes up in a straight line forever. China looks like it is about to inherit the world, but Japan looked like that for a while. Japan was the second largest economy in the world. We were told that one day the world would be run by Japan. It didn’t turn out that way.

Most Asian Tigers have grown at about 9% a year for 20-25 years and then shifted downward to 6% or 5% growth. I’m not predicting any kind of Chinese crash. I am simply saying that China will follow that law of large numbers and regress at some point to a slower growth rate – perhaps a little bit later than the others because it is a much larger country.

But it is also worth pointing out that there are massive inefficiencies built into the Chinese economic system. They have a huge property bubble. Their growth is highly inefficient. In terms of foreign direct investment, China attracts every month what India takes in every year.

Still China only grows two percentage points faster than India.

In other words, if you think about the quality of Chinese growth, it’s not as impressive as it appears. They are undertaking massive investments – huge numbers of airports, eight-lane highways and high-speed rail. But if you look at what you are getting in terms of the return on investment it is not as impressive.

China has another huge problem. The UN just came out with a report that pointed out that China is going to have a demographic collapse over the next 25 years. It is going to lose 400 million people.

There is no point in human history in which you have had a dominant power in the world that is also declining demographically. It simply doesn’t happen. And if you want to look at what a country in demographic decline looks like, look at Japan.

Political

Let’s say that China does become the largest economy in the world: Does it have the political capacity to exercise the kind of leadership you need?

Remember, Japan was the second largest economy in the world for decades and I didn’t see any kind of grand, hegemonic design. You need to have the political capacity to be able to exercise that kind of leadership.

China is a country ruled by a political system that is in crisis.

It is unclear whether the next succession that China goes through will look anything like this current one. China has not solved the basic problem of what it is going to do when it creates a middle class and how it will respond to the aspirations of those people.

When Taiwan went through a similar process, what you saw was a transition to democracy; when South Korea went through it, you saw a transition to democracy. These were not easy periods. They were fairly bloody and chaotic.

Geopolitics

People like to talk about the rise of Asia. But there is no such thing as Asia. There’s China; there’s Japan; there’s India. And they don’t much like each other.

You are going to find that as China rises there is going to be a spirited response in India, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea and others. You already have begun to see the stirrings of this. China is not rising in a vacuum. It is rising on a continent in which there are many, many competitors.

Bet on Freedom

We are going through a crisis of confidence in the Western world. This has been true often when we have faced these kinds of new and different challenges and when we have faced nations that seem on the rise and on the march.

George Kennan, the great American statesman, used to write routinely about how he thought the United States would never be able to withstand the Soviet challenge because we were weak and fickle and we changed our minds and they were far-sighted and strategic. We were tactical and stupid. But somehow it worked out all right.

I think there is a tendency to think the same of China – that they have this incredible long-term vision and we are bumbling idiots. There is a wonderful story that encapsulates this:

When asked, “What do you think of the French Revolution?” Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai is supposed to have answered, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Everyone thought, “Oh, my goodness, he’s such a genius; he thinks so long-term – in centuries.”

Well it turns out that in 1973, Zhou Enlai meant the French revolution of 1968 – a student revolution. It was perfectly rational at that point to say: “It’s too soon to tell.”

So don’t believe that the Chinese are these strategic masterminds and we are bumbling. We have managed to bumble our way to a rather advanced position despite the challenges from the Kaiser’s Germany, from the Soviet Union and from Nazi Germany.

In fact, I think what you will find is that the United States and North America are creating an extraordinary model in this new world.

We are becoming the first universal nation, a country that draws people  from all parts of the world – people of all colors, creeds and religions and finds a way to harness their talent and build a kind of universal dream. It happens over here and it draws together people from all over the world.

Don’t lose faith in free and open societies.

13-29

Getting Past the Paralysis on Jobs

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

TV CNN ZakariaEvery week brings fresh evidence that America’s unemployment crisis is much deeper and more systemic than predicted — yet Washington seems unwilling or unable to do anything about it. Fears of the budget deficit and a dysfunctional political climate have paralyzed people on both sides of the political aisle. The result is that America is “sleepwalking” through its biggest crisis, writes Mohamed El-Erian, the low-key co-CEO of PIMCO.

Around 24 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed (the latter in part-time jobs that average $19,000, half the median wage). If these people don’t find jobs soon, they will lose skills and work habits and become permanently unemployable, with grim consequences for their families, communities and the country. And if employment growth does not pick up significantly, tax revenue will stay depressed, unemployment costs will rise and the deficit will balloon well beyond current projections.

We still seem to be hoping that somehow this problem will resolve itself, but it won’t. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke explained this week that the economy has gone through the worst financial crisis and the deepest housing collapse since the Great Depression. In fact, the problem is even worse. Employment growth has been stalled since 2000. If not for the housing and credit bubble, this jobs crisis would have revealed itself much earlier.

We’re in a new world for the American worker. Technological change and globalization allow companies to get more output with fewer workers. Emerging markets provide millions of skilled workers who can produce the same products at a fraction of the price that Americans can. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that from 1947 till 2000, productivity growth was correlated with employment growth. Since 2000, they have diverged. Productivity has risen while employment has fallen. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence has concluded that in America, growth and employment will diverge in the future.

Does this mean that we are stuck in a low-growth, low-employment future? No, but the crisis is structural, and we have to recognize its scope and urgency. “Shutting off the alarm and pulling the blanket over one’s head is not a solution,” says El-Erian.

Republican concerns about government spending over the long term are understandable, but cutting spending in the short run will result in more unemployment and slower growth. President Obama talks about jobs but seems too paralyzed to do something ambitious to help create them. Even Bernanke said this week that there isn’t much he could do about the slow-growth, high-unemployment trajectory we are on. Have we all become fatalists?

In fact, we could enact some measures that would spur job creation, many with a limited effect on the deficit. Most immediately, Washington needs to find ways to employ the millions of workers whose jobs disappeared with the housing bust. The simplest way to help them, and the country, would be to create a national infrastructure bank to repair and rebuild America’s infrastructure — which is in a shambles and ranks 23rd globally, according to the World Economic Forum — down from sixth only a decade ago.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has played down this proposal as just more stimulus, but if Republicans set aside ideology they would see it is actually an opportunity to push for two of their favorite ideas: privatization and the elimination of earmarks.

The United States builds infrastructure in a remarkably socialist manner; the government funds, builds and operates almost all American infrastructure. In many countries in Europe and Asia, the private sector plays a large role in financing and operation of roads, highways, railroads and airports, as well as other public resources. An infrastructure bank would create a mechanism by which such private-sector participation would become possible here as well. Yes, some public money would be involved, mostly through issuing bonds, but with interest rates at historic lows, this is the time to rebuild. Such projects, with huge long-term payoffs, could genuinely be called investments, not expenditures.

A national infrastructure bank would also address a legitimate complaint of the Tea Party — earmarks. One of the reasons federal spending has been inefficient is that Congress wants to spread money around in ways that make political sense but are economically inefficient. An infrastructure bank would make these decisions using cost-benefit analysis, in a meritocratic system, rather than basing decisions on patronage and whimsy.

The country needs much more: a revival of manufacturing, emphasizing technical training and apprenticeship programs; aggressive measures to promote those industries that are booming, such as entertainment and tourism; an expansion of retraining; streamlining the patent process; more visas for skilled immigrants to stay and create companies and jobs in America. These should be part of a national plan for jobs that President Obama must lay out soon. But start with something that would have an immediate impact and put people back to work — the rebuilding of America.

comments@fareedzakaria.com

13-25

Don’t Panic. Fear Is Al-Qaeda’s Real Goal

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

In responding to the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, “I’d rather overreact than underreact.” This appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong. The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn’t work. Alas, this one worked very well.

The attempted bombing says more about al-Qaeda’s weakened state than its strength. In the eight years before Sept. 11, al-Qaeda was able to launch large-scale terrorist attacks on several continents. It targeted important symbols of American power — embassies in Africa; a naval destroyer, the USS Cole; and, of course, the World Trade Center. The operations were complex — a simultaneous bombing of two embassies in different countries — and involved dozens of people of different nationalities who trained around the world, moved significant sums of money and coordinated their efforts over months, sometimes years.

On Christmas an al-Qaeda affiliate launched an operation using one person, with no special target, and a failed technique tried eight years ago by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. The plot seems to have been an opportunity that the group seized rather than the result of a well-considered strategic plan. A Nigerian fanatic with (what appeared to be) a clean background volunteered for service; he was wired up with a makeshift explosive and put on a plane. His mission failed entirely, killing not a single person. The suicide bomber was not even able to commit suicide. But al-Qaeda succeeded in its real aim, which was to throw the American system into turmoil. That’s why the terror group proudly boasted about the success of its mission.

Is there some sensible reaction between panic and passivity? Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and later a senior State Department official in the Bush administration, suggests that we should try to analyze failures in homeland security the way we do airplane catastrophes. When an airliner suffers an accident, major or minor, the National Transportation Safety Board convenes a group of nonpartisan experts who methodically examine what went wrong and then issue recommendations to improve the situation. “We approach airline security with the understanding that it’s a complex problem, that we have a pretty good system, but that there will be failures — caused by human beings, technology, or other factors. The point is to constantly fix what’s broken and keep improving the design and execution,” says Zelikow.

Imagine if that were the process after a lapse in homeland security. The public would know that any attack, successful or not, would trigger an automatic, serious process to analyze the problem and fix it. Politicians might find it harder to use every such event for political advantage. The people on the front lines of homeland security would not get demoralized as they watched politicians and the media bash them and grandstand with little knowledge.

Overreacting to terrorist attacks plays into al-Qaeda’s hands. It also provokes responses that are likely to be large-scale, expensive, ineffective and possibly counterproductive. More screening for every passenger makes no sense. When searching for needles in haystacks, adding hay doesn’t help. What’s needed is a larger, more robust watch list that is instantly available to all relevant government agencies. Almost 2 million people travel on planes in the United States every day. We need to isolate the tiny percentage of suspicious characters and search them, not cause needless fear in everyone else.

As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy’s father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

12-3

Obama, the Anti-Churchill?

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

winston_churchill_01 If you take out just one sentence, Barack Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last week was all about focusing and limiting the scope of the U.S. mission in that country. The objectives he detailed were exclusively military: to deny al-Qaeda a haven, reverse the Taliban’s momentum and strengthen the Kabul government’s security forces. The nation that he was interested in building, he explained, was this one.

And then there was that one line: “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.” Here lies the tension in Obama’s policy. He wants a clearer, more discriminating foreign policy, one that pares the vast commitments and open-ended interventions of the Bush era, perhaps one that is more disciplined than Bill Clinton’s approach to the world. (On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly invoked George H.W. Bush as the president whose foreign policy he admired most.) But America is in a war that is not going well, and scaling back now would look like cutting and running. Obama is searching for a post-imperial policy in the midst of an imperial crisis. The qualified surge — send in troops to regain the momentum but then draw down — is his answer to this dilemma.

This first year of his presidency has been a window into Obama’s worldview. Once most presidents get hold of the bully pulpit, they cannot resist the temptation to become Winston Churchill. They gravitate toward grand rhetoric about freedom and tyranny and embrace the moral drama of their role as leaders of the free world. Not Obama. He has been cool and calculating, whether dealing with Russia, Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. Obama is a realist by temperament, learning and instinct. More than any president since Richard Nixon, he has focused on defining American interests carefully, providing resources to achieve them and keeping his eyes on the prize.

“In the end,” the president said last Tuesday, “our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms.” He explained that America’s economic and technological vigor underpinned its ability to play a world role. At a small lunch with a group of columnists before his speech last week, he made clear to us that he did not want to run two wars. He seemed to be implying that the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan were not the crucial path to America’s long-term security. He explained that challenges at home — economic growth, technological innovation, education reform — were at the heart of maintaining America’s status as a superpower. In fact, throughout history great nations have lost their way by getting bogged down in imperial missions far from home that crippled their will, strength and focus. (Sometimes even when they won they lost: Britain prevailed in the Boer War, but it broke the back of the empire.)

It is clear that Obama is attempting something quite ambitious — to reorient U.S. foreign policy toward something less extravagant and adversarial. That begins with narrowing the “war on terrorism”; scaling back the conflict with the Islamic world to those groups and countries that pose serious, direct threats to the United States; and reaching out to the rest. He has also tried to develop a better working relationship with major powers such as Russia and China, setting aside smaller issues in hopes of cooperation on bigger ones. This means departing from a bipartisan approach in which Washington’s role was to direct and hector the rest of the world, pushing regimes large and small to accept American ideas, and publicly chastising them when they refused. Obama is trying to break the dynamic that says that when an American president negotiates with the Chinese or Russians, he must return with rewards or concessions — or else he is guilty of appeasement.

For his policy to succeed, Obama will need to maintain his focus come July 2011. Afghanistan will not be transformed by that date. It will not look like France, with a strong and effective central government. The gains that will have been made will be fragile. The situation will still be somewhat unstable. But that should still be the moment to begin the transition to Afghan rule. We can find ways to secure American interests in that region more manageably. By the end of 2011, the United States will have spent 10 years, thousands of lives and $2 trillion trying to create stable, democratic governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the most difficult, divided countries in the world. It will be time to move on.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

11-51

Houstonian Corner (V11-I27)

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Both Best of Times & Most Crucial Times in Pakistan: Imran Khan

Imran Khan Spoke About Future Of Pakistan At World Affairs Council (G)

The World Affairs Council (WAC) is one of Houston’s most prominent citizen forums. Through guest speakers and over 80 seminars and events, WAC gives chance to people of different view points on various issues to make presentation, especially matters related to current world events. Idea is to promote better understanding of international relations and contributes to national and international policy debates. The result is a better educated citizenry and the advancement of Houston as an important international center. Some of the prominent speakers at WAC have been: Madeleine Albright; James Baker, III; Prince Bandar Bin Sultan; Fernando Henrique Cardoso; Wesley Clark; William S. Cohen; Thomas Friedman; Robert Gates; George Mitchell; General Colin Powell; David Rockefeller; Lech Walesa; and Fareed Zakaria.

This past Monday, prominent philanthropist, sports and political figure of Pakistan Imran Khan gave a candid presentation to hundreds of WAC members on “Future of Pakistan” at a special luncheon at Omni Hotel. Program was sponsored by the Pakistani-American Council of Texas (PACT). President of PACT Sajjad Burki, Executive Members of PACT & Pakistani Community and Council General of Pakistan in Houston Aqil Nadeem were in attendance.

In his presentation, Imran Khan gave detailed history of Pakistan; South Asian Region; cultural traits of people of Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan; and much more. He said USA Government is not getting proper advise about this things and in his recent meetings with Senators Kerry and Ackerman, he has asked them to find right people to know more about the people of the area. Imran himself have gone on a road journey of all these areas and written books like “Indus Journey: A Personal View of Pakistan” and “Warrior Race: A Journey Through the Land of the Tribal Pathans”.

Imran Khan said that Pakistan is going through unprecedented times in her short 62 years history. Citing incidents of the rough times Chief Justice of Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry and Media in Pakistan have gone through in the past few years, Imran Khan said that today what we see in Pakistan was never seen before in the history of Pakistan, which is that the Judiciary and Media are independent. Elections are just one of the means to have democracy, but actually institutions like Judiciary and Media are what really build good democracy. True test of the independence and Vibrancy of Judiciary and Media will come, when the next General Elections will be held.

Imran Khan said while on one hand we have seen optimism through successful struggles of Judiciary and Media (which got overwhelming support from the public): On the other hand, Pakistan is plagued by the wrong policies of the war on terror, which have been implemented by Governments of USA and Pakistan (he has been against the policies used in war of terror from the very beginning). Terrorism is an idea and ideas are not fought by military powers. Reason is when one applies power, terrorists, who are not regular armies; they retreat into civilian populations or into other hide-outs, and massive collateral damage of innocent people means more recruits towards terrorist side. After 9/11, clearly AL-Qaeda was the main force and Talebans were not. The Talebans merely asked for proof and said they will hand over AL-Qaeda suspects if given proofs: That could have been easily done.

Imran further said that terrorism is a political issue and has nothing to do with any religion. Past eight years and similar war in Ireland are proofs that this war on terror can only finish with dialogue, as such a process clearly identifies, who are the wrong guys and then they can be surgically removed or even in cases won back into own camp. There is need to isolate the terrorist and not giving them opportunities to get more recruits through indiscriminate bombing and use of force. At present, what is happening in Swat has public backing: However this is also known that to catch about 5,000 persons, Government of Pakistan has displaced 3.5 Million persons, creating a catastrophe of mammoth proportions. Now if these 5,000 persons have run away like gorillas do and not captured, these 3.5 Million Displaced Pakistanis will demand the Government for retribution and God Forbidding if nothing is done, we have potential of more violence, as these 3.5 Million people have lost their entire livelihood.

As such discourse has to start at the earliest and such dialogues will result in several disappointments, rejections and failures, but past evidence and loud thinking clearly show that to persevere with the process of dialogue and avoidance of making way for people to join terrorist camps, is what will eventually bring peace and end the ideology of terrorism. He said Benazir Bhutto would have been better in situation like this.

Four Centers of ISGH Successfully Hosted ICNA Annual Knowledge & Skills Competition

ICNA Houston Quizz - Knowledge - & - Skills Competition - H (June 20 2009) For the past fifteen times, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Houston Chapter organized Islamic Knowledge and Skills Competition for various age groups of 4 and 19 at the University of Houston and Rice University. This year through the sponsorship of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH), ICNA Houston Chapter organized competitions at four ISGH Centers (Adel Road, Bear Creek, Synott Road and Hwy 3). These year maximum numbers of youth were able to participate. Finalists from each zone will now compete at the 4th ICNA-MAS South Regional Conference at Rice University on July 04th, 2009 (more info at www.icnasouth.com). For more information, one can call 1-866-CUB-ADAM.