China loses its allure

January 27, 2014

This week’s print edition of The Economist brings a worth reading story on China: life is getting harder for foreign companies there.

“According to the late Roberto Goizueta, a former boss of The Coca-Cola Company, April 15th 1981 was “one of the most important days…in the history of the world.” That date marked the opening of the first Coke bottling plant to be built in China since the Communist revolution.

The claim was over the top, but not absurd. Mao Zedong’s disastrous policies had left the economy in tatters. The height of popular aspiration was the “four things that go round”: bicycles, sewing machines, fans and watches. The welcome that Deng Xiaoping, China’s then leader, gave to foreign firms was part of a series of changes that turned China into one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets in the world.

For the past three decades, multinationals have poured in. After the financial crisis, many companies looked to China for salvation. Now it looks as though the gold rush may be over.”

Read full story.


Trade Deals Take Global Commerce Back to the Future

January 17, 2014

Edward Alden argues in an article for World Politics Review that the United States and European Union are reasserting their control over global trade rules after two decades of stalemate with developing countries.

After the negotiations that led to the creation of the WTO in 1995, developing country officials were determined to never again allow the U.S. and EU dictate the final terms of a global trade agreement. For the past two decades, until this month’s modest agreement in Bali, they have made good on that threat. But through ambitious regional deals, the U.S. and EU are reasserting control over global trade rules.

“Never again. That was the sentiment I remember hearing over and over from developing country officials following the tumultuous completion of the Uruguay Round negotiations in 1993 that led to the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) two years later. Once again, most of them believed, the United States and the European Union had dictated the final terms of a global trade agreement and forced it down the throats of the rest of the world. These countries were determined to have far more say in the shape of any future deals.

For the past two decades, until this month’s modest agreement in Bali to adopt new “trade facilitation” measures, the developing countries have made good on that threat. They have insisted that any new global trade agreement, such as that pursued unsuccessfully over the past decade through the Doha Round, pay special attention to their needs and priorities in areas like agriculture, manufacturing and intellectual property rules. Their united opposition has made it impossible to conclude another big global trade round on terms acceptable to the U.S. and EU.”

Read full story.


The Meaning of Israel: A Personal View

January 15, 2014

In light of the obsessive, hypocritical focus by several scholarly groups taking aim at Israel, not to mention the permanent chorus of Israel’s detractors both here and abroad, David Harris wants to offer a totally different view of the Jewish state. This is a time to stand up and speak out.

An op-ed by David Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, January 15, 2014

Against the backdrop of recent efforts in some academic circles to vilify and isolate Israel, let me put my cards on the table right up front. I’m not dispassionate when it comes to Israel. Quite the contrary.

The establishment of the state in 1948; the fulfillment of its envisioned role as home and haven for Jews from around the world; its wholehearted embrace of democracy and the rule of law; and its impressive scientific, cultural, and economic achievements are accomplishments beyond my wildest imagination.

For centuries, Jews around the world prayed for a return to Zion. We are the lucky ones who have seen those prayers answered. I am grateful to witness this most extraordinary period in Jewish history and Jewish sovereignty.

And when one adds the key element, namely, that all this took place not in the Middle West but in the Middle East, where Israel’s neighbors determined from day one to destroy it through any means available to them—from full-scale wars to wars of attrition; from diplomatic isolation to international delegitimation; from primary to secondary to even tertiary economic boycotts; from terrorism to the spread of anti-Semitism, often thinly veiled as anti-Zionism—the story of Israel’s first 65 years becomes all the more remarkable.

No other country has faced such a constant challenge to its very right to exist, even though the age-old biblical, spiritual, and physical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is unique in the annals of history.

Indeed,  that connection is of a totally different character from the basis on which, say, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the bulk of Latin American countries were established, that is, by Europeans with no legitimate claim to those lands who decimated indigenous populations and proclaimed their own authority. Or, for that matter, North African countries that were conquered and occupied by Arab-Islamic invaders and totally redefined in their national character.

No other country has faced such overwhelming odds against its very survival, or experienced the same degree of never-ending international demonization by too many nations that throw integrity and morality to the wind, and slavishly follow the will of the energy-rich and more numerous Arab states.

Yet Israelis have never succumbed to a fortress mentality, never abandoned their deep yearning for peace with their neighbors or willingness to take unprecedented risks to achieve that peace, never lost their zest for life, and never flinched from their determination to build a vibrant, democratic state.

This story of nation-building is entirely without precedent.

 Here was a people brought to the brink of utter destruction by the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany and its allies. Here was a people shown to be utterly powerless to influence a largely indifferent world to stop, or even slow down, the Final Solution. And here was a people, numbering barely 600,000, living cheek-by-jowl with often hostile Arab neighbors, under unsympathetic British occupation, on a harsh soil with no significant natural resources other than human capital in then Mandatory Palestine.

That the blue-and-white flag of an independent Israel could be planted on this land, to which the Jewish people had been intimately linked since the time of Abraham, just three years after the Second World War’s end—and with the support of a decisive majority of UN members at the time—truly boggles the mind.

And what’s more, that this tiny community of Jews, including survivors of the Holocaust who had somehow made their way to Mandatory Palestine despite the British blockade, could successfully defend themselves against the onslaught of five Arab standing armies that launched their attack on Israel’s first day of existence, is almost beyond imagination.

To understand the essence of Israel’s meaning, it is enough to ask how the history of the Jewish people might have been different had there been a Jewish state in 1933, in 1938, or even in 1941. If Israel had controlled its borders and the right of entry instead of Britain, if Israel had had embassies and consulates throughout Europe, how many more Jews might have escaped and found sanctuary?

Instead, Jews had to rely on the goodwill of embassies and consulates of other countries and, with woefully few exceptions, they found there neither the “good” nor the “will” to assist.

I witnessed firsthand what Israeli embassies and consulates meant to Jews drawn by the pull of Zion or the push of hatred. I stood in the courtyard of the Israeli embassy in Moscow and saw thousands of Jews seeking a quick exit from a Soviet Union in the throes of cataclysmic change, fearful that the change might be in the direction of renewed chauvinism and anti-Semitism.

Awestruck, I watched up-close as Israel never faltered, not even for a moment, in transporting Soviet Jews to the Jewish homeland, even as Scud missiles launched from Iraq traumatized the nation in 1991. It says a lot about the conditions they were leaving behind that these Jews continued to board planes for Tel Aviv while missiles were exploding in Israeli population centers. In fact, on two occasions I sat in sealed rooms with Soviet Jewish families who had just arrived in Israel during these missile attacks. Not once did any of them question their decision to establish new lives in the Jewish state. And equally, it says a lot about Israel that, amid all the pressing security concerns, it managed to continue to welcome these new immigrants without missing a beat.

And how can I ever forget the surge of pride—Jewish  pride—that  completely enveloped me in July 1976 on hearing the astonishing news of Israel’s daring rescue of the 106 Jewish hostages held by Arab and German terrorists in Entebbe, Uganda, over 2,000 miles from Israel’s borders? The unmistakable message: Jews in danger will never again be alone, without hope, and totally dependent on others for their safety.

Not least, I can still remember, as if it were yesterday, my very first visit to Israel. It was in 1970, and I was not quite 21 years old.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I recall being quite emotional from the moment I boarded the El Al plane to the very first glimpse of the Israeli coastline from the plane’s window. As I disembarked, I surprised myself by wanting to kiss the ground. In the ensuing weeks, I marveled at everything I saw. To me, it was as if every apartment building, factory, school, orange grove, and Egged bus was nothing less than a miracle. A state, a Jewish state, was unfolding before my very eyes.

After centuries of persecutions, pogroms, exiles, ghettos, pales of settlement, inquisitions, blood libels, forced conversions, discriminatory legislation, and immigration restrictions—and, no less, after centuries of prayers, dreams, and yearning—the Jews had come back home and were  the masters of their own fate.

I was overwhelmed by the mix of people, backgrounds, languages, and lifestyles, and by the intensity of life itself. Everyone, it seemed, had a compelling story to tell. There were Holocaust survivors with harrowing tales of their years in the camps. There were Jews from Arab countries, whose stories of persecution in such countries as Iraq, Libya, and Syria were little known at the time. There were the first Jews arriving from the USSR seeking repatriation in the Jewish homeland. There were the sabras—native-born Israelis—many of whose families had lived in Palestine for generations. There were local Arabs, both Christian and Muslim. There were Druze, whose religious practices are kept secret from the outside world. The list goes on and on.

I was moved beyond words by the sight of Jerusalem and the fervor with which Jews of all backgrounds prayed at the Western Wall. Coming from a nation that was at the time deeply divided and demoralized, I found my Israeli peers to be unabashedly proud of their country, eager to serve in the military, and, in many cases, determined to volunteer for the most elite combat units. They felt personally involved in the enterprise of building a Jewish state, more than 1,800 years after the  Romans defeated the Bar Kochba revolt,  the last Jewish attempt at sovereignty on this very land.

To be sure, nation-building is an infinitely complex process. In Israel’s case,  it began against a backdrop of tensions with a local Arab population that laid claim to the very same land, and tragically refused a UN proposal to divide the land into Arab and Jewish states; as the Arab world sought to isolate, demoralize, and ultimately destroy the state; as Israel’s population doubled in the first three years of the country’s existence, putting an unimaginable strain on severely limited resources; as the nation was forced to devote a vast portion of its limited national budget to defense expenditures; and as the country coped with forging a national identity and social consensus among a population that could not have been more geographically, linguistically, socially, and culturally heterogeneous.

Moreover, there is the tricky and underappreciated issue of the potential clash between the messy realities of statehood and, in this case, the ideals and faith of a people. It is one thing for a people to live their religion as a minority; it is quite another to exercise sovereignty as the majority population while remaining true to one’s ethical standards. Inevitably, tension will arise between a people’s spiritual or moral self-definition and the exigencies of statecraft, between our highest concepts of human nature and the daily realities of individuals in decision-making positions wielding power and balancing a variety of competing interests.

Even so, shall we raise the bar so high as to ensure that Israel—forced to function in the often gritty, morally ambiguous world of international relations and politics, especially as a small, still endangered state—will always fall short?

Yet, the notion that Israel would ever become ethically indistinguishable from any other country, reflexively seeking cover behind the convenient justification of realpolitik to explain its behavior, is equally unacceptable.

Israelis, with only 65 years of statehood under their belts, are among the newer practitioners of statecraft. With all its remarkable success, consider the daunting political, social, and economic challenges in the United States 65 or even 165 years after independence, or, for that matter, the challenges it faces today, including stubborn social inequalities. And let’s not forget that the United States, unlike Israel, is a vast country blessed with abundant natural resources, oceans on two-and-a half sides, a gentle neighbor to the north, and a weaker neighbor to the south.

Like any vibrant democracy, America is a permanent work in progress. The same holds true for Israel. Loving Israel as I do, though, doesn’t mean overlooking its shortcomings, including the excessive and unholy intrusion of religion into politics, the marginalization of non-Orthodox Jewish religious streams, the dangers posed by political and religious zealots, and the unfinished, if undeniably complex, task of integrating Israeli Arabs into the mainstream.

But it also doesn’t mean allowing such issues to overshadow Israel’s remarkable achievements, accomplished, as I’ve said, under the most difficult of circumstances.

In just 65 years, Israel has built a thriving democracy, unique in the region, including a Supreme Court prepared, when it deems appropriate, to overrule the prime minister or the military establishment, a feisty parliament that includes every imaginable viewpoint along the political spectrum, a robust civil society, and a vigorous press.

It has built an economy whose per capita GNP exceeds the combined total of its four contiguous sovereign neighbors—Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

It has built universities and research centers that have contributed to advancing the world’s frontiers of knowledge in countless ways, and won a slew of Nobel Prizes in the process.

It has built one of the world’s most powerful militaries—always under civilian control, I might add—to ensure its survival in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood. It has shown the world how a tiny nation, no larger than New Jersey or Wales, can, by sheer ingenuity, will, courage, and commitment, defend itself against those who would destroy it through conventional armies or armies of suicide bombers. And it has done all this while striving to adhere to a strict code of military conduct that has few rivals in the democratic world, much less elsewhere—in the face of an enemy prepared to send children to the front lines and seek cover in mosques, schools, and hospitals.

It has built a quality of life that ranks it among the world’s healthiest nations and with a particularly high life expectancy, indeed higher than that of the U.S.

It has built a thriving culture, whose musicians, writers, and artists are admired far beyond Israel’s borders. In doing so, it has lovingly taken an ancient language, Hebrew, the language of the prophets, and rendered it modern to accommodate the vocabulary of the contemporary world.

It has built a climate of respect for other faith groups, including Baha’i, Christianity and Islam, and their places of worship. Can any other nation in the area make the same claim?

It has built an agricultural sector that has had much to teach developing nations about turning an arid soil into fields of fruits, vegetables, cotton, and flowers.

Step back from the twists and turns of the daily information overload coming from the Middle East and consider the sweep of the last 65 years. Look at the light-years traveled since the darkness of the Holocaust, and marvel at the miracle of a decimated people returning to a tiny sliver of land—the land of our ancestors, the land of Zion and Jerusalem—and successfully building a modern, vibrant state against all the odds, on that ancient foundation.

In the final analysis, then, the story of Israel is the wondrous realization of a 3,500-year link among a land, a faith, a language, a people, and a vision. It is an unparalleled story of tenacity and determination, of courage and renewal.

And it is ultimately a metaphor for the triumph of enduring hope over the temptation of despair.


100th Anniversary of Current History

January 1, 2014

Current History, the journal of contemporary international affairs, marks its 100th anniversary with a special January issue: “Global Trends, 2014.” The issue features essays by Michael Mandelbaum, Larry Diamond, Sheila Jasanoff, G. John Ikenberry, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Scott D. Sagan, Bruce Russett, Martha Crenshaw, and more.

Perils and Progress

by Alan Sorensen
Editor of Current History

After Current History began publication a hundred years ago, the world suffered a succession of horrors: world wars, depression, totalitarian tyranny, genocide, nuclear terror, environmental threats. These sorely tested the modern belief in progress. Yet over this same century, knowledge and innovations accumulated, liberal values and open markets spread, and nations laid the foundations for collective security and global governance.

For our centennial issue, we asked a dozen scholars to consider major trends that emerged in the past century and how these might influence events moving forward. A fair reading of their essays gives cause to hope for a bright, if complicated, future.

Not that progress will be automatic. All the essays, on the contrary, emphasize the importance of politics.

The world still depends on America to safeguard security and promote globalization, according to Michael Mandelbaum. Sheila Jasanoff warns that global warming could threaten the human species with ruin, absent concerted effort. The challenges posed by globalization, says G. John Ikenberry, increase the demand for international coordination. Will supply follow? Amrita Narlikar argues that burden sharing will require greater understanding of rising powers’ interests, world views, and negotiating strategies. Still, as Ikenberry suggests, China and other emerging powers have little interest in overturning the US-built international order that has facilitated their progress.

A recent wave of democratic regressions, governing failures in advanced nations, autocratic resistance, and turmoil following the Arab Spring raise concerns about the health of democracy within nations, concedes Larry Diamond.

However, as he points out in his essay, “it is worth considering the intrinsic political dilemmas of authoritarian regimes, and the tenacity of popular aspirations for government that is open and accountable.”

The swelling ranks of a global middle class ought to boost democratic prospects. Nicholas Eberstadt notes that “the greatest population explosion in history” over the past hundred years did not prevent the “greatest jump in per capita income levels ever recorded.” The rapid expansion of global markets has lifted millions from poverty. And the international economy, observes Uri Dadush, is no zero-sum game in which countries prosper only at others’ expense.

In another demonstration that politics matters, the rich nations’ current stagnation has resulted, Dadush says, not from “the rise of the rest,” but from “errors in macroeconomic policy and regulation.”

The security realm, too, is a positive-sum game in which mutual interests multiply. Increasing economic interdependence and advances in liberal norms and institutions account for a demonstrable decline in warfare, writes Bruce Russett.

The ongoing information revolution, according to Joseph S. Nye Jr., is helping to disperse power to more actors, including groups that seek to influence others via example and persuasion, rather than coercion. Martha Crenshaw observes that threats nowadays arise less from rivalry among great powers than from extremist groups operating in frail states. But keeping the nuclear peace, Scott D. Sagan warns, will depend on sustained cooperation to discourage proliferation and uphold the taboo against using atomic arms.

Moral progress, meanwhile, continues apace— evidenced, for example, in evolving attitudes about torture, the treatment of women and minorities, and human rights generally. The struggle for gay rights, highlighted by Omar Encarnación, also underscores the importance of politics. Human rights, too, are not a zero-sum contest (gay rights do not threaten heterosexual rights). And here again, there is cause for optimism.

As Encarnación notes: “International norms, once established, tend to spread to even the most recalcitrant corners of the world as part of the international ‘socialization’ of states.”!

To subscribe, visit currenthistory.com. Or call 1-800-293-3755 in the US, or 856-931-6681 outside the US.


Happy New Year from HIRAM7 REVIEW!

December 31, 2013

Happy New Year from HIRAM7 REVIEW!

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. HIRAM7 REVIEW was viewed about 55,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Where did they come from?

That’s 149 countries in all!

Most visitors came from The United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. Germany & France were not far behind.

Thanks for flying with HIRAM7 REVIEW in 2013.

We look forward to serving you again in 2014! Happy New Year!

… but wait, there’s more! This is our “Thank You” Song.


Stanley Fischer To Become Next Federal Reserve Vice Chairman

December 12, 2013

Stanley Fischer, the former Bank of Israel governor and International Monetary Fund (IMF) official, is alleged to be the successor of Janet Yellen as vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

STANLEY FISCHER

As a professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he taught Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, whose term ends in January 2014, and European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi.

Washington Post columnist Neil Irwin, and author of The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire, explains why Stanley Fischer is the most qualified candidate for the job.

“A crisis-management veteran. Fischer has faced trial by fire, most dramatically as the deputy managing director at the IMF from 1994 to 2001. He was on the front lines dealing with of a series of emerging market crises, including in Mexico, East Asia and Russia.

In other words, if there were to be a crisis in one or more of the emerging powers like China, India or Brazil, it would be the sort of thing that Fischer has spent his career preparing for. That is doubly important right now, as money has been gushing out of emerging economies in the past few months, driving their currencies down and their borrowing costs up.”

Read full story.


Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) or The Making Of A Myth

December 6, 2013

Politicians and people around the globe pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013. Nelson Mandela guided South Africa from apartheid to multiracial democracy after spending almost three decades in prison.

President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela at the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA, July 4, 1993. Photo: Executive Office of the President of the United States

President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela at the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA, July 4, 1993. Photo: Executive Office of the President of the United States

“Now that he’s dead, and can cause no more trouble, Nelson Mandela is being mourned across the ideological spectrum as a saint. But not long ago, in Washington’s highest circles, he was considered an enemy of the United States. Unless we remember why, we won’t truly honor his legacy,” argues foreign policy analyst Peter Beinart in The Daily Beast.

“In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan placed Mandela’s African National Congress on America’s official list of terrorist groups. In 1985, then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a resolution urging that he be released from jail. In 2004, after Mandela criticized the Iraq War, an article in National Review said his ‘vicious anti-Americanism and support for Saddam Hussein should come as no surprise, given his longstanding dedication to communism and praise for terrorists.’ As late as 2008, the ANC remained on America’s terrorism watch list, thus requiring the 89-year-old Mandela to receive a special waiver from the secretary of State to visit the U.S.”

Read full story.


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