Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The First Presidential Debate and Its Implications

The first debate for presidential election 2008 was held at the University of Mississippi on September 26, which was sponsored by CNN and moderated by Jim Lehrer (see the transcript and the video). Prior to the debate, the Washington Post reported that economic fears due to recent financial crisis give advantages to Senator Barack Obama over Senator John McCain (“Economic Fears Give Obama Clear Lead over McCain in Poll”; Washington Post; September 24, 2008). As I mentioned in a previous post “Strength and Weakness of McCain and Obama”, voters prefer Obama when the issue is on the economy, and they prefer McCain when it is on foreign policy. According to polls just after the debate, Obama leads McCain. Despite the impression on TV, has Barack Obama succeeded in convincing voters that he is ready to govern the nation?

It is critical that substantial percentages of voters are still undecided. BBC reports intensified rivalry between both candidates. According to this report, “CBS News found that 39% gave Mr. Obama victory, 25% thought John McCain had won, and 36% thought it was a draw.” Just before the day of TV debate, AP says that both candidates are competing to appeal for would-be Clinton voters, and 18% of voters are still undecided. Neither enjoys definite advantage over rival. The report says that swing voters see “McCain leads on Iraq, terrorism, taxes, corruption, immigration and gun rights, while Obama has an edge on health care, gay marriage, the environment, stem-cell research, racial equality and education” (“Poll finds 18 percent of voters undecided”; AP; September 25, 2008).

The first TV debate does not seem to change the trend so much. Senator Barack Obama may have impressed slightly better impression on voters, but BBC says neither he nor Senator John McCain succeeded in showing persuasive ideas on the economy. To the contrary, BBC comments “McCain wins on points.” This is quite noteworthy, because BBC is too well-known for its center left stances, as witnessed in the Falkland War, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War.

BBC reporter Kevin Connolly asserts “But in the foreign policy section of the debate, it seemed to me John McCain emerged a clear winner, although there were individual issues like Iraq on which the Democratic contender more or less held his own.” On Iran, John McCain suggested a new idea that the League of Democracies should contain the threat of the rogue regime, and asserted resolute attitude to defend Israel. Barack Obama did not impress such a clear attitude to Iranian threat. Also, Obama failed to address his own policy to curb Russian threat, and McCain argued him too naïve to manage a Russia increasingly moving toward czarist authoritarianism.

Only on Iraq, could Obama show difference from McCain’s policy. However, remember that Barack Obama modified his viewpoint of early withdrawal after he talked with General David Petraeus in Iraq. Actually, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari visited the United Nations, and requested US led coalition not to withdraw precipitously simply because of economic crisis. In addition, Foreign Minister Zebari said that the Iraqi government hopes to sign a security agreement with the United States before the presidential election on November 4. This implies that Iraqi leaders are gravely concerned with Barack Obama’s approach to Iraq (“Iraq hopes economic crisis won't affect US troops”; International Herald Tribune; September 27, 2008). As I have mentioned in a previous post, “The State of Iraq: By Gen. Jack Keane, Frederick Kagan, et al”, General Jack Keane and Frederick Kagan at the American Enterprise Institute have been insisting this.

At the first TV debate, neither candidate knocked out their opponent. Barack Obama may capture the heart of those who are annoyed with the Bush administration. But his weakness on foreign policy was reconfirmed. He is not ready to become the Commander in Chief. Remember! It is center left BBC that pointed this out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cricket, Peace, and Stable Indo-Pakistani Relations

Peace and stability on the Indo-Pakistani border is vital to nuclear non-proliferation and the War on Terror. The Indo-US nuclear deal has been activated, and Asif Zardari won presidential election in Pakistan this September.

In view of recent political progress in the Subcontinent, a stable Indo-Pakistani relationship is one of the keys to US led War on Terror, because the United States needs further commitment to both Iraq and Afghanistan. In an interview with BBC on September 12, General David Petraeus stressed that Western operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are interconnected. It is an interest for both Pakistan and India to defeat extremists and promote democracy in Afghanistan, as well as it is for the United States and Western allies.

A recently founded professional cricket league will be able to nurture friendship between India and Pakistan, which will contribute to the development of Indo-Pakistani relations.

In India, there are two professional cricket leagues: the Indian Cricket League (ICL) and the Indian Premier League (IPL). Just as US Major League Baseball has an outpost in Canada, so does ICL in Pakistan (and also in Bangladesh).

ICL was found in 2007 to bolster the level of Indian cricket to succeed in the World Cup. Currently, there are nine teams as the following:

Mumbai Champs
Chennai Superstars
Chandigarh Lions
Hyderabad Heroes
Kolkata Bengal Tigers
Delhi Giants
Ahmedabad Rockets

in Pakistan
Lahore Badshahs

in Bangladesh
Dhaka Warriors

There are some Anglo-Irish names in the rooster of each ICL team. This is just like Japanese professional baseball. Indian cricket teams employ players from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Britain, and Ireland; just as Japanese baseball teams sign contracts with American players. Therefore, I feel some sort of common bonds with Indians.

Among ICL teams, the Lahore Badshahs is quite unique as it is solely composed of Pakistani players who have previously played for their National team. This is quite like one Japanese baseball team. During its heyday from mid 1960s to early 1970s, the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo boasted that they did not need to rely on the Anglo-Irish, because their line-up was consisted of the crème de la crème of Japanese players.

Will cricket contribute to peace between India and Pakistan? International media tend to focus on nuclear bombs and terrorism, but grassroots interactions are no less important. Stability between both nations is critical to success of the war in Afghanistan. As long as Pakistan is well-governed enough for people to enjoy ICL cricket games, US-led coalition can maintain sufficient level of forces in Iraq.

Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming increasingly interconnected. Therefore, stability in the Indian subcontinent has grown more important than ever. It is worthy of talking about the Indo-Pakistani relationship from completely different perspectives from those of major international media.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Opinion Poll

I have started surveys of public opinions among Japanese citizens on Yoron Chosa.net (Opinion Poll.net) from this September. There are numerous questionnaires on this website, from the viewpoint of common citizens, ranging from politics and current affairs to social life and hobbies. Anyone can participate in this survey, if he or she understands Japanese.

This is the link to the page of my questions. As mentioned there, you will find various questionnaires, from expert issues to soft questions. Of course, you need to understand Japanese to answer these questionnaires.

You can also join the discussion forum through leaving a comment to each questionnaire. Come and join the forum, and express your ideas that you have in your mind in your daily life. If you understand Japanese, as it is a Japanese Language website.

Photo: Regulus of the Leo
The light of liberty and civilization, burning bright! In the forest of night!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pakistan after Musharraf

I have written a post on turmoil in Pakistan shortly after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It is very important to review how things have gone through since then. Despite severe criticism to President Pervez Musharraf, the United States has a dilemma in dealing with him as he is a key ally in the War on Terror. Peter Beinart, Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations warned that failure to deal with the turmoil would make this county another Iran. Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, commented that the United States not stick to Musharraf because there were pro-American alternatives to him in Pakistan.

Since then, Musharraf is compelled step down, though he barely managed to stay in power for more than half a year. Just after the assassination turmoil, the United States and Britain urged opposition leaders such as Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to work with Pevez Musharraf, for political stability in Pakistan (“Coming to Terms”; Economist; February 28, 2008).

However, Musharraf’s authoritarian rule led Zardari and Sharif to impeach him. Musharraf sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry who invalidated his October reelection as the President in uniform. Zardari and Sharif blamed this extra-constitutional behavior, and demanded him to resign.

The Economist argues “Pervez Musharraf’s exit should be seen as an opportunity for his Western allies, not a setback” (“Another Bushman down”; Economist; August 21, 2008). Musharraf is neither liberal nor secular, as he sponsored Taliban until 9-11. More importantly, Musharraf’s unelected presidency undermines democratic legitimacy, which is a handicap to fight against extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Actually, right after the assassination of Bhutto, the International Crisis Group recommended that Musharraf resign and Pakistan restore constitutional rule (“After Bhutto's Murder: A Way Forward for Pakistan”; Asia Briefing; 2 Jamuary, 2008).

The post-Musharraf election will be held on September 6, and competed primarily between Asif Zardari, widower of late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister before Musharraf’s coup d’état in 1999. Are they ready to save a terrorist roaming country?

Prior to talking of the election, let me mention briefly about political parties in Pakistan. An article by Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer at the Council on Foreign Relations, will be helpful for basic understanding (“Pakistan's Institutions and Civil Society”; Backgrounder; August 25, 2008).

Pakistani People’s Party (PPP):
Led by Asif Zardari. A center-left party founded by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto, in 1967. Member of Socialist International.

Pakistan's Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N):
Led by Nawaz Sharif. Originates from the Muslim League founded under the British Raj, by Mohammad Ali Jinnah who is the father of Pakistani independence. In 1999 when Prime Minister then Nawaz Sharif was ousted, PML was divided into PML-Nawaz and pro-Musharraf PML- Quaid-e-Azam or PML-Q.

For the prospect of the post-Musharraf Pakistan, I would like to mention a blog by a Pakistani political scientist, entitled Watandost, which means “friend of the country” in Urdu and Farsi. This blog is published by Hassan Abbas, Research Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Harvard University, who worked for both democratic leader Benazir Bhutto and military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

In his contribution to the International Herald Tribune, Abbas says that Pakistan will overcome the chaos after Musharraf, despite recent beak up of the Zardari-Sharif coalition. Democratic institutions in Pakistan will manage the country better than dictatorship, and Abbas insists that the West support them with patience.

Come to think of it, America had been tolerant to authoritarian or corrupt dictatorship during the Cold War. In the War on Terror, promotion of American ideal is a critical agenda. Pakistan is a typical case of such a policy change.

On the other hand, Pakistanis must remember: it was incompetence of parliamentary politicians that triggered military coup d’ état so frequently in the past. This was also the case with the collapse of the Weimar Democracy in Germany and the Taisho Democracy in Japan. Post Musharraf leaders should not repeat the same mistake again. Otherwise, Pakistan will fall into the hands of extremists such as Al Qaeda and Taliban.

The next administration in Pakistan must work closely with the West, regarding counter terrorism strategy and empowerment.