Politeía Digest

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Sunday’s New Yorker (III)

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Letter from Moscow

Roulette Russian

The teen-ager behind Chatroulette.

Andrey Ternovskiy, an eighteen-year-old high-school dropout from Moscow, has a variety of explanations for why he created the Web site Chatroulette.com. According to one story, he got bored talking to people he already knew on Skype; according to another, it was a fund-raising ploy for a bike trip from Moscow to Amsterdam. The most reliable version, however, centers on a shop called Russian Souvenirs. It is an upscale outfit owned by Ternovskiy’s uncle Sasha, who hired his nephew to work there as a salesman during the summer of 2008, five days a week, eleven hours a day. Ternovskiy was supposed to show foreign tourists around the shop, pulling various nesting dolls, lacquered boxes, and kitschy Soviet paraphernalia from the bright vitrines. The job was easy but exhilarating.

“I was really excited to work there, because I met, like, hundreds of different nations in a day,” Ternovskiy said recently at a coffee shop near his mother’s apartment, in the far reaches of northwestern Moscow. He is thin and nervous, with light sprays of acne on his cheeks and a fuzz of dark-blond hair. He has a hard time making eye contact and learned English by spending thousands of hours chatting online, but he says that his passion is talking with people and “exploring other cultures.”

Selling souvenirs to foreign tourists was an ideal job for Ternovskiy. He worked tirelessly, and began to learn German, Spanish, Italian, French, and even some Turkish. He memorized the numbers and some key phrases. By the second week, he could size up a customer’s nationality and address him in his own tongue. He didn’t, however, take quite as well to the business side of things. He would talk and joke with the tourists, but he didn’t push them to buy anything. If someone asked for a discount, he happily obliged. This rankled his uncle, but Ternovskiy didn’t see the problem. “I couldn’t just make people pay the money,” he says, laughing. “I just couldn’t feel the value of the money.” He was fired within a month. Read more in The New Yorker.

Interesting Times

The Clocks Are Ticking for Iraqis

Three years ago, it seemed as if the American withdrawal from Iraq might resemble the chaotic scenes that accompanied the fall of Saigon. That’s one reason why I spent months looking into the possible fate of Iraqis working for the U.S. there—because there wasn’t any plan for them in the event of an American evacuation.

By the end of August, all U.S. combat brigades will be out of Iraq. The good news is that there won’t be any frantic helo-lifts from a Green Zone landing pad. Tens of thousands of troops will make an orderly exit, along with untold thousands of vehicles and tons of other equipment. The Pentagon, with its supreme organizational skills, will be able to track every coffee pot as it makes its way out of Iraq and across the ocean back to these shores. And yet—here’s the bad news—for all the lead time and careful preparation, no one has made any plans for what to do with the Iraqis who work for the U.S. once the majority of American troops have gone home.

According to Kirk Johnson, the young former government official who founded the List Project, at least ten or twenty thousand Iraqis are still employed by the U.S. government or American contractors. There are six thousand interpreters on the payroll of a company called GLS, and the majority of them live on American bases because commuting to work is too dangerous for them. The U.S. is shutting down three hundred bases across Iraq, most of them small combat outposts. Once they’re closed, the Iraqis who lived and worked on them will have nowhere to go.

Over the past couple of years, Congress and the State Department have accelerated the process of giving America’s Iraqi allies visas to the U.S. But the process remains slow—it can take at least a year—and only a small fraction of eligible Iraqis have actually resettled here. Evidence suggests that Iraqi Christians get to the front of the line, along with family members of refugees who are already here. Once the troops are gone, there is going to be a spike—perhaps a sharp one—in applicants. A lot of these Iraqis will be in danger, and some of them will probably be targeted, during the long period of waiting for their applications to be reviewed. Iraqis who work with Americans are at the top of the death list of jihadi groups, whose umbrella organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, recently declared its intent to settle scores as the Americans leave. As Johnson says, “Two clocks are running: the clock on the application for resettlement, and the clock on withdrawal.”

The Obama Administration needs to come up with a fast-track plan for resettling the Iraqis who sacrificed the most for the U.S. and will be in greatest danger once we’re gone. The visa-application process will be inadequate to the need and the threat that will accompany American withdrawal. The U.S. government has no idea of the identities and whereabouts of all the Iraqis who work for Americans there, or of which ones feel so insecure that they will want to be resettled here. The List Project has just issued a report that calls attention to this brewing crisis. The report looks at previous cases of occupation armies leaving behind local allies in the wake of their exit (including the British in Basra a couple of years ago), and it’s not an encouraging picture. The Project’s recommendation is for some version of the Guam option, based on the 1996 U.S. evacuation of six thousand endangered Iraqis from Kurdistan to Guam, where they were processed for refugee status before being resettled in America. (Eric Schwartz, who now runs the refugee bureau at the State Department, was on Clinton’s National Security Council staff in 1996 and was the point man for the Guam airlift—so the institutional knowledge is readily available.) Read more in The New Yorker.


Rights and Wrongs

Last June, in Cairo, President Barack Obama, at the heart of his speech to the Islamic world, enumerated the many issues that have created tension between the United States and Muslim nations. “The fourth issue that I will address is democracy,” he said, and continued, “I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.” Then the President paused, apparently expecting this sensible recognition to prompt a round of applause, but there was silence, and he seemed to stumble. His timing was off; the people in his mostly Egyptian audience had already done their clapping when he uttered the word “democracy.” Tom Malinowski, of Human Rights Watch, who had been an informal adviser to the Obama campaign, said, “I don’t think he was aware that the audience both despised George W. Bush and desperately wanted Bush’s help in their cause.”

Obama, in his Cairo speech and throughout his first year in office, has rightly felt the need to cleanse the air of the arrogance and the folly of his predecessor. There is no more American moralizing or hectoring about freedom, no simplistic division of the world into good and evil. Instead of “with us or against us,” the key phrase in Obama’s foreign policy has been “mutual interest and mutual respect.” Rather than asserting America’s moral right to dominate, Obama has spent much of his term renewing American partnerships with countries like Russia, rebuilding multilateral institutions like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and trying to engage with hostile regimes like Iran.

Early on, to prepare the ground for a strategy of engagement, Obama muted his Administration’s criticisms of authoritarian states. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on her first official trip to China, in February, 2009, assured her hosts that human rights wouldn’t interfere with economic and security concerns—a comment that was greeted with dismay by human-rights advocates. The President’s envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, announced that the U.S. would deal directly with the regime of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Since last June’s fraudulent elections in Iran, Administration officials, including the President, have not found a consistent way to condemn the state’s violence against demonstrators. Last November, on a trip to China, Obama spoke in support of dialogue with the Dalai Lama and against censorship but allowed the Communist government to keep tight control over a town-hall meeting in Shanghai. Read more in The New Yorker.


Written by Theophyle

May 16, 2010 at 12:45 pm

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adrianne George. Adrianne George said: Sunday's New Yorker (III) « Politeía Digest http://bit.ly/bMnTyl […]

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