Dear Michael Jackson,This is the first letter I’ve written to a dead person, though you’re still alive in a sense, aren’t you? There were always two Michael Jacksons: one, the flesh-and-blood mortal who succumbed 12 years ago; the other, a product of countless people’s imaginations, a creation freed of the constraints of time and space who will live forever.
In April, the US director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, presented an important document produced by the nation’s intelligence community, the 2021 Annual Threat Assessment. It was designed to demonstrate that the newly inaugurated president, Joe Biden, is ready to respond to any or all of the manifold threats, fear of which has been the key to unifying the nation.
To some critics, US elections are managed affairs. According to this cynical view, the “powers that be” narrow the field of candidates, the two parties don’t represent the real range of public opinion in the country, and periodic elections are just shadow plays staged by powerbrokers behind the scenes. In this way, US democracy is a sham.
It was common knowledge that a US failure to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) before the Iranian presidential election would help conservative hard-liners to win. Indeed, on June 18, the conservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as the new president of Iran.
The security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating dramatically. The Taliban have captured the country’s border crossing to Tajikistan. Prospects of civil war have risen.
Though few millennials recognize his name other than as the title of a scholarship fund, Senator J. William Fulbright (1905-1995) stands as one of the most important and influential US politicians of his time. For the generation of young Americans appalled by the knee-jerk militarism coupled with an incomprehensible domino theory that culminated in the nation’s catastrophic engagement in Vietnam in the 1960s, the senator from Arkansas emerged as their champion of tolerance, rectitude and moral probity. Fulbright had demonstrated it initially in his courageous opposition to the paranoid anti-communism of Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. But the message really came home with his sedulous opposition to the aggressive foreign policy of a fellow Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson, in the 1960s in Southeast Asia.
European Union leaders are getting ready to discuss Turkey once again. The timing of the European Council meeting on June 24-25 is crucial, taking place just after the G7, NATO and EU-US summits. Following four years of discontent between Brussels and Washington, this has been an exercise in reassurance, looking to reinvent multilateralism for the 21st century.
In an important article in Foreign Affairs cited yesterday in this column, Charles King mentions a particular initiative of media manipulation that an increasingly panicked President Lyndon Johnson undertook to defuse criticism of the war he had engaged in Vietnam. King describes a game of political chess that took place between William Fulbright, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1959 to 1974, intent on exposing the bad faith of the government, and Johnson, who was desperately seeking to manufacture consent for his war.
Across the globe, democracy appears to be in a curious state. One of the main indicators of the health or pathology of democracy is the turnout in elections. Some might claim that the high turnout for the Biden-Trump face-off last year was a sign of health for US democracy.
On May 19, 1999, when Ehud Barak defeated Benjamin Netanyahu in the general election, tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to celebrate. Barak, the new prime minister, declared that it was the “dawn of a new day.” He also had plans in mind: withdraw Israeli troops stationed in Lebanon since 1982 and also try to make peace with the Syrians and Palestinians.