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Dear Santa: A Letter to Obama

Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr

Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr

If you could write an open letter to US President Barack Obama, what would you write? The question almost makes you think of something like a wish list to a Santa, who will do his best to fulfill your desires.

The open letter written by 22 Central and Eastern European intellectuals and former leaders made me think about this Christmas tradition. A letter intended for the US president, in which Eastern European children make a wish list and, in order to be convincing, explain how good they have been in the past.

During the last months the media has seen innumerable open letters to Obama. And this is yet another one. It is a doleful and angst-ridden letter, one whose main argument is that the Obama administration is not taking the necessary measures for rebuking “revisionist Russia.”

I first had a reflective look at the senders’ list. Václav Havel and Lech Wałęsa are there, symbols of the people who led the revolutions of 1989. However, beyond all emotions, I realized the word ‘former’ is too prominent on the senders’ list. Valdas Adamkus, former president of the Republic of Lithuania; Martin Butora, former ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the US. The list goes on.

‘Former’ refers to something or someone belonging to a prior time. Even the letter reads ‘former’ to me, with arguments that in the current international context have acquired their dustiness.

The letter’s nostalgia-conjured past does not truly reflect historical realities. “Our nations are deeply indebted to the United States,” the letter argues. “Many of us know firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years.”

These words make me think of my Romanian grandfather and how he told me that years after the end of World War II he was looking at the sky, asking himself when would the Americans come. And the Americans never came. So what is Central and Eastern Europe so indebted for? Apart from listening to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, there was not much of an important support to be felt in the region during the Cold War.
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ISN Weekly Theme: US-Mexico Border

At a beach in Tijuana, a balloon vendor attempts to bring some joy, photo: Romel Jacinto/flickr

At a beach in Tijuana, a balloon vendor attempts to bring some joy, photo: Romel Jacinto/flickr

Almost 12 million people live in the US-Mexico border area: hundreds of thousands cross the 3000 km-long border every day – legally and illegally. It is the most protected US border, with no less than 90 percent of all US border patrol agents working there. In addition to immigration and associated human rights challenges, cross-border security issues include organized crime, drug trafficking and human smuggling.

Here’s an overview of some ISN website highlights:

  • The ISN Special Report Desperation Route, in which Sam Logan offers a first-hand account of the circumstances that keep the drugs, guns and desperate people pouring across the US-Mexico border
  • The CGD’s Don’t Close the Golden Door by Michael Clemens in our Policy Briefs section, outlining policies on immigration for the US administration
  • New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s speech on comprehensive immigration reform in our Primary Resources section

Iraq Has Just Become Obama’s War

© The Australian, http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au, Peter Nicholson

© The Australian http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au, Peter Nicholson

Regardless of whether Obama or McCain won last year’s US presidential elections, today’s event would have taken place either way. Today, Iraq is celebrating “National Sovereignty Day.” The date for today’s US combat troop withdrawal from all Iraqi cities, towns and villages was agreed upon by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who was overly eager to see US combat troops leave (and take credit for it). » More

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Screenshot of Jon Huntsman with daughter from China Daily site

Screenshot of Jon Huntsman with daughter from China Daily site

The China Daily runs a brilliant website detailing the China-connections of US officials, particularly in the new Obama administration, titled “US Officials and Their China Connections”. The page opens up with a logo of hearts and delicate Japanese-inspired cherry blossom twigs superimposed on a picture of the new US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and his adoptive Chinese daughter. How sweet.

And I don’t mean that sarcastically. It’s fascinating to see how an official Chinese media outlet maintains a page dedicated to seeing commonalities, finding links and promoting- on the surface at least- friendship between China and the US. It seems that in the more friendly atmosphere of the post-Bush world such connections are becoming assets on both sides of the Pacific and increasingly, as Timothy Geithner’s recent trip to China proved, are starting to inform the making of bilateral policy in a positive way.

Obama’s appointment of Huntsman as the Ambassador is the most obvious sign of bigger and better things to come. He has life-long ties to China through his family’s business, he speaks Mandarin and has adopted a Chinese girl with his wife. Huntsman has even gone on record to say that the US-China relationship is the most important one in the world. Obama, Huntsman assures us, feels the same way. And best of all, the website points out that Huntsman is indeed considered a potential front-runner for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Obama nominating him for this job, of course, might put an end to those grand plans.

Moreover, as the website proudly points out, more and more Chinese Americans are serving in Obama’s multicolored, multiracial and multicultural administration. America, it seems, is finally living up to its multicultural dream and China is taking note. The important posts of Energy Secretary and Secretary of Commerce, most notably, are now held by Steven Chu and Gary Locke, prominent Chinese Americans. Given that environmental issues, finance and commercial ties will likely dominate the US-Chinese agenda in the coming years, the Geithner-Chu-Locke trio is a kind of dream team for the two countries.

Coincidence or shrewd strategic planning, I ask you?

(…And in case you feel like getting some background on China- past, present, and future- check out our podcast on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.)

From Macedon to Mt Vernon

Boone (m) says things are fine the way they are / photo: screenshot of NYT slideshow

Boone (m) says things are fine the way they are / photo: screenshot of NYT slideshow

“It doesn’t seem like a big deal around here. It’s what we know and it’s what our parents have done for so many years. […] It’s not really about being racist or having all white friends or all black friends […] it’s about your attitude and how you present yourself and how you take care of yourself.”

Those are the words of Haley Boone, Montgomery County High School senior (Mt Vernon, Georgia, US. It’s between Atlanta and Savannah), during an interview with the New York Times for the audiovisual presentation Voices from a Divided Prom. The school is racially mixed, but the students continue with the tradition of holding separate “white” proms and “black” proms. (A prom is ball for high school seniors. Trust me, it’s a big deal.)

In the year that saw the inauguration of the US first black president, yes, such things still happen.
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