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The Contest of Ideas Has Begun

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The On Day One contest begins today! As regular readers will know, On Day One is our sister site, and for the past year has asked users what they think the next president should do, on day one. Our volunteer team of foreign policy experts sorted through the thousands of ideas submitted to the site and picked the top nine ideas in each of On Day One's nine categories---U.S. Image in the World, Peacekeeping, Climate Change, Terrorism, Global Poverty, Iraq, Global Women's Issues, Democracy and Human Rights, and Nuclear Proliferation. There are 81 semifinalists in all. It is now up to you, dear reader, to vote for the winners. The top ideas will be submitted to President-Elect Obama. The top vote getter will win a flight and precious hotel accommodations for the inauguration in Washington, D.C.
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Politically Appointed Vs Career Foreign Service Officers?

Matthew Yglesias links to this item explaining that President-elect Barack Obama has ordered all politically appointed ambassadors to vacate their posts by January 20th. Matt says:
I had always just thought of this is a kind of casual, widely accepted corruption. But recently I did learn the official story as to why this is good practice, namely that an important political supporter or a friend of the president is likely to have a much easier time of getting access to the Oval Office than any mere foreign service officer would. Thus, it's arguably better for the host country to have a political appointee than a career FSO. Therefore, this practice helps build good-will and so forth.
This may be true, but it should be pointed out that many ambassadors to posts that require actual trouble-shooting are often career foreign service officers. The United States ambassador to Chad Louis J. Nigro, for example, joined the foreign service in 1980. Is it really more desirable that the Ambassador to say, Holland, have easier access to the Oval Office than say, Mr. Nigiro? I'm doubtful.
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“Left home at the age of seven/one year later I’m carryin’ an Ak-47.”

This is a special message to readers in the Washington, D.C. area. The quote above is a lyric to the title track of Emmanuel Jal's breakout album, War Child. For those of you not familiar with his work, run yourself to his website and download a few tunes. For those unfamiliar with the Emmanuel Jal story, buy tickets to the documentary War Child, playing this week at the Landmark E Street Cinema. This is an amazing film. Jal was a child soldier during Sudan's brutal civil war. He managed to escape to Kenya, where he emerged a decade later as a world music sensation whose music combines hip-hop and African beats with piercing lyrics drawn from his traumatic youth. Here is my interview with the film's director Karim Chrobog. If you are in the DC area do yourself a favor and see this film. It opens Friday and will run for just one week.
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Prevention and International Protocols, All Wrapped Up in One

Marc Ambinder on pre-emption preclusion of "the greatest existential threats" -- weapons of mass destruction, but also, as he hypothesizes that the Obama administration might contend, the interconnected danger posed by failed states:
But that also means: if suddenly, somewhere, a vulnerable population is being slaughtered, the United Nations, or the United States, or NATO, shouldn't dither; they should intervene to stop it. The UN -- and the US -- have no moral authority to compete in this marketplace if they step away from these challenges and then demand that failing states acquiesce to various international regimes and protocols.
Of course, the intervention -- if it is truly to be pre-emptive -- in the case of mass atrocities must occur before the slaughter begins. Even in a case like Rwanda, which exploded "suddenly," leaving the international community in paralysis and setting off a relentless pace of killings, the signs of something dangerous -- and destabilizing, to look at the situation in eastern DR Congo right now -- were evident for a long time. But Ambinder is right; the prerogative to demand failing states' compliance to international protocols must be accompanied by an actual willingness to engage the problems at hand. Moreover, it also requires that the states doing the demanding -- Member States of the UN all -- must themselves meet international protocols. This leads to a moral -- and practical -- obligation for the United States in particular to sign on to and fully adhere to these internaional agreements, which include not only big obvious ones like the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, but also lower-hanging fruit like the ban on cluster munitions. Interestingly, one such international compact -- one that has been formally adopted by all UN Member States -- exists that could provide exactly the framework for preemption and prevention that Ambinder is seeking: the Responsibility to Protect. And if Obama's pick for UN ambassador is any indication, the United States may be throwing more of its support behind this high-potential strategy in the near future.
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Who Susan Rice Will and Won’t Be Calling

Dayo Olopade at The Plank picks up Susan Rice's 2007 post for Dispatch, and juxtaposes her outlook toward the crucial interconnectedness of poverty, disease, and conflict with the condescending skepticism of Heritage Senior Fellow Peter Brookes.
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Now, the UN is good at lots of things, like handing out food and giving kids shots. [Laughter] You know, I'm not one to denigrate those things. What--they eradicated what, yellow fever in Africa by giving kids shots, that's great. But we have to be a lot smarter about realizing its limitations, and that's militarily. When you call in the UN you get a bunch of guys in uniforms standing around without guns, or they can't use them unless it's to defend themselves. I don't believe in global federalism; I also don't like the idea of the U.S. as the world's policeman. But the UN is ineffective, period, at defense of any kind. So we need to look somewhere else.
Olopade then relays her conversation with Rice about whom she'll be turning to for advice when she settles into her office at UN headquarters.
We chatted about Africa policy and World AIDS Day, on which both conferences took place. (Obama statement here.) I mentioned some of Brooke's comments to her, which she took in stride, with a sort of "guess who's in charge now" bemusement. Though she declined to speak on the record about UN policy, she again emphasized that she would take a radically different approach to the position, and mentioned wanting to call up former holders of the position for advice--with one notable exception: John Bolton.
It's heartening to hear that Obama's ambassador the UN won't be seeking to learn how she can "lop off 10 floors of UN building in New York, [and] not make a difference." Conversely, it's equally reassuring that she will be looking to folks like former UN ambassador and seasoned diplomat Thomas Pickering, whose interview with Mark is below. (image from flickr user aussiegall under a Creative Commons license)
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The Strange Demands of Pirates

If you're planning on paying ransom to Somali pirates -- assuming your daughter is able to reach them by phone, that is -- you better bring the right kind of bills.
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Kenyan sailor Athman Said Mangore, who was held captive for more than 120 days by Somali pirates, says they are known to make many demands and put in place a number of restrictions. "They sometimes say they want $208,000 exactly in $100 bills only," he says. "I don't know why they make those demands. They usually also don't like dollar bills that were printed in 2000 or the years before. If it was printed in 1999, they say: 'This is not fit to be used in our shop'," he adds.
Because they tend to treat their captives relatively well, and because there is still no real clean way to rescue hostages without forking over the money, pirates unfortunately still have the leverage to make these kind of demands. And perhaps even more unfortunately, emboldened by their recent spate of success, they're demanding a lot more than $208,000 these days. Though at these their demands aren't this outlandish, I suppose. (image from flickr user Jeffrey Putman under a Creative Commons license)
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Progress on Afghan Poppy

Afghanistan's security troubles are closely intertwined with the trafficking of poppy, Afghanistan's largest cash crop. The UN has previously estimated that 90% of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan. This is a staggering number, but a new report by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan may actually be on the decline.
The total opium cultivation in 2008 in Afghanistan is estimated at 157,000 hectares (ha), an 19% reduction compared to 2007. Unlike previous years, 98% of the total cultivation is confined to seven provinces with security problems: five of these provinces are in the south and two in the west of Afghanistan. Of the 34 provinces in the country, 18 were poppy-free in 2008 compared to 13 in 2007. This includes the eastern province of Nangarhar, which was the number two cultivator in 2007 and now is free from opium cultivation. At the district level, 297 of Afghanistan's 398 districts were poppy-free in 2008. Only a tiny portion of the total cultivation took place in the north (Baghlan and Faryab), north-east (Badakhshan) and east (Kunar, Laghman and Kapisa). Together, these regions accounted for less than 2% of cultivation. The seven southern and western provinces that contributed to 98% of Afghan opium cultivation and production are Hilmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Daykundi, Zabul, Farah and Nimroz. This clearly highlights the strong link between opium cultivation and the lack of security. The total opium production in 2008 is estimated at 7,700 metric tons (mt), a 6% reduction compared to production in 2007. Almost all of the production (98%) takes place in the same seven provinces where the cultivation is concentrated and where the yield per hectare was relatively higher than in the rest of the country. All the other provinces contributed only 2% to the total opium production in the country. The gross income for farmers who cultivated opium poppy was estimated at US$ 730 million in 2008. This is a decrease from 2007, when farmgate income for opium was estimated at US $1 billion.
The report says that a combination of successful counter-narcotics strategies and a drought have contributed to this decline. To sustain this trend in places where a drought was largely responsible for declining opium cultivation, the report recommends urgent international action to provide farmers with viable alternatives. The security of Afghanistan may hang in the balance. UPDATE: Read Patrick Barry on how market forces have contributed to this decline.
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The Power of Technology

Is astounding.
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A British doctor volunteering in DR Congo used text message instructions from a colleague to perform a life-saving amputation on a boy. Vascular surgeon David Nott helped the 16-year-old while working 24-hour shifts with medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Rutshuru. The boy's left arm had been ripped off and was badly infected and gangrenous. Mr Nott, 52, from London, had never performed the operation but followed instructions from a colleague who had.
It's unclear whether the boy had been bitten by a hippopotamus or been caught in the midst of the violence in eastern Congo (my guess, unfortunately, is the latter), but in either case , this is a profound example using technology for social -- and life-saving -- change. (image from flickr user JonJon2k8 under a Creative Commons license)