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Why not remake State now?

In an interesting exchange between two smart foreign policy bloggers, Spencer Ackerman  and Matt Armstrong discuss the potential for a whole scale re-shaping of the State Department.  Both agree that State is due for a bureaucratic re-modeling (sort of along the lines of how the "Goldwater-Nichols act" changed how the Department of Defense organized itself) but Spencer is skepitcal that this sort happen anytime soon.  Says Spencer:

Building institutional capability for rebalancing the civilian and military components to national security is a demand-side problem as much as it is a supply side one. Progressives have to build the constituency for that around the country, and members of Congress have to appropriate money for the State Department and support efforts at non-traditional and expeditionary diplomacy that people like Hillary Clinton and, yes, Condoleezza Rice want. Without that, all the structural overhauls of the State Department in the world won't stop the militarization of foreign policy.

This is an important point, but I think the stars are actually favorably alligned for this sort of effort to occur in the near future.  For one, there is wide-spread agreement among foreign policy elites that the State Department needs a serious capacity boost. (Incidentally, to that end, the Secretary of Defense is one of the loudest cheerleaders.) But to get directly to Spencer's point, in Hillary Clinton we have a Secretary of State with a huge and independent base of political support.  18 million people voted for her last year.   If the massive "Hillary" constituency can somehow be morphed into an activist constituency for diplomacy, a major overhaul of the State Department may yet be possible. 

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Empowering women, ending global poverty

Incredible article from the Kristoff/WuDunn duo. 

In many poor countries, the greatest unexploited resource isn’t oil fields or veins of gold; it is the women and girls who aren’t educated and never become a major presence in the formal economy. With education and with help starting businesses, impoverished women can earn money and support their countries as well as their families. They represent perhaps the best hope for fighting global poverty.

Pre-order your copy of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

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Getting closer to the CTBT…

For what it's worth, way to go, Liberia:

The total number of countries that have ratified the United Nations-backed Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has inched closer to 150 after Liberia ratified the agreement this week.

Liberia’s ratification on Monday brings the total number of countries having ratified the CTBT to 149, according to the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

Of course, the real problem to implementing the CTBT is that nine of the 44 so-called "Annex 2" states -- those that had nuclear weapons technology in 1996, when the treaty was written -- still haven't ratified.  Only when they do (ahem, United States!) will the treaty go into effect.

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Pink Floyd takes on The Wall

The one in Israel, that is.

The United Nations on Wednesday premiered a film narrated by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters on the plight of Palestinians living in the shadow of Israel’s controversial separation barrier.

The 15-minute film entitled “Walled Horizons” was made in honour of the fifth anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) opinion that the barrier’s meandering route through the occupied West Bank is illegal.

It might seem obvious that this is not a "United Nations film," but this fact evidently bears repeating, since that is what the JTA news agency mistakenly calls it.  The UN frequently screens films, and this does not indicate ideological leanings in any one way or the other.

For reference, here's the original Wall.

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Afghan elections today

And the early word is that they have gone off without serious violence.  UN Envoy Kai Eide is optimistic:

During the visit, Mr Eide said: "I am pleased to see that so far the elections have been going quite well. I see it and hear it from the across the country that there is a good turnout."

The UN's Special Representative for Afghanistan added: "This democracy has to grow up from inside. That's why I think these elections are very important that these elections are organized by the Afghans. And we in the international community have been completely impartial with regard to who we would like to win these elections. It is so important to demonstrate that, if not, we will not have Afghan institutions that can stand up on their own feet. That is a long way to go."

Of course this makes sense, but it's also worth remembering how hard it actually is to know how much or how little violence is occurring.  Afghan officials don't want to publish or publicize incidents of Taliban violence, and international observers don't want to get so close to the process that they are seen as interfering.  For now, scanning Twitter (#Afghanelections and #Afghan09) might give one a sense of what's going on on the ground, but I can't help but be skeptical of the incomplete picture this gives; how many Afghans are Twitterers anyway?

At any rate, conducting these elections is an impressive step.  There are sure to be improprieties, and, unfortunately, insurgent attacks, but millions of Afghans are voting, and the world is paying attention.

(image from UNAMA)