Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lakhdar Brahimi about Afghanistan and Iraq - UChannel podcast

A talk that I missed on LSE, made it through UChannel Podcast to my iPod. Former UN envoy and advisor Lakhdar Brahimi answered assorted questions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan describing how difficult the UN position is there and how bad the wars have been to both countries.

Brahimi's tales are a sad lot and point rather repeatedly at the US as the villain that undermines the UN, makes war for the wrong reasons, with the wrong methods and, of course, disseminating the wrong information. Brahimi reminds us naturally of the WMD allegation with regards to Iraq, but less known and therefore more interesting is his evaluation of the Taliban. They come out much less as the crooks the US representation made them to be.

Brahimi himself comes out as the unfortunate diplomat and the one with the eye on the ball, but during the questions from the audience, he is severely attacked by one of the listeners. It is a pity the man loses it, because this allows Brahimi to evade the implied question. It illustrates what Brahimi identifies as the biggest problem of all: the UN is losing its credibility. Once the UN will no longer be perceived as the representative of supranational order, but rather a tool in the box of empires, its missions will become impossible and the UN will become a target of violence, like in the Algiers bombing in August 2003.

More UChannel Podcast:
Europe versus Islam,
Power of Cities,
Gaza (Tony Blair),
Whither the Middle East,
Kafka comes to America.

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Lies, Truths and Jan Struys - New Books in History podcast review

Thanks to Marje's History Podcast Favorites I have discovered a very good new History Podcast: New Books In History (feed). NBIH is an interview podcast - rare among history podcasts - in which historian Marshall Poe interviews fellow historians about their latest book. This allows for an in depth entry into the historic subject at hand and also for some insight in historiography.

The first interview I decided to listen to, I chose because of the name of the guest: Kees Boterbloem. As I expected this historian is indeed a Dutchman. He was a specialist in Soviet history, but gradually developed towards Russian history in a much wider spectrum. This career has brought him to Canada and afterwards to the US. He speaks about his latest book The Fiction and Reality of Jan Struys. A Seventeenth-Century Dutch Globetrotter. Jan Struys traveled in during his lifetime around the continent of Eurasia, mostly in Russia and wrote a book, which earned him a nice fortune, even if serious doubt has been cast upon the veracity of his tales.

Struys's book was translated into English and French and eventually also Russian which version remained read with interest in spite of the questionable nature of the stories. Apparently Boterbloem assumes there is enough truth in Struys's tales and spends a large part of the interview telling what in his opinion was Struys's history. As to the value of the book, he explains mostly the Russian interest: one in the reception of Russia in the west. In addition to that it fascinated me how the 17th century was already a globalized world and a man like Struys from the lowly villages near Amsterdam, made it to serving the Genoese, the Muscovites, the Danes and on and on and had business from the Baltic to Persia, back to the West. I am off to hear more podcasts in this series - this can prove to be really, really good.

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