Posted on 02-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut
  • Pakistan’s cautious response to the Obama speech and worries it will push the fighting into Pakistan itself.
  • Counting on the successful elections this weekend to break the country’s isolation, the Honduran parliament refuses to reinstate deposed President Zelaya.  My guess is that other than hot air coming from Caracas and its allies, they are probably right.
  • Jane Hamsher starts a rebellion on Obama’s left flank.  It could be a positive for the Democrats if it energizes their base for 2010.  But it could also turn into the nihilistic crusade of the sort that doomed the Republicans in NY-23 if this spins out control.
  • Elizabeth Warren warns about the disappearance of the middle class.
  • The White House claims executive privilege in preventing its social secretary from testifying before Congress in connection with the party crashing.  Administrations change, executive overreach and refusal to be held accountable does not.
  • Huckabee doubles down on his clemency decision for the teenager who eventually became a cop killer.  As noted in yesterday’s post it does not appear that his commutation order was unjustified by the facts at the time.  However, at least one person thinks he protests too much about the “disgusting” attacks.

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    Posted on 02-12-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs, Economics, History) by Rashtrakut
    • Christopher Hitchens complains about how the saga of the party crashers overshadowed the visit of Manmohan Singh to the United States and vents about the state of media coverage.  This is hardly a new phenomenon, though it seems to have got worse in the last 20 years.  From my viewpoint the O. J. Simpson circus, I mean trial, was the start of this nonsense.  It showed when the media cut away from Clinton’s state of the union address to announce the civil verdict against OJ.
    • The Economist’s Banyan on how North Korea in the finest traditions of bankrupt regimes “revalued” its currency and robbed its citizens.
    • More Afghan perceptions on Obama’s speech.
    • A depressing read on how the Taliban is wrecking the rich Buddhist heritage of the region and threatening museums in Pakistan.
    • The Economist cites a Stephen Walt column on how German unifier Otto von Bismarck’s realism may be a guide on a realistic foreign policy to ease tensions in the world and tackle Iran.  It is an interesting theory, but historical analogies don’t always fit.  Bismarck’s concert of powers was ultimately doomed because Russia and Austria-Hungary’s ambitions (along with their proxies Serbia and Bulgaria) clashed in the Balkans and an over-powerful Germany clashed with the traditional British agenda since the Spanish Armada of preventing any one power from dominating the European continent.  These tensions were already evident by the time of Bismarck’s unceremonious dismissal.
    • How far will Dubai’s woes rein in Sheikh Makhtoum’s ambitious agenda?  It gives conservative Abu Dhabi a lot more leverage.

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      The Mughal Emperor Akbar is famous for his tolerance (including the repeal of the jizya on the non Muslim population) and his open encouragement of religious debate that resulted in an attempt to create a syncretic faith the Din-i-ilahi.  While browsing through the upcoming CNG Triton XIII auction, I stumbled across a numismatic example of this tolerance from this coin depicting the Hindu deity Ram and his consort Sita.

      This is a fascinating coin on so many levels.  First, it is a rare numismatic representation of Ram and it is ironic that it appears on the coinage of a Muslim ruler. To the extent Hindu coinage represented deities, the goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) was the most popular choice (See here, here, here and here for examples).  Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva and their consorts make their appearance on Vijayanagar coinage.  But Ram is a rare subject for Indian numismatics (after a quick search I found this coin for Akbar’s Vijayanagar contemporary Tirumala II but have not seen many more) and is more likely to show up on temple tokens.

      Then there is the irony that Ram would be the subject matter of this coin.  Akbar’s grandfather Babur allegedly destroyed the temple built on the site of Ram’s birthplace.  A movement to correct this historical wrong has simmered for about 150 years until it burst on to the Indian political landscape in the 1980s.  The after effects are still felt today.

      Finally there is the unusual presence of images on Muslim coins.  Since the religion eschews depictions of the human form, Islamic coinage has often relied on calligraphy and geometric forms (See here and here) to enhance the coinage.  Images appeared in transitional coinage like the Arab-Sassanian or the Arab-Byzantine variety or by Muhammad Bin Sam after his conquest of Delhi where he continued the gold coinage with Lakshmi for a while.  There were a few coins on horseback like the Seljuks or Iltumish (See coins 216 and 217 on page 14) of the Delhi Sultanate or the series by Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw II honoring his wife.

      Akbar’s son and successor Jahangir would commission an equally fascinating (and as a result now widely forged) series of Zodiac coins.  But the open adoption of another deity in a non-transitional coin is unique in Islamic numismatics (indeed the incorporation of Jesus Christ on Byzantine coinage by Justinian II caused the caliph Abd al-Malik to commence the tradition of Islamic coinage largely bearing scripts).

      A truly fascinating (and given the estimate, expensive) example how far Akbar’s theological discussions and disputations took him.

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      http://www.vcoins.com/ancient/ancientcoinscanada/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=8002
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      Posted on 02-12-2009
      Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

      Barack Obama’s speech yesterday threw no surprises. (Transcript here).   More troops are headed to Afghanistan (see previous post here) which has caused heartburn on the left.  There are assurances that this is not an indefinite mission and troops are supposed to start coming back by 2011 which has caused conniptions on the right.  There have been the expected harrumphs about fighting corruption and getting the Afghans ready to step up when the Americans leave (original post on Afghanistan from this blog here).

      What is unclear whether this is feasible.  If the Afghan army is still a figment of imagination (previous post here) and the Karzai government remains as incompetent (both very likely scenarios) will the United States really start withdrawing to the chorus from Republicans that Obama “lost” Afghanistan?  Hopefully the answer is yes, because the prospect of an American withdrawal may be the only way to jolt the Afghan government to action.

      What happens if the Taliban withdraws to its safe havens in Quetta?  Will Pakistan, which only reluctantly turned its guns on its homegrown Taliban, start another fight inside its western border in a province (Baluchistan) already brimming  on the verge of open rebellion?

      What about the various NATO allies who have started withdrawing their troops?  Obama’s address noted that Al Qaeda’s attacks had targeted them as well.  Will that be sufficient to overcome the war weariness in those countries? Germany’s top general and deputy defense minister were forced to resign last week over a botched air strike and there are calls for a German withdrawal by 2011.

      A successful solution is not entirely in American hands and relies a great deal on lady luck (and on wobbly Pakistan doing its bit).  Obama’s speech was a sober and realistic appraisal of the situation on the ground, but perhaps too optimistic (as such speeches always are) about success in the future (See Juan Cole’s take here).  The “success” of the Iraqi surge may have raised hopes of similar success in Afghanistan, but these are two entirely different societies with very different problems.  The future in Afghanistan remains murky.

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