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Recommended Reading

December 1, 2009

I’ve been catching up on my reading these past few days, and have come across three articles I highly recommend.

The first, by Jo Tachell writing in The Times of London, offers some valuable background and insight into the financial collapse of Dubai, and its regional political implications.  My wife and I visited Dubai two years ago, right when its stock was at its peak, and it was a fascinating experience.  We couldn’t even get into the cocktail bar at the 7-star Burj Al-Arab hotel, but I was able to catch the early morning camel racing practice with the 818-meter Burj Dubai looming in the backdrop.  I must say, though, that my impression was that not everything in Dubai was a mirage.  I came away thinking that, developed properly, Dubai could serve much the same role in the Persian Gulf that Singapore plays in Southeast Asia.  But especially as we drove west, along the coast towards Abu Dhabi, the overbuilding became obvious.  It looked as though there were simply hundreds of office towers in various stages of construction — many of them by the Bin Laden Group, a bit jarring to see, I admit — so many I could not possibly imagine who could occupy them all, even if the city’s economy were to suddenly double or triple in size.

The second is a fascinating glimpse from Hannah Beach, in Time Magazine, of the tensions and resentments caused by Chinese investment in Papau New Guinea (the eastern half of the large island just north of Australia).  Hannah is a veteran China journalist, and I’ve long admired her reporting from southwest China (or Shangri-La, as I call the region in my Nine Nations article).  Much has been made of China’s “soft power” and the advantage it supposedly gives a “rising” China in foreign relations.  But anyone who has been watching the angry local response to Chinese investments in Africa and other developing regions — a response that has often been aggravated by Chinese attitudes — might have their doubts.  In my view, China is welcomed for the moment because its footprint is relatively small and it lacks the ability to project power beyond its borders.  As its influence grows, so will the challenges it faces.

The third article worth reading is by John Harris, writing on Politico, listing the seven narratives that are emerging that could damage Barack Obama’s presidency.  It must have struck a sensitive nerve, because White House staffers responded to it in a particularly prickly manner.  Some bloggers have rushed to the President’s defense, arguing that the perceptions Harris outlines are off base, but I think they’re missing the point.  Fairly or unfairly, these are perceptions that have started to form and could do Obama the most harm if they continue.  They are not yet set in stone, and whether they do depends largely on whether his future actions confirm or rebut them.  If I were the White House staff, I would be worried about one thing, though: that articles like this indicate that the Washington press corps is starting to fall “out of love” with Obama, and think they smell blood in the water.

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