The top ten stories you won’t find in the headlines

As is often the case, the most important stories are actually hiding between the lines in the paper, obscured by other news or distorted by analysts looking left when they should be looking right. Here are ten examples of stories we’re missing or getting substantially wrong right now: We are focused on whether the Obama ...

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As is often the case, the most important stories are actually hiding between the lines in the paper, obscured by other news or distorted by analysts looking left when they should be looking right.

Here are ten examples of stories we're missing or getting substantially wrong right now:

As is often the case, the most important stories are actually hiding between the lines in the paper, obscured by other news or distorted by analysts looking left when they should be looking right.

Here are ten examples of stories we’re missing or getting substantially wrong right now:

  1. We are focused on whether the Obama missive to Medvedev can actually help contain the Iran threat and thus clear the way to step back from an East European missile defense. But isn’t the reality that Russia was, is and will continue to be the threat in Eastern Europe, the reason having such a missile defense continues to make sense? And that they are hard to trust and continue to be the world’s leading nuclear threat, only further implies that the outcome of this is most likely to be a win-win-lose? Iran cuts a deal from a too-eager international coalition that let’s them continue to slow walk their nuclear program, they buy time, Russia gets the missile defense taken down and a conciliatory U.S. as a bonus….and the threat of Iranian nukes and Russian regional ambitions remain?

    In other words, these two key components of the make nice initiative of the U.S. government may go too far, creating the illusion of better relations now while masking the deepening of threats in the long run.

  2. Here in Washington, recent headlines have focused on Barack Obama’s nominee to be U.S. Trade Rep Ron Kirk’s tax problems and not on the considerably more important fact that he has absolutely no meaningful trade experience, or on the fact that we are in the midst of an economic crisis and we have no senior appointees in place at Treasury except the Secretary and none at Commerce or USTR.
  3. We are focused on the “rise of big government” and miss the point that private businesses are getting bailed out left and right, often on very good terms, and that no one is talking about long-term nationalization, which means that all these funds are actually propping up big business and the super rich and setting them up to flourish post crisis. Wall Street screws the world and is bailed out. Detroit screws up and is bailed out. The stimulus channels hundreds of billions…to private enterprise. Who says government is the big winner here? Remember, the Obama economic team is almost comprised exclusively of pro-market guys and adherents to economic orthodoxy. The measures introduced are all framed as short-term emergency steps. The biggest winners will be the big companies that survive, adjust and emerge reinvented on the other side.
  4. There is a natural focus on the negatives associated with the economic downturn. But recessions are like naturally occurring forest fires, they cut back the undergrowth. The old model of the daily newspaper is dead, the work — covering the ultra local and the national — is being done better by other media and so we don’t need so many local papers. New models are emerging and we’ll end up with just a few strong national newspaper brands surviving and still better choices for readers. We don’t need scores and scores of car brands, makes and models, no country has a lock on being a major car producer, and the industry will be healthier after consolidation. Same with the cleaning out of the weak in the financial world. The recession is sending us a message about what can work and where change is needed. It is worth listening to.
  5. There’s a lot of coverage, particularly in the British press, about how Gordon Brown got the bum’s rush in Washington. No press conference in front of flags. No one-on-one with Barack on the basketball court. No Camp David. But the real story is that while the special relationship remains (they said so over and over again), it is ever-less important. Britain is pretty nearly a financial basket case these days and in the context of the European mega market, it is less influential than either Germany or France and in the context of world markets, the rise of the emerging powers is coming primarily at the expense of the influence of Europe and chronically ill Japan. Old alliances are starting to look their age.
  6. There is rightfully plenty of concern about the slow pace of progress on the administration’s financial bailout but as big a story and perhaps a more worrisome one is the slow pace of progress on shaping an international response to the crisis. The upcoming G20 meeting in London could be an opportunity for big announcements on issues of reinventing the IMF and the World Bank, coordinating stimuli, and moving toward greater global regulatory coordination and enforcement. But with taking care of business at home dominating every country’s political debate we are likely to get posing, platitudes, and plodding progress. Yet, much of the undercovered story of this crisis are the risks created by the explosion of global securitization and derivatives markets — markets “worth” hundreds of trillions of dollars that are spidered with invisible faultlines that could trigger future economic earthquakes.
  7. On the IMF/World Bank front, according to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal, the IMF now says that 22 of the world’s poorest countries may need $25 billion in emergency aid this year and, that if things get worse, that as many as 48 poor countries may need an additional $138 billion in financing. Still, in the same story, it is noted that the World Bank is having trouble raising just $10 billion to remedy the downturn. In these countries, the issues aren’t unemployment or defaulted mortgages, they are starvation, epidemics and instability. Economic catastrophes beget social and political catastrophes. That famed 3 a.m. phone call is likely to be one asking us to help clean up the mess when it can be ignored no longer.
  8. With all the focus on market mayhem and dire forecasts, there hasn’t been as much coverage as there might have been (should have been) on the successful trip of Secretary of State Clinton to the Middle East. Nor was there enough attention given to the progress that was quickly made toward redefining U.S. policy in the region by a) engaging actively in the Israel-Palestine issue from the get go, b) sending an unmistakable message to both sides that it is about two states and about the Palestinians finding representatives that are not terrorists, c) making a foray in the direction of Syria, recognizing the interconnectedness of the issues of the region, and d) stepping up quickly on behalf of the suffering people of Gaza.

    For those who think this is stepping away from Bush-era support of Israel, yes it is. It is stepping away from their combination of benign neglect and reflexive over-simplification of issues and toward common sense solutions that are in the interests of Israel and every other country in the region.

  9. It’s not all bad news. Life just keeps getting better and better for some people. For example take New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady. Sure, he was injured in the first half of the first game last year and had to sit out the season. But not only did the Patriots reward him for missing the year by trading the young player who filled in for him so brilliantly that in many cities there would be a quarterback controversy, not only did the only player with comparable charisma or stats in baseball get lost in a welter of steroid controversy, but Brady, the movie-star handsome multi-gajillionaire actually married up, finally making it legal with the woman who is the best single argument that Brazil belongs in the successor to the G8 and in the UN Security Council to boot, the world’s most successful supermodel, herself worth over $150 million, Giselle Bundchen. So stop your whining and be happy for them. (Similarly, Britney Spears relaunches her career with her “Circus” tour, opening in Lousiana. The press focuses on the fact that the entire extravaganza is lip-synced. But it could be worse. It might not have been lip-synced.  And it could have been in a town closer to where you live.)
  10. Of course, given the context of the media coverage of the past few years, perhaps the biggest “missed” story of them all is the one that no one except a few partisans who are largely discredited due to their past positions is willing to acknowledge: While we focus on the pull out from Iraq, we don’t focus enough on whether or not the pull out is even possible.

    It doesn’t diminish the legitimate critiques of the invasion of Iraq and its mishandling to note that a very real possibility is emerging that five years from now Iraq may be one of the more stable, more constructive countries we deal with in the region, perhaps even still a democracy. What then? It’s far from a sure thing. But it is far more likely today than it was the day before the invasion. And if we ignore the possibility that it may work out, we will fail to understand our true options and opportunities as far as a grand strategy for the region is concerned.

    Stay cautious, stay deeply dubious if you like, but keep your eyes open.  Sometimes even the most misguided undertakings produce surprisingly positive outcomes.

BERNAT ARMANGUE/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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