Andrey Kurkov on corruption in Ukraine After the Chernobyl disaster, rampant fraud that flooded the housing market with cheap properties allowed novelist Andrey Kurkov to buy a second home in a rural village, he writes in The New York Times. From there, he watched Yulia Tymoshenko's rise and fall until last month when her political rival had her jailed. "But in the meantime, many more mundane things have happened in our village," he says. His first acquaintance there was a policeman who invited him out drinking, assured him not to worry about drunk driving, and didn't allow either of them to pay the bartender for their drinks. Writers (like policemen) enjoy a special status in Ukraine. The village's school principal once asked Kurkov to petition the government for enough teachers to keep the high school open through 12th grade. It was a conservative time and one without much freedom of speech, but Kurkov's special request was immediately accepted. "During the presidential elections last year, I was fond of saying that choosing between Ms. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yanukovich was like choosing between a car with no brakes and the brakes with no car." The conservative Ukrainians preferred the brakes to the car and chose Yanukovich. Tymoshenko's rivals subsequently arrested her simply because, had she remained free, she would have retaken the presidency and jailed them. Ukrainians are "able to adapt to any circumstance," which gives Kurkov hope, he writes, "because as soon as real democracy comes to Ukraine, Ukrainians will quickly grow accustomed to it." Though it doesn't come naturally, if officials create the right conditions, the people will come to expect fairness in society. "One thing is certain: in Ukraine, we live surrounded by so many charismatic and anti-charismatic political figures, only the laziest writer could fail to crank out at least one novel per year."
Brett McGurk on the new phase in U.S.-Iraqi relations Obama hopes the pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq will lead to a new phase, and "If we play our cards right, this new phase may prove more important than the withdrawal of U.S. troops," writes Brett McGurk, an adviser to three U.S. ambassadors in Baghdad, in The Washington Post. Critics say we are abandoning Iraq and handing victory to Iran. McGurk has worked on Iraq policy for eight years, and managed the recent talks with Iraqis about whether and when to leave. "The decision to complete our withdrawal was not the result of a failed negotiation but rather the byproduct of an independent Iraq that has an open political system," he says. U.S. legal experts said any extension of our stay there was dependent on our soldiers' legal immunity from the Iraqi justice system. Parliament was unwilling to grant this, and "our trying to force an agreement through the Iraqi parliament would have been self-destructive. That had nothing to do with Iran and everything to do with Iraqi pride, history and nationalism." Iran maintains influence there, but so do we, as seen by Iraq's purchase of our military equipment, their invitation to international oil firms, and their signal to Iran that attacks on U.S. troops there are attacks on the Iraqi state. Iraq isn't anxious to get in the middle of a U.S.-Iran confrontation, and keeping even a small number of troops in Iraq could perhaps do more harm than good, helping recruit Iranian extremists. Using the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement, Iraq and the U.S. will continue to coordinate on security, education, and commerce. "With a serious and renewed focus on the SFA, it can also be the start of a new and lasting partnership between our two countries," McGurk writes.