Edward Snowden, who has become the public face of an international debate over surveillance, tops the list of Foreign Policy's Global Thinkers for 2013. The former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed the inner workings of the U.S. intelligence operations has been living in Russia since June and is currently wanted by U.S. law enforcement authorities and faces charges in federal court. In lieu of attending a reception in Washington on Wednesday for this year's Global Thinkers, Snowden sent the following statement:
The United States may be heavily engaged in shepherding peace talks between Israel and Palestine, but according to Anne Patterson, who has been nominated as the State Department's next top Middle East official, the issue just isn't a top priority for the United States any more.
In an exchange Wednesday with Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Patterson chimed in to agree with the former Obama administration official that Israel-Palestine has moved away from its central place in U.S. policy toward the region. "It's certainly not the most urgent problem that we face now in the Middle East, but it's one that could have enormous long term consequences," Patterson said.
For the past two and a half years, as the civil war in Syria has descended into brutal bloodletting and spilled over its borders, Obama administration officials have consistently decried the growing presence of Islamist extremists in the conflict. But on Wednesday, Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken turned that logic on its head: The growing role of extremist groups may actually be a good thing for bringing the conflict to a close, he said.
Speaking at Transformational Trends, a conference co-hosted by Foreign Policy and the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. State Department, Blinken said that the radicalization of the conflict may create a shared interest among world powers to bring the war to an end. The growing prominence of radical groups has "begun to concentrate the minds of critical actors outside of Syria" and may strip the Bashar al-Assad regime of the key international backing that has so far helped to keep him in power.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is done giving ground.
On Monday, after weeks of mass demonstrations in Bangkok calling for her resignation, the prime minister dissolved Parliament and announced early elections to be held in February. Yet despite the concessions, demonstrations continued, with protest leaders demanding Yingluck cede power within 24 hours to a "people's council," an ambiguous governing body made up of appointed "good people." Yingluck ignored the ultimatum, reaffirming that she would not step down and pleaded with protesters to clear the streets and participate in elections. But those pleas have fallen on deaf ears, and on Thursday, the country's aggressive protest movement went so far as to cut power to Yingluck's office.
And therein lies the truth about Thailand's popular demonstrations: The end game for the protests was never a more responsive political process. The rallies, which were organized by opposition Democrat Party leaders and drew thousands out to the streets to oppose what they describe as the corruption of the Yingluck government, have almost nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with seizing power by any means necessary.