Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reportedly told an interviewer that former Polish President, Solidarity leader, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa has been banned from entering the country to speak to a student opposition group:
Chavez instructed authorities on Tuesday to ensure that Walesa does not enter Venezuela, which is preparing for a Feb. 15 referendum on a proposal to lift term limits for all elected officials.
Chavez made the comment after an interviewer suggested that Walesa had received a new invitation.
Granted, Walesa has turned into a bit of a blowhard in recent years, (a Polish friend once told me that he can only stand to read Walesa speeches after they've been translated into English) but the role he played in Eastern Europe's struggle for democracy is legendary. Chavez just put himself in some pretty bad company by denying him the right to speak.
Photo: JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images
The Times is reporting that former Iranian president and current presidential candidate Mohammad Khatami was attacked by a mob in Tehran during celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution:
During the revolutionary celebrations, attackers waving sticks approached the cleric, shouting “Death to Khatami. We do not want American government.”
According to Mr Khatami’s Baran Foundation, the attackers were repelled by his own supporters, who chanted, “Khatami, Khatami, we support you.”
Mr Khatami was escorted from the street by his bodyguards who took him to shelter in a nearby building.
As a general rule of thumb, low turnout tends to favor fringe or opposition parties, whose voters tend to be more committed and fervent. Conversely, higher turnout may boost Kadima and Labor, who hope for a last-minute push against the poll-leading opposition Likud.
Another important group to watch is Israeli-Arabs. A strong turnout in this sector could offset expected big gains by rightist Jewish parties, in particular Avigdor Lieberman's high-flying Yisrael Beiteinu.
Iraqi supporters of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr step on U.S. flags after Friday prayer services on Feb. 6 in the Sadr City district of Baghdad. At the time, preliminary results of Iraq's Jan. 31 provincial elections showed that the Sadrists received only 9 percent of the vote in Baghdad.
Related content: FP's photo essay, "Election Time in Iraq"
Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images
The Iranian elections just got a whole lot more interesting. Mohammed Khatami, the reformist former president, has announced that he'll be challening Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June. Nasser Karimi for the AP:
Khatami's decision to run against Ahmadinejad could significantly shake up Iran's politics, appealing to citizens disillusioned by the country's failing economy and Ahmadinejad's staunch anti-U.S. foreign policy.
What remains to be seen is to what extent Khatami's entry into the race will energize young Iranians -- especially in Tehran -- who have become deeply disillusioned with politics. And, of course, Ahmadinejad and his hardline allies will probably stop at nothing to win. As the LA Times notes, the president has the Interior Ministry firmly under his thumb, and Khatami is not known as a fighter.
Another big question now: How will Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei play it? In ideology and temperament, he's much closer to Ahmadinejad, who he supported in 2005. But Khamenei's expressed some displeasure with the incumbent over the past year and he certainly doesn't want to be associated with the lousy Iranian economy. Maybe he'll decide to sit this one out?
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
The consensus view seems to be that the Likud Party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, will be the big winner in the next week's Israeli elections, a development that has peace advocates in the United States nervous, given the positions Netanyahu has taken over the years and his performance as prime minister during the 1990s.
But a more troubling development may be the continuing rise of far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman (above). Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party seems likely to pick up another five seats and may wind up with more seats than the Labor Party. Given how Israeli coalition politics works, Lieberman seems perfectly positioned for an influential role in a Netanyahu government.
The Moldovan-born Lieberman is famous for his inflammatory statements and aggressive style. My colleague Becky Frankel recommends this 2007 profile of Lieberman from her old magazine Moment, in which Lieberman lays out his view of the contemporary Middle East:
There is no 'new' Middle East," he tells me. Lieberman rejects outright the notion of a contained Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to him, "whoever thinks so, is plain stupid. We face an existential threat. It's really about the survival of the fittest, and with neighbors like Syria, Iraq and even Egypt, we have to be realistic. We are not, being Jewish. It is a genetic disease. When Hitler came to power, we chose to look the other way. That's now the attitude toward [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. There is no difference between him and Hitler, and we fail to understand it. That’s pathological behavior.”
I guess "realistic" is one way to describe that way of looking at things.
Photo: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
The Financial Times reported this morning that Mohammad Khatami is "expected to announce that he will contest the presidential elections in June," according to a handful of reformist politicians who seem to be trying to create a fait accompli by talking to the press.
So far, the moderate former Iranian president hasn't announced squat and seems to be hoping that Mir-Hossein Moussavi, an ex-prime minister also in the reformist camp, will run in his stead.
If he indeed runs -- pass. the. popcorn. As one leading Iranian reformist told the FT, "If it is Khatami versus Ahmadi-Nejad, this will be the most interesting election in the world."
But I'll believe it when I see it. Khatami seems like a good guy, but the rap on him has always been that he shies away from conflict. Does he have the stomach for political hardball? I'm not so sure, but as someone who's fascinated by Iranian politics, I'll be watching closely.
Lisa Goldman, a freelance writer in Israel, has posted some great Israeli campaign commercials.
Here's one from the rightist Likud Party's Bibi Netanyahu, arguably the frontrunner:
And here's one from Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and a member of the centrist Kadima Party:
But the most interesting pitch comes from the Holocaust Survivors and Green Leaf Party, whose platform is avowedly pro-cannabis:
According to Goldman, the first caption reads, bizarrely, "this number [i.e., a concentration camp tattoo number] is not good for credit."
It's taken months of planning and organizing, but in just a matter of hours, voting will begin in Iraq's provincial elections -- the latest step on a long, long road to democracy.
Hopes are high and the challenges are great, says International Crisis Group's Joost Hiltermann, writing on The Argument today. "Today, even before the first ballot has been cast, the elections mark a remarkable transition," says the organization's most recent report on Iraq. As our photo essay highlights, the excitement is palpable.
So have a read of Hiltermann's take on the elections -- what they mean and where the challenges still lie. And stayed tuned for more FP coverage.
Photo: KHALIL AL-MURSHIDI/Getty Images
With the U.S. presidential election over, are you going through campaign withdrawal? Why not look overseas to get your fix?
2009 will see elections in Afghanistan and Iran, which will be vital to the Obama Administration's hopes for progress in that region. Israel and the Palestinian Authority will hold elections which will determine the course of the Israeli-Palestinian peace track, and serve as a referendum on Israel's campaign in Gaza. In Sudan, there will be the first election campaign in 20 years -- an important milestone for the country's Comprehensive Peace Agreement, but also a possible spur for political violence.
So check out our new list of the most important elections of 2009. (Sadly Palin-free.)
Photo: Majid/Getty Images
After Kenya's, Zimbabwe's and Nigeria's recent election mayhem, observers worried Ghana might fall into the same electoral dissaray. In the runup to the recent presidential vote, both major candidates claimed they were set for victory.
Initial polls in December left a tightly contested race -- with the two leading candidates within just one percent of each other. The governing party candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo and the opposition leader and former professor John Atta Mills bitterly contested the second round of elections. After being seperated by just 23,000 votes, Ghana's final constituency voted on Saturday and catupluted Mills to the presidency.
And thus Ghana avoided the election trap. The first African country to gain its independence in 1960 holds its reputation as a democracy where power has been transfered peacefully and often, with only minor incidents (like this one). The outgoing president didn't try to extend his term, and he urged a peaceful transition. Mills' opponent conceded gracefully and the incoming president promised to be a "president for all."
Good. But now, as many governments have learned the hard way, the more difficult part is yet to come, and Ghana finds itself in an unusually precarious (or promising) turning point.
Ghana is a commodity-dependent economy in a market reeling from bubble and burst. Gold, cocoa and timber make much of the country's GDP, and agriculture employs over half the population. The fall in commodity prices spells hope and disaster all at once; lucrative exports will suffer, as will farmers' bottom lines. But urban food prices -- once crushing for the average Ghanaian -- will come down from sky high.
And despite Ghana's healthy growth rate, the impoverished majority is hungry for prosperity to trickle down. Offshore oil -- found in the summer of 2007 -- once promised to pay for a host of new public services. Now, the sunken petrol price stop drilling before it even begins.
The incoming president seems to have a good head about the economic policies needed to move forward. But he'll need the world economy, the increasingly corrupt bureaucracy, and his country's belief in democracy to be on his side, as well.
Photo: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
As news of Barack Obama's victory spread across the globe, the foreign press questioned how the incoming Obama administration will influence politics in their parts of the world. Foreign analysts reacted with emotions ranging from elation to cautious hope, but a few also revealed frustation with how the election campaign was run, and a sense of realism about the daunting task facing President-elect Obama. Above, a celebratory sand sculpture on a beach in Puri, India. Below, a brief roundup of some of the most interesting commentary and headlines from around the world.
Kenyais ecstatic at the news of Barack Obama's historic election as president of the . Upon hearing news of their beloved "son's" win Wednesday morning (East African time), residents of Kogelo village burst into song and cheers of joy. [...] United States
American flags, stars-and-stripes-themed clothing and slogans praising
are highly visible today. One very small, sleepy restaurant in Siaya town, the nearest town to Kogelo, was playing CNN International to a small but rapturous audience, one of whom was wearing an American flag hat." America
[Kenyan] President Kibaki: 'This is a momentous day not only in the history of the
United States of America, but also for us in . The victory of Senator Obama is our own victory because of his roots here in Kenya . As a country, we are full of pride for his success.'" Kenya
Regarding concern in
Israelabout an Obama presidency, [longtime Obama friend and former Congressman Abner] Mikva said that 'Barack will be the first Jewish president in the .' US
'He has a yiddeshe nishama,' [a 'Jewish soul'] Mikva said. 'He is committed to
Israeland its security concerns and understands that democratization does not happen by force but by example, and there is no better example in the Middle East than .' Israel
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said
Israelhoped the president-elect would maintain the U.S.friendship with and commitment to peace talks. ' Israel expects the close strategic cooperation with the new administration, president and Congress will continue along with the continued strengthening of the special and unshakeable special relationship between the two countries.'" Israel
The deeper hurtful reality this election campaign has revealed is that Arabs and Muslims are the new Jews and blacks in the US, because they are treated today in the same way that Jews and blacks (then called negroes) were treated in the early-mid-20th century…The new president will inherit this world where racism against Arabs-Muslims is the last permissible form of wholesale slander and denigration."
The black Kennedy to the White House.
will make its own transition from George W. Bush's security agenda to Barack Obama's economic agenda. The changing times mean Ottawa Canadamust focus on finding shelter from a wave of protectionism expected in Congress, persuading Washington's new power brokers that U.S.and Canadian jobs are linked, and possibly, selling Canadaas a path to reducing U.S.dependency on Middle Eastand Venezuelan oil, analysts say."
Obama is America's offer of reconciliation after all those years of premeditated political provocation, of military action not backed by international law, of America's claim to be entitled to military pre-emptive strikes. The Bush doctrine was scrapped last night. The unilateralist stance of the Western superpower is likely to be over for now."
Yesterday’s results were head-spinning stuff… The country regarded loftily by many Europeans as hopelessly racist and irredeemably right wing has voted to be ruled by a black man, at the head of a party committed to economic redistribution and a foreign policy rooted in peaceful diplomatic engagement."
José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, expressed hopes that the incoming Democrat President Elect will reverse the policy of George W Bush by uniting with the EU to fight global warming. 'This is a turning point for the
. It may also be a turning point for the world,' he said." United States
The World Waits For Obama's 'Change': The victory of Barack Obama arouses hope and attention in the four corners of the globe, even in countries usually hostile to
Barack Obama's victory brings a new American dream"
Obama’s New Dawn: President-elect to reshape
A Black in the White House"
Photo: SANJIB MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
Here's why you shouldn't try to use political events to explain random walks on Wall Street.
Exhibit A, James Surowiecki last night:
One interesting variable to consider in thinking about how the stock market might react tomorrow to tonight's election results is the possible reaction of foreign stock markets, which as we know have lately often had a powerful influence on how the U.S. market opens. At the moment, the Australian and Japanese markets are up sharply, presumably as a result of today's U.S. rally. But one could easily imagine that rally being extended—and, even more important, one could easily imagine European markets rising sharply—if Obama were to win, since it seems clear that he's the preferred candidate of most of the world. And that, in turn, could help the U.S. rally keep going. In fact, I think it's possible that an Obama election could have a longer-term impact in boosting global markets' confidence in the U.S., even if it's also possible that American investors would be happier with McCain. So it’ll be worth paying attention to what Asia and Europe do tonight once we have a clear sense of the winner will be.
Exhibit B, major world stock indices as of 12:08 p.m. ET:
Zambia has chosen today, of all days, to act out every American's worst fears about their own election. Michel Sata, leader of the Zambian opposition Patriotic Front Party, announced that he will challenge the result of Zambia's election last week. Sata had announced before the vote that he would not accept a defeat, and has evidently made good on that promise by accusing the army of "intimidating people," and "[fixing] the election" in favor of his opponent, Rupiah Banda.
Could the American election reach Zambia's levels of dysfunction? Well, probably not, though there have been signs that the voting hasn't gone entirely smoothly. The process got off to a bad start yesterday, when thousands of pages of voter information were found inexplicably lying on the side of a highway in Florida. Today, The New Republic's David Jamieson reported complaints ranging from a lack of ballots at polling places, flyers telling people to vote on Wednesday, and even "wet ballots."
Here's hoping for an Election Day with a bare minimum of soggy ballots, and which evokes no parallels to Zambian politics.
Back in August, we noted the popular firestorm in Iran over Interior Minister Ali Kordan's clearly faked Oxford law degree. The document, which Kordan used to help him bolster his credentials and gain his current position in the Iranian cabinet, is riddled with misspellings and punctuation errors and claims that Kordan's research at the university opened a "new chapter...to our knowledge in [Britain]." As if those weren't red alarms, Oxford has publicly disavowed the document.
It took Kordan until Wednesday to admit that the diploma was a fake, but he wasted no time in blaming an anonymous con artist. Iranian lawmakers are once again calling for Kordan's resignation, on the grounds that if he can't tell that a blatant fabrication isn't the real thing, he'll be easily duped when he serves as the overseer of the Iranian presidential contest next year. He's supposed to guard against election fraud and forgery.
Austrians went to the polls for parliamentary elections Sunday, and for the first time, 16- and 17-year-olds got to vote. Austria is the first European Union country to lower the voting age to 16 for national elections. Brazil, Cuba, and Nicaragua also permit 16-year-olds to vote, and neighboring Germany allows 16-year-olds to vote in certain local elections.
What led to the change? One word: demographics. With Austrians having fewer babies, the electorate was skewed toward seniors. Granting more youth the vote was seen as a way of maintaining balance between generations.
Did the youth vote play a role? Maybe. Heinz-Christian (HC) Strache, the 39-year-old head of the far-right Freedom Party, received one fourth of the under-30 vote. His Web site, showing "StraCHE" in a Che Guevara-style beret, features a downloadable "Viva HC" rap song ring tone.
By 431 votes, Tzipi Livni -- a 50-year-old lawyer and former Mossad agent -- bested rivals and stepped in to replace Ehud Olmert as head of Israel's Kadima Party today. But there was little time for celebration as the clock's a-tickin' for both Livni and her party.
Once Olmert officially resigns, Livni will have 42 days to pull together a government so that she might step in as prime minister. If she can't keep the ruling 67-seat, Kadima-led coalition intact, Israel will hold a snap general election. Polls predict the winner will be Likud, the right-wing party led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Livni began the heady task of reaching out to other party leaders today, but judging from the chatter coming out of the Knesset she'll be fighting an uphill battle. Some, like Yossi Beilin of the small Meretz Party, have already pledged support for Livni's plan to wrap up the ongoing peace deals with the Palestinians. Beilin even hopes that she'll continue on to forge relations with Syria and Lebanon. Others, such as Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, will likely side with Livni only to keep Likud from taking power.
It's clear that Livni's toughest challenge is wavering coalition member Shas, the ultra-Orthodox party that currently holds 12 crucial Knesset seats. The Shas party line is more in tune with Likud's tough talk on the Palestinians and its call to end talks with Syria than it is with Kadima's peace initiatives. Completely aware of their pivotal position, party leaders are already voicing demands of Livni, such as the call to increase child-benefit allowances (an initative rather unpopular with Treasury officials). Whether she will bend to them to stave off an election remains to be seen.
But Likud is champing at the bit to test its popularity with voters now. Far from bedding down with Livni, Netanyahu said yesterday that to throw his support to Kadima would be like joining the board of Lehman Brothers. "The cleanest and most democratic thing to do is to hold a general election," he told reporters today.
Not so fast, Bibi. The clock's ticking, but time hasn't run out yet. If Livni manages to pull together a majority coalition, she'll be the first Israeli woman to lead the country since Golda Meir.
Even as Joseph Biden was courting Florida's Jewish voters in Deerfield Beach Tuesday, dropping Yiddishisms like an old pro, it was the McCain campaign that was grabbing the Chosen People's attention.
When Alaska HDTV PodShow host Scott Slone took Palin on an urban hike in February, he captured a telling political detail -- the footage showed that the governor keeps a small Israeli flag by her office window. The flag, naturally, reveals Palin to be a loyal supporter of the Jewish state, despite the fact that she has little experience with Middle East affairs -- she's never visited the region nor has said anything of note on it.
Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which e-mailed the clip to its list Monday, voiced his enthusiasm:
I think it is extremely telling," he said. "[It] tells her she has Israel in her heart."
While Jewish members of the GOP are using the flag sighting to rally around the vice presidential candidate, others are stewing over news of Palin's alleged support of Pat Buchanan (she wore a Buchanan button when he toured through Alaska in 1999) and a sermon delivered by David Brickner, founder of Jews for Jesus, at Palin's church.
In remarks that began "Well, Shalom!" Brickner observed:
The conflict that is spilled out throughout the Middle East, really which is all about Jerusalem, is an ongoing reflection of the fact that there is judgment [...] Israel has not had the greatest track record when it comes to following after God."
Michael Goldfarb, a spokesman for the McCain-Palin campaign, was quick to make it clear that although Palin was in attendance, she "did not know [Brickner] would be speaking, and she does not share the views [he] expressed. She and her family would not have been sitting in the pews of the church if those remarks were remotely typical."
The Jewish community generally welcomes evangelical Christians' ardent support of Israel, but embracing Jews for Jesus? That's another story. The Anti-Defamation League believes that the San Francisco-based organization "targets Jews for conversion with subterfuge and deception."
As Politico's Ben Smith points out, a Palestinian flag would have incited a far more venomous reaction from the Jewish community. Still, they'll be watching her closely tonight and in the days ahead.
Despite the record-breaking fundraising the Barack Obama campaign has done in recent months -- $235 million in the first quarter of 2008 -- here's one place from which funds will not be flowing: Nigeria.
Since Obama announced his candidacy, local groups waving the Obama banner have shot up throughout Africa, and Nigeria is no exception. The Obama Nigeria Initiatives, Lagos (which boasts the membership of 30 Lagos state senators), and Africans for Obama (led by the head of the Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission) are just a few impressive examples.
Campaign contributions, however, cannot come from abroad under U.S. law, which got the Nigerian anti-corruption commission wondering how $630,000 from a lavish Obama gala in Lagos was spent. The BBC reports that the commission has since seized the money, earned through ticket prices ranging from $2,754 to $21,000.
The unlucky attendees, wondering now where that money will end up, should have listened earlier. In July, the founder of the group, Professor Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke told local press:
We are also not out to raise funds to support Obama, we are simply Africans who regard the unfolding development as a pride to the black continent."
The Obama campaign has distanced itself from the fundraiser. Were it legal, that would be no small sacrifice -- to make that same $630,000, Obama would need 126,000 of the $5 contributions his campaign has thrived upon so far.
To nobody's surprise, the Pakistan People's Party has settled on Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower, as its presidential candidate. He is the party's cochairman.
The country will be holding an election -- in which only lawmakers can vote -- to chose Pervez Musharraf's successor on Sept. 6.
If you aren't familiar with the sordid background of Zardari (a.k.a. "Mr. 10 Percent"), you should check out this 1998 article by John Burns of the New York Times. He's a real prince, this one.
Any minute now, Barack Obama may announce his running mate. It could easily be somebody off the media radar (e.g. Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, Texas Rep. Chet Edwards), but these are the four names that have been batted around most often by the cognoscenti.
So, my colleagues Joshua Keating, Patrick Fitzgerald, and I put this handy list of quotes together to help you get a read on how Obama's veep choice views the world. Feel free, of course, to chime in via comments with your own citations.
Joseph Biden, Jr., Delaware senator, 65
Biden on Iraq: "The president should begin a responsible redeployment of our combat forces from Iraq so that we can meet the many other challenges we face around the world, starting with taking the fight to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- the people who actually attacked us on 9-11."
—Press release, July 18, 2008
Biden on Afghanistan: "Afghanistan is slipping toward failure. The Taliban is back, violence is up, drug production is booming and the Afghans are losing faith in their government. All the legs of our strategy — security, counternarcotics efforts, reconstruction and governance — have gone wobbly.... If we should have had a surge anywhere, it is Afghanistan."
—New York Times, Mar. 2, 2008
Biden on Russia: "Ever since President Bush infamously gazed into Mr. Putin's soul in 2001, Washington has used photo opportunities as a proxy for a serious Russia policy. The administration has airbrushed Russian belligerence and rebuffed some sensible Kremlin proposals, such as legally-binding extensions to arms control treaties.... Our top priority should be nuclear nonproliferation and arms control, including a common approach to Iran and the security of Russia's own weapons and nuclear materials."
—Wall Street Journal, Mar. 24, 2008
Biden on trade: "Every new trade agreement should have built into it... [e]nvironmental standards and labor standards. But we talk about it in terms of preserving jobs here, but it's also about human rights. Signing an agreement knowing they're going to exploit workers either by polluting their lungs or their drinking water and/or putting them in a position where they're getting paid a couple bucks a week. So it should be a condition to every trade agreement that we engage in."
—2007 Des Moines Register Democratic Debate, Dec. 13, 2007
Evan Bayh, Indiana senator, 52
Bayh on Iraq: "To those who say the threat is not imminent, after 9/11, how long can we afford to wait? To those who say regime change is not an appropriate reason for acting, I say weapons of mass destruction and the regime of Saddam Hussein are one and indivisible. To remove weapons of mass destruction, we must remove that regime. To think anything else is to delude ourselves."
—Senate floor, Oct. 8, 2002
Bayh on Afghanistan: "We have five times as many troops stationed in Iraq as we do in Afghanistan currently. How do we -- how do you square that, when the threat currently is greater in terms of a terrorist strike from one place and yet we're devoting five times of the amount of resources and troops to a different place?"
—Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Iraq, Apr. 8, 2008
Bayh on Russia: "[T]he continued participation of the Russian Federation in the Group of 8 nations should be conditioned on the Russian Government voluntarily accepting and adhering to the norms and standards of democracy."
—109th CONGRESS, 1st Session, S. CON. RES. 14, Feb. 17, 2005 (a Senate resolution cosponsored by Sens. Bayh, Lieberman, and McCain)
Bayh on trade: "America must commit itself… to doing those things that are necessary to succeed in the global marketplace. Nothing else will do. We cannot wall up our country. We cannot shut out those with whom we would compete."
—Senate floor, Apr. 27, 2005
Tim Kaine, Virginia governor, 50
Kaine on Iraq: "Our troops are doing a great job over there. That doesn't change the fact that the rationale we were given is wrong and we need to have a plausible strategy for withdrawing from Iraq, and I think that is something that Prime Minister al-Maliki has said."
—CNN, Aug. 6, 2008
Kaine on Afghanistan: "The story of what the United States is accomplishing in Afghanistan is remarkable in many ways, more noble and less morally and operationally complicated than our efforts in Iraq… In just a few short years, the Afghans have written a constitution, elected a president and now seated a parliament... [M]ost Afghans appreciate what we are doing and want us to stay."
—Kabul, Afghanistan, Mar. 17, 2006
Kaine on Russia: "[T]he goal is to use diplomatic means to get Russia to live by the cease-fire. And if diplomacy is the strategy at this point, measured tones is the way to go. And I think that kind of balance is what the situation needs."
—Meet the Press, Aug. 17, 2008
Kaine on trade: "The only way you'll succeed is by being an aggressive competitor rather than trying to hoard your dwindling assets.''
—Bloomberg, May 30, 2008
Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas governor, 60
Of all the contenders, the Kansas governor's beliefs about foreign affairs are the least well known. She has made few specific comments on U.S. policy, focusing instead on how America's overseas engagements have sapped the country's resources and morale:
"Well, states all over the country are not only missing personnel, National Guard troops are -- about 40 percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan -- but we’re missing the equipment. When the troops get deployed, the equipment goes with them."
—CNN, May 7, 2007
"The last five years have cost us dearly -- in lives lost; in thousands of wounded warriors whose futures may never be the same; in challenges not met here at home because our resources were committed elsewhere. America's foreign policy has left us with fewer allies and more enemies."
—State of the Union response, January 28, 2008
President Robert Mugabe has awarded a medal to Zimbabwe's election chief during a third day of talks to resolve the country's political crisis. He honoured George Chiweshe, head of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC), who has been criticised for his handling of the country's recent polls.
But wait, there's more:
The beneficiaries included Happyton Bonyongwe, head of the Central Intelligence Organisation which is accused of seizing, torturing and killing many MDC activists before the second vote in June; and Paradzai Zimondi, the prison service chief who said he would never recognise a Tsvangirai victory.
Sunday's victory by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) appears to be a landslide for Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power there for over two decades. The former Khmer Rouge guerrilla has elevated winning Cambodian elections to an art form, topping Cambodia's four polls since elections began in 1993. Here are some of his techniques:
1. Stoke the fires of nationalism: Hun Sen got a boost from a border dispute with Thailand over an 11th-century Hindu temple. After Cambodia's government secured re-election Sunday, the two countries agreed to pull back troops on Monday.
3. Deliver economic results: Construction, oil exploration, and tourism are driving an upstart Cambodian economy. For many voters, economic success trumps democratic aspirations -- and Hun Sen happily takes credit for every piece of economic good news.
4. Rig the rolls: While the Cambodian People's Party hasn't shied away from outright violence to rig an election, this year's polls have seen a more subtle effort from the ruling party. Hun Sen's rivals claim the CPP deleted thousands of opposition supporters from voting lists.
5. Amend the constitution: A 2006 constitutional amendment replaced a requirement of a two-thirds majority to control parliament with a provision mandating only a simple majority. The CPP no longer needs the support of royalist party Funcinpec as a result.
6. When all else fails, control everything: Incumbents generally have the advantage, but after 23 years in power Hun Sen has entrenched his authority in all aspects of Cambodian politics. As Newsweek's Eric Pape sums up:
But given's near absolute control of Cambodian television, radio, the courts and the electoral structures that validate elections, any meaningful decline in his power would amount to a stunning blow.
Eli Lake reports:
The matter [of endorsing Barack Obama's withdrawal timeline] was taken up at a meeting of Iraq's National Security Council on Thursday on the recommendation of Mr. Maliki, who had been advised by the Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi to express public support for the Obama withdrawal plan. Asked for a comment yesterday, Mr. Chalabi, an old hand at working the American political process to the advantage of Iraq, conveyed a statement via his Washington representative, Francis Brooke: "This is an honor I will not claim and a rumor I will not deny."
There's heavy speculation that today's agreement between Zimbabwe's government and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) could be setting the stage for a power-sharing arrangement between two sides. South African President Thabo Mbeki as well as mediators from the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) are all pushing the idea of a "government of national unity" along the lines of the one that was formed during Kenya's election crisis earlier this year.
It's understandable that the African community likes this solution. It's a quick way to stop the bloodshed while giving some concessions to the opposition who, after all, won the original election. But it's a rather feeble solution nonetheless. Although the deal in Kenya may have put an end to the violence, the divided government in Nairobi remains highly dysfunctional.
In Zimbabwe, there's even less reason to believe that Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, who openly hate each other's guts, could ever form a workable partnership. Any sort of power-sharing deal is little more than a fantasy while MDC leaders still fear for their lives.
But what's most worrying is the precedent this sets for elections in Africa. From now on, if a strongman leader loses an election, all he needs to do is ignore the result and provoke violent unrest. Before long, AU or SADC mediators will swoop in to propose a "government of national unity" in order to defuse tensions. In most places, when you lose an election, you have to step down. In Africa, it's just a starting point for negotiations.
The MDC may have no other choice but to accept such a deal, but African leaders are heading down a very dangerous path by pushing for it.
A show of hands: Who remembers anything that happened during John McCain's travels to Colombia and Mexico?
Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?
Well, I'd bet you have a good handle on what Barack Obama is up to this week. He just came from Afghanistan, and now he's in Iraq, where he got a big boost when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki basically endorsed his withdrawal plan. After a few more days in the Middle East, he'll head to Europe, where by all accounts he'll be treated like a savior coming to rescue transatlantic relations from George W. Bush.
His trip is getting major, wall-to-wall coverage -- with much more to come -- but in fact, Obama has gotten the lion's share of media attention since the general election began:
Since June 9th, when Obama effectively clinched the votes for the nomination, the Project For Excellence In Journalism took a weekly look at 300 political stories in newspapers, magazines and television. In 77 percent of the stories, Obama played an important role, and 51 percent featured McCain.
A quick look at Google Trends shows that McCain hasn't even been able to capitalize on the times he has made news. Here's a graph of searches and news mentions for the past 30 days, with Obama in blue and McCain in red. As you can see, McCain's Latin America trip was during the first week of July (point A), and it barely made a dent:
Many conservatives, no doubt, will see the dark hand of media bias at work here. But is that really the case? Is McCain the victim of the liberal media? Or is Obama just more interesting and new than McCain? Discuss.
UPDATE: As for this, maybe the New York Times did McCain a favor. Check out this line from the op-ed that the Times supposedly spiked:
[Obama] makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.
Well, 2010 is getting fairly specific, no?
John F. Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate after declaring "ich bin ein Berliner" in 1963. Ronald Reagan stood at the gate in 1987 and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."
Following in the footsteps of two U.S. presidents whose images he often evokes, Barack Obama is planning a speech of his own there, too. But the address, planned for July 24, has apparently caused a stir between local authorities and the German government.
The decision is formally up to Berlin's mayor, who reportedly has given Obama his stamp of approval to speak at the gate. Advisers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel worry, however, that allowing the speech there would be seen as a formal endorsement of Obama by the German government:
The Brandenburg Gate is the best known and most historically significant site in Germany," said a Chancellery official, explaining why until now only elected presidents have been allowed to perform there.
A spokesman for Merkel this morning said the speech would be
"inappropriate" and referred to it as "electioneering." More German politicians are also weighing in on the address, with the head of the German Liberal Democratic Party stating his support of the speech, while the head of the German Greens has voiced his skepticism.
Obama is tremendously popular in Germany, enjoying the support of 72 percent of the population. The Berlin address is expected to be Obama's only public speech during a trip that includes visits to England, France, Israel, and Jordan and is designed to shore up the candidate's foreign-policy credentials.
After Kenya's violent polls in December, and Robert Mugabe's "sham" reelection last month, electoral violence is rearing its ugly head once more. The latest victim? Mongolia, an otherwise respectable democracy now "facing its biggest challenge since its birth in 1990," The New York Times reports:
Following cries of fraud in parliamentary elections — accusations that were disputed by international election observers — hundreds of rioters, many of them drunk, attacked the headquarters of the dominant political party and the neighboring national art gallery on July 1. Fires were started. Five people were killed. More than 1,000 pieces of artwork were destroyed, damaged or looted.
But not everyone's jumping off the democracy bandwagon just yet. While the government's response to the violence--which included declaring a state of emergency, shutting down media outlets, and deploying troops into the streets--was far from ideal, there are reasons to remain optimistic.
For one, the violence appears not to be caused by any inherent flaws in Mongolia's system, but rather by the unfortunate confluence of economic frustrations and cheap vodka. Second, as we noted in the March/April edition of FP, Mongolia's parliament is among the world's strongest, and recent research shows that countries with strong legislatures are more likely to have resilient democracies.
While the government must answer for its stronghanded response to the recent violence and address the ecnomic concerns that may have caused it, I'd expect the only democracy from the Sea of Japan to Eastern Europe will endure.
A presidential candidate's usual fake deficit-reduction plan involves promises to "crack down on tax loopholes" and the like. Witness Barack Obama's pledge to "end wasteful government spending" and "make government more accountable and efficient." Good luck with that, Barack. As any student of the federal budget knows, such savings rarely materialize or are much smaller than claimed.
But John McCain's vow to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term takes the cake. Take a gander at how he plans to pull off this feat:
The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction."
Given today's news that Iraq is considering imposing a timetable for withdrawal on U.S. troops, McCain may get his "victory" there sooner than he imagines.
But Afghanistan? That's another story. As the Washington Post notes, there were more Western troop deaths in Afghanistan in May and June than there were in Iraq. The Taliban has proven in recent weeks that it can threaten Kabul and Kandahar, while slinking back across the border to safe havens in Pakistan. What's McCain's plan for turning this situation around quickly? Imagine telling your mortgage lender: "My plan to pay off this debt in four years is to get a new job that pays me a million dollars a year." Sure, it could happen. But I doubt the bank would be impressed by the proposal.
The politics of pushing a deficit-reduction plan right now are odd, too. Has there been any public clamor for such a thing? With
gas prices soaring, the job market tanking, and the cost of everything
going up, are Americans really worried about the budget deficit
right now? I fail to see the political payoff here. Time to bring in some new talent?
In the harshest criticism yet of the stolen election in Zimbabwe, neighboring Botswana called today for the African Union to ban Mugabe from its meetings:
In our considered view, it therefore follows that the representatives of the current government in Zimbabwe should be excluded from attending SADC (Southern African Development Community) and African Union meetings," a text of summit remarks by Vice President Mompati Merafhe said.
"Their participation in the meetings of the two organisations would give unqualified legitimacy to a process which cannot be considered legitimate."
"Botswana's position is that such a scenario would be unacceptable."
Unconfirmed reports claim that Nigeria has also refused to recognize Mugabe's government.
Botswana's stand came during closed-door proceedings today at the AU summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. It remains to be seen what effect it will have on Zimbabwe, but it's good to see that some rulers in Africa appear to be showing a little spine.
They'll need it. Mugabe has been defiant over last Friday's fraudulent election, where he was the only candidate running and many citizens were threatened with violence if they did not vote for the 84-year-old ruler. Responding to international criticism today, a Mugabe spokesman told the United States and other Western states to "go hang a thousand times."
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