China's Global Times - that reliable purveyor of the sublimely ridiculous, the terrifyingly nationalistic, and the just generally offensive -- struck again on Wednesday, with a quick nine-paragrapher that may just manage to combine all three offerings in one: "American Indians descend from Hunan, says expert."
The tabloid reports on the findings of Du Gangjian, dean of Hunan University Law School, who, on a recent trip to study Native American tribes in the United States (the article doesn't specify which ones), made the discovery that "American Indians have many rituals, habits and working tools that are very similar to the ones that exist among Hunan people."
The article goes on:
"The history textbooks in the world should be rewritten," he said.
According to most of the history textbooks, Columbus was the first person to discover the American continent.
Du's claims rest on the theory that famed Chinese Admiral Zheng He -- who accomplished many incredible things, there's no question! -- also made it all the way to the North American continent (a theory also put forth by British writer Gavin Menzies). This he almost certainly did not do.
David McNew/Getty Images; FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
In yet another example of the unrealistic ambitions of Egypt's new political class on the world stage, the Building and Development Party, the political wing of Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GI), is calling on the United States to remove the political party and its parent organization from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Building and Development Party do not consider the West as opponents, but instead advocate for the good of all and embrace all ideas that serve Islam," Building and Development Party spokesman Khaled al-Sharif said in a press conference on Sunday, according to a posting on the party's Facebook page. Daily News Egypt reports that al-Sharif then went on to "demand" that GI be taken off the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and called for the United States to release Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh."
GI was a fixture in Egypt's collegiate political scene in the 1980s but became internationally infamous for a campaign of terror attacks in the 1990s, which included assassinations and massacres targeting tourists. GI also occasionally worked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later merged his organization with al Qaeda and eventually became Osama bin Laden's successor in that organization. Abdel Rahman had ties to both organizations and is GI's spiritual leader -- he was imprisoned in Egypt in the 1980s for issuing a fatwa sanctioning the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for helping plan attacks in New York City, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. When the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups was compiled in 1997, GI was an inaugural member.
In 2003, GI reentered the Egyptian political arena, formally renouncing violence in exchange for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. That promise has held, mostly. The change in tactics split the organization, and a violent faction formally joined al Qaeda in 2006. Mainstream members aren't a bunch of peaceniks, either; GI was responsible for organizing the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012, and has threatened to fight for the implementation of sharia law "even if that requires bloodshed."
It's not unheard of for an organization to work its way off the State Department's terror list -- after a years-long lobbying effort, Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq was delisted last September -- but it's a rare occasion. And though GI and its Building and Development Party aren't the only politicians in Egypt to call for the release of the Blind Sheikh, it's certainly not going to win them any fans in Foggy Bottom. It's also not going to happen.
Fraying cooperation in the drug war will surely be top of mind as President Obama meets with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico this week. And perhaps nothing encapsulates Mexico's growing impatience with America's heavy-handed approach to combating drug trafficking than this nugget from a New York Times report on Tuesday. Apparently, the United States has been subjecting Mexican security officials to regular polygraph tests in an effort to identify rotten apples. But that could soon change:
Shortly after Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, took office in December, American agents got a clear message that the dynamics, with Washington holding the clear upper hand, were about to change.
"So do we get to polygraph you?" one incoming Mexican official asked his American counterparts, alarming United States security officials who consider the vetting of the Mexicans central to tracking down drug kingpins. The Mexican government briefly stopped its vetted officials from cooperating in sensitive investigations. The Americans are waiting to see if Mexico allows polygraphs when assigning new members to units, a senior Obama administration official said.
While the practice is not widely publicized, it has been an element of the two countries' security relationship for some time. In a 1997 article on U.S.-Mexican plans to join hands in the drug war, the Associated Press noted that Mexican counternarcotics agents would undergo the "kind of extensive background, financial, and polygraph tests required of U.S. drug agents." The plans came after the arrest of Mexico's drug czar, Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, for taking bribes from drug traffickers.
What's more, the United States hasn't just applied this policy to Mexico. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Washington has given elite Colombian counternarcotics agents polygraph tests as well.
The bad blood over polygraph tests isn't the only sign that U.S.-Mexican cooperation on the drug war is deteriorating. In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE on his new book, the Mexican journalist Jesús Esquivel claimed that the Mexican military recently waved off a U.S. offer to capture famed drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Gúzman. The United States had the Sinaloa cartel chief's location and said the operation would take only 15 minutes. So why the hang-up? Mexican military officials reportedly didn't want the American military to lead the operation.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
News that the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings are brothers has sparked a great deal of interest in their family history and the relationship between the two siblings. But if they were indeed behind the assault, they wouldn't be the first brothers to plot or carry out such an attack. Here is a look at some of their predecessors in recent years:
In 2009, three brothers --ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia -- were convicted of plotting to murder military personnel at Fort Dix, a base south of Trenton, N.J, along with two other men. Dritan Duka and Shain Duka received life in prison plus thirty years, while Eljvir received life imprisonment. The brothers claim they're innocent.
Last March, Mohammed Merah fatally shot a rabbi, three Jewish schoolchildren, and three French paratroopers in an attack in Toulouse, France before he himself was gunned down in a shootout with police. Merah, who claimed he was trained by al Qaeda, said the attack stemmed from France's ban on the full Muslim veil, the country's presence in Afghanistan, and his disgust over the treatment of Palestinians. His brother Abdelkader is being held in France on charges of complicity.
Late last year, Sheheryar Alam Qazi and Raees Alam Qazi were charged with aiding terrorists and planning to detonate a weapon of mass destruction in the United States (U.S. prosecutors say Raees wanted to retaliate against U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan by blowing up a New York City landmark). The Florida-based brothers are both naturalized U.S. citizens from Pakistan.
In March, a Danish court convicted two Danish brothers from Somalia of planning a terror attack with Somalia's al-Shabab militants, and sentenced each to three and a half years in prison. Guleed Mohamed Warsame and Nuur Mohamed Warsame were found guilty of conspiring to send Guleed to a Shabab-run training camp in Somalia.
In January, two Bedouin brothers from the Negev confessed to a plot to fire rockets at Israel and stage a suicide bombing at a bus station in Beersheba. Mahmoud Abu Quider reportedly scouted the attack sites, while his brother, Samah, was to help carry out the assaults.
Journalists have had their hands full this week with reports of Iran's fake time machine, not to mention the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that shook the country's south. But somehow, in all the excitement, an Iranian proposal to annex Azerbaijan went largely unnoticed.
On Tuesday, Iran's Fars news agency reported that Azerbaijani-speaking lawmakers in Iran had introduced a bill to re-annex their neighbor to the north. Iran lost Azerbaijan in 1828 -- "The most frustrating chapter in the history class!" Fars laments -- when it was forced to sign the Turkmenchay treaty, ceding the territory to Russia. The legislators propose revisiting the terms of the treaty, which, according to Fars, means "the 17 cities and regions that Iran had lost to the Russians would be given back to Iran after a century."
For its part, Azerbaijan has told Iran to "bring it" -- diplomatically speaking. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Siyavush Novruzov of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party has declared that revisiting the treaty would result not in Azerbaijan being annexed to Iran, but rather in Tehran ceding its northwestern territory to Azerbaijan.
While all this may sound like the makings of an international showdown in a strategically sensitive region, here's the comforting part: in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, both sides have repeatedly brandished the treaty as an empty threat. Take a look at this January 1992 edition of one Kentucky daily:
Screenshot of the Kentucky New Era
Or a December 2011 headline from Azer News that reads, "MP wants to 'annex Azeri territory to Iran.'"
On the other side of the border, Azerbaijan has threatened more than once to reclaim the region in Iran known as "Southern Azerbaijan." And as we wrote in February 2012, minority lawmakers in Baku have even provocatively suggested changing the country's name to "Northern Azerbaijan," implying ownership over the Iranian territory to the south.
Writing in Foreign Affairs in January, Iran expert Alex Vatanka explained why, despite significant cultural and linguistic overlap, the two countries remain tense neighbors. After securing independence in 1991, Azerbaijan failed to become the close Shiite ally that Tehran wanted, he notes. And since 2003, Vatanka adds, "Baku has grown both considerably richer -- thanks to revenues from energy exports -- and noticeably bolder in its foreign policy."
This boldness -- which includes the purchase of weapons and technology from Israel in exchange for granting the country a foothold on the Iranian border -- has driven an increasingly substantial wedge between Azerbaijan and Iran. In other words, don't be surprised if we see this headline crop up again ... and again and again.
There aren't many surprises in the new WikiLeaks document dump -- the organization is calling the collection of 1.7 million documents dated from 1973 to 1976 "The Kissinger Cables" -- but there are a few interesting finds. For example, there's the request from Morocco's King Hassan II for any information the United States had on an unidentified flying object spotted along the Moroccan coast in the early morning hours of Sept. 19, 1976.
Four days after the incident, the commander of Morocco's gendarmerie requested a meeting with the U.S. defense attaché in Rabat. In their meeting, the Moroccan officer noted that there had been reports across the country of an object sighted arcing across the night sky, and that the king had taken a personal interest in following up on the incident.
"Reports from these widely separate locations were remarkably similar, i.e., that the object was on a generally southwest to northeast course, it was a silvery luminous circular shape and gave off intermittent trails of bright sparks and fragments, and made no noise," the U.S. defense attaché wrote in his cable to Washington. The next day, the attaché met with another gendarmerie officer who had actually seen the UFO. The officer "described the UFO as flying parallel to the coast at a relatively low speed, as if it were an aircraft preparing to land. It first appeared to him as a disc-shaped object, but as it came closer he saw it as a luminous tubular-shaped object."
"I frankly do not know what to make of these sighting, although I find intriguing the similarity of the descriptions reported from widely dispersed locations," the attaché wrote to Washington on Sept. 25. "In any event, I wish to be able to respond promptly to King Hassan's request for information, and would appreciate anything you can do to assist me in this."
One week later, on Oct. 2, Washington cabled back with the terse message: "Hope to have answer for you next week. Regards." Three days later, the secretary's office followed up. "It is difficult to offer any definitive explanation as to the cause or origin of the UFOs sighted in the Moroccan area between 0100 and 0130 local time 19 September 1976," the cable began, before suggesting that, based on descriptions of its trajectory and appearance, it "could conceivably be compatible with a meteor, or a decaying satellite," though U.S. officials noted that "the [U.S. government] is unaware of any US aircraft or satellite activity, either military or civilian, in the Moroccan area which might have been mistaken for such sightings."
Despite their appearance in WikiLeaks' new cache of documents, the cables aren't exactly breaking news. They were quoted at length in a 1990 book titled The UFO Cover-Up: What the Government Won't Say, in which the authors speculated that the 10-day delay between the initial cable from Rabat and Washington's reply was to allow time for secret briefings, and refuted the official narrative:
Is it impossible for a bright meteor to have been responsible for the sightings? Not really, if one examines the information very generally. A silvery, luminous object giving off a bright trail and sparks is not unlike a description of a meteor. However, the sightings were reported over a span of about an hour. The UFO, according to some witnesses, traveled at a slow speed, like an aircraft about to land. And the southwest to northeast course of the UFO would have brought it in the general direction of Iran, where other activity was ongoing. Coincidence?
Well, yes. It was a coincidence. In October 2012, Canadian amateur satellite watcher Ted Molczan (who was profiled by the New York Times in 2008) posted on a satellite interest site that the trajectory and timing of the incident matches the re-entry of a piece of space junk -- specifically a Soviet booster engine from a rocket launched two months earlier -- in July 1976. While it's true that the UFO was not of U.S. origin, it appears the cable from the State Department was either misleading or not fully informed about the incident. The Soviet rocket debris was tracked by U.S. Strategic Command and cataloged in its Space Track database, where Molczan eventually found the record. So there you go, mystery solved -- 35 years later.
(Hat tip to @arabist.)
The rare public figure as beloved by some as she was reviled by others, Margaret Thatcher, who died today at 87, was the first female prime minister in British history and a world leader who arguably did more than anyone else to usher in today's free-market capitalism. In pushing for deregulation, privatization, and lower tax rates, Thatcher succeeded in dismantling what she saw as a bloated British public sector that was holding the country back. Though Ronald Reagan embarked on a similar project in the United States, Thatcher was first. And given neo-liberalism's ascendance today, on that basis alone she deserves to be called an historic figure.
But does Thatcher deserve to be called the greatest post-war prime minister in British history?
Unlike American historians -- who love nothing more than to debate endlessly about who qualifies as the greatest U.S. president -- the Brits have more of an aversion to this sort of ranking, and the first rigorous survey of British academics that examined the question of prime ministerial greatness was not carried out until 2004, by researchers at the University of Leeds. That study included all 20th-century premiers and crowned Clement Attlee the victor, with Thatcher finishing in fourth place:
1. Clement Attlee (Labour, 1945-1951)
2. Winston Churchill (Conservative, 1940-1945, 51-55)
3. David Lloyd George (Liberal, 1916-1922)
4. Margaret Thatcher (Conservative, 1979-1990)
5. Harold Macmillan (Conservative, 1957-1963)
If one limits the field to post-war prime ministers, the discussion becomes even more interesting. David Lloyd George drops off the list, and Winston Churchill should arguably be excluded -- his second term in office predictably did not approach the heights of his wartime leadership. That puts Thatcher in second place behind Attlee, the man responsible for laying the foundation of the British welfare state.
Thatcher, meanwhile pulls ahead of Attlee in surveys of British public opinion. A YouGov poll from November 2011, for instance, found that 27 percent of Britons consider Thatcher the greatest prime minister since 1945, while 20 percent give the nod to Churchill (Atlee trails in a distant fifth place with only five percent). Looking at the cross-tabs, that result appears to stem from a pro-Labour split between Attlee, Churchill, Tony Blair, and Harold Wilson. But it is nonetheless a surprising outcome for Thatcher, whose approval ratings in office fluctuated a great deal.
In many ways, Thatcher and Attlee couldn't be more different. While Attlee founded the National Health Service -- and with it the British welfare state -- Thatcher fought to undo much of what Attlee had built. Where Attlee saw the comforting hand of the state, Thatcher saw encroaching state power. The 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing eurozone crisis represent the latest, most important test for whether European governments will work to maintain Attlee's legacy and keep the state involved in the economy, or move further toward Thatcherism and embrace the free market.
The outcome of that argument could play a big role in determining whether it is Thatcher or Attlee who ultimately secures the title of Britain's greatest post-war prime minister.
(h/t to reader Erica Jackson, who pointed us to the Leeds study)
JOHNNY GREEN/AFP/Getty Images
Amid the devastation of World War II, a time when even the most basic food was hard to come by, Margot Wölk lived out her days amid plenty. As part of a group of women forced by the SS to serve as Adolf Hitler's food testers at his Eastern Front headquarters -- the Wolf Lair -- Wölk spent the war checking for poison in the Führer's white asparagus. In a fascinating interview with Der Spiegel that makes for good weekend reading, Wölk recounts her time as one of Hitler's guinea pigs and says that she found her work for Hitler repugnant. She spent the war eating gourmet food at the point of a gun.
Wölk's account of her time at the Wolf Lair reads like something of a surrealist farce. Since Hitler was a vegetarian, no meat was served -- only big platters of vegetables, noodle dishes, and sauces. The day Hitler narrowly survived an assassination attempt at the Wolf's Lair, a group of soldiers had invited the food tasters -- who were all women -- to a watch a movie in one of the tents near the headquarters. The explosion knocked them off their benches. But Hitler walked away unscathed.
After the attack, security at the compound tightened, and the food testers were moved to an old school house. One night, Wölk told Der Spiegel, an SS officer used a ladder to climb through the window of the room in which she was sleeping and raped her. And that was only a taste of what was to come: After the war, Wölk fell into the hands of the Soviet Army, whose soldiers raped her repeatedly and left her unable to bear children. In one of the lesser-known outrages of World War II, the Soviet army raped an estimated two million German women during their westward march.
After the war, Wölk's husband, a Nazi soldier who had been presumed dead, returned to her. Rebuilding their life took priority over giving interviews, but that changed a few years ago, and she has now given several accounts of her experience during the war, though none as comprehensive as this week's interview with Der Spiegel.
Now the 95-year-old Wölk stands out as a paradigmatic example of the ways that ordinary Germans were made to collaborate with Hitler's murderous regime.
"I just wanted to say what happened there," she told Der Spiegel. "That Hitler was a really repugnant man. And a pig."
On Monday, Barack Obama released a message to the Iranian people marking the beginning of Nowruz, an ancient holiday celebrating the start of the Persian New Year and the advent of spring. In a YouTube video with Farsi subtitles, the president offered a brief note of celebration before launching into the crux of his message: "the world's serious and growing concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which threatens peace and security in the region and beyond." He continued:
As I have every year as President, I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran. Since taking office, I have offered the Iranian government an opportunity -- if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations.
In past years, Obama's annual Nowruz address has been regarded by some as a shining example of soft diplomacy and by others as a cynical case of political opportunism -- but all have agreed that the president is seizing the moment to send a message to the Iranian people and government. Which raises the question: What about the millions of non-Iranians who also celebrate the holiday?
Foreign Policy caught up with Adil Baguirov, who serves on the board of directors of two D.C.-based advocacy organizations -- the U.S. Azeris Network and the U.S. Turkic Network -- that have repeatedly lobbied Obama to make his Nowruz address more inclusive and less politicized. "The Turkic people who number some 200 million spanning across Eurasia, from Yakutia to Europe, were once again overlooked" in this year's message, he wrote in an e-mail.
But, he notes, this wasn't always the case. Baguirov drew a pointed distinction with the Bush years, when the president would "congratulate not only all the Iranic people (people of Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan , and some people living in other regional countries, as well as the diaspora in U.S.), but all the Turkic people and diaspora that trace their heritage from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgysztan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as a multitude of autonomous regions in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, the Turcomans in Iraq, the Uzbeks and Hazara's in Afghanistan, the Uighurs in China, and others."
In his 2006 Nowruz message, for example, Bush noted that for "millions of people around the world who trace their heritage to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia, Nowruz is a celebration of life and an opportunity to express joy and happiness." (It's worth noting that Bush focused a bit more on Iran in 2003, and devoted his entire 2002 address to Afghans and Afghan-Americans after the fall of the Taliban.)
Baguirov, for his part, said Obama's approach is as if Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei spoke directly to the American people on Christmas or New Year's Day. "Other countries, especially if they have been celebrating those holidays far longer, would be rather baffled and even offended by such preferential treatment," he pointed out.
Clearly, the Obama administration now sees Nowruz as a chance to address Washington's increasingly fractious relationship with Tehran, and to reach out to and draw support from the Iranian people. Whether or not Iranians appreciate the gesture, it's clear at least some other Nowruz celebrants don't.
Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian archduke whose assassination by a Serbian nationalist in 1914 set off World War I, has always been more famous for his death than for his life. But, as Der Spiegel recently reported, thanks to rediscovered and newly published travel diaries from his 1892 journey around the world, readers will be able to get a new look at the complex personality of the young heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne -- who was at once an avid hunter and a conservationist, at once supercilious and vocally anti-imperialist.
Judging by Der Spiegel's report, the 2,000 or so pages of notes, written in a "powerfully elegant" style, give a fascinating account of an adventure that, though high-profile at the time (the entourage at certain points contained over 400 people), seems to have largely been forgotten.
FF (as the archduke signed his name in his notes) was just 28 years old at the time of his journey. Here are some highlights from this not-so-typical grand tour:
According to Der Spiegel, FF had nuanced opinions about the United States, which he saw as both heroic and ruthless. On one hand, he wrote, "Citizens of the Union" have the potential "to be larger than life, to be Übermenschen." On the other, he found the Wild West to be disappointing. He lamented the shrinking forests and the suffering of the Native Americans. Moreover, the "hoped-for grizzly bears refused to run in front of his rifle, cowboys cavalierly put their feet on the table in his presence, and smoking was prohibited everywhere."
This is going to be some fantastic reading.
Sure, Senator Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday was dramatic in the moment. But in the history of filibusters, it's unexceptional. After all, it was the ninth-longest in U.S. Senate history, according to USA Today -- not exactly a glowing achievement in the practice's millenia-long international history.
The etymology of the term stems from a Dutch word for privateers, and it entered the American lexicon via Spanish as rogue American settlers tried to seize land in Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Mexico in the mid-19th century. Locally, they were called filibusteros -- "free-booters" -- and their populist movement was a diplomatic nightmare for the U.S. government. These expansionist efforts fell apart when the Civil War forced Americans to turn inwards, but the word had already gained its modern meaning when, in 1853, a Democratic senator, Abraham Venable, joined the Whig opposition to block a private expedition of settlers looking to seize Cuba. Despite his opposition to the aggressive expansionism, which he feared would "make the United States the brigands of the world," his own colleagues in the Democratic Party turned the word on him for his own roguish action. The term came to be associated with aggressive minority efforts to delay legislation.
Some historians trace the practice back much further in history -- to ancient Rome and civil libertarian patron saint Cato the Younger, who was known to make lengthy speeches past the Roman Senate's deadline to adjourn at dusk, blocking further business for the day.
The filibuster is truly a performance art, so much so that the most recent one before Paul's yesterday, launched on Dec. 10, 2010 by Bernie Sanders, was accompanied by charts and made into a book and an art installation. The record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Senate is held by Strom Thurmond, who spoke (maybe off and on) for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to block civil rights legislation. At the state level, the record is longer: In 1924, a Rhode Island Senate filibuster extended 42 continuous hours over three days and "began with a mass fistfight over control of the gavel and ended when Republican operatives placed a poison-soaked rag behind [Democratic Lieutenant Governor Felix] Toupin to gas him out of the presiding officer's chair," according to Gregory Koger's Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate.
Elsewhere, the filibuster (by its modern, American definition) has different names. In the United Kingdom, the practice is known as being "talked out," and it was employed in January 2012 to stymie legislation that would have adjusted daylight savings time. Since British legislation is allotted only a certain amount of time for discussion and voting before being taken off the table, members of parliament can talk until the subject is shuffled back into the stack of pending bills -- in the case of the daylight savings time legislation, the bill was talked out by Scottish and Welsh legislators who wanted more autonomy and the option to opt out of the U.K. time change.
In the United Kingdom, the tactic has also been an occasional recourse for Irish and Scottish representatives seeking to punch above their administrations' weight. But, as in the United States, it has been used to block civil rights efforts as well, including women's suffrage legislation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Perhaps the most dramatic filibuster, though, occurred in April 1963 in the Philippines. With legislators evenly divided between supporters of the Liberal Party incumbent, Diosdado Macapagal, and Nationalist Party up-and-comer Ferdinand Marcos, it came down to the Senate to decide the presidency. The day before the scheduled vote, Marcos visited Liberal Senator Roseller Lim, offering to pay off his home loans in exchange for a swing vote. Lim refused and Marcos, incensed, swore at him and his family before departing.
The next day, the Liberal senators were a man down -- Senator Alejandro Almendras was still en route, returning from a throat operation in the United States. Lim took the podium and spoke for 18 hours and 30 minutes -- he could not sit or eat, and he urinated in his pants at the podium rather than allow the vote to occur without the Liberals' crucial swing vote. Finally, Lim yielded the floor upon hearing that Almendras's fight had landed, and collapsed onto a waiting stretcher after casting his vote.
Unlike so many other filibusters, it's hard to say that Lim's act was one vanity -- but it was in vain. Lim would learn, upon awaking in the hospital, that Almendras has cast his vote for Marcos.
Paul's stand yesterday for a clarification in Obama's targeted killing policy was dramatic at times, but not that dramatic. Hey, there's always next time.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
It may be the biggest news to break in Latin since Julius Caesar's death.
Pope Benedict XVI provided vindication for Latin teachers everywhere on Monday by breaking the news of his upcoming resignation via a speech in the oft-dismissed ancient language:
More satisfying still for those who maintain Latin is not dead, the Huffington Post Italy reports that the news was first broken by a reporter for Italy's ANSA news agency, who apparently beat out journalists from France, Mexico, and Japan thanks to her superior language skills. Giovanna Chirri initially could not reach a Vatican spokesman to confirm the news, AFP reports:
In a heated debate with her editor, the journalist insisted her Latin knowledge was sound and they could alert the news.
The difficult part was "understanding the Latin," he said. "At a certain point, for example, I caught the word 'incapability' in the pope's speech. I turned around and spoke with my Mexican colleague. We noticed that Pope Benedict had a sad look on his face, not his usual look. Something wasn't right. Then, when cardinal Sodano mentioned the 'sadness,' we finally understood."
The choice of Latin for a major announcement was likely no accident: Benedict has long indicated that he considers a Latin revival important for the future of the Church. In November of last year, he established a Pontifical Academy of Latinity with the goal of promoting the language, saying in a letter at the time that even among priests and seminarians, the study of Latin has become "more and more superficial." He further demonstrated his determination to take Latin into the modern world in January when he began tweeting in the language. Still, Benedictus PP. XVI has just 17,816 followers so far -- the fewest of any of the pope's nine Twitter accounts.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy learned that the Soviet Union had deployed nuclear missiles to Cuba, thereby beginning the most dangerous nuclear standoff the world has ever known. Popularly known as the "13 days in October," Oct. 16 marked the beginning of some of the most tense diplomacy in U.S. history. To mark the event, Foreign Policy and award-winning journalist Michael Dobbs, author of One Minute to Midnight, have created the Cuban missile crisis + 50 project, looking at what happened then -- and what we know now.
To keep track of events, follow Dobbs as he live-tweets the crisis. For a detailed look at what's coming next, you can also see our comprehensive blow-by-blow of the events of those days. And want to know how these dramatic events changed America forever? Leslie Gelb explains the myth that ruined 50 years of foreign policy -- and Stephen Sestanovich explains why he's wrong.
You can also get a sense for what was in the nuclear arsenal at that time, as well as read secret documents from the National Security Archive that show why the crisis was much, much scarier than you think.
Finally, you can browse the entire project here.
Fifty years after Kenya's independence, the British high court opened the second part of a case brought by three Kenyan nationals against the British government today. The trial sheds light on Kenya's gulags, a largely forgotten dark corner of England's colonial legacy.
The plaintiffs -- Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara -- were formerly rebels during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule. They allege that they were the victims of torture and brutality at the hands of the British administration during the "Kenya Emergency" that lasted from 1952-1960.
According to the BBC, the "claimants' lawyers allege that Nzili was castrated, Nyingi severely beaten and Mara subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the rebellion."
The fourth claimant in the original case, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, died in the interim between when the test case was ruled arguable in July 2011 and the opening of the trial.
The lawyers for the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) have argued that the case should be struck down because the lapse in time between the end of the insurgency and the current proceedings is too great. However, a new cache of secret British documents unveiled in April 2012 has shed new light on crimescommitted in Kenya, as well as other former colonies -- and the decades-long effort to cover them up.
The files - which had been purposely withheld from the National Archives and illegally hidden at Hanslope Park, an intelligence station -- were uncovered by historians working on the Kenyans' case. Subsequently, the Foreign Office released all of the records.
The documents include accounts of British officials "roasting detainees alive" in Kenya. The colony's attorney general in 1953, Eric Griffith-Jones, described the internment camps as "distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia" -- yet nevertheless endorsed British policy, claiming that "if we are going to sin, we must sin quietly."
The Kenyans first requested the release of these documents in 1967, according to an internal FCO review from February 2011 that was made public in May. The review, which explains how the Kenyan request served as a blueprint for refusing such information to all former colonies, details that the files were consciously concealed by the government. They reasoned that releasing any information would set "a dangerous precedent" which would make it "difficult to withhold un-reviewed and potentially sensitive papers from other former colonies."
The Guardian confirmed that the most incriminating of the documents were systematically destroyed. Nevertheless, the remaining incriminating files -- known within the FCO as the 'migrated archives' because they were whisked out of colonial territories before the post-independence administration could take power - total 8,800 files. The Kenyan documents alone total 294 boxes.
As the trial progresses, government fears of "a dangerous precedent" may prove well-founded: this case might very well open up avenues for other colonies to bring legal cases against the former empire.
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't choose his foreign visits lightly. On May 31, Putin makes his first trip abroad since being inaugurated for a third term as president on May 7, to neighboring Belarus. The visit is highly symbolic of Russia's desire to be the leader in the post-Soviet space, as well as Putin's continued support for the authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko (also known as "Europe's Last Dictator"). Afterwards, Putin will head to Germany and France, Russia's major trading partners in the EU. After the European visits, Putin will fly to speak with Uzbek ruler Islam Karimov in Tashkent, to Beijing, and finally to Astana, Kazakhstan, to meet with long-time ruler Nursultan Kazarbayev; countries central to Putin's vision of a Eurasian Union.
Earlier in the month, Putin suddenly declined to attend the G8 Summit in Camp David, under pretext that he was too busy forming a new Cabinet of Ministers, sending instead Prime Minister Medvedev. The move was widely seen as a snub to President Obama, as Putin avoided a meeting with the president, and sidestepped making the U.S. his first foreign visit. A few days later, Obama announced he would not be able to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Vladivostok this September, because it conflicted with the Democratic Party convention.
Putin has now also taken the opportunity to snub the UK, by announcing he will not attend the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, even though the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held on Russian territory in Sochi. Likely, Medvedev will once again be sent in his stead. Russian-British relations have been tense since the 2006 poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Moreover the West has been pressuring Russian officials over the 2009 death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while he was detained in prison. Putin's foreign trip destinations are by no means accidental.
Members of Turkey's Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed a more decentralized Turkish government at a Brookings Institution panel on Tuesday.
"We don't believe that a centralized system of government that manages all of these different ethnic groups and communities is viable and productive," said BDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas. "We see this [decentralized government] as the most viable alternative."
Demirtas also emphasized that he is not calling for a completely independent Kurdish entity:
"We are not talking about the Kurdish people [living] in a region called Kurdistan."
Though he stressed that the BDP has no "organic relationship" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classifies as a terrorist organization, Demirtas noted that the PKK is not the problem, but a result of the problem:
"We believe the PKK is part of the reality of this conflic, and we believe that they should be communicated with.... We don't see the PKK as a problem, we see it as a result of the problem."
Ahmet Türk of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) agreed, and urged the audience to consider that the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denying its Kurdish citizens their civil rights might be the root of the problem.
"You don't provide Kurds an opportunity to express themselves, so the PKK emerged."
While Demirtas made sure to explain that his party does not condone violence, he did take issue with the Turkish government's definition of terrorism:
"This means of violence that is being used has to be understood correctly. The simple, traditional [definition of] terrorism cannot be used here. This is a 100-year-old conflict.... As long as you are unable to define it correctly, the wrong definition will cause misunderstanding."
BDP member and Turkish parliamentarian Gülten Kisanak argued that the PKK's numbers are evidence that the government must rethink its position toward the organization:
"According to data provided by the Turkish chief of staff, since 1978 40,000 Kurds have participated in the PKK and lost their life in fighting the struggle. I believe these numbers cannot be seen as terrorism in that sense."
The BDP may support President Abdullah Gül's call for a new "flexible and freedom-based" constitution, but its forward-thinking notions about the PKK isn't going to win it many points with Ankara.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Many commentators give at least partial credit for India's economic success to the political institutions left in place by British colonialism. Fareed Zakaria, for instance, believes India "got very lucky" in that its first generation of post-independence leaders "nurture the best traditions of the British" including "courts, universities [and] administrative agencies."
This paper compares economic outcomes across areas in India that were under direct British colonial rule with areas that were under indirect colonial rule. Controlling for selective annexation using a specific policy rule, I find that areas that experienced direct rule have significantly lower levels of access to schools, health centers, and roads in the postcolonial period. I find evidence that the quality of governance in the colonial period has a significant and persistent effect on postcolonial outcomes.
The finding is particularly interesting given that Iyer also shows that the areas directly annexed by the British tended be those with higher agricultural productivity. Despite their potential, these areas "did not invest as much as native states in physical and human capital."
Iyer's paper provides an interesting companion to another recent study by Alexander Lee and Kenneth Schultz of Stanford, which compared economic outcomes of formerly British and formerly French districts of Cameroon:
[W]e focus on the West African nation of Cameroon, which includes regions colonized by both Britain and France. Taking advantage of the artificial nature of the former colonial boundary, we use it as a discontinuity within a national demographic survey. We show that rural areas on the British side of the discontinuity have higher levels of wealth and local public provision of improved water sources. Results for urban areas and centrally-provided public goods show no such effect, suggesting that post-independence policies also play a role in shaping outcomes.
Taken together, the moral of these studies could be that colonalism isn't great for a country's future political and economic wellbeing, but if a country is going to be colonized, they're better off with the British than the French. It's also very possible that the legacy of colonialism -- whether positive or negative -- manifests differently in national rather than local governance. Although on a purely anecdotal level, the French vs. British distinction seems to hold there as well.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman
In a move aimed at punishing potentially naughty
citizens, the government of Tajikistan is trying to get its students studying
abroad at religious schools to return
home. Fearing a politically and religiously coupled radicalization against
its authority, the Tajik state stepped up the conflict by blocking websites
supposedly critical of the government and armed forces. AFP reports that the blockage:
comes after Tajik Defence Minister General Sherali Khairullayev accused local media at the start of the month of supporting the Islamist militants.
He said that journalists' coverage had been one-sided and focused solely on alleged shortcomings of the armed forces. 'They do not ask who has carried out a[n] act of terror, on whose orders,' he complained.
The broad backlash follows a series of attacks carried out inside this Central Asian state by what the government suspects are radicalized Muslim elements. In recent weeks, scores of government soldiers have died, some in unclear circumstances, but clearly linked to fighting operations in the particularly volatile Rasht region of Tajikistan.
Apparently, the state does not want to slide back into a repeat of civil war which ravished the country during the 90's and pitted the current government, backed by Russia, against a more diverse opposition of Muslim fighters and non-religiously affiliated resistance, at least partly based in Afghanistan at the time.
While there have been reforms in the country allowing political opposition, there are still problems with the political will and administration in carrying them out; thus the recent chaos reflects what seems like a still non-placated opposition which stems, in part, from the authoritarian and non-inclusive tendencies of the current government.
For the poorest of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics, the prospect of armed conflict is a tremendous expense -- both economically and politically -- that Tajikistan truly cannot afford and would be a setback to any nascent post-war progress that may have been acheived.
Yesterday I mentioned the odd fact that Japan still sends China around $1.2 billion in aid every year to make ammends for the damage done during World War II, but it's not the only country still paying for its (long) past wars. This Sunday, Germany will finally put the 1919 Versailles Treaty behind it:
Oct. 3, the 20th anniversary of German unification, will also mark the completion of the final chapter of World War I with the end of reparations payments 92 years after the country's defeat.
The German government will pay the last instalment of interest on foreign bonds it issued in 1924 and 1930 to raise cash to fulfil the enormous reparations demands the victorious Allies made after World War I.
The reparations bankrupted Germany in the 1920s and the fledgling Nazi party seized on the resulting public resentment against the terms of the Versailles Treaty.[...]
The debt payments were halted during the Great Depression and the Nazi era, then resumed in 1953. The final installment comes to €69.9 million.
A history teacher has been suspended in France for spending "too much" class time on teaching the Holocaust.
Here's a classic example of where France goes wrong. A July report condemned Catherine Pederzoli for "lacking distance, neutrality and secularism" and that by spending so much time on the Holocaust she was "brainwashing" her students.
For the past fifteen years, Pederzoli has organized annual trips for students to death camps in Poland and the Czech Republic. The number of students she was allowed to take had been cut in half, prompting her students to hold a protest when French Minister of Education Luc Chatel visited the school. Pederzoli was accused of inciting the protests.
Here's how ridiculous the report was:
The ministry's report cites that in meeting with investigators, the teacher used the word "Holocaust" 14 times while using the more neutral term "massacre" only twice.
Seriously? She's brainwashing her students because she used an internationally recognized term for the heinous crimes committed against Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and other "undesirables" by Nazi Germany? It's hard to imagine a more preposterous condemnation.
France's republican tradition means that it doesn't officially recognize differences between demographic groups, and that secularism is the overriding state virtue. But that deliberate non-recognition --"I can't see you!" -- itself leads directly to policies that are often used, intentionally or not, in an anti-Semitic or Islamophobic manner.
You know, there once was a time in the not too distant past when the British military defended civilization against a genocidal German regime that appeared intent on rampaging across much of the planet. Now, it looks as if it will be reduced to a shadow of its former self: Proposed cuts would slice the Royal Air Force to levels not seen since World War I, while the Army could see reductions of as much as 40 percent of its forces.
Some observers suggest that these selectively-leaked numbers are merely posturing -- the military is airing a doomsday scenario in order to rally support for scaling back the cuts. That may be true, but the reality of serious reductions to the Britain's armed forces is here to stay. The government's budget, weakened further by a persistent economic crisis, simply can't support the present size of the British military.
Critics of the size of the U.S. defense budget will no doubt look to Britain for tips regarding how they can reverse the growth in military spending. I'm not sure, however, that they are going to find anything useful. If we take Britain as a model, the keys to reversing defense spending appear to be, in order of importance: Have an unsustainable budget deficit that cannot be managed any other way, find another global superpower to police the world for you, and transform the region of the world where your interests lie into one of peace and stability. The United States doesn't look likely to fulfill any of those requirements in the short-term -- though, with the capabilities of one of its most important allies looking to be slashed, its job is only about to get tougher.
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama has just announced that General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, will replace now-booted General McChrstyal as top commander in Afghanistan, technically a lower position though probably a more strategically vital one . This isn't entirely unprecedented. In 1941, then-President Franklin Roosevelt demoted Douglas MacArthur as part of a strategic -- not punitive -- change of policy. A Time article from that year describes the general's surprising composure in the wake of professional reshuffling:
Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur, Military Adviser to the Philippine Commonwealth, had just taken a demotion in rank. As he stood at a window in his penthouse apartment atop the swank Manila Hotel, looking out on the bay, on the brooding fortress of Corregidor, he was (for practical purposes) no longer a field marshal or the four-starred general he had been when he retired three and a half years ago from the U.S. Army. His Commander in Chief had just called him back to that Army in reduced but impressive rank.
General MacArthur was not downcast at this technical demotion, and he had no reason to be. For he had also been made commander of The U.S. Army Forces in the Far East."
Ten years later, of course, MacArthur got the axe for real for his public disagreements with President Harry Truman over U.S. strategy in the Korean war. Strangely, Dugout Doug seems to have set a precedent for both the generals in the current controversy.
Spanish investigative judge Baltasar Garzon has made a name for himself by prosecuting human rights abusers around the world -- including former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet -- using universal jurisdiction to get around national amnesties. But Garzon is now himself being charged with abuse of power relating to an investigation of murder's and disappearances under the Franco regime. His supporters are now fighting back:
Lawyers representing Argentine relatives of three Spaniards and an Argentine killed during the 1936-39 war will ask the federal courts here Wednesday to open an investigation, and hope to add many more cases in the months to come.
So Garzon's supporters now hope to launch the same investigation - citing the same principles of international law - from Buenos Aires. And while Garzon limited the scope to crimes committed until 1952, the Argentine rights groups hope to address any state terror in Spain from 1936-1977, when its democracy was restored.Attorney Carlos Slepoy, a specialist in human rights law, told The Associated Press the plaintiffs are invoking the principle of universal jurisdiction, which provides that genocide and crimes against humanity "can be prosecuted by the courts of any country.
The choice of Argentina is interesting since it was Garzon who led the charge to prosecute military figures there for crimes committed during the 1976-83 dictatorship.
Garzon is currently being charged with violating a 1977 amnesty law designed to help Spain move on from the Franco years. I don't know nearly enough to weigh in on the legal questions involved here, but politically it doesn't look very good that Spain was willing to let Garzon prosecute abuses in other countries for years, but became uncomfortable with his tactics as soon as he started poking around in his own country's dirty laundry. This type of challenge should have been expected.
CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images
On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will debate a resolution to recognize the 1915 killing of Armenian civilians by Turkish troops as a genocide. A similar resolution failed in 2007. The Obama administration has not taken a stand on the resolution, which is largely supported by the Armenian-American community, but it's long been supported by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
A Turkish parliamentary delegation, including members of both the ruling AKP party and opposition CHP party, is currently visiting Washington to lobby against the resolution. At a media briefing at the Turkish embassy this morning, they made very clear that the passage of the resolution would "seriously affect the relationship between the two countries."
Foreign relations committee chairman Murat Mercan discussed some specific U.S. projects that could be affected:
I envision for instance the withdrawal of American troops, which is a huge logistical operation involving thousands of soldiers moving away from Iraq [through Turkey.] Thousands of tons of equipment. This type of thing might require parliamentary approval. It will come to our committee.
The Turkish military precence in Afghanistan is extended in the Turkish parliament. Every year year present of Turkish troops needs to be approved by the parliament This too will come through our committee.
Former U.S. ambassador Sukru Elekdag described Turkey's importance to the United States as a back-channel to Iran, interlocutor with Pakistan, and ally in resolving the frozen conflicts in the South Caucasus.
The new measure comes up at a time when Turkey and Armenia finally seem to be moving toward rapproachment, a process the MPs also said would be jeopardized by the House motion.
It seems a bit contradictory to me that the Turkish government on the one hand says it sees the Armenian rapproachment as vital to its own national interest, but on the other hand says the U.S. resolution will imperil it. I asked Mercan why Turkish-Armenian relations should be affected by what the U.S. congress says:
The rapprocahment has three pillars: one is opening the borders, one is diplomatic relations, one is setting up a historical commission that would explore what happened in the past, in 1915. If other parliaments decide things like this without merit or investigaiton, then how would you convince your Armenian counterpart that this kind of committee is needed?
In realist terms, it's certainly hard to justify jeopardizing U.S.-Turkish cooperation today over something that happened almost a century ago, and it seems unlikely to me that this one will ever reach President Obama's desk. On the other hand, Turkey is not doing a great job making it seem like they care about the rapproachement for its own sake, rather than as a result of U.S. pressure.
In any event, it's very interesting to see how a Turkish government that realizes its crucial role in U.S. policy is learning throw its weight around a bit.
Update: Ben Katcher weighs in with a different take on the same event over at The Washington Note.
MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has, in the past, shown little interest in discussing the darker periods of French history. His summed up his attitude while visiting former colony Algeria two years ago, saying:
"Young people on either side of the Mediterranean are looking to the future more than the past and what they want are concrete things. They're not waiting for their leaders to simply drop everything and start mortifying themselves, or to beat their breasts, over the mistakes of the past because, in that case, there'd be lots to do on both sides."
But in the last two weeks there have been some signs that Sarkozy may be tentatively softening his relentlessly forward-facing outlook. Visiting Haiti last week to announce a debt cancellation package, Sarkozy had this to say about France's legacy of slavery, colonialism, and economic dominance over the country:
"Our presence did not leave good memories,'' Sarkozy conceded outside the still-standing French Embassy in downtown Port-au-Prince.
"The wounds of colonization, maybe the worst, [and] the conditions of our separation have some traces that are still alive in Haitian memories.''
Visiting Rwanda today, Sarkozy didn't exactly apologize for France's conduct during the 1994 genocide, but at least took note of his country's faults:
"What happened here is unacceptable and what happened here forces the international community, including France, to reflect on the mistakes that prevented it from anticipating and stopping this terrible crime."
Asked what he felt those mistakes had been, the president cited a seriously flawed assessment of the situation in Rwanda as the genocide unfolded and a UN-mandated French military intervention that was "too late and undoubtedly too little".
But reflecting a thaw in relations, Sarkozy said he hoped the future would enable the two countries to "turn an extremely painful page" on a past fraught with mutual distrust. "Off the back of all these mistakes … we are going to try to build a bilateral relationship," he said.
Granted, this isn't much -- certainly less than the Rwandans were expecting and much weaker than the apologies Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan have made -- but it's a new style from Sarkozy, whose rhetoric has never exactly been known for its sensitivity.
PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images
There's no two ways about it: The last year of foreign policy had more drama than a Scorsese epic and enough thrills to put Avatar to shame. From the fearsome battle in the Afghan hills to the U.S.-China love-hate relationship, and from the serious al Qaeda threats in Yemen to the hard-to-take-seriously pirates off the Somali coast, 2009 was arguably a much more interesting year for global politics than for movies. So with Oscar nominations due tomorrow, we're taking nominations for our own FP Oscars.
Who would you pick for the best actor of the year? Is President Barack Obama holding his own in an unfriendly world, or does the ubiquitous Brazilian President Lula deserve an Oscar? Is Muammar Qaddafi's persona just too good to be true, or do you prefer the smooth, suave diplomacy (and wacky domestic antics) of France's Nicolas Sarzoky?
You tell us what scandals, dramas, tragicomedies, and personal stories are your picks for the history books in 2009. Listed below are the categories and a few sample entries. Send your own nominations to Joshua.Keating@foreignpolicy.com or paste them in the comments below. May the best news win!
Best picture: What one story encapsulates the year?
Best drama: Spies, dissidents, treachery, and truth. Were the adrenaline-pumping protests following the Iran elections the most dramatic event? Or perhaps it was the long, drawn-out U.S. decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. If you have a humanitarian bent, the crises in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan might come a heart-wrenching first.
Best comedy: If it isn't a tragedy, the dysfunction of the U.S. Congress is certainly good for a laugh. Then again, how about the Copenhagen Climate conference that ended in a collective shrug? Or the British MPs who used their expense accounts to buy fancy rugs and re-dig their backyard swimming pools?
Best romantic comedy: Gordon Brown requested meeting after meeting with the U.S. president; Obama just didn't have time. Brown gave him a romantic antique biography of Churchill, and Obama gave him a DVD box set. Let's just say the special relationship isn't all it used to be. But then again, there are other comedies in Europe these days ... Berlusconi anyone?
Best romantic drama: Unclear whether this should be a drama or a comedy, but the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladamir Putin certainly have a relationship worth noting -- as their press photographer has shown time and time again...
Best action: A U.S. ship is seized in the Gulf of Aden and devious pirates take the Maersk Alabama captive on the high seas, demanding a ransom for their deed. But lo and behold! A brave captain sacrifices his freedom to save his crew. And the U.S. whacks three pirates in the end, bringing everyone home safely! Phew!
Best special effects: Hmm, how about that missile launch in North Korea? It hit right on target: the Pacific Ocean.
Best director: Nicolas Sarkozy is a whirling dervish of diplomatic activity.
Best actor: Very few world leaders can also claim their own daily television shows -- and surprisingly humorous ones at that. "Alo Presidente" hasn't exactly skyrocketed Hugo Chavez to fame (his coup attempt back in the 1990s did that), but man has this guy mastered media in the Drudge Era.
Best actress: On a more serious note, few women leaders have been more powerful this year in asserting political freedom than Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi. Or does Hillary Clinton have your vote? As one FP staffer put it, "she's the queen of 'the show must go on.'"
Best supporting actress: Is Carla Bruni the perfect companion for a perfectionist French president?
Best supporting actor: Let's be honest: One man whose entire year has been a story about other people's interests is the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. For all his posturing and pontificating, he was never running the show.
Best costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes.
Worst costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes. You decide.
Lifetime achievement award: Fidel? Kim Jong Il? Mubarak? Most of the longest-lasting players on the world stage aren't particularly savory characters. Got someone better?
We'll post a full list of nominees based on your e-mails and comments on Monday, Feb. 8 and give you a chance to vote. The final winners will be announced at the end of the month.
We promise to keep the musical numbers short.
President Obama recorded a video message today for the ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz:
We have a sacred duty to remember the twisted thinking that led here—how a great society of culture and science succumbed to the worst instincts of man and rationalized mass murder and one of the most barbaric acts in history.
We have a sacred duty to remember the cruelty that occurred here, as told in the simple objects that speak to us even now. The suitcases that still bear their names. The wooden clogs they wore. The round bowls from which they ate. Those brick buildings from which there was no escape—where so many Jews died with Sh’ma Israel on their lips. And the very earth at Auschwitz, which is still hallowed by their ashes—Jews and those who tried to save them, Polish and Hungarian, French and Dutch, Roma and Russian, straight and gay, and so many others.
But even as we recall man’s capacity for evil, Auschwitz also tells another story—of man’s capacity for good. The small acts of compassion—the sharing of some bread that kept a child alive. The great acts of resistance that blew up the crematorium and tried to stop the slaughter. The Polish Rescuers and those who earned their place forever in the Righteous Among the Nations.
Obama's remarks were very well written, though the sentiment suggested in them was hardly new. Each time a Holocaust anniversary comes around, we hear the same speeches about how these camps stand as a symbol of the human capacity of evil and the duty to prevent it, yet nations are still just as slow to respond to modern-day cases of genocide and atrocity or take steps needed to prevent them.
Writing for Foreign Policy in December, the International Crisis Group's Andrew Stroehlein, who was led international delegations to Auschwitz, suggested that using it as our model for genocide might be the problem:
There is probably no more appropriate single location than Auschwitz-Birkenau for grasping the scope of the Nazi horror. But the unprecedented and unequaled nature of that horror makes it somewhat inappropriate as a useful lesson for preventing genocide today. When you're waiting for something that looks like Birkenau, it's almost too easy to say, "never again."
From March 1942 to late 1944, Birkenau was the largest factory of mass murder in wartime Europe. Every day, trains arrived carrying thousands of people -- mostly Jews, but also Poles, Roma, and others -- and apart from a limited number deemed fit for slave labor, they were sent immediately to their deaths in massive, purpose-built gas chambers. At its peak, Birkenau could kill as many as 20,000 people a day, and in the end, this place was the worst of the extermination camps: The Nazis are estimated to have murdered over a million people here.
It was the mechanization of murder on a scale never before seen, and it stretched far beyond the grounds of this camp. With victims shipped in from all across Europe, this was an integrated system of collection, transport, and execution that covered a continent. It was precisely that sort of industrialization that I feared might inhibit an understanding of mass atrocity among the participants. Walking around Birkenau with these diplomats, some of whom represent states on the edge -- a few perhaps even over the edge -- of mass atrocities right now, I got the feeling some might have missed the point.
The Holocaust was a minutely organized and completely structured -- not to mention disturbingly well-documented -- genocide, miles away from the messy realities of their countries. They could look at the camp and the gas chambers and recognize nothing familiar. In fact, the visit may have only confirmed their belief that their countries were incapable of mass atrocities, when all they are really incapable of is the industrialized method. [...]
This issue goes far beyond a couple dozen participants in a seminar in Poland. I suspect too many people in the wider international community still only recognize genocide in this one most specific sense. They are always looking for Birkenau -- expecting industrialized killing rather than seeing genocide the way it unfolds today. They ignore the evidence that in the right environment, simple machetes can be just as effective as rail networks and gas chambers.
The whole piece is well worth reading. Particularly this week, it's useful to consider whether when leaders say "never again," they mean "never again will Germans kill Jews here" or something more universal.
This New York Times article about the surprising release of records from the late Mao era raises the question: Just how crazy was the Cultural Revolution, anyway?
This crazy, according to the eminent historian Jonathan Spence, as told in his landmark biography of Mao Zedong:
An announcement from the "Beijing Number 26 Middle School Red Guards," dated August 1966, gave the kind of program that was to be followed by countless others. Every street was to have a quotation form Chairman Mao prominently displayed, and loudspeakers at every intersection and in all parks were to broadcast his thought. Every household as well as a trains and buses, bicycles and pedicabs, had to have a picture of Mao on its walls. Ticket takers on trains and buses should all declaim Mao's thought. Every bookstore had to stock Mao's quotations, and every hand in China had to hold one. No one could wear bluejeans, tight pants, "weird women's outfits," or have "slick hairdos or wear rocket shoes." No perfumes or beauty creams could be used. No one could keep pet fish, cats, or dogs, or raise fighting crickets. No shop could sell classical books. All those identified by the masses as landlords, hooligans, rightists, and capitalists had to wear a plaque identifying themselves as such every time they went out. The minimum amount of persons living in a room could be three -- all other space had to be given to the state housing bureaus. Children should criticize their elders, and students their teachers. No one under thirty-five might smoke or drink. Hospital service would be simplified, and "complicated treatment must be abolished"; doctors had to write their prescriptions legibly, and not use English words. All schools and colleges were to combine study with productive labor and farmwork. As a proof of its own transformation, the "Number 26 Middle School" would change its name, effective immediately, to "The Maoism School."
And you thought your middle-school experience was rough.
No, U.S. President Barack Obama has informed People. The United States has no interest in or plans to invade Yemen or Somalia -- and nor should it.
Out of curiosity, I took a look at the experience of the last western power to occupy part of Yemen: Britain. The history's complicated. But, very briefly: last century, Britain controlled Yemeni territory at the strategic port of Aden; the western portion of the country was a kingdom. In the early 1960s, Egypt attempted to overthrow the kingdom by funding anti-royalists. Britain attempted to insulate itself by creating buffer protectorates. Still, the Aden local insurgency simmered, and boiled over when Egypt started funding it as well. In 1963, Britain declared a state of emergency and started fighting a full-on counterinsurgency.
Contemporary accounts of the conflict -- known as the Aden Emergency in Britain -- from Time paint an interesting picture. For one, they clearly demonstrate how racist the rhetoric was just 50 years ago. (Some of the descriptions below are, well, uncomfortable to read.) The clips also show how, despite inferior weaponry, domestic insurgencies so successfully chip away at the will and resources of occupying forces.
First, some insulting if evocative description of the Yemeni Imam from 1957:
The Imam of Yemen, who acts like a Borgia Pope, is known to have a minimum of five diseases in various stages of arrested development (rheumatism, heart trouble, bilharziasis, gastritis, syphilis), but this does not prevent him from greedily devouring huge meals consisting of nothing but Russian salad heavily splashed with mayonnaise. The Imam's greatest trouble is psychological: he is under the impression that the British are depriving him of huge oil royalties....
A very colorful 1962 story, "Arabia Felix," describes him thus:
Ahmad governed by means of spies, subsidies and the executioner's ax, decapitating more than a thousand enemies. He was a man of enormous appetite: he would do away with an entire roast lamb at a single sitting and then gulp down a pound of honey as a between-meals snack. He had three wives and 40 concubines, but in the last years of his life his potency declined, and he had unsuccessful recourse to rejuvenation treatments by a Swiss doctor. His luckless harem consoled itself with sorties into lesbianism and erotic gadgets sent from Japan. Like many Yemenites, Ahmad chewed qat, a narcotic shrub similar to marijuana, and switched to morphine in 1953 -- heroically breaking the habit six years later.
A year later, with fighting escalating in Aden, Time overviews the conflict:
Though some scholars maintain that the Garden of Eden was in Aden, the country today seems more like purgatory than paradise. A British protectorate since 1839, Aden is a sun-scorched moonscape of thrusting volcanic mountains and rock-strewn wadies. Temperatures commonly rise to 110, and survival rations for British combat troops there include at least two gallons of water daily -- for drinking, not washing. Aden is a tempting prize nonetheless.
The British primarily fought from the air, dropping leaflets and bombing villages from the sky (a strange echoing of today's drone fights):
In the days when might was still right in the Middle East the British invented a technique for dealing with recalcitrant Arab tribesmen. The R.A.F. would drop leaflets on Arab villages demanding that they give up fugitive criminals or be bombed. Usually the trick worked, and the wanted man would be expelled from the threatened village, pursued through the desert, shot down or captured. On other occasions the population would flee the village, which the R.A.F. would then destroy.
While the guerrilla war waged on:
Sir Arthur Charles, the British Speaker of the Aden Legislative Council, was shot and killed as he was leaving his tennis club at sundown. As the incidents increased, British security forces arrested 29 suspected terrorists and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Last week schools were shut down when students tried to demonstrate, and newspapers were forbidden to "carry news that might incite people." British troops patrolled the streets, exchanging occasional fire with snipers on the rooftops.
Until the British finally recognized the fight as futile, and wanted to get out:
In its rush to rid itself of the weight of empire, Britain has often bestowed independence on lands that had no business accepting it...Few lands, however, have been so ill-prepared to rule themselves as [South Yemen], which Britain announced last week will become independent by the end of November. [It] consists of the port of Aden and 17 feudal satraps whose Bedouin tribesmen eat goat meat and carry everywhere their curved djambias (daggers). Its life has been disrupted and its British-sponsored federal government destroyed by four years of terrorism and civil war.
And finally, they left:
"Farewell, Far East," headlined the London Evening Standard. In the Daily Express, Labor M.P. Desmond Donnelly called the government's plan "the most stark military withdrawal since the Roman legions were recalled from Britain." With a mingled sense of nostalgia and relief, Britain announced that it will gradually rid itself of the most burdensome vestige of its venerable but faded oriental empire.
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Megan McArdle links to an article from the Guardian archive, reporting on the awarding of the Nobel prize to Theodore Roosevelt on Dec. 11, 1906. Let's just say, they handled things a little differently back then:
The Prize was received by Mr. Peirce, the American Minister, in the Storthing, at half-past one this afternoon. The members of the Nobel Prize Committee were seated in front of Ministers. At the invitations of the President of the Storthing and the President of the Prize Committee, Mr Lövland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that the Peace Prize had been awarded to President Roosevelt, who had authorised the American Minister to receive it. [...]
"In handing the prize to the American Minister, the President asked him to take Mr. Roosevelt a greeting from the Norwegian people, and expressed the wish that Mr. Roosevelt might be able to do further work for the cause of peace in the future.
"Mr. Peirce, in thanking the Storthing for the award, said that any words of his were inadequate to express his deep emotion in receiving this distinguished testimony on behalf of President Roosevelt. He then read a message from President Roosevelt expressing deep thanks for the prize, and declaring that there was no gift he could appreciate more. The President adds that he has decided to use the prize to establish at Washington a permanent Industrial Peace Committee, a righteous peace in the industrial world being as important as in the world of nations."
Roosevelt didn't even come to pick up the award and didn't even send a high profile representative! Herbert Peirce was a third assistant secretary of state turned envoy extraordinary to Norway. I realize that transatlantic travel was trickier back then, but I can't help thinking from reading this and the amount of significance we attach to this prize has increased quite a bit over the years. Roosevelt was grateful for the recognition and the money, but it doesn't seem like anyone was too worked up about it.
If we take the award for what it is, a recognition named after a dynamite tycoon given out by a group of Norwegian politicians with a questionable track record, all the sturm and drang of the last couple months starts to seem pretty ridiculous. The only reason that we're concerned about whether Obama has really earned this prize or whether it's appropriate for a war president to receive it (T.R. was no pacifist either) is because we've given this award talismanic significance that it doesn't really deserve. Just imagine that Obama has just won the "Parliament of Norway Prize for Extraordinary Statesmanship" then try to get emotional about it. Of course then Obama could have just had Barry B. White pick it up for him.
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