In a (somewhat) surprising move, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that he will resign after his ruling Kadima Party chooses a new leader on September 17.
And who might be replace Olmert, both from party ranks and in the next nationwide election? Check out FP's list -- which we compiled more than a year ago. Our friend Ehud was able to hang on longer than we thought.
Updated for today, we might add Shaul Mofaz, the transportation minister, to the mix. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is still the most likely to succeed Olmert -- at least within Kadima -- but the hawkish Mofaz could use the Iranian threat to his advantage. Beyond that, there's no telling whether other parties will be able to push for a general election that could unseat Kadima.
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."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has a remarkable knack for planning big international trips precisely when the world is least likely to pay attention to him. In April, he made his big U.S. debut the same week that Pope Benedict was in town. This week, he's visiting Iraq and Israel at the same time that a certain American presidential candidate you may have heard about is in the region. Haaretz even quipped that "visiting Israel on the same week that Obama is expected to arrive is like being the opening act for the Beatles."
Attention charismatic world leaders: if you're planning a big trip abroad, try to send Gordon Brown a text or a Facebook message or something. It's only polite.
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?
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi got Italy's lower house of Parliament to agree today on a controversial crime bill, which critics say would allow him to wiggle out of various corruption charges.
Here's what the oft-prosecuted Berlusconi had to say:
I'm the universal record-holder for the number of trials in the entire history of man -- and also of other creatures who live on other planets."
I'd fact-check this, but I'm not sure there's an intergalactic version of the Guiness Book of World Records. Guess we'll have to take his word for it.
Isaac Chotiner is surely smoking something if he thinks that "no one would have even noticed" this week's New Yorker cover had Team Obama
not made such a stink about it. We're talking about a magazine with a paid circulation of more than a million, one that is read by probably half the country's media elite. No way this is getting ignored.
No, the smart play here for Obama would have been to laugh it off as brilliant satire. Imagine if he'd said something like this:
"I love it," Obama told reporters, referring to the controversial magazine cover. "It does a great job of showing just how ridiculous a lot of this stuff that gets said about me really is. Kudos to the New Yorker for creativity. I hope they sell a lot of magazines."
Would that end the controversy? Of course not. The cable talk shows would chew this thing to death regardless. But laughing it off would project a real air of confidence. Instead, the campaign just looks rattled.
Remember that little feud between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei? Well, the spat between the two men isn't quite over.
Ahmadinejad shot back today at comments made by Velayati in an Iranian daily newspaper criticizing Ahmadinejad's hardline nuclear rhetoric, saying that the former foreign minister and Khamenei advisor had no role in the country's nuclear program:
Velayati is a respected man. Like everyone else in Iran, he is free to have personal views... But he is not involved in nuclear decision making."
Ahmadinejad may be more delirious than I thought if he actually thinks that "everyone in Iran is free to have personal views." Did he get the memo about Ahmad Batebi, Iran's estimated 250 executions last year, the systematic suppression of journalists and bloggers, or that the country was ranked 181st out of 195 countries in Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press survey last year? Apparently not.
And with tensions brewing between Iran and the West, it would help to know who is actually in charge of the Islamic Republic. I never thought I'd say this, but let's hope it's Khamenei.
I thoroughly enjoyed John McCain's response to the recent remarks of retired Sen. Phil Gramm, his top economic advisor. Gramm told the Washington Times earlier this week that the United States' current economic troubles represent "a mental recession" and that America had become "a nation of whiners."
Gramm later said that he meant that U.S. politicians were the whiners, not regular Americans who are choking on high gas prices and a weak job market.
As you might imagine, McCain rushed to distance himself from Gramm's comments:
I think Sen. Gramm would be in serious consideration for ambassador to Belarus," McCain said with a broad smile. "Though I'm not sure the citizens of Minsk would welcome that."
For the record, the current American ambassador to Belarus is Karen Brevard Stewart, a career foreign service officer. Her most exciting moment in office? Temporarily vacating the embassy in March after Belorussian officials essentially kicked her out of the country.
The Belorussian ambassador in Washington could not be reached for comment on McCain's joke today.
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.
On a ridiculously early flight this morning, I finally got around to finishing the Sunday New York Times and noticed this little gem in the lead story in the Business section, a sweeping look back at how the United States failed to prepare for today's oil crisis:
Mr. Helms, of course, would be Sen. Jesse Helms, the long-serving senator from North Carolina, who died early Friday, some two days before the paper hit newsstands. The NYT's excuse? The section went to press on Thursday. Egg, meet face.
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?
Some very interesting diplomacy is definitely afoot in Tehran and Paris. Ali Akbar Velayati (right), the right-hand man of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a former foreign minister, published a letter in France's Libération newspaper Wednesday that leaves no doubt about who's ultimately in charge of the nucelar file. Here's a translation by FP's resident Frenchman, Randolph Manderstam:
A European recently asked me who was leading Iran. The answer is clear. When it comes to essential questions of strategy, the constitution, approved by universal suffrage, confers final decisions upon the supreme leader. It is according to this principle, under which the main decisions taken by Ayatollah Khamenei in the last 20 years were applied, that we can judge the past and forsee the path of our diplomacy.
Despite the vastness of his powers, the supreme leader… only intervenes in extremely important cases, leaving those responsible for the state to solve the other problems themselves. Under Imam Khomeini just as under Ayatollah Khamenei, Iranian diplomacy has worked on developing contacts with other countries.... By receiving the dignitaries and leaders of numerous states and by communicating with them, the leader has given undeniable examples of his crucial presence in Iranian diplomacy.
I spoke this morning with Carnegie's Karim Sadjadpour about the letter, and he told me it was a "very important" signal coming from Velayati.
The main message? Don't listen to the rantings of that Ahmadinejad fellow -- the supreme leader is called "supreme" for a reason. "Khamenei's not necessarily the micromanager, but he's the macromanager, so all important issues go by him," Sadjadpour said.
Why proclaim this in a French newspaper? The backstory here is fascinating. Last year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reached out to Khamenei in the hopes of reaching a breakthrough in the stalled nuclear negotiations. Velayati was to be dispatched to Paris to lay the groundwork for a possible meeting between Sarkozy and Khamenei, and in November he went to brief Ahmadinjad as a courtesy before heading off on his mission. Not only did the Iranian president humiliate Velayati by scheduling him for a midnight meeting and then making him wait for several hours, but he then sent a letter to Sarkozy that was so rude and condescending, it killed any hope of a France-Iran summit. According to Le Monde, Ahmadinejad said Sarkozy was "young and inexperienced," and French diplomats said the letter contained "veiled threats."
More recently, a civil servant and Ahmadinejad ally named Abbas Palizdar publicly accused a number of top clerics of corruption. Several of them are close associates the supreme leader. Too close, in fact, and Palizdar was arrested for "propagating lies." Rumor has it Khamenei saw this incident as Ahmadinejad crossing the line. So, not only is Khamenei, through Velayati, trying to make clear that Ahmadinejad is not the guy to talk to, he's indicating his disgust with the Iranian president and putting him in his place. "I think Khamenei is frustrated with Ahmadinejad's antics. This may have been the last straw," said Sadjadpour.
As for a détente with France or a breakthrough on the nuclear program? Don't bet on it. Iran's recent diplomatic offensive is most likely a "delaying tactic" intended to "cool the temperature" in light of all the recent news, according to Sadjadpour. But it sure makes great political theater. Pass the popcorn.
Here's an end-of-the-workday treat for you: Nicolas Sarkozy acting like a jerk for a change.
The brand-new EU president was preparing for an interview on French TV last night and had some words for a sound technician who failed to return his "bonjour." Facing widespread public protests throughout France, Sarkozy seemed to read it as a politically motivated snub. Here's a translation provided by the Guardian:
When you're invited on, you are entitled to have people say hello to you, or you're not on in the public sector," he growls. "It's all demonstrators here ... It's incredible ... And serious. That will change."
The EU just got a whole lot classier.
Bolivian President Evo Morales and Peru's Alan Garcia have never been close amigos, but now the mudslinging has gotten worse.
Yesterday, Garcia told Morales to stick to his own country and "stop meddling in mine" after Morales criticized Peru's trade pact with the United States and allegedly started false rumors about U.S. military bases coming to Peru. Morales responded by calling Garcia an "antidemocratic president" whose "arrogance" shouldn't be tolerated.
At least Morales laid off the personal attacks this time. Last month, he called the centrist Garcia "fat and not very anti-imperialist." Ouch.
At a live video conference sponsored by Freedom House today, members of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change and a number of civil society groups gave updates on the unfolding political standoff with President Robert Mugabe. MDC's chief spokesman George Sibotshiwe, who has been lobbying from the sidelines at the African Union summit in Sharm El-Sheik, called in to say that although unanimous AU action against Mugabe may be impossible, a number of countries, particularly in West Africa, were pushing the MDC's cause.
Sibotshiwe said the MDC is looking for a permanent AU envoy to Zimbabwe, since the mediation efforts of South African President Thabo Mbeki have been disappointing (to say the least):
We're pushing for the apointment of a permanent envoy from the African Union to assist -- diplomatically we have to say "assist" -- President Mbeki. But what we actually need is for the AU to take control of the mediation efforts. You can't get rid of President Mbeki at this stage, but we need someone who is permament, someone who is not a head of state, because what we are finding is President Mbeki has been having to deal with the problem of Zimbabwe part time.
The panelists also discussed the idea of forming a Zanu/MDC "unity" government, which Mbeki and others have proposed. This would presumably be along the lines of the compromise reached after Kenya's disputed election earlier this year. Speaking from Johannesburg, Xolani Zitha, director of the NGO coalition CRISIS, dismissed the idea as "a good deal for Zanu" but not the Zimbabweans who want them brought to justice. I asked Zitha whether a resolution of the crisis would have to include Mugabe and his cronies being brought to justice. He responded that it was high time the African community stop treating Mugabe with "kid gloves":
If the African Union and SADC [Southern African Development Community] are very soft on Zanu-PF, they lend it legitimacy... It's a very sticky situation. The AU and SADC need to set a precedent for how they deal with the impunity of Robert Mugabe. They don't have a record of condemning Robert Mugabe. They've shown him respect -- respect that he doesn't deserve -- to the point where he feels he can work his way out without being taken to task.
All the participants were still hopeful that a political compromise could be reached but noted that with inflation in the millions, conditions are ripe for civil unrest. The last thing the AU wants is the violent overthrow of Mugabe, but years of defending him while Zimbabwe deteriorated may have made it all but inevitable.
As the general election heats up, John McCain is adamantly proclaiming himself a free trader while attempting to paint Barack Obama as a protectionist. But the attempted hostile takeover of Anheuser-Busch by Belgain brewery InBev may place McCain in a precarious political position.
McCain, who sided with the Bush administration during the Dubai Ports World controversy two years ago, has been mum on the issue so far. The spotlight instead has focused on his wife, Cindy, who owns beer distributor Hensley & Co. and some $1 million in Anheuser-Busch shares and would stand to benefit from a deal.
With tradition and patriotism on one side, and financial gain and free trade principles on the other, McCain faces a tough choice. Although his reputation as a straight-talking maverick precedes him, I wouldn't be suprised if politics won out, just as it did with McCain's support of offshore drilling and Obama's decision to forgo public campaign financing.
The reason? Missouri, which went Republican the past two presidential elections, could be in play this year. Missouri politicans from both sides are lining up against the deal, and saveAB.com, which has garnered over 59,000 signatures on its online petition offers the following message, dripping in election year rhetoric:
Like baseball, apple pie and ice cold beer (wrapped in a red, white and blue label), Anheuser-Busch is an American original. ... With your help we can fight the foreign invasion of A-B. We will fight to protect this American treasure. We will take to the Internet, to the streets, to the marble halls of our capitals, whatever it takes to stop the invasion.Stay tuned to see what McCain and Obama have to say. Anheuser-Busch has rejected the takeover bid, but don't think InBev is going to give up without a fight.
Poor China. Beijing has complained incessantly over the past few months that human rights critics and other countries have politicized the Olympics, while turning around and trying to use the games for its own propaganda purposes. Now, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is rebuking China for remarks made by Zhang Qingli (above right), the local Communist Party bigwig in Tibet and the architect of this spring's crackdown. As the Olympic torch passed through Lhasa last Saturday, Zhang said the following in a public speech:
The sky above Tibet will never change. The red five-star flag will always fly above this land. We can definitely smash the separatist plot of the Dalai Lama clique completely."
Whoops. "China's solid position is against the politicizing of the Olympics," a spokesman for the foreign ministry said in response to the IOC.
But the IOC is kidding itself if it thinks the Olympics aren't political. As John Hoberman argues in "Think Again: The Olympics" in the new issue of Foreign Policy, the committee tries to have it both ways:
Olympic diplomacy" has always been rooted in a doublespeak that exploits the world’s sentimental attachment to the spirit of the games. In the absence of real standards, the spectacle of Olympic pageantry substitutes for a genuine concern for human rights. At the heart of this policy is a timid and euphemizing rhetoric that turns violent demonstrations and state-sponsored killings into "discussions," a combination of grandiosity and cluelessness that has long marked the IOC's accommodating attitude toward unsavory Olympic hosts. Even today, with regard to Beijing, the committee has fallen back on its old habit of claiming to be both apolitical and politically effective at the same time. Although the IOC "is not a political organization," it does claim to "advance the agenda of human rights." Sadly, neither is true.
Courtesy of Wired's Noah Schactman, here is National Intelligence Council Chairman Thomas Fingar's testimony about the first ever National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change (pdf).
I attended Fingar's testimony on the Hill this morning and was struck less by the NIA's findings -- droughts and crop failures might lead to instability in the third world and coastal flooding may threaten the U.S. defense infrastructure -- than the unique nature of the report itself. Fingar acknowledged this in his testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming:
This study used a fundamentally different kind of analytical methodology from what is typical for an intelligence product such as a National Intelligence Estimate. We depended upon open sources and greatly leveraged outside expertise."
Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Rep. Anna Eshoo and her fellow Democrats at the hearing were excited about a greater future role for open-source intelligence gathering, and Fingar seemed receptive to the concept. But from his testimony, it didn't seem as if the research conducted contained any new information that couldn't be inferred by a layman reading the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was the starting point on the NIA's research. As such, the NIA doesn't really seem to accomplish much beyond stressing the urgency of climate change by describing it as a security issue.
This makes it all the more odd that the actual text of the NIA was classified by the National Intelligence Council. Fingar suggested that releasing specifics about how certain countries would be specifically affected would complicate U.S. diplomatic efforts, though my guess is that the countries in greatest danger from global warming are already well aware of it. Rep. Ed Markey saw a White House agenda in the classification:
If people know specifically what these problems will be and where they will be and who they will affect then perhaps we will finally have the political will to solve the problem... The president doesn't want America to know the real risks of global warming.
I'm mostly curious to know if the report actually contains information that isn't already public knowledge. If nothing else, it would be nice to think that this partisan tug-of-war is being fought over a document that actually matters.
To avoid haggling with "unstable regions and unfriendly regimes," U.S. President George W. Bush recently called for an expansion in domestic oil production to fill the United States' "short run" oil needs. Part of that call involves exploring new areas of supply, such as the Outer Continental Shelf (sections of U.S. coastline) and parts of ANWR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge).
But how quickly can we actually pump out the needed "short run" supply from these places? It can take from three to 10 years from the time the decision is made to explore to actual oil delivery, according to OPEC.
Of course, the time required to produce oil depends on where the oil is and how difficult it is to reach. For instance, drilling in deep water, like in the Gulf of Mexico, can take longer for technical and financial reasons. U.S. companies will likely incur some added expense in trying to reach the undersea oil -- there is a global shortage of deepwater drilling ships equipped to do the job, and each one costs a pretty penny (i.e. several hundred millions of dollars) to construct.
According to OPEC, oil exploration alone, which involves surface-mapping and test drilling, costs "tens or hundreds of billions of dollars." Hundreds of billions of dollars better spent on developing new energy technologies, perhaps?
And what about the controversial ANWR drilling? That'll take about 10 years to bear fruit, two or three of which will be spent just collecting necessary leases and paperwork. Even if that timeline holds and the wells start producing a decade from now, peak production isn't expected until the 2020s. At which point, with any luck, the United States will have started to wean itself off its most enduring addiction.
As if South Africa President Thabo Mbeki weren't losing enough credibility thanks to the less-than-lackluster way he's handled the Zimbabwe affair, he's now being outshined by Jacob Zuma (left), his chief political rival. Zuma, who replaced Mbeki as the chair of South Africa's ruling African National Congress after an election in December, spoke out against Mugabe and Co. at a conference today:
We cannot agree with Zanu-PF. We cannot agree with them on values... We fought for the right of people to vote, we fought for democracy."
Zuma is an interesting character. He has been tried in court twice in the past two years -- once for allegedly raping an acquaintence he knew was HIV-positive (when he infamously recounted that he "took a shower" afterward to rid himself of potential HIV contraction), and again for an arms-deal scandal. Though he was acquitted on both occassions, Zuma's link to bribe-soliticing financial advisor Schabir Shaik forced Mbeki to sack him as deputy president in 2005. And new corruption charges linked to the arms-deal were brought against Zuma late last year (which he and the ANC resoundly deny).
For all his shortcomings, Zuma isn't afraid to say that Mugabe has gone off the deep end. That's more than we can say for Mbeki, who has yet to openly criticize Zimbabwe's aging tyrant.
South Africa's current seat on the U.N. Security Council makes Mbeki's silence even more tragic, as he could use the position as a springboard for urging international action. Even Nelson Mandela, who has agreed not tread on Mbeki's presidency, has urged his successor to speak out.
The world ought to know by now that Mbeki isn't quick to react in a crisis. Witness his slow reaction in confronting AIDS, or his apparent reluctance to condemn ongoing xenophobic attacks against immigrants to South Africa. It's just a tragedy that so many South Africans -- and now Zimbabweans -- have to suffer as a result.
As is normally the case with developments within Russia's political opposition, the news that Grigory Yavlinsky is stepping down as head of the liberal Yabloko party seems to be a bigger deal in the international press than in Russian papers, where it's been mostly drowned out by the latest Euro Cup developments.
Once a wunderkind economist in Mikhail Gorbachev's government, Yavlinsky has been one of the leading voices of Russian liberalism for the past 15 years, but in recent months has been in conflict with the more radical factions of his party. His successor Sergei Mitrokhin may find it hard to fill the shoes of the man who literally put the "Ya" in Yabloko.
If foreign NGOs were the only ones who voted for Russia's leaders, Yabloko would probably have taken over the legislature in a landslide, but in the real world it has recently been unable to crack the 7 percent threshold needed for Duma membership or expand its membership beyond well-off, educated urbanites.
Yabloko could never be accused of selling out for Kremlin favor, nor has it ever engaged in the anti-establishment street politics of Garry Kasparov's Other Russia coalition. In short, it is a very normal political party with a sensible platform in a political environment where such entities are increasingly obsolete. Yavlinsky may have decided that 15 years of pretending was enough.
Good stuff today from Clive Crook:
The US does not know whether to tax energy or subsidise it, promote domestic oil production or forbid it, treat ExxonMobil and Chevron as champions or pariahs. So it does all of the above.
I should note that both Barack Obama and John McCain are incoherent on this point. As the New York Times dryly observes, Obama favors ethanol subsidies, "some of which end up in the hands of the same oil companies he says should be subjected to a windfall profits tax." As for John McCain, he seems not to understand what cap and trade means.
Still reeling from Irish voters' rejection of the Lisbon Treaty last week, EU bigwigs are now focusing on the Czech Republic, another country that has yet to ratify the treaty and appears in no hurry to do so. Badly in need of a victory, French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Prague yesterday in a likely futile bid to try to nudge the reluctant Czechs to ratify as quickly as possible.
There are a few reasons to be skeptical about Lisbon's chances in the Czech Republic. First, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, though mostly a ceremonial figure, is one of Europe's leading EU skeptics and said last week that Irish voters should be congratulated for defeating what he called an "elitist artificial project."
More importantly, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, who nominally supports the treaty, is taking heat from within his fragile center-right coalition and will likely stall ratification as long as possible. There's also speculation that Topolánek and his party are trying to stall ratification until after the Czechs get their crack at the EU presidency in January. (Under the new treaty, meetings would be chaired by the new, permanent European Council president, not rotating member states.)
France's hard-sell tactics may also be backfiring. Diplomats say that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's involvement in the lead-up to the Irish vote was counterproductive for the "yes" camp there. And Czech politicians aren't happy about Sarkozy's diplomatic offensive.
It certainly makes sense that the Irish and the Czechs don't appreciate being pushed around by "old Europe." But I find it ironic that two of the countries that have benefited the most from EU membership might be shutting the door on its future development.
It has now been more than a month since Dmitry Medvedev took office as Russia's president. While it was never in doubt that Vladimir Putin would retain a great deal of power in his new post as prime minister, it was less certain what role President Medvedev would play in this unprecedented tandem leadership structure. One month later, it's still hard to get a good read on him, but here are a few possible historical (and fictional) archetypes for Russia's president.
Medvedev is Mohammed Khatami
President of Iran, 1997 to 2005
Mild-mannered and liberal by Iranian standards, Khatami filled many with hope that his country's politics would turn in a more moderate direction. However, it quickly became apparent that the real political power in Iran rested with conservative Ayatollahs and Khatami's efforts at reform ended in frustrating failure.
Medvedev seems genuinely interested in further liberalizing Russia's economy. And his move last week to strike down a draconian libel law may indicate that he would like more freedom of the press as well. But given Putin's death grip on the legislature and the United Russia Party, it may be impossible for him to rock the boat too much.
Medvedev is Viktor Yushchenko
Current president of Ukraine; prime minister from 1999 to 2001
While Yushchenko is best known as the charismatic leader of the Orange Revolution, he was once a fairly loyal central banker and prime minister in the government of Ukraine's strongman president, Leonid Kuchma. But when cracks started to show in the Kuchma regime, the popular reformer seized the opportunity to become an unlikely revolutionary and swept his old boss out of power.
Putin's astronomical approval ratings and army of enablers in the Duma make it unlikely that Medvedev will attempt a power-play against his old boss any time soon. But if Medvedev can get a few initiatives under his belt and maintain his popularity and independence, he may be in a position to take control should Prime Minister Putin run into trouble down the road.
Medvedev is Tom Hagen
Lawyer and consigliere to the Corleone family
Robert Duvall's character in the Godfather movies was a quiet lawyer who spent his life serving a gang of ruthless criminals. Hagen's German-Irish ancestry made him an outsider in the Sicilian mafia, but when a deal needed to be struck with another family, or when the Coreleones needed a "legitimate" face for the family business, it was usually Hagen who got the job.
Like Hagen, Medvedev is an outsider: a liberal law professor in a government dominated by hawkish former intelligence operatives. His cordial meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week may indicate that Medvedev is useful as a public face for the Russian government. While he may sometimes advocate a more moderate course of action, his loyalties are with the charismatic leader who plucked him from obscurity.
Medvedev is Vladimir Putin
Prime minister and former president of Russia
It's still quite possible that Putin does actually want to step aside, but doesn't yet feel that Russia is ready to go on without him. The copresidency could also be a trial period for the man that Putin feels can best continue what he started. Medvedev's tough talk with Georgia and Ukraine and his criticism of the United States may indicate his intention to continue his predecessor's line on foreign policy.
On the other hand, Putin is hardly the leader that people expected him to be when he was named prime minister by Boris Yeltsin. Dmitry Anatolyevich may yet create an archetype all his own.
The summer gas-tax holiday is back, and John McCain thinks he may have a winning issue:
Along with Barack Obama, many economists largely dismissed the notion of a gas tax holiday as a political ruse that would do little to lower prices, but McCain has repeatedly said he does not believe the proposal would be a panacea for America's energy woes. [...] Instead, McCain argued, low-income families could save some extra cash to pay for their children's school supplies this fall, or perhaps treat themselves to a nice dinner.
I'm no mathematician, but let's do some quick number-crunching here. Suppose you buy a tank of gas each week and your car holds 15 gallons. The 18.4-cent a gallon gas tax will cost you $2.76 each week. There are 12 weeks left until Labor Day, the end of summer. That means a typical person would save $33. If you're a childless couple living in Falls Church, VA, that might buy you dinner at the Olive Garden -- where the Chicken Alfredo will run you a cool $13.50 -- but no wine.
Former President Jimmy Carter only formally endorsed Barack Obama last night and he's already going off-message. He gave his opinion on the idea of a Clinton-Obama ticket in an interview with the Guardian today:
I think it would be the worst mistake that could be made. [...] If you take that 50% who just don't want to vote for Clinton and add it to whatever element there might be who don't think Obama is white enough or old enough or experienced enough or because he's got a middle name that sounds Arab, you could have the worst of both worlds."
Somehow, I don't think we're going to be seeing Carter at many rallies this election.
As Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe was proving that he has a sense of humor by appearing at a the U.N. food summit in Rome while his people suffer from government-induced starvation and out-of-control inflation, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was being arrested today. Charges have yet to be filed against Mugabe's chief political rival -- whom many observers say was victorious in the first round of the country's presidential elections in March -- and with the sad state of affairs in Zimbabwe, I wouldn't hold your breath.
Starting next month, members of the European Parliament will travel in style on their own specially designed high-speed train from their office in Brussels to their other office in Strasbourg, France. The parliament holds its preparatory meetings in Brussels and its plenary sessions in Strasbourg meaning that every month, 377 MEPs and their staff need to be transported between the two cities. The new train is being touted (mostly by the French who built it) as an eco-friendly and cost-effective alternative to flying. It will still cost European taxpayers more than $300,000 per journey and won't be open to the public.
Cato's Daniel Mitchell compares the train to the special highway lanes once enjoyed by high-ranking Soviet officials. However, I don't really see why putting them on their own train is that much more egregious than chartering a jet or hiring limos. To me, this says more about the monumental idiocy of putting the parliament's two offices 200 miles apart.
Despite the luxurious accomodations, MEPs are still griping that the train's late arrival in Strasbourg will "deprive colleagues of their midday break and the possibility of a proper lunch." I guess it's hard to pass all those non-binding resolutions on an empty stomach.
Note: The photograph above is of a different train.
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