This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: Flickr/Fibonacci Blue)

The Mueller Report Is a Challenge for Democracy to Solve

Samuel Moyn


It would be hard to imagine a scenario that casts harsher light on the limits of American governance than the aftermath of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s report—or one that demonstrates how lucky the country is that he chose to make the resulting mess a problem for democracy to solve.

Mature democracies must balance two contending imperatives. One is to permit regular and serious monitoring of government, especially the executive with its ever-expanding authorities. The other is to keep that monitoring from becoming just another mode of political opposition. This is especially fraught at a moment across the world in which political elites—inside and outside of government—are repeatedly scandalized by choices the people seem to be making at the ballot boxes. What if we creatively interpret Mueller’s handiwork as responding to precisely this dilemma? (Read more)


Staying in a customs union after Brexit won’t resolve the Irish border issue

Pascal Lamy

The Guardian

Common sense has at last prevailed. The UK parliament has rejected the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and stepped back from the cliff edge. But while the limited extension of the article 50 timetable postpones the threat of no deal until the end of October, it does not remove it. Unless parliament can reach agreement about how to break the impasse, the new cliff edge will soon come into view. It is vital that this does not happen. A way forward must be found.

It is therefore significant that Labour is holding discussions with the government. Perhaps these talks can eventually lead to a compromise and a change to the political declaration. If they do, it is important that any new proposal is properly scrutinised. It would be a mistake to sign up to something that cannot carry popular consent, or is not sustainable in the long term. (Read more)


Indonesia’s Democracy Is Becoming More Conservative

Vincent Bevins

The Atlantic

The results are still coming in after Indonesia’s mammoth general election, and it appears that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has won another term in office. His challenger, the former general Prabowo Subianto, might yet challenge the results, and Jokowi has held off on declaring victory.

Regardless of the winner, though, Indonesian politics as a whole has taken a more conservative direction.

The world’s fourth most populous country is a pluralist, multiparty democracy that officially extends civic and religious freedoms to everyone living across a staggeringly diverse archipelago. But by the time anyone even showed up at the polls, both the structure of this young political system and Jokowi’s turns toward the religious right meant that many issues were already decided. (Read more)


Notre Dame: a history of medieval cathedrals and fire

Jenny Alexander

The Conversation

Many great churches and cathedrals have suffered catastrophic fires over their long histories and medieval chronicles are full of stories of devastation and ruin as a result – but they also tell of how the buildings were reconstructed and made better than ever.

The devastating fire that destroyed the roofs and spire of Notre Dame in Paris demonstrated the vulnerabilities of medieval cathedrals and great churches, but also revealed the skills of their master masons. The lead-covered wooden roof structure burned so fast because the fire was able to take hold under the lead and increase in intensity before it was visible from the outside, and it then spread easily to all the other sections of the roof.

Notre Dame was saved from total destruction because the medieval builders gave it a stone vault over all the main spaces, and also on the tops of the aisles which meant that the burning timbers and molten lead couldn’t break through easily. (Read more)


Sudan’s Revolution and the Geopolitics of Human Rights

Eric Schewe


Sudanese Army leaders removed President Omar al-Bashir from power in a coup d’etat on April 11, 2019. This move came after five months of mass demonstrations in the major cities of the country. The demonstrations were sparked by sharp reductions in the bread subsidy but sustained by widespread resentment toward government corruption and the country’s decades of civil war in Darfur and the region that is today South Sudan.

Al-Bashir is the latest dictator to fall since the start of the regional unrest in 2011 in the so-called “Arab Spring.” The hopeful momentum of those movements has seemed crushed in recent years by violent repression in large states such as Egypt, and brutal civil war in Syria. Early in April 2019, however, large-scale protests resulted in the resignation of Algeria’s 20-year president Abdulaziz Bouteflika, who had sought a fifth term. These events in Algeria and Sudan signal that the ideology and organizational tactics of youthful mass democracy movements has survived. (Read more)

This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: New Statesman)

The rise and fall of British democracy

Robert Saunders

New Statesman

If walls could talk, the structures that house our democracy would teach a desperate lesson. Beneath the gold and gilt and glamour, parliament is a ruin. Its walls are riddled with asbestos; its cracked pipes tip dirty water into the chamber; and fires break out with alarming regularity. A cross-party inquiry in 2016 found steam lines, gas pipes and water pipes piled haphazardly on top of one another, in a “potentially catastrophic mix”. Without urgent renovation, the whole edifice faced “sudden, catastrophic failure”.

It is not just the building that is in trouble. Trust in parliament has never been lower. According to the Hansard Society, barely a third of voters trust MPs “to act in the interests of the public”. Forty two per cent would prefer it if governments did not “have to worry so much about parliamentary votes”, while more than half want “a strong leader who is willing to break the rules”. An unwritten constitution, once prized for its flexibility, has created a chaotic patchwork of competing authorities – including the referendum, an uneven devolution settlement and member-led parties – with little consideration of how they fit together. In short, Britain’s parliamentary democracy has rarely felt more under siege. (Read more)


I saw the brutality of Bashir’s regime. Now Sudan can rediscover a lost identity

Nesrine Malik


More than 20 years ago, I hid in a Khartoum University toilet stall with three other students. We held our scarves over our noses to limit the stench, as well as the teargas that was streaming through the doors. A student union election had not gone the way the government liked, and soon the campus was stormed by security forces armed with batons and gas grenades. At one point, security pickup trucks drove around campus apprehending students at random and beating them.

Eventually the campus was cleared, and we ventured out, retching. I remember, as we tried to make our way home down the Nile on the north side of the campus, a long stream of choking, crying and coughing students. Security officers stood in the street, randomly striking students with sticks and batons, meting out humiliating insults as they did. When I walked past, one struck a male student on the back. He teetered. “Where are the heroes?” mocked the officer, as he beat the student again. “I thought you were heroes?” The young man took the blows and never looked back as he walked away. (Read more)


What’s Next for Algeria’s Popular Movement?

Emily Burchfield

Atlantic Council

On the afternoon of April 5, 2019, just three days after the resignation of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, demonstrators took to the streets once again after nearly eight weeks of protest. As many predicted, the demand to end Bouteflika’s twenty-year rule was one of many to come. The demonstrators’ February chants of “no to Bouteflika,” specifically protesting against his bid for a fifth term, shifted to broader demands to remove the system, or “Le Pouvoir.” Calls for the dismantling of the system speak to long-held grievances against the country’s endemic corruption and stagnant economy.

While the leaderless popular movement appears united so far in what it stands against, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to agree on its demands and emerge as a coherent political force. The movement’s support from a broad cross section of society could help it politicize to solidify gains, but many obstacles lay ahead. (Read more)


Julian Assange: A Man without a Country

Raffi Khatchadourian

The New Yorker

he Ecuadorian Embassy in London is situated at the end of a wide brick lane, next to the Harrods department store, in Knightsbridge. Sometimes plainclothes police officers, or vans with tinted windows, can be found outside the building. Sometimes there are throngs of people around it. Sometimes there is virtually no one, which was the case in June, 2012, when Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks, arrived, disguised as a motorcycle courier, to seek political asylum. In the five years since then, he has not set foot beyond the Embassy. Nonetheless, he has become a global influence, proving that with simple digital tools a single person can craft a new kind of power—a distributed, transnational power, which functions outside norms of state sovereignty that have held for centuries. Encouraged by millions of supporters, Assange has interfered with the world’s largest institutions. His releases have helped fuel democratic uprisings—notably in Tunisia, where a revolution sparked the Arab Spring—and they have been submitted as evidence in human-rights cases around the world. At the same time, Assange’s methodology and his motivations have increasingly come under suspicion. During the Presidential election last year, he published tens of thousands of hacked e-mails written by Democratic operatives, releasing them at pivotal moments in the campaign. They provoked strikingly disparate receptions. “I love WikiLeaks,” Donald Trump declared, in exultant gratitude. After the election, Hillary Clinton argued that the releases had been instrumental in keeping her from the Oval Office. (Read more)


Israel election: four key factors that led to Netanyahu’s historic victory

Anna Bagaini and Fernando Casal Bértoa

The Conversation

If someone had said in 1996 that Benjamin Netanyahu would still be prime minister 23 years in the future, nobody would have believed it. Yet he has managed to obtain what until recently seemed almost impossible in Israel – a fourth consecutive electoral victory. With this, he has become the second longest serving prime minister in the history of the country.

This is not, however, the only reason why this election can be considered one of the most important in Israel’s political history. Indeed, Netanyahu might have finally found his nemesis in Benny Gantz who, with his newborn electoral alliance (Kahol Lavan), won just as many parliamentary seats as Netanyahu’s Likud party. Still, despite expectations about a massive political change, Netanyahu will continue as prime minister in what will perhaps be the most extreme right-wing government ever to run the country. Here are some key components to his success. (Read more)

This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

Image result for foreignaffairs Why Europe Is Getting Tough on China

Why Europe Is Getting Tough on China

Andrew Small

Foreign Affairs

Over the past two years, Washington has come to embrace a policy of strategic competition with China. The Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy and National Security Strategy make clear that the United States sees China as a great power rival not only militarily but also in a contest for economic and technological supremacy.

As a result, an effective coalition to manage China’s rise can no longer center on Asian security partnerships alone but must now include the world’s principal concentrations of economic power, technological progress, and liberal democratic values. Among these are many of the United States’ partners in the Indo-Pacific, such as Australia, India, and Japan. But the European Union and its major member states are also becoming increasingly critical U.S. counterparts in dealing with China. (Read more)


Not Blair’s War, but Britain’s

Patrick Porter

History Today

In 2003 Britain joined a US-led coalition to invade Iraq. In folk memory, it has become ‘Blair’s War’, driven by his delusions, his bad faith and his close alignment with a US president. But it was not just Blair’s War. It was Britain’s. The will to war was wider than many like to recall. As long as Blair is the scapegoat, Britons will fail to confront questions of security and power. It could all happen again.

‘Operation Telic’ was a defeat: Britain’s first since the withdrawal from Aden in 1967, its largest-scale combat since Korea, biggest disappointment since Suez and most polarising since the Boer War. It was meant to be a lightning strike on the regime of Saddam Hussein, which would give rise to a constitutional government and create a benign domino effect in the Middle East. It cost the UK £9 billion, degenerating into an attritional counterinsurgency campaign, with troops outnumbered and at times outgunned. Hundreds more troops died and thousands more were wounded than envisaged. (Read more)


The only way to halt climate change is to challenge the logic of capitalism

Grace Blakeley

New Statesman

Last Saturday, as Brexit continued to dominate the headlines, Momentum activists sought to draw the nation’s attention to a slightly more pressing issue. The group staged protests outside bank branches across the UK to put pressure on financial institutions such as Barclays to stop “financing climate chaos” after a report revealed that the bank is the largest single lender to fossil fuel companies.

And chaos is exactly what we are facing. On current trends, the planet is set to warm by at least three degrees by 2030. At such temperatures the environmental systems that sustain human life would start to collapse. Harvests would fail, water cycles would be disrupted, and extreme weather events would become the norm. Huge swathes of the planet would become uninhabitable, killing millions of people and displacing many more. (Read more)


Free Trade Brexit: Think Tanks And Pressure Groups In Modern British Politics

Aaron Ackerley

History Matters

The role of opaquely-funded, right-wing think tanks, pressure groups, and lobby groups in the Brexit saga has been foregrounded recently. This is partially due to the surprisingly central role the Jacob Rees-Mogg-fronted European Research Group (ERG) has come to attain in the lead up to the original date for Britain leaving the EU and calls to revoke Article 50. The longer history of such groups in British politics is underappreciated, however.

Think tanks and pressure groups played a role in the Leave campaign, though their influence is impossible to evaluate. Their efforts were only one part of the much wider array of forces presenting the Leave case and attempting to convince the electorate. Aside from politicians and political parties – such as anti-EU Tory backbenchers, UKIP, and a smattering of Labour Lexit campaigners – sections of the British media, especially the tabloid press, also played a central role. (Read more)


Petition! Petition!! Petition!!!: Mass petitions in historical context

Henry Miller and Richard Huzzey

History Workshop

Petitions are an ancient type of interaction between people and authority that continue to be central to British political culture in the twenty-first century.  At the time of writing over 6 million names have been attached to an e-petition to Parliament to revoke article 50 to enable the UK to remain in the EU.  Petitions and petitioning – the practices of writing, signing and presenting petitions – have taken diverse forms throughout human history in different periods, places and political systems.  In this article, we’ll be looking at how the modern form of mass petitions emerged in the nineteenth century to compare them with contemporary e-petitions.

Petitions are formalised requests to authority signed by one or more people. Although in the Middle Ages petitions were often oral supplications rather than written documents, by the early modern period, England was a ‘petitioning society’ and petitions were also well-established in Scotland.  The first explosion of mass political petitioning occurred in the seventeenth century during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s and in the political crises that preceded the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.  It is clear from the historical record that petitions have historically always been an instrument of rule as well as an instrument of protest. But the double-edged nature of petitions means that they always retain a potential to be subversive as well as submissive. As a survey of early modern Europe has recently suggested, petitions were often as much as a powder keg likely to blow up in rulers faces as a safety valve. (Read more)

This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: FT montage)

EU faces big Brexit question: should UK stay or go? (£)

Alex Barker

Financial Times 

The Westminster deadlock over Brexit is now confronting EU leaders with the choice British voters faced almost three years ago: is it better for the UK to leave or remain in the EU?

Such a momentous political decision will ultimately be for Britain. But, with the House of Commons seemingly paralysed, EU leaders are aware that their approach — notably on the question of delaying the UK’s exit — might help determine whether Brexit happens at all.

The judgment turns on not just an assessment of Britain’s place in the European project, but on the chances of reversing the Brexit vote, and whether it is worth the risk to wait and see how the UK ructions end.

“I tell you my personal view,” said one of the principal players in the Brexit saga. “They will not leave. They cannot find the exit. They do not want to leave. They have not developed a concept of what Brexit means.” (Read more)


William Barr, executive assistant to Donald Trump (£)

The Economist

Many Democrats are dismayed by Robert Mueller’s failure to take down the president. Yet they have a consolatory new hate figure in the form of William Barr, who began his second spell as attorney-general last month. A grandfatherly 68-year-old, who first presided over the Justice Department for George H.W. Bush, Mr Barr has been castigated for his handling of Mr Mueller’s report, which remains under wraps at his discretion. Jerrold Nadler, Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called his summary of the report “a hasty, partisan interpretation of the facts.” Several Democrats running for president, including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, derided Mr Barr as Donald Trump’s “hand-picked attorney-general” (as if there were any other kind).

This is partly a case of shooting the messenger. Many on the left were convinced Mr Trump was up to his neck in the Russian plot that helped get him elected. They also had an almost cultlike faith in Mr Mueller (the ash-dry prosecutor would be amazed to see how many T-shirts bear his name on campus—as in “Mueller Time—Justice Served Cold!”). The instant Mr Barr relayed the crushing news that the special counsel had found no collusion with Russia by Mr Trump, he was suspected of skulduggery, which seems hysterical. A close friend of the special counsel, Mr Barr is possibly too principled and certainly too canny to have misrepresented his conclusions. If he had done so, they would leak. Yet the attorney-general’s treatment of the second prong of Mr Mueller’s investigation, concerning Mr Trump’s alleged effort to obstruct the various Russia investigations, is more troubling. (Read more)


How British Teens Blended Pop and Politics

Livia Gershon


In contemporary society, pop music and politics mix freely—from voter registration drives at music festivals, to celebrities like Taylor Swift weighing in on elections. Back in 1970s Britain, however, that combination created controversy within political organizations.

Historian Evan Smith writes that in the late 1960s, a new organization formed, known as the National Front (NF). Appealing to some far-right members of the Conservative Party, it called for the expulsion of non-white immigrants from England. When an economic crisis hit the country in the 1970s, the NF began seeking support from white, working-class Labour voters, arguing that nonwhite immigrants were causing economic problems. Soon, NF members were holding street marches and sometimes violently attacking people in black communities. (Read more)


Spain hits back at Mexico in row over colonial rights abuses

Stephen Burgen and David Agren

The Guardian

A diplomatic row has broken out between Mexico and Spain after the Mexican president wrote to King Felipe VI demanding he apologise for crimes committed against Mexico’s indigenous people during the conquest 500 years ago.

In a video filmed at the ruins of the indigenous city of Comalcalco, in southern Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador called on Spain and the Vatican to recognise the rights violations committed during the conquest, led by Hernán Cortés. The video was posted on the president’s social media accounts.

“There were massacres and oppression. The so-called conquest was waged with the sword and the cross. They built their churches on top of the [indigenous] temples,” he said. “The time has come to reconcile. But let us ask forgiveness first.” (Read more)


The Iron Wall Revisited

Michael Young

Carnegie Middle East Center

President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights reminded me of an old joke that goes something like this: “I’ve decided to marry supermodel Claudia Schiffer. I want to do it, and my parents are in full agreement. Now all I need to do is to persuade Claudia.”

Israel and the United States have alone decided that the Golan is Israeli. They may soon do so for large parts of the West Bank. Both must now convince the rest of the world. From the early reactions of many countries, that’s not likely to succeed. After Israel annexed the Golan in 1981, the United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 497, unanimously characterized the move as “null and void,” demanding that Israel “rescind” its decision. On Monday, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres said that he continued to adhere to all Security Council resolutions on the Golan. (Read more)


This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

Mike Pompeo and the Israeli prime minister shake hands in front of a row of Israel and American flags, standing behind two podiums.

(Image: Amir Cohen/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump’s Mideast diplomacy in the age of Twitter

Richard N. Haass


It was another day of diplomacy in the age of Twitter, with @realDonaldTrump tweeting: “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”

Why it matters: The president’s tweet calls for a change in U.S. policy toward the Golan Heights but does not actually declare it. There are many reasons for the president not to turn his tweet into policy.  It would all but eliminate what little chance exists for peace between Israel and either the Palestinians or Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia. (Read more)


Brexit shows Britain is no longer able to imagine a “common good”

Rowan Williams

New Statesman

For all the rhetoric we hear about this or that group ignoring or flouting “democratic process”, the fact is that we are in danger of forgetting what democracy is and why it matters. To say that democratic government is the best (or least worst) system of running a society is to say that legitimacy for a government comes from popular consent rather than inherited status, divine right or purchasing power. But this is only part of the story.

Democracy rests on a presupposition that is not often made explicit. Popular consent implies that everyone’s view and interest, without restriction, is worth taking into account in the running of a society – which is why the principle on which democracy rests is the same principle that affirms the rights of minorities and the need to continue testing the strength of popular consent. Any search for a permanent resolution of social issues that is declared to be beyond argument or challenge is a move away from the fundamental principle. (Read more)


What Do We Really Know About Joseph Stalin?

Matthew Wills


Joseph Stalin died sixty-five years ago this month. But it wasn’t until Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnostand perestroika in the late 1980s, and then the breakup of the USSR, that the state archives were opened and the full record of Stalin’s deeds revealed.

As historian Hiroaki Kuromiya notes, prior to the Soviet Union’s end, that nation’s history was written by rumor, Kremlinology, and foreign intelligence agencies. The records of the USSR have transformed the history of the USSR. But don’t expect to find all the answers in the papers; historians like Kuromiya continue to debate the meanings and motivations behind the documentation. (Read more)


The path to colonial reckoning is through archives, not museums

Patrick Gathara

Al Jazeera

As the French President Emmanuel Macron tours East Africa, he is certain to get a cordial welcome. If everything goes to plan, it will be all smiles and few uncomfortable questions. However, this should not be the case. Macron has called for an international conference on the return of African art and artefacts looted during colonialism. But art and artefacts are not the only things that should be returned.

The colonial archive, the thousands of official records and documents that trace the history of subjugation, oppression and looting of the continent by the European powers is largely resident in Europe. And it is not a history that the Europeans have been eager to reveal, preferring to think of their time as overlords of the continent as something of a benevolent occupation. (Read more)


Racists in Congress fought statehood for Hawaii, but lost that battle 60 years ago

Sarah Miller-Davenport

The Conversation

Sixty years ago, Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation making Hawaii America’s 50th state. The Hawaii admission act followed a centuries-old tradition in which American territories –acquired through war, conquest and purchase – became fully integrated states of the union.

But Hawaii was not an ordinary United States territory and would be unlike any other American state.

For one, Hawaii was not actually in America, at least not physically. Its islands lay in the Pacific, some 2,000 miles from the U.S. west coast.

And Hawaii would become the first state with a majority of people of Asian descent. Many had been ineligible for U.S. citizenship only a few years earlier, before the end of racial restrictions to naturalization. (Read more)

This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy)

Who Governs Britain?

Henry Mance

Financial Times

On August 29 2013, the British submarine HMS Tireless was somewhere in the Mediterranean, ready to go to battle. But unusually, its commanders were watching the House of Commons.

MPs were debating whether to authorise strikes against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Tracking events in parliament via the BBC website, the submarine’s commanders realised, before any order came through, that they would not be firing cruise missiles after all.

The Syria debate was the first time since the American war of independence that a British government had lost a vote on military action. Mindful of how little scrutiny had been applied to Tony Blair’s blueprint to invade Iraq in 2003, many MPs had wanted to avoid the same mistake. Some hadn’t wished to block strikes on Syria altogether, just to force David Cameron to revise his plan. Instead they not only inadvertently stopped the UK going to war: they also caused Barack Obama to abandon the US’s own plans to bomb Syria, leaving Assad’s regime free to commit further atrocities. (Read more)


Revealed: EU war-gaming for fall of May’s government

Daniel Boffey, Michael Savage and Toby Helm

The Guardian

The EU is war-gaming for the fall of Theresa May amid a complete collapse in confidence in the prime minister after a week of chaos over Brexit, a leaked document seen by the Observer reveals.

In the run-up to a crucial summit of EU leaders where May will ask for a delay to Brexit, Brussels fears there is little hope that she will succeed in passing her deal this week and is preparing itself for a change of the guard in Downing Street.

A diplomatic note of a meeting of EU ambassadors and senior officials reveals an attempt to ensure that any new prime minister cannot immediately unpick the withdrawal agreement should May be replaced in the months ahead. Some hardline Brexiters want to replace her with a leader who will back a harder split with Brussels. (Read more)


It’s Time to Confront the Threat of Right-Wing Terrorism

John Cassidy

New Yorker

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the twenty-eight-year-old Australian who allegedly carried out a racially motivated gun massacre, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, appeared in court on Saturday morning and was charged with one count of murder. According to a report from the New Zealand Herald, Tarrant “appeared in white prison clothing, with manacled hands, and barefoot. He smirked when media photographed him in the dock, flanked by two police officers.” He didn’t enter a plea and was remanded in custody. The court hearing, at the Christchurch district court, was closed to the public, but the judge allowed some members of the media to report on the proceedings.

As they were taking place, surgeons were still operating on some of the victims of the shootings, which occurred at two mosques, and the confirmed death toll rose to forty-nine. More horrifying eyewitness accounts emerged, and the whole of New Zealand, a remote island nation of about 4.9 million people that had only thirty-five murders in all of 2017, was in a state of deep shock. “I honestly thought somebody was carrying a water pistol—this is New Zealand, you know—or a showing of a pellet gun or something,” Omar Nabi, a Christchurch man whose father was shot dead at one of the two mosques that were attacked, told reporters. “We feel safe here because it’s multicultural. We’re accepted no matter who we are.” Tragically, it took just one heavily armed fanatic to upset this equilibrium. (Read more)


Trumpism Comes to Brazil

Roberto Simon and Brian Winter

Foreign Affairs

It was early fall in southern Florida, and a standing-room-only crowd of about 300 gathered at a steakhouse to see a right-wing presidential candidate whom most experts were dismissing as too radical, divisive, and inexperienced to win office.

The candidate was not Donald Trump but Jair Bolsonaro, a retired Brazilian army captain and longtime member of congress whose tough talk about corruption, praise for Brazil’s former military dictatorship, and promises to give police “carte blanche” to kill drug traffickers and other suspected criminals were, by October 2017, already beginning to propel him upward in polls. Many in the crowd had themselves fled Brazil’s spiraling violence and the worst recession in its modern history, which had caused the economy to shrink nearly ten percent on a per capita basis from 2014 to 2017. The 300,000-strong diaspora in Florida, like many of their relatives back home, were hungry for the most anti-establishment figure they could find. (Read more)


Syria’s eight years of war have changed the world beyond recognition

Kareem Shareen

The National

Eight years of war and upheaval, half a million dead and millions more displaced, countless wounded and hundreds of chemical attacks.

The story of a revolution undone. Most Syrians who marched out onto the streets in 2011 to protest the Assad dynasty’s brutality had no inkling of what was to come. Inspired by protests in Egypt and Tunisia, they overcame a generational barrier of fear of public dissent.

Then the whole world conspired to crush them.

The picture today is one in which the nation’s president Bashar Al Assad and his Iranian and Russian allies have prevailed over a fractious opposition, that was undermined from within by factionalism and the rise of brutal jihadist groups, and from without by the regime’s impunity and the international community’s abandonment of core ideals. (Read more)


This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

Poster for Women's Day, March 8, 1914, demanding voting rights for women.

(Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

The Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day


In 1987, March was designated as Women’s History Month in the United States. The month of March was chosen because it incorporated International Women’s Day, March 8th. The story of how International Women’s Day came to be, however, is convoluted to say the least.

As historian Temma Kaplan writes, International Women’s Day has its origins in socialism and the conditions of working women. Kaplan acknowledges the importance of secular communal holidays for nineteenth-century socialists, communists, and anarchists, citing Bastille Day, May Day, and various anniversaries of the Paris Commune. These holidays were more about “the solidification of a sense of community” than the actual date they fell on. That said, it’s worth noting how oddly complicated the history of this holiday is, complete with invented backstories and shifting dates. Here is a rough chronology. (Read more)


Misjudging the military: Guaidó, Trump, and the long shadow of Venezuela’s civil-military alliance

Asa Cusack

LSE Blogs

One month on from Juan Guaidó’s decision to declare himself acting president of Venezuela in parallel to President Nicolás Maduro, the country remains in a strange and dangerous limbo.

Guaidó has unified an opposition prone to fragmentation, received recognition from scores of foreign countries, and gained the support of various international institutions. But despite his offer of an amnesty for military personnel transferring their allegiance to his presidency, only a handful of Venezuela’s thousands of generals have made the switch. Even a major standoff over allowing US aid into the country on February 23 saw only a small number of defections by low-ranking officials.

So what went wrong? In short, Guaidó’s plan to remove Maduro with military help was undermined by his misjudgment of military perceptions of the opposition and the resilience of Venezuela’s decades-old civil-military alliance. But this should not be seen as bad news. Military action of any kind, internal or external, would be fraught with danger in Venezuela’s volatile situation. A negotiated transition towards free elections offers a far better way forward. (Read more)


The caliphate is a hellscape of smoke and fire – Isis has nowhere left to go

Bethan McKernan

The Guardian

There is a flash of light in the dark town as an airstrike hits an Islamic State weapons depot. A few seconds later, a ball of flame engulfs the entire neighbourhood. The sonic boom sends shockwaves through Baghuz, shaking the ground miles away, and for a second everything and everyone is stunned into silence. Then the artillery fire starts up again.

Five years after Isis swept across Syria and Iraq, all that remains of the “caliphate” that at its peak stretched across two countries and controlled 10 million people is a handful of streets in a bend of the Euphrates river running through this desert town, which will be retaken in the next few days. (Read more)


Officials were ready for Brexit in the past. How different could things have been if they had prepared this time round?

Lindsay Aqui

The Telegraph

‘Nobody in Whitehall or Westminster yet has a grasp of what needs to be done, let alone how to go about doing it.’ This damning verdict of the UK government’s failure to plan for Brexit was published by the Financial Times shortly after the 2016 European Union (EU) referendum. There had been some limited planning undertaken by the Treasury and the Bank of England to counteract extreme market volatility.

However, as the evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Committee and Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Committee makes clear, there was no comprehensive effort to design a strategy for leaving the EU.

Both committees criticised this decision in part because of the precedent set by the referendum in 1975. When Harold Wilson proposed a national vote on the UK’s membership of what was then called the European Community, the Labour government engaged in an extensive contingency planning exercise. It should be said that the two referendums took place in different contexts. (Read more)


12th March – Happy Independence Day

Satya Gunput

His Name is Satya

‘Let June 23rd go down in our history as our independence day.’

– Nigel Farage, 24th June 2016

The irony of Britain searching for an independence day would not be lost on many around the world. Sixty two countries, at the last count, have an independence day from Britain – a Guinness World Record for ‘Most countries to have gained independence from the same country.’ Dubai may have the Burj Khalifa for the moment, but Britain is in no danger of losing its world record for the foreseeable future.

However on Monday, an asterisk was added to Britain’s world record. At the Peace Palace in the Hague, the International Court of Justice – the judicial body of the United Nations – ruled that the ‘the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed.’ The advisory ruling handed down by the court referred specifically to the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago prior to Mauritian Independence in 1968. While the rest of Mauritius became independent, the Chagos Archipelago remained under British administration. The court concluded that the UK had ‘an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible,’ and ‘complete the decolonization of Mauritius.’ (Read more)