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

(Image: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The G.O.P. Goes Full Authoritarian 

Paul Krugman

New York Times

Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.

Yet those forces may prevail all the same.

If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street. (Read more)


Orban Tightens Grip Over Hungarian Courts After Chaotic Vote

Zoltan Simon


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s long march toward one-man rule in the heart of the European Union hit a new milestone.

Shrugging off the threat of sanctions from Brussels, Orban’s lawmakers approved a law Wednesday that will further tighten his hold over the country’s court system. Opposition lawmakers tried to prevent the opening of the parliamentary session and then whistled and jeered as the ruling coalition voted to create a new high court to deal with public-administration cases and brought it under the government’s oversight.

A third-consecutive election win in April gave Orban, 55, and his Fidesz party a constitutional majority, which made the vote a formality. The re-election also gave Orban a self-claimed mandate to continue the NATO member’s transformation into an “illiberal state” along the lines of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, frustrating EU efforts to maintain the unity underpinning the world’s largest trading bloc. (Read more)


The bright side of Britain’s Brexit chaos

Sebastian Mallaby

Washington Post

One month ago, before British politics turned upside down, the country faced three possible futures. Prime Minister Theresa May was negotiating a compromise Brexit from the European Union, and her odds of prevailing appeared around 50 percent. A group of hard-liners in May’s Conservative Party wanted to crash out of the E.U. without a deal, and the odds of that costly result were around 30 percent. Finally, moderates wanted some way of postponing Brexit, or putting it to a second referendum. Their chances probably stood at around 20 percent.

Now consider a paradox. With today’s triggering of a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, Britain has descended into maximum “Game of Thrones” chaos. Yet the odds of a stabilizing outcome have brightened. Of course, all statements about British politics should be assumed to include the word “probably” at least twice. But a fair guess would be that the odds of a delay or a revote on Brexit stand at around 60 percent. The odds of some sort of compromise stand at 30 percent. The odds of crashing out are down around 10 percent. (Read more)


From Sans Culottes to Gilets Jaunes: Macron’s Marie Antoinette Moment

Sylvain Cyple

NYR Daily

In Soviet times, Russia’s Jews told a joke about a man named Rabinovitch who was distributing pamphlets in Red Square. In a matter of minutes, the KGB had found him and taken him to headquarters. Only there did the agents realize that the sheets of paper were completely blank. “But there’s nothing written here,” one of them said. Rabinovitch said: “They know quite well what I mean.”

For two months, the French government has been unable to make head or tail of the blank sheets of paper handed out by the gilets jaunes, or Yellow Vests, this decentralized, leaderless movement that has no explicit agenda or demand apart from the abolition of a fuel tax. While Emmanuel Macron’s government has blindly concluded that this sudden, violent movement bereft of any clearly articulated purpose has no other goals, movements don’t block major intersections just to protest hikes in gas costs. (Read more)


How China Systematically Pries Technology From U.S. Companies

Lingling Wei and Bob Davis
Wall Street Journal

DuPont Co. suspected its onetime partner in China was getting hold of its prized chemical technology, and spent more than a year fighting in arbitration trying to make it stop.

Then, 20 investigators from China’s antitrust authority showed up.

For four days this past December, they fanned out through DuPont’s Shanghai offices, demanding passwords to the company’s world-wide research network, say people briefed on the raid. Investigators printed documents, seized computers and intimidated employees, accompanying some to the bathroom.

Beijing leans on an array of levers to pry technology from American companies—sometimes coercively so, say businesses and the U.S. government. (Read more)


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

(Image: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)

Why Britain Needs Its Own Mueller

Carole Cadwalladr

NYR Books

At the end of January 2017, days after Donald Trump’s inauguration, I sat in a busy Pret a Manger sandwich bar in central London, a stone’s throw from the mother of parliaments, and flicked through snapshots of Donald Trump on a mobile phone.

The phone belonged to Andy Wigmore, an associate of Nigel Farage’s, the long-time leader of Britain’s insurgent anti-Europe campaign and latterly a friend and supporter of the man he refers to on his frequent appearances on Fox TV as “The Donald.” Wigmore, a businessman who has a sideline as a trade envoy to Belize, a Central American country known, among other things, for its sugar cane and money-laundering, had taken a photo of Farage and Trump standing in front of Trump’s golden elevator a month earlier. The photo went viral almost instantly.

This was Trump’s first meeting with a foreign politician, the man he called “Mr. Brexit,” and Wigmore was there for the ride alongside his business partner, a previously unremarkable insurance entrepreneur from Bristol in the west of England named Arron Banks. In the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, Banks had given upward of £8 million to Nigel Farage’s successful Leave.EU campaign, an act that overnight had made him Britain’s biggest ever political donor. (Read more)


The Land That Failed to Fail

Philip P. Pan

New York Times

In the uncertain years after Mao’s death, long before China became an industrial juggernaut, before the Communist Party went on a winning streak that would reshape the world, a group of economics students gathered at a mountain retreat outside Shanghai. There, in the bamboo forests of Moganshan, the young scholars grappled with a pressing question: How could China catch up with the West?

It was the autumn of 1984, and on the other side of the world, Ronald Reagan was promising “morning again in America.” China, meanwhile, was just recovering from decades of political and economic turmoil. There had been progress in the countryside, but more than three-quarters of the population still lived in extreme poverty. The state decided where everyone worked, what every factory made and how much everything cost.

The students and researchers attending the Academic Symposium of Middle-Aged and Young Economists wanted to unleash market forces but worried about crashing the economy — and alarming the party bureaucrats and ideologues who controlled it. (Read more)


Brexit hardliners have shown they are not up to the job

Robert Shrimsley

Financial Times

It would all be different if a real Leaver were in charge, lamented the Brexit hardliner, Jacob Rees-Mogg as he launched his effort to topple Theresa May. This is a constant theme of the hardliners’ betrayal narrative. The prime minister was a non -beLeaver; a political mudblood.
In this narrative, a real Brexiter would have shown the gumption to get a good deal. We’ll never know, the Leavers wail, how things would have been with a true disciple in charge.
Except that actually we have a very good idea, because we have had two years to watch the hardline Brexiters and assess their political acumen. Their record is an uninterrupted litany of cowardice, incompetence and blame shifting. For all the bluster, they have blinked, bottled or botched it at every turn.
Even when last week they came to the belated realisation that Mrs May was going to let them down — something she could not have made more obvious if she’d plastered Westminster with signs proclaiming “I’m going to let you down” — even then they could not properly organise the defenestration they had been promising to gullible journalists each weekend for the past six months. (Read more)


Hillary Clinton: Europe must curb immigration to stop rightwing populists

Patrick Wintour


Europe must get a handle on immigration to combat a growing threat from rightwing populists, Hillary Clinton has said, calling on the continent’s leaders to send out a stronger signal showing they are “not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support”.

In an interview with the Guardian, the former Democratic presidential candidate praised the generosity shown by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, but suggested immigration was inflaming voters and contributed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, speaking as part of a series of interviews with senior centrist political figures about the rise of populists, particularly on the right, in Europe and the Americas. (Read more)


The Inconvenient Truth About Saudi Arabia

Richard N. Haass

Project Syndicate

NEW YORK – The 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” highlights former US Vice President Al Gore’s efforts to alert his fellow Americans to the perils of global warming. What made the truth inconvenient is that avoiding catastrophic climate change would require people to live differently and, in some cases, give up what they love (such as gas-guzzling cars).

For nearly two months, we have all been living with another inconvenient truth – ever since Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist working for The Washington Post and living in the United States, disappeared after entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul. (Read more)

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

(Image: André Carrilho)

How the Brexiteers broke history

Richard J. Evans

New Statesman

Politicians have always used history to bolster their arguments in one way or another, plundering the past for examples that seem to shore up their position. They pull out historical parallels with current events because these seem to tell us not only where we’ve come from and where we are, but, most importantly, where we are going. History can provide encouragement or warning, according to the politician’s purpose: past events show us what we can expect if we do nothing to ward off a clear and present danger, or what we can look forward to if we take the course of action they advocate.

Yet the past can be an unreliable guide to the present, and more often than not it resists politicians’ attempts to co-opt it in their own interests. Unless they pay it the respect it is due, they too often get caught out massaging and manipulating the facts, or interpreting them in ways that the evidence does not in the end support. (Read more)

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

(Image: Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)

Yes, Mr. President, Tuesday was a blue wave

Kevin M. Kruse

The Washington Post

In a combative news conference Wednesday, President Trump claimed that Tuesday’s election returns had been “very close to a complete victory” for the GOP. Because of his personal campaigning for Republican candidates in the final weeks, Trump argued, he had effectively “stopped the blue wave that they were talking about.”

Despite the president’s self-confidence, his assessment of the midterms in general and the blue wave in particular is largely wrong. The midterm results — in which Democrats took control of the House while Republicans narrowly increased their margin in the Senate — was not a “complete victory” for either side. And by historic measures, the House results fit the loose qualifications for a blue wave.

Despite the hopes of some on the left, the pundits’ predictions for a blue wave were always limited to the House. In the struggle for the Senate, Democrats faced the longest odds confronting a party in several decades — maybe more. While Republicans had to defend only nine seats, Democrats needed to protect two dozen — 10 of which stood in red states won by Trump in 2016 — as well as those of two more independents who caucus with Democrats. This was, as veteran election handicapper Stuart Rothenberg noted, “an almost impossible map” for them. And yet, despite the odds, the Democrats will end up with, at worst, a net loss of three seats. (Read more)

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

(Image: Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press)

How the unthinkable happened in Brazil

Fernando Henrique Cardoso

Washington Post

The final outcome of Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday confirmed a trend delineated in the first round: a significant victory for Jair Bolsonaro, a retired Army captain who for decades was a back-bench congressman without any significant legislative record. He continually voted in favor of corporate interests and against a liberal economic agenda. He is also a relentless advocate of gun ownership and an ultra-conservative on moral and cultural issues like abortion and gay rights. Tellingly, his favorite motto is, “A good criminal is a dead criminal.”

How did the unthinkable happen? Bolsonaro surfed a tsunami of popular anger and despair that swept away the entire Brazilian political system, along with the old party leaders. He was able to do so because of the people’s growing suspicion that representative democracy is incapable of delivering what they need. This disaffection was compounded by a brutal economic recession in Brazil, the longest in our history. Unemployment soared, urban violence reached staggering heights — nearly 64,000 homicides in 2017 or 175 deaths per day. Organized crime spiraled out of control. Political parties, especially the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT), floundered in corruption. (Read more)

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

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(Image: Tyler Hicks)

The Tragedy of Saudi Arabia’s War

Declan Walsh

New York Times

CHEST HEAVING AND EYES FLUTTERING, the 3-year-old boy lay silently on a hospital bed in the highland town of Hajjah, a bag of bones fighting for breath.

His father, Ali al-Hajaji, stood anxiously over him. Mr. Hajaji had already lost one son three weeks earlier to the epidemic of hunger sweeping across Yemen. Now he feared that a second was slipping away.

It wasn’t for a lack of food in the area: The stores outside the hospital gate were filled with goods and the markets were bustling. But Mr. Hajaji couldn’t afford any of it because prices were rising too fast.

“I can barely buy a piece of stale bread,” he said. “That’s why my children are dying before my eyes.” (Read more)

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

(Image: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

The Vatican and China: An Ideological Struggle

The Guardian

Every power in the world must now come to terms with China’s rise to superpower status; last week it was the turn of the Vatican, a global soft superpower. An opaque and ambiguous agreement seems to have resolved decades of diplomatic stalemate over the appointment of bishops for China’s 12 million Catholics, although that figure, too, is shrouded in uncertainty. The Chinese authorities have for decades demanded that they, and not some foreign power, should choose their country’s religious leaders; the Vatican has for just as long resisted. Now it appears that the pope will recover the power to choose bishops, but only from a shortlist nominated by the government.

The agreement enraged those who feel that there can be no compromise with the Beijing government. An unknown number of priests and bishops, perhaps 12, are still detained in China, and some are believed to have died in prison. This agreement does nothing for them. On the other hand, it does not involve full diplomatic relations between Beijing and Rome, which would require the Vatican to give up its recognition of Taiwan. (Read more)

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