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

Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn walk through the House of Commons towards the House of Lords in London on June 21, 2017. (Kristy Wigglesworth/AFP/Getty Images)

(Image: Kristy Wrigglesworth/AFP/Getty Images)

There’s Officially Nobody in Charge of Britain

Stephen Paduano

Foreign Policy

Who is in charge of the clattering train?

The axles creak and the couplings strain.

The pace is hot, and the points are near,

And sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear;

And signals flash through the night in vain.

Who is in charge of the clattering train?

As Europe’s engines of war grew louder and hotter, it was this section from Edwin Milliken’s 1890 poem “Death and His Brother Sleep” that Winston Churchill thought of reciting, asking who was steering or stopping Europe’s fateful course. Nearly a century later, as Britain barrels hopelessly toward an exit from the European Union without a deal—a scenario that has been linked to a simultaneous food crisis, financial crisis, and border crisis—one of his grandsons, the Remainer and Conservative Member of Parliament Nicholas Soames, is asking the same.

Tuesday’s vote made clear that nobody is at the lead of an increasingly rickety and rudderless Parliament. After nearly seven hours of debate, Theresa May, the MP for Maidenhead who still technically bears the title of prime minister, lost the greatest meaningful vote by the greatest margin since the advent of the modern party system. A remarkable 432 MPs lined up against the withdrawal agreement she had reached with the EU, tossing Brexit into ever greater uncertainty. And now, whether Britain has left itself with no deal, no Brexit, or no prime minister remains to be seen. (Read more)

Continue reading “This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy”

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

Image result for The Retreat of African Democracy foreign affairs BAZ RATNER / REUTERS

(Image: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

The Retreat of African Democracy

Nic Cheeseman and Jeffrey Smith

Foreign Affairs

In the decade following the Cold War, Africa saw many democratic success stories. In 1991, Benin and Zambia became the first former dictatorships to hold multiparty elections after the fall of the Soviet Union. In both countries, the opposition beat the incumbents. In 1994, South Africa replaced apartheid with majority rule, and soon after that, Nelson Mandela was elected president. Later that decade, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi also held elections and saw power change hands. All told, by the middle of the first decade of this century, every major peaceful state in Africa except Eritrea and Swaziland, the continent’s last absolute monarchy, was, at least in principle, committed to holding competitive elections.

But in recent years, Africa’s political trajectory has begun moving in the opposite direction. In Tanzania, President John Magufuli has clamped down on the opposition and censored the media. His Zambian counterpart, President Edgar Lungu, recently arrested the main opposition leader on trumped-up charges of treason and is seeking to extend his stay in power to a third term. This reflects a broader trend. According to Freedom House, a think tank, just 11 percent of the continent is politically “free,” and the average level of democracy, understood as respect for political rights and civil liberties, fell in each of the last 14 years. The Ibrahim Index of African Governance shows that democratic progress lags far behind citizens’ expectations. The vast majority of Africans want to live in a democracy, but the proportion who believe they actually do falls almost every year. (Read more)

Continue reading “This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy”

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

Bloomberg

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

Guardian

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)

Continue reading “This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy”

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)

Continue reading “This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy”

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)

Continue reading “This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy”