Russia

I know this is the president's ambition. But the thought that he has already forged it is pretension of the highest order. In fact, it can be his ambition only if he believes the task is, in some actual sense, easy and actually doable. He capsulizes this in his address at West Point thus: "a new beginning ... that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity." Yes, indeed, yes, we can. I don't know about you.

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Well, it won't exactly welch. Because it hasn't exactly promised. And Russia's past behavior when approving sanctions on Iran was first to weaken them ... so that they amount to nothing. The news appeared in Reuters, reporting that Vladimir Putin has seen nothing to convince him that Iran is on the nuclear arms track. Just when almost everybody else is among the believers, Putin (re)announces his loyalty to the doubters. This is, I suppose, what one expects from Russia. But does Barack Obama expect this?

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Given that there's virtually no chance a finished climate treaty will come out of the upcoming talks in Copenhagen, one might be forgiven for asking what, exactly, the world's diplomats are actually going to do these next two weeks in Denmark. Already, further talks are scheduled for next year—including yet another big climate summit in Mexico City in 2010.

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Derisionist History

Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations By Avi Shlaim (Verso, 392 pp., $34.95) Avi Shlaim burst upon the scene of Middle Eastern history in 1988, with the publication of Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine. Before that, as a young lecturer at Reading University in England, he had produced two books, British Foreign Secretaries Since 1945 (1977) and The United States and the Berlin Blockade, 1948–1949 (1983), and several revealing essays on modern Middle Eastern historical issues in academic journals.

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Traders are racing to figure out what the default by Dubai World Group on $60 billion of debt means for their portfolios and the global economy. Dubai World is a conglomerate with large holdings of commercial real estate and ports across the globe, among other assets. The government of Dubai, one of seven states that form the United Arab Emirates, owns 100 percent of the company, but has no obligation to back its debt. At this point, I see four potential consequences for the United States: 1.) A stronger dollar and lower interest rates.

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In recent weeks, Barack Obama's foreign policy has been derided by critics who say he has almost nothing to show for his first 10 months in office. But on one of his most important priorities--stopping Iran's relentless march towards a nuclear weapon--he may be quietly reaping a critical diplomatic turnaround: Russia may finally be getting serious about Iran's nuclear program. That would be great news for Obama. In recent weeks Iran has shown little sign of cutting a good-faith deal with the West to freeze its nuclear program.

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At least, that's what many of our old and deeply democratic friends seem to feel. Now, it's hard to accept that the president of the United States would actually make that choice. He probably feels--but how do I really know? I actually don't--that the hooligans and especially the hooligans who produce our oil and the hooligans who buy our products are the folk we need court more than our historic allies. After all, what else can they do but stick with us? Tough darts! Obama's initiatives up to now--with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, China--have been failures.

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There were two high points in the career of Tony Blair.

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The absence of Barack Obama from Berlin on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall may be explained in many ways, and one of the explanations may be his view of the world. He is kein Berliner. No, he is not soft on communism, not least because there is no longer any communism, at least of the classical kind, to be soft on. In the video message that was broadcast to the commemoration--it allowed him once again to have the stage to himself, and to describe his own election as a climactic event in “human destiny”--Obama spoke all the right words for all the right sentiments.

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An tricky difference of opinion on how to deal with Afghanistan's massive opium trade: The U.S. does not want to address the problem of drug production in Afghanistan, said Russia's anti-narcotics chief after talks with U.S. Special Envoy for AfPak Richard Holbrooke. "My meeting with Holbrooke unfortunately confirmed our fears that they are not prepared to destroy the production of drugs in Afghanistan," Viktor Ivanov, head of the Federal Narcotics Control Service, told Russian journalists on Tuesday, hours after Mr. Holbrooke left Moscow for Kabul after one-day consultations. Mr.

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