Since taking office in March 2011, Burmese president Thein Sein has captivated international attention by releasing political prisoners, loosening press restrictions and luring world-famous democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi back into the political mainstream. Though the end-point of Burma’s democratic spring remains ambiguous, the imprimatur of “the Lady,” as she is known, has been enough to convince Western policymakers that the reforms are real.
One of the refrains of the French presidential campaign was the suggestion by Nicolas Sarkozy that the French presidency is not an office for the “normal” man his challenger François Hollande claimed to be. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Hollande won despite, not because of, the reputation he had cultivated as Socialist party leader for the previous eleven years.
The problem with a moral vocabulary about politics and policy is that it not only makes politicians and policymakers feel bold, it also demands that they act bold. Eloquence creates expectations; and so in Washington, even for America’s first black, Jewish, and gay president, the goal is often to separate the high ground from its practical imperatives, so that an aura of rectitude may be acquired without recourse to significant action. Washington is the capital of idle talk about justice.
Last Tuesday, Israelis woke up to a new political reality. In the middle of the night, as the Knesset was voting to enact an early general election, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a surprising deal with Shaul Mofaz, the recently elected leader of the main opposition party. All of a sudden, the snap election was called off and Mofaz’s Kadima party was part of the governing coalition. The deal was essentially about self-serving domestic politics; all the main actors (Netanyahu, Mofaz, and defense minister Ehud Barak) reaped rewards from the arrangement.
When Francois Hollande, the newly elected president of France, arrives today in Berlin for his first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it will kindle memories of the long history of Franco-German partnership in leading the European Union. In France, it may even trigger the traditional condescension Parisian politicians feel towards their neighbors: the lumbering German economic giant that relies on French diplomatic, military, and nuclear savoir faire to achieve political clout. Increasingly, however, such sentiments are mere nostalgia.
In the April 5 edition of The New Republic I published an essay called “The Thought Police” on Islamist campaigns to suppress independent thinking, as described in a Hudson Institute human rights report by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea. My essay listed a great number of reformers from Muslim backgrounds who have come under threat or have actually been attacked, with the names drawn largely from Marshall and Shea’s study. I mentioned in passing that Irshad Manji, a Muslim writer from Vancouver, Canada, had been threatened.
Athens, Greece—The big winners of Greece’s election this week were parties far removed from the political center. From the leftist SYRIZA, which came in second place with 17 percent of the vote, to the far-right Independent Greeks, who ended up with 11 percent, and the racist extremists of Golden Dawn, who gained 7 percent, the non-mainstream parties received an alarmingly large share of the total vote. What’s less clear, however, is what the vote tallies mean. Were they simply a reflection of anger against the ruling parties that have presided over the country’s current economic freefall?
When Chen Guangcheng departed the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday with apparent guarantees that he would lead a safe and productive life in his native land, it seemed that a major international crisis had been averted. In a startlingly short period of time, American and Chinese officials had hammered out an agreement that seemed to protect Chen, while preserving the bilateral relationship.
If you were to pinpoint one moment when it looked as if things just might work out for Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, it would probably be February 2, 2010. That day, Fayyad addressed the annual Herzliya Conference, a sort of Israeli version of Davos featuring high-powered policymakers and intellectuals. It is not a typical speaking venue for Palestinians; yet Fayyad was warmly received.
The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi By Peter Popham (The Experiment, 448 pp., $27.50) Aung San Suu Kyi mania is sweeping Rangoon. The paraphernalia for sale on the streets of Rangoon now includes the hitherto banned image of Aung San Suu Kyi on posters, stickers, key rings, and baseball caps.