World

It should have raised red flags when both Syria and Russia approved of Kofi Annan’s February 23 appointment as the United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Envoy (JSE) to Syria. But after bickering world powers repeatedly failed to agree on an emissary to broker an end to the killing spree in which Bashar al-Assad has killed more than 9,000 people, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, was content to laud Annan as “an outstanding choice.” Certainly the Ghana-born Annan comes loaded with credentials: former U.N.

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For a country that has experienced almost nothing but misery, abuses, and economic mismanagement since the army first took power in 1962, the scenes from Sunday’s by-elections in the new, civilian Burmese parliament seemed nothing short of miraculous. The military’s favored party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), took a paltry handful of seats. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been under arrest just two years ago, won a parliamentary seat.

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A year into the Syrian uprising against Bashar Al-Assad, the dysfunctional nature of Syrian opposition politics isn’t exactly news. But the resignation last month of Syrian dissident Kamal Labwani from the Syrian National Council (SNC)—which he accused not only of being “undemocratic” and incompetent, but intent on undermining the secular basis of the revolution—is an especially troubling indictment of the opposition’s hapless government in exile. The Obama administration should heed Labwani’s testimony, and reassess its diplomacy accordingly.

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Shortly after mass protests toppled Hosni Mubarak last February, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood sought to assuage fears of an “Islamist takeover” by making two promises to both the international community and to Egyptian secularist parties: that it would run candidates in fewer than 50 percent of the parliamentary races, and that it would not run a presidential candidate. Yet one month before the parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood backtracked on its first promise.

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Thirty years ago I wrote a tiny book in defense of nuclear deterrence. Against the nuclear freezers and the nuclear war-fighters, deterrence was not hard to defend: my argument was drearily sensible. But I was nervously aware that I was urging good sense about a strategic situation that was senseless, because it was premised upon the credibility of a threat of holocaust. I was careful to note my discomfort in my book: deterrence, I said, may be supported but not celebrated, because it is another term for an unprecedentedly lethal danger, which it elects to manage rather than to abolish.

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Yida Camp, South Sudan—The Yida refugee camp, just south of the disputed border between the Republic of Sudan and newly-independent South Sudan, rarely feels like the edge of a warzone. Children chase donkeys and bicycle wheels through the streets, and the men spend the day languidly sipping spicy coffee in the camp’s surprisingly busy marketplace. The warzone is in the Nuba Mountains in the region of Southern Kordofan, a fifteen kilometer trek away, through the desert and across the border with the Republic of Sudan. Still, it is difficult to be optimistic here.

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On March 15, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stood before nearly 100,000 of his fellow countrymen in Budapest and declared, “Hungarians will not live as foreigners dictate.” Drawing an explicit connection between the European Union, which Hungary enthusiastically joined in 2004, and the Soviet Union, which brutally crushed a Hungarian revolt in 1956, Orbán said, “We are more than familiar with the character of unsolicited comradely assistance, even if it comes wearing a finely tailored suit and not a uniform with shoulder patches.” This style of demagoguery is nothing new for Orbán.

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As the international community continues to debate high-minded principles of national sovereignty, Syria continues its downward spiral into unmitigated chaos. The bitter truth is that the longer this situation continues, the deeper the scars will be once the nation has been freed of Bashar Al-Assad. Increasingly, crimes against humanity are being committed by both sides, as the Free Syria Army struggles to incorporate and maintain control over its armed rebel brigades. But as harrowing as the details of the current situation are, the basic principles at stake are very clear.

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Back in July of 2010, TNR asked nine experts to explore what the United States should do next in Afghanistan. In the twenty months since that symposium, much has changed. Tragic developments—such as the downing of a military helicopter that claimed 38 Americans and the recent massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant—have stoked widespread discontent with the current course of action, and have many rethinking their commitments to the mission.

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In China, a perennial T.V. favorite is the “rear palace” costume drama, depicting the conspiratorial high politics of bygone dynasties. An analogous kind of half-concealed theatre seems to be taking place today, not behind the sequestered walls of the imperial palace, but in the Chinese Communist Party’s headquarters at Zhongnanhai.

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