All posts filed under: World Affairs

The Impressive Record of Theresa May

It’s usually difficult to describe the lasting legacy of a British Prime Minister in one word. For many, Theresa May (2016­­–19) seems to be the exception: failure. She inherited a small Conservative Party majority in the House of Commons and was under no political or constitutional pressure to hold a general election until 2020, but she called one nevertheless in 2017 and ended up losing that majority, forcing her to govern in coalition with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party for the remaining two years of her premiership. Her first attempt to get the House of Commons to approve the Withdrawal Agreement her Government had negotiated with the European Union was rejected by 432 MPs, the largest defeat of any British government in history. She attempted twice more to get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed and failed on both occasions, thus making her the self-styled “Brexit Prime Minister” who failed to deliver Brexit. Notwithstanding all this, she was a Prime Minister who presided over several successes which shouldn’t be overlooked. The Economy Just a month …

Indonesia’s Unlikely Democracy Remains Resilient

Indonesians refer to election day as Pesta Demokrasi—which translates to “Democracy Festival.” And it’s easy to see why. On April 17, about 156-million eligible Indonesians cast their votes forpresident at 809,500 polling stations strewn across 17,000 islands. Coinciding with the world’s largest direct presidential election were parliamentary and local legislative elections, with more than 20,000 seats contested by more than 245,000 candidates. Overseeing the entire process were around 6-million election workers—a force larger than the entire population of neighboring Singapore. As CNN reported, “ensuring this mega-poll in the world’s third largest democracy would go off without a hitch was a logistical feat, with election workers traveling by boat to remote islands, scaling mountains to reach hill-top villages and trekking through jungles—sometimes on horses—to bring ballot boxes within range of every voter.” All in all, April’s election was billed as “the most complicated single-day elections in global history.” It was also deadly—though not in the way you might expect. An estimated 139 election workers and police officers reportedly died from exhaustion due to the sheer scale …

François Furet: A Man For Our Season

Of all the many and varied compliments that can fairly be paid to Anglo-Saxon liberalism, modesty is certainly not among them. Since the Whig heyday in the first half of the nineteenth century, English-speaking liberals have claimed to have the solutions to everything from industrial relations to the prevention of war, all the while arguing that their doctrine is thoroughly undogmatic. And yet before one accuses liberalism and its adherents of arrogance, it is important to note that liberal policymakers, movements, and statesmen have been hugely successful in a wide array of endeavours, and played a pivotal role in fashioning the current world order. In recent years, however, especially since the American and British electoral shocks of 2016, it has become commonplace among the commentariat to announce that liberalism’s death agonies have begun—on the Left this has led to a celebration of the passing of corrupt and oppressive neoliberalism, and on the Right to the claim that unnatural and oppressive globalism’s deserved destruction is imminent. Nonetheless, given the length of time in which the West …

How Progressivism Enabled the Rise of the Populist Right

Right-wing populists have won an unprecedented 57 seats in elections to the European Union’s Parliament, up from 30 in 2014. In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz won a majority of 52 percent. In Italy, Matteo Salvini’s Lega topped the poll at 30 percent, in Britain, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party won, while in France, Marine Le Pen pipped Emmanuel Macron 23 percent to 22 percent. While not quite the populist surge some feared, right-populist momentum continues. Meanwhile, the mainstream Social Democrats and Christian Democrats saw their combined total drop below a majority for the first time, from 56 percent in 2014 to 44 percent as Green and Liberal alternatives gained.  What few have noticed is that these results, especially in Western Europe, reflect a continuing blowback against the excesses of the post-1960s liberal-left. They also reveal how the mainstream has adapted to the populist challenge by tightening immigration, which has reduced the appeal of national populism in many northern and western European countries since its 2015-16 peak. This adjustment by the main parties has alienated some left-liberals, …

The Real Ballot Question in South Africa: How to Keep the Country from Falling Apart

South Africa’s sixth election since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1994 takes place on May 8. It has been 25 years since the country cast off the moral abomination of apartheid. But the noble and worthy dreams that took flight in the era of Nelson Mandela have been crushed by reality. Indeed, the dreadful irony is that Afrikaner nationalists’ dire predictions about majority rule seem to have come true. The country is in a parlous state: A recent Bloomberg report found that on a wide range of indicators, South Africa has done worse over the last five years than any other country in the world save those in a state of war. Corruption is rampant at every level, starting with the police. The power cuts that began in 2007 have gotten steadily worse. And although the government has managed to keep the lights on for the election campaign, the most optimistic forecast is another five years of intermittent supply. This in a country that, in 1994, had an oversupply of electricity at some of …

The Iraq War Was Not About Oil

Why did the U.S.-led coalition attack Iraq in 2003? Sixteen years after George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech, the answer seems obvious to some: oil of course! When war was waged, this was the widespread view in Jordan (71 percent), Morocco (63 percent), Pakistan (54 percent), Turkey (64 percent), Germany (60 percent) and France (58 percent). After all, the U.S. was the largest oil-consuming nation and Iraq had the second-largest oil reserves in the world. These suspicions are strengthened when we consider how the White House was being run by retired oil executives—Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Bush himself. However, closer examination suggests these factors were a coincidence rather than a conspiracy. The Iraq War was not fought for oil. Big Oil, Sanctions and Saddam American oil companies didn’t want to topple Saddam Hussein; they wanted to trade with him. They were prevented from doing so, not by the regime but by the U.S.’s full support for the U.N.’s oil embargo that was imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990. In 1997, Conoco’s CEO …

Denmark’s Blaspheming Mother

“This is a nightmare. We’re in shock,” Jaleh Tavakoli says. Last month, the 36-year-old Iranian-Danish critic of Islam received notification from Danish social services that she is no longer fit to care for the 8-year-old child she’s fostered since birth. Why? Tavakoli, a columnist and author, says it is because of her politically incorrect views on Islam. Social services maintains it is looking out for the best interest of a potentially vulnerable child. Tavakoli lives under security precautions, has been threatened on the streets of Copenhagen, and even survived a jihadist attack in 2015. As she prepares for the most difficult challenge of her life, Danish society must contend with the unprecedented challenge of where to draw the line when radical Islam intersects with free speech and children’s rights. Denmark, a kingdom of just 5.7 million people, consistently ranks among the top countries in the world in quality-of-life indexes. The small Nordic state is envied for its strong universal healthcare system, high levels of trust and extremely generous welfare benefits. In 2018, it ranked third …

The Scars of Rwanda, 25 Years On

I was home from University for the Easter holidays when the genocide began. April 7, 1994 is a date seared into my family’s psyche. My parents and I were transfixed by the news. They’d been front-line aid-workers for decades. My father was with the UN’s refugee agency. My mother, a child psychologist, worked with child soldiers. Neither were naïve about the world’s darker recesses, but the speed and scale of the savagery in Rwanda left everyone, even the most jaded and battle-hardened of my parents’ colleagues, reeling. The phone rang repeatedly. Meetings ran late. People we knew were dispatched to the region.  Over the next 100 days, an estimated 800,000 Tutsi were hacked to death with machetes wielded by their Hutu countrymen. House by house. Village by village. Town by town. Often it was neighbor killing neighbor. Occasionally, family members butchered their own kin. Two pieces of footage from those days remain clear in my mind. One was shot clandestinely, by someone hiding in some bushes. It filmed a makeshift roadblock with a few Tutsi …

The Exhaustion of Hedgehog Morality

“The liberal world is suffering its greatest crisis of confidence since the 1930s,” columnist and historian Robert Kagan recently wrote in a major essay in the Washington Post,—reprising an analysis that has become familiar after Brexit, the rise of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), and other shocks to the established political order in Europe and the West. This analysis suggests that, as in the 1930s and the Second World War, liberalism today is being confronted by “authoritarianism.” In response, the analysis counsels, liberals should either renew their appeal to voters by persuasively restating their intellectual foundations and historical accomplishments or promote a more muscular version of their creed. For example, in an op-ed published in multiple European newspapers, French president Emmanuel Macron, also invoking the war,  recently proposed that to protect Europeans from the emotional appeals and manipulations of “nationalists” (increasingly a synonym for “authoritarians”), the European Union should impose “rules banishing incitement to hatred and violence from the internet,” enforce a single asylum policy with common acceptance rules, and introduce common social rights and wages …

Venezuela and the Half-Truths of Noam Chomsky

As a young socialist, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism by Noam Chomsky and his late collaborator Edward S. Herman helped to convert me to the worldview of the anti-Imperialist Left. I remained a member of this political tendency, for whom Chomsky has become an unrivaled intellectual hero, for most of my adult life. That is, until I was confronted by the gap between its doctrines and an unfolding reality I really knew something about. I continue to respect some of Chomsky’s writing on topics such as the devastation of East Timor by Indonesia. But the more one knows about a subject, the more apparent the selectivity of Chomsky’s analysis becomes. When Chomsky argued that the 9/11 atrocities were morally equivalent to President Clinton’s rocket strike on the Al Shifa medicine factory in Sudan (and that “we” should therefore hesitate before judging “them”), his erstwhile admirer Christopher Hitchens observed that, “Noam Chomsky does not rise much above the level of half-truth.” This, Hitchens went on to complain, had “lately become his hallmarks.” In retrospect, …