What Macri’s win in Argentina means for Latin America


Though I’m in Rome (and Malta and Napoli for the week), I write for The National Interest tomorrow about the implications of outgoing Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri’s victory in Argentina’s presidential election.argentina

The piece argues that former Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri’s victory (and the first defeat of kirchnerismo since its arrival in Argentine politics in 2003) is a game-changer for Latin American politics for three reasons — by restoring fiscal and monetary sanity to Argentina, paving the way for a wave of pent-up investment; by ending Argentina’s standoff with its creditors and bringing the country back into global debt markets; and by isolating the anti-democratic populist left, including Venezuela, where questionable and unfair legislative elections will take place Dec. 6.

Read it all here.

Why Hollande’s determination could be a game-changer for Syria

French president François Hollande and foreign minister Laurent Fabius have a strong record on successful and targeted foreign intervention. (Charles Platiau / Reuters)
French president François Hollande and foreign minister Laurent Fabius have a strong record on successful and targeted foreign intervention. (Charles Platiau / Reuters)

With 20 airstrikes on Sunday in the de facto Islamic State/Saesh capital of Raqqa, French president François Hollande made it very clear that he would stay true to his word and launch a ‘merciless war’ against the terrorist camps in Syria controlled by IS/Daesh. Mali Flag IconFrance Flag Iconcentrafrique flagSyria Flag Icon

That may seem like a tall order, especially given the geopolitical conundrums of Syria’s civil war. Russia is also bombing Raqqa and other rebel strongholds, with the explicit goal of boosting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. France, meanwhile, opposes Assad, and Hollande nearly launched airstrikes in 2013 against Assad. The United States, along with France and the United Kingdom, have generally argued that Assad must leave power, and the United States once looked to boost anti-Assad Sunni rebels, some of whom are now allied with IS/Daesh. Now, however, US special forces are on the ground in Syria working with Kurdish peshmerga forces to pressure Raqqa as well. For what it’s worth, Turkey is also boosting the US effort with airstrikes on IS/Daesh, but Turkish forces have also been attacking Kurdish militants in southeast Turkey.

And so on and so on. Last Friday’s attacks on Paris may have simplified the French objective in the region, but it doesn’t make it strategically less messier. Hollande has now made it clear that his goal is to destroy IS/Daesh, not simply to contain it. That makes him, for now, far more hawkish on Syria than either US president Barack Obama or UK prime minister David Cameron. It’s worth remembering that Hollande played a crucial role in bringing Berlin and Athens together for a last-minute bailout deal at the nadir of Greece’s eurozone crisis in July.

The Syrian calculus may also be changing for Obama and Cameron, though. Obama spent nearly a half-hour conferring with Russian president Vladimir Putin over the weekend at the G-20 summit in Turkey, and Hollande is set to meet Obama in person in Washington on November 24, followed by a visit with Putin in Moscow two days later.

An increasingly hawkish France in the Sarkozy-Hollande era

If there’s anyone in world politics today, however, whose record of eliminating jihadist threats and restoring peace in the developing world is decent, it’s Hollande — after at least partially successful operations in Mali and in the Central African Republic.

Throughout most of the world (including France), Hollande is an unpopular and ineffective figure who has neither stood up to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s ‘austerity,’ nor enacted reforms to make the French economy more effective nor lowered France’s persistent unemployment rate. That’s, at least, when his personal love life isn’t making headlines.

But Hollande has developed an impressive record when it comes to engaging and defeating radical jihadists in former French colonies– and in prolonging a new trend of aggressive foreign policy.

His predecessor, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, took office in 2007 with the explicit goal of closer security ties with the United States and the United Kingdom, embracing the once toxic mantle of ‘Atlanticist.’ In 2009, he ended France’s four-decade-long rift with NATO, fully integrating France into NATO’s security regime, and he embraced a muscular, hawkish foreign policy — on Libya and elsewhere.

Perhaps to the surprise of some of the more dovish members of Hollande’s Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), he has embraced the new French assertiveness on the global stage. Even more surprisingly, it’s Laurent Fabius, a long-time Socialist official, who has carried out Hollande’s muscular foreign policy as France’s foreign minister.

Fabius, who served as France’s youngest prime minister in the 1980s under François Mitterrand, bucked his party in 2005 in advocating a non vote against a European constitution. Nevertheless, he comes from the left wing of the party, and he’s run (unsuccessfully) for the party’s presidential nomination.

Mali — restoring a government in the Sahel

In 2012, in northern Mali, the Tuaregs, nomadic Muslims long resentful of the southern elite, were on the verge of breaking away to form their own northern state. The pressure on Mali’s government culminated in a military coup, deposing Mali’s democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Touré and thereby plunging Mali into even greater chaos. By the end of the year, a relatively stable democratic country had become a magnet for international jihadists, including newly-armed Libyan rebels and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Together, the radicals had overtaken both the Malian army and the local Tuareg forces to create a radical Islamist pocket across northern Mali, introducing harsh sharia law and increasingly threatening the southern capital, Bamako.

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RELATED: Despite fears, Mali’s rushed presidential election seems like a success — for now

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Invited by the new government, Hollande sent a 4,000-person force to Mali in January 2013. Within days, French troops controlled the northern city of Timbuktu and, By April, the international jihadist threat in Mali was significantly reduced, and French troops began withdrawing from Mali, as a regional African force took control over regional security. By August 2013, the country held its delayed presidential election, voting Ibrahim Boubakar Keïta into power and restoring Mali back onto a democratic path, tasked with tough negotiations with Tuareg rebels.

A more wide-ranging force, together with national African troops, remained behind to ensure that the international fighters in Mali didn’t stick around to cause mayhem in other countries in the Sahel.

While IBK, as he’s known in Mali, has not been incredibly successful in pacifying the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who continue to clash with Malian forces and are pushing forward to create their own sovereign state of Azawad. That’s not the best potential outcome for Mali, necessarily, but it did prevent Mali — or the wide Sahel — from becoming the kind of powerless vacuum where international jihadist rule can thrive, like in eastern Syria, western Iraq and present-day Libya. Moreover, even as Mali struggles to consolidate a united country, it can do so without having to wage a war against an IS-style caliphate within its own borders.  Pushing aside hand-wringing about the perception of françafrique, the notion that France continues to play a role in its former colonies to perpetuate its own self-interested political and economic control, Hollande’s targeted and narrowly defined mission made Europe and the Sahel safer as a result.

CAR — giving peace a fresh start

A year later, the Central African Republic, another former French colony, was devolving into chaos.

François Bozizé, the CAR’s president since taking power in a 2003 coup, was himself ousted by the Séléka alliance that first took control of the country’s north in November 2012, then took the capital, Bangui, in March 2013, bringing Séléka rebel leader Michel Djotodia to power.

Yet Djotodia, even after dissolving his militia, failed to control the increasingly intense fighting between Christians-dominated ‘anti-balaka’ militia and the Muslim dominated Séléka. With the country descending back into civil war, the UN Security Council introduced a peacekeeping force, and Hollande sent 1,600 French troops to help disarm militias, after refusing an initial request from Bozizé earlier in 2013 to stabilize his regime.

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RELATED: Does Djotodia’s resignation matter in
Central African Republic?

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Isolated from the elites of the Bozizé regime and increasingly from other rebel leaders in his own Séléka alliance, Djotodia stepped down in early 2014, and the country eventually appointed an interim leader, Catherine Samba-Panza.

The French peacekeeping effort hasn’t pacified the CAR enough to allow for elections that have now been delayed numerous times. But it may helped prevent wider violence, or even mass genocide, in central Africa. Again, French forces have kept the CAR from becoming a fully failed state and a vacuum for jihadist forces that might delight at forming a base in central Africa.

Syria — a chance for a genuine political settlement

Neither Mali nor the Central African Republic today are what you might call model countries today, not even by the standards of sub-Saharan Africa. Mali’s democratic restoration remains fragile and the country is still divided on tenuous north-south lines. The Central African Republic still hasn’t held postwar elections, and it could crumble back into violence at any moment.

But by the standards of Western intervention over the last 15 years, it’s hard to think of any greater successes. Certainly not Iraq or Afghanistan after the end of US-led intervention there, and certainly not Libya, which is barely functioning today after Sarkozy and Cameron led a US-backed charge to dislodge Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. US drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen have done little, either, to make those countries safer. Hollande’s record may not be perfect, but there’s at least some cause for hope.

It’s also true that Syria is different and, in many ways, from sub-Saharan Africa, and will be a much more difficult challenge for Hollande or any international coalition to pacify. For a country that’s suffered four years of civil war and brutality on all sides, Syrians may not welcome yet another international player to the mix. Intervention from the United States, Russia, Turkey and others only seems to make things worse for everyday Syrians, bringing just fleeting gains to the pro-Assad or anti-Assad forces of the day.

Hollande, like Obama and Putin, must realize that any military victory in pushing back IS/Daesh will ultimately be a Pyrrhic victory without the kind of political settlement that brings an end to Syria’s hostilities, even if that means pushing Assad from power.

Why Beirut matters too

The Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque and the Saint George Maronite Cathedral stand side by side in Martyr's Square in downtown Beirut. (Kevin Lees)
The Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque and the Saint George Maronite Cathedral stand side by side in Martyr’s Square in downtown Beirut. (Kevin Lees)

I’ve seen plenty of commentary online since Friday night criticizing the American and European media (and their audiences) for ignoring Thursday’s terrorist attacks in Beirut while focusing their attention solely on Friday’s deadlier Paris attacks.Lebanon

But, as I write tomorrow for The National Interest, as the world mourns the victims of both attacks, there’s a risk that the lessons of the Beirut blasts (by far the worst since the beginning of the civil war in neighboring Syria) will go unheeded.

Just as the Paris attacks are changing the nature of the Western response to ISIS/Daesh, so should the Beirut attacks change the nature of Western engagement with Lebanon.

Recognizing the humanity of the victims in Lebanon is really just the first step, because the real courage among policymakers is to adjust to the post-attack Beirut with more support politically, economically and morally.

Do read the whole thing here.

I argue first that U.S. and European policymakers should care about Lebanon and its stability:  Continue reading Why Beirut matters too

A primer on Raqqa, Islamic State’s so-called ‘capital’


Now that the Islamic State/Daesh has taken credit for three major attacks — the downing of a Russian flight over the Sinai peninsula, a double suicide bombing in southern Beirut and the concerted Friday night onslaught in Paris — there’s a growing consensus that the international community is doubling down on concerted efforts to confront the radical Sunni jihadists at their core in Syria.Syria Flag Icon

That began on Sunday afternoon, when French forces hit Raqqa, a city in northeastern Syria that IS/Daesh has claimed as its de facto capital, with more than 20 airstrikes. In the aftermath of Friday night’s coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, French president François Hollande declared that the attacks amounted to an ‘act of war,’ pledging to lead a response that ‘will be pitiless,’ and the French military reaction came even while police still search for one of the alleged perpetrators of Friday’s attacks.

Well before Paris, US officials have been increasingly focused on Raqqa

As the world’s attention now turns from Paris and Beirut to Raqqa, those terrorist attacks seem likely to accelerate what’s been a gradual effort to place pressure on ISIS in Raqqa. US airstrikes last Thursday killed militant Mohammed Emwazi, popularly known as ‘Jihadi John’ in the US media. A Kuwait native who grew up in London before traveling to Syria to fight for IS/Daesh, he appeared in several videotaped beheadings of westerners, proclaiming jihadist slogans in perfect English as he and his allies murdered their victims.

In early July, a series of 16 US airstrikes also targeted Raqqa, with the goal of destroying ISIS strongholds and disrupting transit routes — an attack that killed at least six civilians. News reports suggest that the United States and its allies are gradually preparing a campaign to liberate Raqqa in tandem with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a new coalition of Kurdish, Arab and other Syrian minorities in the country’s northeast, though its strength may be more aspirational than anything else.Formed just last month, it Forces are still a somewhat nebulous group, anchored by the YPG (the Kurdish acronym for the People’s Protection Units, the Kurdish armed peshmerga fighting IS/Daesh), but which also includes Sunni Arabs and, most incredulously, some longtime pro-Assad forces.

US special forces that entered Syria in the last month, in particular, are thought to be spearheading the Raqqa effort. As Vox‘s Zach Beauchamp wrote earlier in October, a successful US-led siege on Raqqa would be difficult but would also call into doubt the Islamic State’s ability to hold, control and govern territory in Syria (or Iraq, for that matter).

Raqqa, in Syria's northeast, is the de facto capital of the Islamic State's so-called caliphate. (BBC)
Raqqa, in Syria’s northeast, is the de facto capital of the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate. (BBC)

In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks, there have already been calls in the US media to ‘erase’ Raqqa:

Alain Bauer, a leading French criminologist and adviser to officials in Paris, New York, and elsewhere about counter-terror strategies, is among those who believes that ISIS is lashing out precisely because it is under pressure on the ground….

“If we really want to do something, we need to erase Raqqa,” [criminologist Alain] Bauer told The Daily Beast. What keeps this from happening? In Bauer’s opinion, the United States. “Every bombing is a nightmare to negotiate,” he said. “Here’s a target. ‘Oops, there’s a garden there. Oops, there’s a family there. Oops, you cannot destroy this, you cannot destroy that.’”

But ISIS is embedded among the civilian population. Bauer thinks there’s an important distinction. “They are representing the civilian population,” he says, at least those who have remained and sometimes profited from the group’s presence. “They are not enslaving them. And a war is a war.”

But the facts suggest otherwise, and the limited reporting from Raqqa over the past year indicates an urban population terrorized by the Islamic State’s fundamentalist grip. Gruesome public executions are now a routine occurrence, foreign-born militants from Africa and Europe alike (often unable to speak Arabic) mix awkwardly with the local population and jihadists routinely police their moral vision, for example, forcing women to wear niqabs. Though Islamic State certainly has its supporters among the Sunni population, many of Raqqa’s civilians are, like the victims of the Beirut and Paris bombings, victims of Daesh-led terrorism.

How once-secure Raqqa became so notorious

A Vanity Fair report from last October describes a shellshocked city where bakeries no longer produce enough bread, religious police forbid smoking tobacco,photos of models and even swearing, while young children are forced to trawl through garbage in search of valuables that they can sell for money.  Continue reading A primer on Raqqa, Islamic State’s so-called ‘capital’

Kumar hands BJP’s Modi staggering defeat in Bihar state

Bihar's accomplished chief minister Nitish Kumar faces the most serious threat of his career in the political machine of prime minister Narendra Modi. (Facebook)
Bihar’s accomplished chief minister Nitish Kumar faced the most serious threat of his career in the political machine of prime minister Narendra Modi. (Facebook)

After five rounds of voting that ended on Thursday, the results of Bihar’s state elections were revealed last Sunday, handing a surprisingly strong victory to chief minister Nitish Kumar — and a correspondingly disappointing defeat to prime minister Narendra Modi that’s caused ripples nationally and ripped the aegis of invincibility from Modi’s political cloak.India Flag Icon

With 104 million people, Bihar has a population twice that of Myanmar/Burma, whose elections have been received with far more international coverage. Though it’s not even India’s most populous state (it ranks third), Bihar is home to more people than all but 11 countries in the world. It’s here, in one of India’s poorest states, that a regional election drew into conflict three of India’s most colorful and powerful politicians and where two distinct (and imperfect) visions of India’s development have clashed, with a result that will have national implications for India’s future.

To understand the real significance of the Bihari election, it’s worth taking a step back to understand the decade-long posturing between Modi and Kumar. Bear with me.

A tale of two visions of ‘vikaas’ 

The first of those two visions belongs to Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) so overwhelmingly won national elections in May 2014. That was just as true in Bihar as it was elsewhere in India, where the BJP took 22 of the state’s 42 seats in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of the Indian parliament. In part, Modi was selling a vision of development and economic progress based on the ‘Gujarati model’ that he laid claim to after 13 years as chief minister of the state of Gujarat. The Modi approach involved a top-heavy approach to government and economic boosterism that found Modi jetting to China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates to cajole foreign development to his state. Though Gujarat’s economy has always been among India’s stronger performers, there’s no doubt that Modi’s zero-tolerance approach to corruption and attention to strong infrastructure, including some of the best roads and power generation in India, has been successful. Despite the Hindu-Muslim riots that left over 1,000 Muslims dead shortly after Modi took office in 2001, Modi’s 2014 campaign slogan of ‘toilets, not temples’ rang true — he was a man more interested in bringing good roads and clean water to his country than giving voice to Hindu nationalism, or at least that was the promise of his campaign.

But there was always another model, and that’s Kumar’s Bihari model.

Ultimately, it was this model that won the day in this autumn’s elections — a five-phase spectacle over the course of nearly a month, between October 12 and November 5. When the results were announced, Kumar’s Mahagathbandhan (‘Grand Alliance’), a coalition between his own Janata Dal (United) (JD(U), जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD, राष्ट्रीय जनता दल), the party founded in 1997 by former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, won a clear mandate, far larger than anyone had expected in what was thought to have been an incredibly tight race.

The Kumar-led alliance won 41.9% of the vote and 178 seats in the state’s 243-member Legislative Assembly, while Modi’s alliance won just 34.1% of the vote and 58 seats, far more lopsided than anyone had predicted.

bihar15 bihar2015a

Kumar’s story — and his relationship with the BJP — is complex.

Except for a short period between May 2014 and February 2015, when he briefly stepped aside after his party’s loss in India’s national election, Kumar has served as Bihar’s chief minister since 2005, and for most of that time, he was an ally of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Kumar took over a state known as something of an economic basketcase. Even today, Bihar has a far higher poverty rate than much of the rest of the country. When you think of overpopulated and underdeveloped India, you are probably thinking of Bihar or somewhere very much like it. In contrast to Bangalore or Mumbai or even Modi’s Gujarat, Bihar’s hopes never lied in the kind of sexy development that comes from foreign investment. But over the course of Kumar’s tenure as chief minister, he has managed some of the highest GDP growth rates in the country (including an average GDP growth rate of 10.6% between 2005 and 2014) and an 8% reduction in poverty. Like Modi in Gujarat, Kumar focused on infrastructure, including better roads. But he also turned to greater social welfare spending and his record on poverty reduction is far stronger than Modi’s Gujarati record.

But perhaps Kumar’s greatest governance success came from reversing the sense of lawlessness that characterized Bihar under the leadership of his predecessor (and now coalition partner) Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav helped deliver a victory against Modi -- but at what price? (Facebook)
Former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav helped deliver a victory against Modi — but at what price? (Facebook)

Becoming chief minister for the first time in 1990, Yadav reigned over what became known nationally as a ‘jungle raj,’ a state of wild corruption, economic malaise and violent criminals riding roughshod. In 1997, when he was implicated (and eventually convicted) for accepting kickbacks in an animal husbandry scheme known as the ‘fodder scam,’ he stepped down in favor of his wife, Rabri Devi, who intermittently ruled as chief minister until 2005. At the same time, Yadav founded a new breakaway party form the Janata Dal, the RJD.

The two remained enemies for the better part of a decade and a half. As the RJD became a byword for petty corruption (even today, 49 of the 80 incoming state legislators have pending criminal cases), Kumar promised a new approach that transcended religion and caste, nominally an ally of the BJP, while Bihar’s green shoots emerged in the mid-2000s onward.

In 2013, as it became apparent that the BJP and the NDA favored Modi to lead the alliance into the 2014 elections as a prime ministerial candidate, Kumar withdrew from the alliance. He did so mostly because of Modi’s role in the controversial 2002 communal violence and riots in Gujarat. Just as the BJP was about to win the most massive victory in Indian history, Kumar walked away from the alliance, in no small part over secularism. One suspects that it also had to do with Kumar’s disappointment in not leading the alliance himself. But for years, Kumar has refused to let Modi’s campaign in Bihar, and his disapproval of Modi’s record had been on record for years.

How the ‘Grand Alliance’ stole Bihar back from Modi

The 2015 Bihar elections were supposed to be one of the great triumphs on Modi’s path to consolidating the BJP’s power, and the prime minister campaigned throughout the state early and often at the advice of his chief strategist, Amit Shah.

But something went awry.

In contrast to the ‘toilets, not temples’ mantra of his 2014 campaign, the BJP got bogged down in an attempt to use communal issues, like eating beef, to fire up its Hindutva base in India, a step that seems to have backfired. Despite Modi’s popularity, the BJP might have benefited from grooming a local charismatic figure that could have led the party’s efforts in Bihar. Through the campaign, it was never quite clear who would become chief minister had the BJP won the election, unlike the ‘grand alliance,’ which made clear that Kumar would carry on as chief minister if elected. Unlike Modi, just 18 months into his tenure as India’s prime minister, Kumar has a decade of proven results as chief minister. It’s not crazy to think that Bihar’s voters are sophisticated enough to support Modi nationally and Kumar locally.

Yet one of the reasons that the BJP did so well in the 2014 national elections in Bihar was that the JDU and the RJD were divided. Though the Nitish-Lalu alliance has generated its fair share of wariness, given the 15-year rivalry between the two figures, the coalition between the JDU and the RJD made it much easier to unite Muslim supporters (in a state where over 15% of the population is Muslim) and the disadvantaged Yadav caste.

Joining forces wasn’t easy for Kumar, whose good-governance agenda has little in common with the RJD’s pocket-lining. But the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), previously the governing party of India, engineered the coalition between the two parties and joined up as the third, by far weakest, partner of the alliance in Bihar. Rahul Gandhi may be a ghost when it comes to contemporary Indian politics, and aside from its overrated role in bringing Kumar back together with the corruption-tainted Lalu, has been entirely absent from the Bihar campaign (as in Delhi, where Arvind Kejriwal delivered a whopping defeat to Modi earlier this year).

Lalu, as a politician, is one of India’s greatest showmen. He toured every corner of Bihar state, and he used the campaign to attack the hardliners who have dominated headlines in India for their Hindu nationalism since Modi took office. It worked, and his party (the RJD) won more seats than Kumar’s JD(U). He’ll expect something in return for that victory, and it might be more than just a space in Kumar’s next cabinet for his two ambitious sons.

The consequences for Modi’s government and the road ahead

There’s no doubt that the Bihar electoral rout is the worst political crisis since Modi took power nearly 18 months ago. Modi’s enemies in his party, including the old guard that he sidelined two years ago, have now called into question the highly centralized approach that Modi has taken to India’s government.

Eighteen months after leading the BJP to its best victory in Indian history, voters aren't sure that globe-trotting prime minister Narendra Modi is all he's cracked up to be. (Facebook)
Eighteen months after leading the BJP to its best victory in Indian history, voters aren’t sure that globe-trotting prime minister Narendra Modi is all he’s cracked up to be. (Facebook)

But as much as the Bihar elections represent a loss for the BJP and for Modi personally, it’s not fatal. Though it’s true that Modi’s government has gotten off to a slow start as far as reform goes, he has more than enough time to right the course. The next Indian general election will not take place until 2019. In the meantime, he should double down on reform. Despite the fact that many BJP parliamentarians are protectionsist, he should push full speed ahead with a reform of the national goods and services tax that will harmonize rates and rules across state lines. As far as regulation goes, this isn’t a Thatcherite rupture, it’s low-hanging fruit. Land reform and steps to reduce graft, make government more transparent and businesses more efficient would be welcome. As far as development goes, Modi would do well to copy Bihar’s program of providing free bicycles to girls and incentives for primary and secondary education.

He might even work with Kumar in the weeks and months ahead to merge the best of both models, two sides of the same pro-development coin. Nothing would get Modi’s government back on the path of ‘toilets, not temples.’ That’s especially true with a tough set of state elections coming in 2016 and 2017. No one expects Modi and the BJP to sweep Tamil Nadu or West Bengal, where local parties rule supreme. But the 2016 election in Assam is winnable, and the fight for Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous (and still quite impoverished) state in 2017 will be fierce. A loss there will not doom Modi’s chances in 2019, but an embarrassing loss just might.

Why Marco Rubio is such a strong candidate for the Republican nomination


…in 15 tweets.USflag

Step back from the horse race, step back from the scorecards of last night’s debate, step back from the peculiarities of Iowa and New Hampshire. Envision what the Republican general election campaign in November 2016 will have to offer to an electorate where young voters, women (possibly in historical numbers) and racial and ethnic minorities will still favor the Democratic ticket, barring a catastrophic turn in voting patterns or economic conditions.

Who, given the current 15-candidate field, will Republicans want running that campaign?

Fifteen questions I would like to hear at tonight’s GOP debate


Yet another Republican presidential debate is upon us tonight. USflag

I do not expect to hear these questions and, if I did, I would not expect to hear the most clarifying answers.

  • Which document is more important in governing the United States: the Bible or the US constitution?
  • What would your administration’s strategy be regarding the Arctic region, both from an economic and security standpoint?
  • How many Syrian refugees should the United States admit in the year 2016?
  • Who would you appoint as Secretary of State in your cabinet and why? Who do you believe to have been the most effective Secretary of State in the past century?
  • Does the United States have the right to assassinate US citizens abroad, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, without due process? If so, in what constitutional and legal theory is your position rooted?
  • Suppose the DPP wins the next Taiwanese election, it universally declares independence, and mainland China launches a military attack against Taiwan. How would your administration respond?
  • Name two Obama administration policies — one on domestic policy and one on foreign policy — with which you agree.
  • Should the United States change its laws to allow for the export of crude oil and natural gas exports?
  • How can the Republican Party more successfully appeal to Asian Americans, the fastest growing immigrant group in the United States today?
  • What would your administration do if the United Kingdom’s voters elect to leave the European Union in 2017?
  • Given the Republican Party’s skepticism about the role of government, and given what we know about racial bias in sentencing , why should we trust state governments in carrying out the death penalty?
  • Given the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in sub-Saharan Africa at a time of breakneck economic growth for the region, what would your administration’s three most important priorities for US policy in Africa be?

Reform-minded ‘MOST’ party set to play kingmaker in Croatia

Croatia’s social democratic prime minister, Zoran Milanović, will now look to lead a second consecutive government. (Facebook)

Until this summer, the conservative Hrvatska demokratska zajednica (HDZ, Croatian Democratic Union), fresh off a convincing victory in the December/January presidential election, seemed assured of its victory in Croatia’s parliamentary elections, enjoying a lead of more than 10% in most polls.croatia

Then something changed.

But it wasn’t that the HDZ was losing votes. Instead, leftist voters were abandoning their flirtation with a new left-wing party, Održivi razvoj Hrvatske (ORaH, Sustainable Development of Croatia), formed in October 2013 by former environmental minister Mirela Holy. At the height of its popularity in autumn 2014, ORaH was winning nearly 20% of the vote in polls, most of which came at the expense of the governing Socijaldemokratska partija Hrvatske (SDP, Social Democratic Party of Croatia).

Over the course of 2015, as ORaH’s support plummeted, those voters returned to the SDP and its governing allies that comprise Hrvatska raste (‘Croatia is Growing’) coalition, the largest member of which, by far, is the SDP. In Sunday’s election, ORaH’s vote share collapsed so completely that it failed to win a single seat in Croatia’s unicameral parliament, the Sabor.

That, in part, explains why the SDP did so well on November 8. Nominally, the SDP won just 56 seats, while the HDZ won 59 seats. But three of the HDZ’s seats come from Croatian voters abroad, many of whom are ethnic Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovina or elsewhere in the Balkans. Moreover, the SDP’s governing coalition can informally rely on a small regional party, the Istarski demokratski sabor (IDS, Istrian Democratic Assembly), which holds three seats, as well as eight additional legislators who represent national minorities, bringing the governing SDP to a more realistic base of 67 seats (just nine shy of the majority it would need for a new term in the 151-member Sabor).


Not atypically, the Social Democratic Party performed best in the Croatian heartland and in Istria in the north and the west, while the Croatian Democratic Union did best along the Dalmatian coast stretching southward and in the far eastern Slavonia.

2015 croatia
The HDZ (blue) triumphed in the south and in the east; the SDP (red) triumphed in the north and the west.

Ironically, it was the unexpected rise of a reform-minded centrist party, Most nezavisnih lista (Bridge of Independent Lists), that probably hurt the HDZ by drawing away reform-minded centrists. Barring the unlikely formation of a ‘grand coalition’ between the HDZ and the SDP, two parties with very different cultural and political traditions, it will be Most, a new party that formed only in 2012, and its 19-member caucus, that will now decide which of Croatia’s two dominant parties will form the next government.  Continue reading Reform-minded ‘MOST’ party set to play kingmaker in Croatia

Burmese opposition victory a policy triumph for Clinton, too

Hillary Clinton, during her tenure as US secretary of state, traveled to Myanmar to visit Aung San Suu Kyi. (US State Dept.)
Hillary Clinton, during her tenure as US secretary of state, traveled to Myanmar to visit Aung San Suu Kyi. (US State Dept.)

With the ruling party already conceding defeat in the landmark elections that took place in Myanmar on Sunday, it seems certain that, a quarter-century after the Burmese military nullified her last election victory and placed her under house arrest, pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi will now lead her country, with her National League for Democracy (NLD) set to win a resounding victory. USflagmyanmar

Official preliminary election results will be announced on Tuesday, but the outcome now seems all but assured as more details emerge of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)’s electoral collapse.

It is, above all, a moment for the people of Myanmar to celebrate what seems likely to be the most important step yet in the transition from military rule to something that looks increasingly like a democratic state. It’s also a moment for Suu Kyi and her party to celebrate, even though her late husband’s British nationality will prevent an NLD majority to select her as Myanmar’s next president.

No matter.

Suu Kyi, barring a major hiccup in the vote counting or a sudden volte face from the military, will soon become Myanmar’s next leader.

But it’s also a huge triumph for former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who championed Suu Kyi’s struggle in her tenure at Foggy Bottom and spent significant time and effort on building greater US-Burmese ties after years of hostility. When Clinton flew to Myanmar in 2011 to meet Suu Kyi, it was the first time that a senior US government official had set foot in the country for a half-century.

Clinton didn’t have to expend so much political capital on Myanmar. It’s not an incredibly strategic country to the US national interest, even in light of the increasing importance of the Asia-Pacific region. Goodness knows there are no votes among an American electorate that would be challenged to pinpoint Myanmar on a map. But there are (and continue to be) political downsides for Clinton if Myanmar’s transition disintegrates. That she moved so aggressively anyway to facilitate Burmese democracy is worth celebrating as part of the best tradition of American leadership in the world. Continue reading Burmese opposition victory a policy triumph for Clinton, too

Ma-Xi meeting takes place with Kuomintang’s political woes looming

Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese president Xi Jinping shake hands before their historic meeting in Singapore (Kua Chee Siong / Straits Times)

As far as Taiwanese public opinion goes, the relatively pro-Chinese stand of president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been a disaster, especially in his second term.taiwanChina Flag Icon

When he leaves office early next year, Ma will do so as one of the most unpopular Taiwanese leaders in memory, stirring a popular revolt last year among Taiwanese citizens who believe his government has been too quick to cozy up to Beijing. The student-led ‘Sunflower movement’ protests so rattled Ma’s government that he abandoned what he hoped would become one of his administration’s most important policy achievements — the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, which would have liberalized many service sectors between mainland China and Taiwan, including tourism, finance and communications. Though Ma concluded negotiations with Beijing over the CSSTA, the Taiwanese parliament still hasn’t ratified the agreement.

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RELATED: Taiwan watches battle of wills
between Beijing and Hong Kong

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Ma’s decision to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping (习近平) today is not necessarily a popular decision back home — and its swift announcement earlier this week was a bombshell in the campaign for Taiwanese elections just nine weeks away.

With just months left in office, his ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT, 中國國民黨), is far behind in the presidential race. For the first time in Taiwan’s history, the Kuomintang and its allies that form the Pan-Blue Coalition could lose control of Taiwan’s parliament. The Kuomintang’s first presidential candidate, Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the vice president of the Legislative Yuan (立法院), Taiwan’s unicameral legislature, sunk so low in polls since becoming the KMT presidential nominee in July that the party dumped her last month. Her replacement, Eric Chu (朱立倫), the party chairman and, since 2010, the mayor of New Taipei, is gaining little traction.

Neither Ma nor Xi are expected to announce any new policies or make any joint statements as a result of the meeting taking place today at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel, on ‘neutral’ ground. That’s not necessarily a problem, though, because the fact that the two are meeting on (relatively) equal — Ma as the head of the Kuomintang and Xi as the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中国共产党) — is historic in its own right.

Given that so much of Ma’s unpopularity stems from his pro-China stand, his meeting today in Singapore may well doom the Kuomintang’s chances entirely in January’s general election. Indeed, the party’s low standing in public opinion may have made it eaiser for Ma to engage Xi. The near-certainty of losing power might have liberated Ma toward a historic meeting that will almost certainly have long-term benefits for better cross-straits relations.

In one sense, Ma’s position follows naturally from the force of economic gravity — 27% of Taiwan’s exports now go to China, and another 13% go to Hong Kong. Direct flights between Taipei and Beijing are now commonplace, trade continues to rise and mainland tourists are no longer a rare sight. Though Taiwan has the world’s 19th largest economy and incomes are far higher in Taiwan than on the mainland, China’s growing economic prowess (even as it may be headed into recession) is simply a matter of fact. Among the issues Ma expected to raise with Xi: a direct hotline between Taipei and Beijing, greater cooperation from Beijing in dealing with Taiwan’s murky international status and Xi’s change of heart in inviting Taiwan to join the Beijing-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank that Xi formed last year as a counterweight to US-dominated global financial institutions.

Xi, a ‘princeling’ whose father was a top Party official, is expected to head the mainland Chinese government through 2022, has more thoroughly dominated the CCP than any leader since perhaps Mao Zedong, waging a widespread campaign against corruption within the Party that has snared so many top officials that critics argue it functions as a purge of Xi’s internal rivals. Fresh off meetings to design China’s next five-year economic program, Xi’s government has been particularly aggressive, if not successful, about ameliorating economic headwinds, including failed efforts to stop a Chinese stock market crash over the summer. Two weeks ago, China formally ended its ‘one-child’ policy, and Xi’s government has worked with the United States to establish goals to reduce Chinese (and global) carbon emissions in the next two decades, plans that will take center stage at the international summit on climate change next month in Paris.

Nevertheless, the Chinese economy faces a difficult patch as its working population ages and it transitions from top-down growth built on internal improvements and an economy based on manufactured exports produced mainly along China’s dense eastern coast. Politically, Xi has gradually cracked down on dissent and tightened internal controls on Internet freedom. Nevertheless, he faces an angry Hong Kong population that has demanded a greater voice in choosing who will be eligible to stand for chief executive in 2017. Relations between Beijing and China’s western ethnic communities, such as the Uyghurs and the Tibetans, are still strained. The last thing Xi wants is a reversal of Beijing’s gains with Taiwan since 2008. It’s been Xi (and not Ma) who has resisted a meeting in the past; Xi’s accession to today’s meeting reflects that growing economic ties alone are not enough to secure those gains.

In local elections last year, the Kuomintang suffered defeats nationwide, including the Taipei mayoral elections, where an independent candidate, Dr. Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), a respected surgeon, easily took power with the support of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民主進步黨). The losses were so severe that Taiwan’s prime minister stepped down. Those losses seem likely to multiply on January 16, when the DPP seems likely to win the presidency for just the second time in Taiwanese history.  Continue reading Ma-Xi meeting takes place with Kuomintang’s political woes looming

Burmese general election could mark shift from military rule

Democracy advocate and decades-long opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi hopes to lead her party to power on Sunday. (Facebook)
Democracy advocate and decades-long opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi hopes to lead her party to power on Sunday. (Facebook)

Five years ago, the National League for Democracy (NLD), Myanmar’s chief opposition party, boycotted the 2010 parliamentary elections because the party’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was barred from the presidency under a 2008 constitution amendment preventing anyone with a foreign spouse or children to run for president, and it was clear enough to anyone  paying attention that the new rules were designed to keep Suu Kyi out of the presidency.myanmar

But shortly after that election, however, the ruling military junta released Suu Kyi from the house arrest under which she had been subject for more than 15 of the prior 20 years.

It was a sign of good things to come for Burmese advocates of democracy and liberalization.

On the cusp of the country’s elections on Sunday, touted as the most free and fair set of elections in a quarter-century, Suu Kyi appears to be on the cusp of leading the pro-democracy NLD to its greatest triumph yet — potentially remaking, rebranding and reforming her country in the 21st century.

From dictatorship to open elections

Shortly after the last elections, Thein Sein was sworn in as president in 2011. His government launched a tentative push for reform, freeing of many of the country’s political prisoners and introducing legally recognized labor unions. In the April 2012 by-elections, the NPD was not only permitted to campaign openly, but it won 43 of the 46 seats up for election. Later in 2012, Thein Stein appointed Aung Kyi, a leading negotiator between the government and the opposition camps, as his new information minister.

The United States took notice, engaging the new reform-minded Burmese regime and even lifting many of US government sanctions, so as to permit greater bilateral trade. By the end of 2013, US president Barack Obama had visited Myanmar, and Thein Sein had visited Washington in return, winning additional relief from US sanctions, despite ongoing concerns about treatment of the Rohingya minority — practicing Muslims who represent around 4% of the country’s 51.5 million population, mostly located in the far west of Myanmar.

Still, it’s no exaggeration to say that US outreach to Burmese officials in favor of modernization and liberalization might be the most important and well-deserved (though certainly unexpected) legacy of Hillary Clinton’s four years as US secretary of state.

Nevertheless, impatience with the glacial pace of reforms and lingering dissatisfaction with Burma’s economy explain why the NLD is such a strong favorite to win the November 8 elections.

It’s not the first time Burmese citizens have demonstrated their yearning for change. In the 1990 election, the NLD also won an overwhelming victory, only to watch as the country’s military installed an even more autocratic dictatorship, promptly placing NLD leaders, including Suu Kyi, in prison or under house arrest. Seventeen years later, between August and October 2007, Buddhist monks led a series of protests in what Western media christened the ‘Saffron revolution,’ attacking the rising cost of living and the sudden removal of Myanmar’s longtime petrol subsidy, which drastically increased fuel costs.

As world elections go, however, Sunday’s will be one of the oddest.

If Suu Kyi and the NLD score a clear win, no one really knows what might come next. A gracious concession and a transition toward a fully democratic Myanmar is possible. But so is a hardline crackdown by the country’s powerful military. Violence isn’t out of the question. Continue reading Burmese general election could mark shift from military rule

A deeper look at Trudeau’s new Liberal cabinet

Canada's 23rd prime minister Justin Trudeau and his new cabinet, all sworn in on November 4 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. (Chris Wattie / Reuters)
Canada’s 23rd prime minister Justin Trudeau and his new cabinet, all sworn in on November 4 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. (Chris Wattie / Reuters)

Among the new faces taking power today in Ottawa, perhaps none is more important to prime minister Justin Trudeau’s success or failure in office than his finance minister, the 53-year-old Bill Morneau, a Bay Street executive who was only just elected to parliament for the first time in 2015.Canada Flag Icon

Morneau’s announcement as finance minister was the most consequential of many key personnel decisions announced this morning when Trudeau was sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister, taking a job that his father, Pierre Trudeau, held from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984.

Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is smaller than the outgoing cabinet and, with 31 members, it is comprised of 16 men and 15 women and includes someone from every province (and the territory of Nunavut).

Finance Minister Bill Morneau

Bill Morneau, a former Toronto executive, will be Canada's new finance minister. (Facebook)
Bill Morneau, a former Toronto executive, will be Canada’s new finance minister. (Facebook)

A rookie MP elected for the first time on October 19 from the Toronto Centre riding, Morneau comes to the finance ministry as the former head of Morneau Shepell, Canada’s largest human resources firm (and a firm founded by Morneau’s father) and as the former chair of the C.D. Howe Institute, a relatively centrist economics think tank based in Toronto. In 2014, he was part of a panel appointed by Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Liberal premier, to examine her plan to introduce an Ontario-based pension plan that supplements the federal pension plan.

Trudeau, whose Liberals were languishing in third place in most polls all summer long, gained traction among voters when he pledged in September that, in he face of a recession across the country, his government would pursue a more expansionary fiscal policy to develop infrastructure and boost demand for jobs — including taking on $25 billion in debt for three years before a return to balanced budgets in 2019-20. For a country where fiscal restraint has been gospel, not only for the past nine years of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s government, but throughout the preceding 13 years of Liberal rule under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, promising to engage openly in deficit spending might have been a risky move.

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RELATED: Nine things to watch as Canada’s next Trudeau era begins

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Instead, it galvanized centrist and left-of-center voters that had previously been split between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP). With NDP leader Thomas Mulcair pledging balanced budgets in what would have been Canada’s first NDP-led government, Trudeau’s bold policy stand in favor of deficit spending convinced voters that the Liberals represented the more convincing agents of change. Trudeau, earlier in the campaign, promised to implement a modest tax increase on Canadians who earn more than $200,000 annually and a modest tax cut for middle-class Canadians.

Morneau’s most important task as finance minister will be finding a way to translate Trudeau’s plan into an actionable budget. But as a former businessmen with ties to Bay Street, Morneau is a natural choice to assuage the fears of Canada’s business community, and his status as a novice politician brings an element of new blood to a cabinet that has both old and new faces.

Morneau’s selection is also a victory for Wynne, who was a vocal supporter of the federal Liberal Party and of Trudeau’s campaign. Wynne often clashed with Harper, who essentially instructed his government in Ottawa not to cooperate with the pension supplement plan that Wynne pushed through Ontario’s legislative assembly last year.

He joins a growing group of rookie finance minster with more experience in the private sector than in parliamentary or governmental circles, including Greece’s Yanis Varoufakis, the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babiš and Israel’s Yair Lapid.

Morneau will also have a hand in several hot-button issues that will affect the Canadian economy, including relations with the United States, a decision about whether the trans-Canadian Energy East pipeline should proceed and finalizing the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-country free trade pact linking North America, South America and East Asia.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison

Scott Brison, the Liberal finance critic since 2010, is a longtime Nova Scotia MP, a former Progressive Conservative who will now head the Treasury Board. (Facebook)
Scott Brison, the Liberal finance critic since 2010, is a longtime Nova Scotia MP, a former Progressive Conservative who will now head the Treasury Board. (Facebook)

One of those is Scott Brison, who will be the next president of the Treasury Board. In that role, Brison will work very closely with Morneau as a behind-the-scenes official in charge of running much of the Canadian government. If Morneau is tasked with selling the Trudeau government’s economic policy, it will be Brison who is largely responsible for carrying it all out– and then some.

Brison, born and raised in Nova Scotia, has been an MP since 1997, is openly gay, began his career as an investment banker, and he started off in politics as a rising star in the center-right Progressive Conservative Party.  He’s only 48 years old, is known to be a close personal friend of Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada who, in 2013, became the governor of the Bank of England.

Brison was one of five candidates in the 2003 Progressive Conservative leadership race, though he was eliminated on the second ballot when Jim Prentice (a short-lived Alberta premier, former environmental minister and Harper consigliere) outpaced him by three votes. Just days after the Progressive Conservatives voted to merge themselves into Harper’s more dominant, western-based Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada, Brison switched parties. Within months, then-prime minister Paul Martin had already appointed Brison to the cabinet as public works minister. Brison, who ran for and lost the Liberal leadership election in 2006, has served as the Liberal’s chief finance critic, a role he’s often used to attack Conservative budgets with caustic energy, and he heartily supported Trudeau’s near-coronation to the leadership in 2013.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion

Stephane Dion is sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)
Stephane Dion is sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

Stéphane Dion, who authored the Clarity Act in 2000 that sets forth the terms of any future secession referendum in Canada, and who garnered international headlines as Canada’s activist environmental minister (who once named his dog Kyoto), led the Liberals to disastrous result in the 2008 election after a merciless campaign that saw his professorial manner dismissed as not “prime ministerial enough” and his English language skills savaged in the media.

But Dion is a serious parliamentarian who has much to offer the next government and, as a former leader, he follows in the footsteps of former British Conservative leader William Hague, former French prime minister Alain Juppé and even US secretary of state John Kerry as a foreign affairs minister. His first test will come later this month at the Paris climate change conference, where he will join a Canadian government now much more engaged than the previous Harper government on climate change. Dion is suited like a glove for the event, but he will also bring thoughtful and diligent experience of nearly 20 years of government service to Trudeau’s cabinet.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan

Sajjan chretien
Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s new defence minister, campaigns with Jean Chrétien earlier this year. (Facebook)

Harjit Sajjan, the newly elected MP for Vancouver South is, like Morneau, a newcomer to the House of Commons, to say nothing of ministerial service. But the Punjab-born Sajjan, who moved to Canada as a five-year-old, will serve as Canada’s first Sikh defence minister after three tours of duty in Afghanistan and a military career as a highly decorated veteran.

Sajjan defeated Conservative incumbent Wai Young to take the riding in October, a riding once held by former British Columbia premier Ujjal Dosanjh and home to one of the largest immigration populations in the country, including many Indian Canadians and Chinese Canadians. After his military career, where he reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel, Sajjan served as a Vancouver police officer.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau


Marc Garneau, a Montreal-based MP since 2008, was once himself considered leadership material, and he waged his own campaign in 2013 (stepped down as Trudeau’s inevitability became apparent). The first canadian in outerspace, Garneau served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2006 before turning to politics. As transport minister, he will face more policy issues about trains and highways than about space shuttles, but with infrastructure spending tops on the Trudeau agenda, Garneau could play an important role in choosing the projects to prioritize and administering those projects.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale


Ralph Goodale, who last served as Liberal finance minister in Paul Martin’s government between 2003 and 2006, was first elected as prime minister in 1974 when Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister. He lost his bid for reelection in 1989 and turned to provincial politics as the leader of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party, a venture that saw little success. Returning to parliament in 1993, he served as one of the Liberal’s most prominent westerners in government as agriculture minister, natural resources minister and public works minister before his elevation to the finance ministry. At age 66, Goodale joins Dion as one of the most experienced members of the Trudeau cabinet. LIke Garneau, the incoming public works minister will work to identity and administer the infrastructure spending that Trudeau wants to use to juice the Canadian economy back out of recession.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland


A writer, former deputy editor of The Globe and Mail and a former managing director and editor of Thomson Reuters, Chrystia Freeland returned from a promising journalistic career in New York to run in a by-election in Toronto to replace Bob Rae two years ago, the retiring interim leader of the Liberal Party. Freeland, who easily won reelection in October, is a proponent of free trade and, presumably, as minister of international trade, will work with Trudeau to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership just weeks after Harper’s government signed the landmark trade accord. Though Trudeau hasn’t fully endorsed the TPP, he made it very clear throughout the campaign that the Liberal government would be friendly to free-trade accords.

Environmental Minister Catherine McKenna

Mélanie Joly (Canada's new heritage minister) joins Catherine McKenna, Canada's new environment minister, on the campaign trail earlier this year. (Twitter)
Mélanie Joly (Canada’s new heritage minister) joins Catherine McKenna, Canada’s new environment minister, on the campaign trail earlier this year. (Twitter)

Nowhere does Liberal policy shift more fully from the Harper era than on the environment and climate change. Beyond the Paris conference, the next Canadian government will have a handful of decisions to make about a handful of energy pipelines, including the transcontinental Energy East pipeline. The 44-year-old McKenna, with a career as a human rights attorney, is also a newcomer to parliament, winning her riding in Ottawa Centre for the first time last month.

House of Commons Leader Dominic LeBlanc


Dominic LeBlanc, who has represented the Beauséjour riding from New Brunswick since 2000, is only three years older than McKenna, but he might be among the most knowledgeable Liberal ministers about how to navigate government. The son of former senator and governor-general Roméo LeBlanc, Canada’s new leader of the House has been friends with Trudeau since childhood, and he has long been a key adviser to the new prime minister. Though he’ll be one of the highest-ranking cabinet officials from Atlantic Canada, he is also very much Trudeau’s man in the House of Commons.

Photos of the day: a tale of two Trudeaus

trudeau1 trudeau2

Earlier this morning, Justin Trudeau was sworn in as the 23rd prime minister of Canada.Canada Flag Icon

But in April 1968, another Trudeau was being sworn in for the first time — Pierre Trudeau, the father of the current prime minister. Justin, who wasn’t born until 1971, wasn’t even alive at the time.

Standing to the immediate right of Pierre Trudeau is John Turner, who would ultimately succeeded Trudeau as prime minister in the mid-1980s. Standing next to Justin Trudeau’s immediate right today is top adviser Dominic LeBlanc, a childhood friend who grew up with Trudeau. The New Brunswick MP will join Trudeau’s cabinet as Leader of the House of Commons.

As for Justin, he attended his father’s swearing-in in 1980 after a brief stint out of the prime minister’s office. Seated on the left with his brother and sister, young Justin didn’t appear to be so excited about the event:

Justin (at left) joins brother Michel, and sister Alexandre at father Pierre Trudeau swearing in ceremony in 1980. (Ron Poling / CP Photo)
Justin (at left) joins brother Michel, and sister Alexandre at father Pierre Trudeau swearing in ceremony in 1980. (Ron Poling / CP Photo)

Ouattara wins expected lopsided victory in Côte d’Ivoire

A northerner, 73-year-old Alassane Ouattara must introduce more stability in Ivorian law and politics if he hopes the progress of his administration will last beyond the 2010s.
A northerner, 73-year-old Alassane Ouattara must introduce more stability in Ivorian law and politics if he hopes the progress of his administration will last beyond the 2010s.

In a more developed democracy, Côte d’Ivoire’s October 25 election might have been a civil rematch of the 2010 contest between the incumbent, Alasanne Ouattara, and his fierce rival, former president Laurent Gbagbo.Ivory Coast

Instead, Gbagbo is imprisoned at The Hague in The Netherlands awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court as the first head of state to be tried for crimes against humanity that stem from Gbagbo’s refusal to step down from the Ivorian presidency after the 2010 elections, setting the country into its second civil war in a decade as Gbagbo and his allies clung to power.

Captured in 2011 by UN and local forces loyal to Ouattara, Gbagbo still retains a loyal following, and supporters want to see Gbagbo freed.

Instead, Ouattara easily won the presidential vote, election officials announced last week, effortlessly dispatching Pascal Affi N’Guessan, formerly prime minister under Gbagbo from 2000 to 2003 and a longtime Gbagbo supporter.

Ouattara, of northern descent, served as Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s final prime minister from 1990 until the former president’s death in December 1993. Though he attempted to run for president in 1995 and 2000, opponents like Robert Guéï, the country’s military leader from December 1999 to October 2000, managed to have him barred from the race on specious charges that Ouattara was actually born in neighboring Burkina Faso, inflaming northern Muslims by implying that they are something less than fully Ivorian. An economist, Ouattara spent the late 1990s at the International Monetary Fund, where he rose to the rank of deputy managing director. The struggle over the 2000 election and its aftermath directly led to the civil war that broke out in 2002.

Former president Laurent Gbagbo, who once represented the hopes of the Ivorian opposition, now sits in The Hague awaiting an ICC trial for crimes against humanity.

Former president Laurent Gbagbo, who once represented the hopes of the Ivorian opposition, now sits in The Hague awaiting an ICC trial for crimes against humanity.

Ouattara officially won 82.66% to just 9.29% for N’Guessan, though many of Gbagbo’s supporters boycotted the vote. That means that the lopsided victory obscures the fact that Côte d’Ivoire remains highly divided on north-south lines.

Though it might have been a less-than-scintillating contest, it is perhaps remarkable that the country made it through an election without major violence — a consequence aided by the fact of an ongoing 6,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, an international presence for over a decade. Continue reading Ouattara wins expected lopsided victory in Côte d’Ivoire

Chalabi’s legacy, for good and for bad, is a post-Saddam Iraq

Former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld relied in significant part of Ahmed Chalabi and the INC in the prelude to the 2003 Iraq invasion. (Rabih Moghrabi / AFP)
Former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld relied in significant part of Ahmed Chalabi and the INC in the prelude to the 2003 Iraq invasion. (Rabih Moghrabi / AFP)

Ahmed Chalabi, known to most Americans as the Iraqi exile who shepherded faulty intelligence to the Bush administration that became the basis for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died today at age 71 of a heart attack.iraq flag icon

Chalabi died in his home in Baghdad.

Though Iraq today is as clear a candidate for failed state as anywhere in the world, that obituaries will dutifully report that fact — Chalabi died at home in Baghdad — is perhaps the most salient element of Chalabi’s checkered legacy. No single Iraqi national was more responsible for bringing together the elements that would topple Saddam Hussein’s brutal Baathist regime in Iraq.

It’s true, of course, that Chalabi was a corrupt and shadowy figure, and you could have suspected that from the 1980s onward when he fled Jordan amid charges of bank fraud and embezzlement from the Petra Bank that Chalabi founded and ran throughout the decade.


RELATED: Don’t blame Obama for Iraq’s turmoil. Blame Maliki.


It’s also true that Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC, المؤتمر الوطني العراقي) never had any true grassroots following in Iraq during the Saddam era. When Chalabi finally returned to Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion, he quickly found that Iraq’s Shiites turned to figures who hadn’t fled into exile for decades — religious authorities like Ali al-Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr in the 2000s and Ammar al-Hakim in the 2010s, all of whom had far more credibility with everyday Iraqis.

It’s equally true that Chalabi was one of the most vocal advocates for the ‘de-Baathification’ process that disbanded Iraq’s national military and excluded many Sunni figures (not all of whom were necessarily sympathetic to Saddam) from Iraq’s new government. That decision is now viewed as perhaps the most destabilizing thing that Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority would do in Iraq. Chalabi, who hoped to narrow the political competition in post-Saddam Iraq, helped create the sense of alienation among Iraqi’s Sunnis that would, in turn, lead to the sectarian conflict and civil war of 2006 and 2007. In an interview last year with Al Monitor, even Chalabi agreed that his vision for a democratic Iraq hadn’t materialized, though he mostly blamed the United States for that:

Iraq is now in a very difficult situation. This is not what we had hoped for when we worked to liberate the country from the regime of [former President] Saddam Hussein. However, what happened was not a surprise.

What happened could have been avoided. The fundamental problem lies in the fact that the United States was working in contrast to what we were working on, and what we had planned. The United States went in the direction of announcing an occupation, while our goal (in the Iraqi opposition), according to an agreement before the start of military operations in 2003, was to form a sovereign national Iraqi government that was recognized by a decision from countries in the [UN] Security Council. [This government would] be committed to holding free elections, so that it could subsequently ratify a constitution.

And yes, it’s true that as Washington became increasingly disenchanted with Chalabi, he turned to Iran as his patron. US policymakers pinned their hopes on other Shiite leaders, like Ayad Allawi, a London-based exile who founded the Iraqi National Accord in 1990, and eventually Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party (حزب الدعوة الإسلامية‎). Allawi proved to have as little grassroots support as Chalabi, and he lasted less than a year as prime minister. Maliki proved to be a far more skilled politician than Allawi, but his initial success as a unifying nationalist in the 2009 elections gave way to an increasingly sectarian administration that excluded prominent Sunnis from the vice-presidency and key ministries and that became increasingly alienated from US officials. Disappointment with Iraq’s squabbling politicians was so bad that, after the 2013 elections, Chalabi incredulously became a candidate for prime minister in 2014 before Islamic Dawa and its allies eventually coalesced around Haider al-Abadi. To the end, Chalabi scrambled to win over allies from any community, religious or secular, Kurdish or Arab, Sunni or Shiite, in his plan to ride to Iraq’s rescue as the man with a plan to crush the jihadist ISIS/Daesh/Islamic State.  Continue reading Chalabi’s legacy, for good and for bad, is a post-Saddam Iraq