In some ways, it’s odd that we saw five nights of major-party conventions without a single former or current president or vice president willing to deliver an address — no Jimmy Carter (or Walter Mondale or Al Gore) at the Democratic convention, but also no George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush (or Dan Quayle or Dick Cheney) at the Republican convention at all.
That all changed Tuesday night, when former president Bill Clinton, long accustomed to the spotlight, delivered an impassioned and highly personal address about his wife, Hillary Clinton, who on the same day became the first female nominee of a major political party in American history.
In 2008, US president Barack Obama won the largest Democratic mandate in a generation, in part, by pledging to change the tone in Washington.
But in 2016, after eight years of increasingly bitter and partisan posturing, it’s Obama’s one-time rival, Hillary Clinton, who now has the opportunity to transcend the hyper-partisanship that began with the divided government under her husband’s administration in the 1990s.
Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party laid bare the long-growing schism among various Republican constituencies. Currently, the two living former Republican presidents (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), the party’s most recent presidential nominee (former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney), its one-time 2016 frontrunners (former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Texas senator Ted Cruz and Florida senator Marco Rubio) and the Republican in the highest-ranking elected official — speaker of the House (Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan) — have all refused to endorse Trump.
Despite the promise that the coming general election will be nasty, even by the recent standards of American politics, Clinton, if she’s nimble enough, can become a unifying and moderate figure who can work with both Republicans and Democrats. If Trump loses as badly as polls suggest he might, the Republican Party will be a shambles on November 8. The fight for Senate control was always a toss-up, and a Trump debacle could endanger even Republican control of the House of Representatives.
Increasingly, the debate in world politics is tilting away from traditional left-right discourses, replaced by a much darker fight, for the first time since the 1930s, between populist nationalism and globalist internationalism — and not just in the United States, but everywhere from the Philippines to the United Kingdom. In that fight, Ryan (and Bush and moderate Republicans) have much more in common with Clinton and the officials who will lead a Clinton administration than with Trump.
Make no mistake, if Clinton wins the presidency in November, she’s not going to form a German-style ‘grand coalition’ with Ryan and leading Republicans. Postwar German politics operates largely on consensus to a degree unknown in American (or even much of European) politics. Still, German chancellor Angela Merkel has already paved the way for how a successful Clinton presidency might unfold, and Clinton advisers would be smart to figure out, as the campaign unfolds, how to position Clinton as a kind of American ‘Mutti.’ Clinton is already reaching out to moderate Republican donors, but the challenge goes much deeper — to become a kind of acceptable figure to both blue-state and red-state America.
It’s not clear that Clinton has the same political skill to pull off in the United States what Merkel has done in Germany.
Donald Trump’s campaign to ‘Make America Great Again’ may be associated with halting immigration from Mexico or making deals with China, Russia or Japan. But a Trump administration might bring another country to the forefront of international relations.
That’s because his wife, Melania Knauss Trump (in Slovene, Melanija Knavs) would be only the second First Lady born outside the United States.
Louisa Adams, the wife of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was born in England. Teresa Heinz Kerry, a Mozambican-born American, the wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry, would have also been a foreign-born First Lady, had Kerry won the 2004 presidential election.
With a staggering victory in Florida’s Republican primary on Tuesday, Trump has amassed around 673 delegates to July’s Republican convention in Cleveland — more than half of what he’ll need to reach 1,237 and the nomination, and much to the horror of a shellshocked Republican Party that’s watched Trump attack Mexican immigrants as racists, called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States, threatened to sue journalists and encouraged physical violence at rallies.
So, even as Trumpmania sweeps right-wing voters across the United States, is the country ready for a Slovene-born supermodel in the East Wing?
For a candidate whose approach to presidential politics is anything but ordinary, Melania Trump’s approach to the campaign trail has been equally unorthodox in a race pitting her against former US president Bill Clinton for the title of ‘first spouse.’
If Bill Clinton’s role in a Hillary-led White House remains something of a mystery, so does Melania Trump’s. She hasn’t identified any particular key issues that she would champion as First Lady, such as Laura Bush’s focus on education and literacy or Michelle Obama’s focus on childhood obesity and fitness. But that’s also because she is raising a 10-year old son, Barron, the youngest of Donald Trump’s five children across three marriages. There’s more than a murmur of talk that Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, would fulfill more of the traditional roles of the First Lady.
Regardless, Melania Trump would certainly bring a level of elegance to the White House unseen since perhaps the 1960s when Jacqueline Kennedy lived there. As American voters focus on a general election showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Melania Trump’s most important role could be humanizing and softening her husband’s image — he would enter the general election as the most unpopular major-party candidate in recent US history.
Born in 1970 in the small town of Sevnica in southeastern Slovenia, the 45-year-old Melania Trump, is the daughter of a fashion designer, which propelled young Melania’s own modeling career in Milano and Paris and, finally, New York City. She first met Donald Trump at fashion week in the autumn of 1998, and they married in 2005. To date, it’s been Donald Trump’s longest and, seemingly, most successful marriage. Although she became a permanent resident of the United States in 2001, she obtained her citizenship a decade ago in 2006.
But the 45-year-old supermodel, who has graced the cover of Vogue and GQ but not Time, is not exactly a ubiquitous presence on the campaign trail. She rarely makes speeches or gives interviews, though that has changed as Trump’s candidacy gained traction. The rapid transition from supermodel to campaign trail spouse hasn’t been incredibly easy. Most potential first ladies spend a lifetime in politics becoming just as savvy in politics as their spouses. Melania Trump, whose first language isn’t English, has had exactly nine months.
Moreover, when she has ventured into the media, she’s faced tough questions about her husband’s statements about women and his strong anti-immigration stands. In particular, she has faced criticism that as a European model, her path to American citizenship, which involved a special kind of H1B visa, has been far easier than most immigrants. In a debate earlier this month, Donald Trump appeared to soften his stand against the kind of H1B visas available to workers in high demand (including models), only to harden his stand again a day later.
But the nature of the modern presidency means that Trump’s nomination or, especially, a Trump victory in November, will bring Slovenia squarely into the center of American consciousness for, let’s face it, probably the first time in US history. It would be a surprise if many Americans could even place Slovenia on a map or even know that it’s part of what used to be Yugoslavia.
Television news crews have already started descending on Sevnica, a trickle that is likely to turn into a flood by the time of the July convention or, despite the terror of Democrats and more than a few Republicans, next January’s presidential inauguration.
More importantly for Slovenia, the rash of attention means that even if the Trump candidacy somehow fades this spring or falls short of 270 electoral votes in November, interest in Slovenia, including tourism from the United States, could skyrocket for years to come. Since 2012, The New York Times has published just four items in its travel section on Slovenia. It’s a smart bet that will change as the Trump narrative dominates headlines in 2016 and the American electorate gets to know Melania Trump and her background. Continue reading Will Melania Trump make Slovenia great again?→
It’s not been a great night for former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is losing the New Hampshire primary to Vermont senator Bernie Sanders by a margin of more than 20%.
Though there’s reason to believe that Clinton will bounce back in the Nevada caucuses on February 20 and the South Carolina primary on February 27, there’s one low-hanging piece of fruit that she could pluck that might instantly boost her campaign’s chances. It’s a policy that could attract Sanders supporters, emphasize the historic nature of her candidacy to become the first female president of the United States and put the eventual Republican presidential nominee on the defensive, all at once.
It’s paid parental leave — and the United States is one of the few countries in the developed world that doesn’t guarantee it. The OECD average is 17 weeks of maternity leave, the United Kingdom offers 39 weeks, Mexico offers six weeks, and many European countries offer far more to both mothers and fathers (though not always paid at 100% of one’s income):
If you had a sense of deja vu to former president Bill Clinton’s weekend harangue against Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, it’s understandable.
The attack was reminiscent of Clinton’s bristling criticisms of then-senator Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination contest, when Obama upset Clinton’s wife Hillary Clinton, who is running again for the nomination against Sanders, a septuagenarian democratic socialist. Sanders essentially tied Clinton in last week’s Iowa caucuses and is projected to win tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary.
But Clinton’s remarks are also eerily reminiscent of the attacks that former British prime minister Tony Blair mounted against the insurgent candidate of the hard left, Jeremy Corbyn, when it looked like Corbyn, another elderly socialist, might win the Labour Party’s leadership last summer. Continue reading Why Bill Clinton’s attack on Sanders won’t work→
It’s far from scientific, but less than 24 hours after Republicans appeared to defeat US president Barack Obama in midterm congressional and gubernatorial elections, Russian president Vladimir Putin defeated him to the top spot on Forbes‘s 72 Most Powerful People in the World.
The rankings don’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things, of course.
The Forbes rationale?
We took some heat last year when we named the Russian President as the most powerful man in the world, but after a year when Putin annexed Crimea, staged a proxy war in the Ukraine and inked a deal to build a more than $70 billion gas pipeline with China (the planet’s largest construction project) our choice simply seems prescient. Russia looks more and more like an energy-rich, nuclear-tipped rogue state with an undisputed, unpredictable and unaccountable head unconstrained by world opinion in pursuit of its goals.
Hard to argue with that, I guess.
But the rankings represent a nice snapshot of what the US (and even international) media mainstream believe to be the hierarchy of global power. Though I’m not sure why Mitch McConnell, soon to become the U.S. senate majority leader, isn’t on the list.
So who else placed in the sphere of world politics this year?
Obama ranked at No. 2 (From the Forbes mystics: ‘One word sums up his second place finish: caution. He has the power but has been too cautious to fully exercise it.’).
Chinese president Xi Jinping, who took office in late 2012 and early 2013, ranked at No. 3. (Tough break for the leader of the world’s most populous country!)
Pope Francis, ranked at No. 4, even though Argentina lost this year’s World Cup finals to Germany.
Angela Merkel, ranked at No. 5, third-term chancellor of Germany and the queen of the European Union.
Janet Yellen, ranked at No. 6, the chair of the US Federal Reserve.
Mario Draghi, ranked at No. 8, the president of the European Central Bank.
David Cameron, ranked (appropriately enough) at No. 10, the Conservative prime minister of the United Kingdom, who faces a tough reelection battle in May 2015.
Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, No. 11, the king of Saudi Arabia.
Over the weekend, US president Barack Obama gave a wide-ranging interview on foreign policy with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
But it’s the interview that The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg conducted with former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton that’s garnered much more attention. With Clinton leading polls for both the Democratic presidential nomination and general election in 2016, her interview was widely viewed as creating space between her own views on US foreign policy and those of the current president, who defeated her in 2008 for the Democratic nomination before appointing her as the top US diplomat in the first term of his presidential administration.
The most controversial comment seems to be Clinton’s criticism that the Obama administration’s mantra of ‘don’t do stupid shit‘ isn’t what Clinton calls an ‘organizing principle’ for the foreign policy of any country, let alone a country as important as the United States.
The headline in the The New York Times? ‘Attacking Obama policy, Hillary Clinton exposes different world views.’
Chris Cillizza at The Washington Postendeavored to explain ‘What Hillary Clinton was doing by slamming President Obama’s foreign policy.’
The Clinton ‘slam,’ though, is somewhat overrated. She admits in virtually the same breath that she believes Obama is thoughtful and incredibly smart, adding that ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is more of a political message than Obama’s worldview. For the record, Clinton claims that her own organizing principles are ‘peace, progress and prosperity,’ which might be even more maddeningly vague than ‘don’t do stupid stuff.’ After all, who’s against peace, progress or prosperity? Even if ‘don’t do stupid shit’ is political shorthand, and even if you don’t believe that the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been particularly successful, it’s political shorthand that represents a sophisticated worldview about the respective strengths and limits of US foreign policy.
Whenever I go to México City, I marvel at the way its indigenous history integrates into the fabric of the city. Nahuatl words, like ‘Chapultepec,’ meaning grasshopper, and ‘Xochimilco,’ a neighborhood featuring a series of Aztec-created canals, pepper the geography of the city. Those are just two of hundreds of daily reminders rooting Latin America’s largest modern megapolis of 8.9 million in the language and traditions of its pre-Columbian past. It’s where the Virgin of Guadalupe, a young Nahuatl-speaking girl, apparently revealed herself to Juan Diego in 1531 as the Virgin Mary, instructing him to build a church, launching one of the most compelling hybrid religious followings in the New World. Even the inhabitants of the notorious Tepito barrio worship Santa Muerte on the first of November with bright flowers, cacophanous marimba and not a small amount of marijuana, in celebration of the magical chasm between what is, for many Tepito residents, a gritty life and an often grittier death.
It’s the way that México City blends the mysterious and the mundane, matches the sacred with the profane and so blends the line between the indigenous and conquistador that it’s hard to know who conquered what. For all of those reasons, I often think of it as the unofficial capital of realismo magico.
So it’s natural to me that the literary master of magical realism, Gabriel García Márquez, made his home in México City for much of the last six decades of his life. It’s also where García Márquez died on April 17 at age 87.
It was his uncanny ability to blend the realistic with the magical that largely won him such adoration worldwide. But what makes the writing of García Márquez and the other authors of the 1960s Latin American Boom so electrifying to me is the way that it blended the literary with the political. Certainly, García Márquez’s writing was about family, about love, about solitude, about power, about loss, about fragility, about all of these universal themes. But his writing also explicated many of the themes that we today associate with Latin America’s culture, identity, history and politics.
His death wasn’t entirely unexpected. García Márquez was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer all the way back in 1999 and by the beginning of the 2010s, he rarely made public appearances anymore due to the grim advance of Alzheimer’s disease. By the time I made it to Latin America for the first time, he was already approaching 80, and I knew I’d have little chance of meeting him.
That’s fine by me, because I always considered him, through his work, my own personal ambassador to Latin America. Over the course of several treks through Latin America, Gabo still accompanied me through his writing — and along the way, he shaped my own framework for how I think about Latin American life.
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When I was planning my first trip to Latin America, I brought with me a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I saved the novel for this very occasion, a trek from Buenos Aires to Mendoza and then by bus over the Andes to Santiago. Technically speaking, I was on the wrong end of the continent for García Márquez. I packed some Neruda, some Allende and some Borges — and some Cortázar, too (mea culpa, I still haven’t clawed enough time to read Hopscotch).
Nevertheless, García Márquez’s words transcended the setting of his native Colombia. Hundred Years, published in 1967, just six years after the Cuban revolution that undeniably marked a turning point in its relationship with the behemoth world power to the north, it came at a time when Latin American identity seemed limitless, and García Márquez mined a new consciousness that wasn’t necessarily Colombian or even South American. So much of the story of Colombia’s development from the colonial era through the present day is also cognizably Bolivian, Chilean, Mexican or Argentinian. After all, García Márquez, already a well-known figure, went on a writing strike when Augusto Pinochet took power in Chile in 1973, ousting the democratically elected Socialist president Salvador Allende, who either committed suicide or was shot on September 11, the day of the coup.
It was an intoxicating read. The sleek brown corduroy blazer I picked up in Buenos Aires with the affected hint of epaulets on the shoulders soon became what I called my ‘Colonel Aureliano’ jacket. Besides, where better to buy a Spanish language copy of his work than El Ateneo, perhaps the most amazing bookstore in the world?
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Hundred Years, of course, came highly recommended from the world that had discovered García Márquez decades before I was even born. It became an instant hit upon publication, catapulting García Márquez’s popularity beyond his more established peers, including México’s Carlos Fuentes and Perú’s Mario Vargas Llosa.
It’s just the time of year for Cold War legacies — east-west tension in Ukraine, French intervention in Central Africa and now a reminder of the frigid half-century of US-Cuban relations.
The photo of US president Barack Obama shaking hands with Cuban president Raúl Castro may come to be the defining image from Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa earlier today. It’s fitting that Mandela, even in death, can bring together the leaders of two countries that have had such a tortured bilateral relationship. If Mandela and the ruling apartheid regime of the 1980s could set aside differences to forge a new South Africa, Obama and Castro can share a moment of basic human civility.
Perhaps more instructive are the words of Obama’s speech at the Mandela funeral, which might apply just as well to the US-Cuban relationship:
It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well, to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.
It’s not unprecedented — though we don’t have a photo, former US president Bill Clinton shared a handshake with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2000.
While it’s encouraging to see some minor thaw in the US-Cuban rupture, it’s unlikely to herald any truly rapprochement in a world where Florida still has 29 electoral votes and the truly awful Bob Menendez, the US senator from New Jersey, continues to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez, a Cuban-American, is among the most anti-Castro members of the US Senate, so don’t expect any broad-based effort to lift the half-century embargo against Cuba — US citizens are generally prohibited from traveling to the Caribbean island of 11 million people, where Raúl’s brother Fidel took power in a popular revolution in 1959. I’ll leave aside in this post the valid points of both the anti-embargo position and the anti-Castro position — though Castro replaced in Fulgencio Batista a corrupt and bloody strongman, the Castro record on human rights, democratic participation and economic freedom isn’t incredibly strong.
Americans who believe that Cuban policy remains about 30 years behind the times will be mildly heartened by the handshake, and the truly nutty will attack Obama for ‘comforting America’s enemies’ or some other outrageous criticism.
U.S. president Barack Obama will shake up his national security team today with the announcement that national security adviser Tom Donilon will be stepping down. In his place will come Susan Rice, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and in Rice’s place will come Samantha Power as the new UN ambassador (so long as Power is confirmed by the U.S. Senate).
That will place Rice and Power at the vanguard of the administration’s foreign policy for the next three and a half years, and it will anoint both of them as potential U.S. secretaries of state in future Democratic presidential administrations — Rice was considered a frontrunner to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state earlier this year, though she ultimately lost out to former U.S. senator John Kerry after Senate Republicans made clear that they would hold up Rice’s nomination over her role in the administration’s handling of the attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi.
Both women share a perspective that the United States has a role to play to boost human rights around the world, including through the use of military force. Rice, who served in the administration of U.S. president Bill Clinton, ultimately as assistant secretary for African affairs, has often said that U.S. failure to intervene in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and the Hutu massacre of 800,000 Tutsis was a defining moment. Power (pictured above), a former journalist who covered the fighting in the Balkans and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, has been even more outspoken on the role of U.S. policymaking and its impact on human rights. Before joining the Obama administration as the senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, Power won a Pulitzer Prize for her 2002 book, ‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide, which takes the U.S. government and others to task for standing by as genocide occurred in Armenia, Cambodia and Rwanda.
As such, Libya plays a central role in the careers of both officials who, along with Hillary Clinton, were among the proponents arguing for the Obama administration to take an active role in Libya to assist rebels trying to overthrow longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi. That placed them at contretemps with more traditional foreign policy realists like Donilon and Bob Gates, the U.S. defense secretary at the time. Their success led to a NATO-backed no-fly-zone in Libya and, later, the arming of anti-Gaddafi rebels by NATO allies. The NATO efforts accomplished the goal, and Gaddafi lost control of Libya in August 2011 and he was executed by rebels in October 2011.
In the tradition of U.S. foreign policy, party labels like Democrat and Republican often matter less than where officials fall on the line between liberals and realists (as the terms are commonly understood in international relations theory). So as Donilon leaves the White House and Rice and Power ascend, the big story today is less about any one individual than the shift of the Obama administration much further toward the liberal IR perspective.
Though Senate Republicans will not have the opportunity to question Rice because her role doesn’t require Senate confirmation, they will have an opportunity to question Power and will almost certainly bring the discussion back to Benghazi. But Benghazi’s relevance as a ‘scandal’ is somewhat dubious, especially when there are at least two more important fundamental issues about the administration’s approach to Libya.
The first has to do with U.S. constitutionality and the separation of powers. Whereas the Bush administration sought a vote in the U.S. Congress authorizing its military action in Iraq back in 2002, the Obama administration controversially argued that its military engagement in Libya, at a cost of over $1 billion, never reached the level required to notify the U.S. legislature and seek congressional approval under the Vietnam-era War Powers Resolution. Critics claim that the law required the Obama administration to obtain authorization to continue the Libya operation within 60 days of its inception.
More significantly for world politics, however, are the adverse, unintended consequences of arming the anti-Gaddafi rebels. Some of those arms ended up in the hands of Libyan jihadists, and many more ended up in the hands of all sorts of rebels in northern Mail, including jihadists, Islamists and Tuareg separatists, triggering a crisis that toppled Mali’s government and required French military intervention to stabilize the country. There’s a strong argument that U.S. military intervention in Libya in 2011 prioritized the short-term political rights of anti-Gaddafi rebels at the expense of the human rights of northern Malians and, potentially, the human rights of everyone within the African Sahel, which remains a precarious new security challenge.