Newspaper depicting President Obama in Che Guveara fashion. Image: Mark Hillary/Flickr
This article was originally published by the World Policy Blog on 17 September, 2015.
True to Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to directly engage radical regimes without preconditions, and in spite of having no diplomatic relations with them, his administration negotiated a breakthrough diplomatic deal. Meanwhile on the domestic front, the president has thus far prevailed over vehement congressional opposition and a storied, ethnically-based foreign policy lobby in pursuit of such an agreement.
While this capsule description fits the “Iran deal,” that titanic political battle has eclipsed a similar case that preceded it only seven months before: the agreement to restore normal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. And rather than any negotiation with Iran, it may be the Cuba precedent that is more clearly instructive of the political strategy accompanying Obama’s use of his executive powers in the context of divided government and acute partisan polarization in Washington. » More
Japan’s Nationalists. Photo: Al Jazeera/flickr
OSAKA – Japan is now confronting challenges at home and abroad that are as serious as any it has had to face since World War II’s end. Yet the Japanese public is displaying remarkable apathy. The country’s two major political parties, the governing Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) recently chose their leaders, yet ordinary Japanese responded with a collective shrug. But Japan’s political system is unlikely to remain a matter of popular indifference for much longer.
The DPJ first came to power in September 2009, with an ambitious program promising comprehensive administrative reform, no tax increases, and a freer hand in Japan’s alliance with the United States. But, owing to the party’s inexperience and incompetence at every level of policymaking – shortcomings that were compounded by the unprecedented devastation of the great earthquake of March 11, 2011 – the first two DPJ governments, under Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan, ended with those pledges in tatters. Consequently, several dozen legislators, led by the perpetual rebel Ichiro Ozawa, defected from the DPJ, forming a new rump opposition party. » More
Zambian President Sata meets Malawian President Mutharika in South Africa. Picture courtesy of ZodiakOnline
Years of diplomatic incidents between Malawi and Zambia culminated recently in Zambia’s donation of five million liters of fuel to Malawi. The gift was ostensibly for the funeral of the country’s late President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died on 5 April 2012, after a heart attack. The political wrangling that has led up to this gesture, however, has a complicated backstory.
In 2007, Michael Sata – then the Zambian opposition leader – travelled to Malawi for a private visit, but was deported on arrival at Chileka Airport and driven 400 kilometers back to Zambia. Four years later, Sata was elected Zambia’s president.
At the time of his deportation from Malawi, Sata reportedly joked that Bingu had given him a fully fueled Lexus GX with a private chauffer (i.e., the immigration officer) for the journey, which was far more than Levy Mwanawasa, then the President of Zambia and Sata’s political opponent, had ever done. » More
Mud flats at the northern tip of Qatar. Image by dirty_dan/Flickr.
Iran-Qatar relations face unprecedented uncertainty. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cancelled a planned trip to Doha in November 2011, and anti-Qatari Iranian rhetoric is at an all-time high. From Tehran’s perspective, Qatar has dangerously raised the stakes by spearheading Arab efforts to remove the Iranian-backed regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus. Still, while Iran strongly resents Qatar’s so-called adventurism in Syria, Tehran’s hands are somewhat tied as it ponders a possible alternative approach towards Doha. The simple fact is that Iran badly wants to maintain whatever entente it still has among Arab countries in an era of Arab-Iranian tension—and the undeniable rise in tensions between Iran and Qatar have to be viewed in this context. » More
US Secretary of State Clinton delivering her remarks on “India and the United States: A Vision for the 21st Century.” Photo: US Consulate Chennai/flickr
There is a conundrum at the heart of the Obama administration’s “pivot” toward Asia, at least as it relates to India. The US is eager to extricate itself from military conflicts in the Greater Middle East (Iraq and Afghanistan) so it can focus on a region where, as President Obama put it, “the action’s going to be.” Shoring up the US strategic posture in East Asia amid China’s ascendance will entail a deepening of geopolitical cooperation between Washington and New Delhi. But the quickening withdrawal from Afghanistan will increase bilateral frictions, pushing relations in the opposite direction.
The Pentagon’s just-released strategic guidance paper calls for “investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region.” Both Obama during his visit to India in November 2010 and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her trip last summer have called on New Delhi to play a more active strategic role in East Asia. » More