This article was originally published by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) in July 2017.
“La France est de retour”. This is how French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe commented on the results of the June elections when La République en Marche!, the new party founded by Emmanuel Macron, swept into power. There are two things to note about this concept of “France is back”.
The first is internal. The new president and his majority represent a disruption compared to the previous two presidencies, which were generally perceived as suffering from paralysis. There is therefore a window of opportunity to launch a renewed and reformist season comparable only to the ones experienced by France following moments of deep crisis, as was the case in the aftermath of World War I or the Algerian crisis. It translates into the concept of an “eclipse moment”, a time in French history when the nation is re-established in its prerogatives. Paradoxically, this positive reading of the Macron Presidency reverses the so-called “declinist” theory, which fuelled the rise of populism in France and argued that modernity was endangering the nation and that nationalist policies were needed in order to restore and revive the “real” France.
This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 24 May 2017.
‘This third-generation Kim already holds the titles of supreme leader, first secretary of the party, chairman of the military commission and supreme commander of the army – but he wants even more. This Kim wants recognition, vindication and authentication.’ The Observer, May 8, 2016
This description of Kim Jong Un is not the most lurid; in fact, it is representative of broadsheet analysis of the leadership of North Korea. It reduces analysis of the leadership of a state of 25 million people, which has an indigenous advanced scientific capability sufficient to develop nuclear weapons and advanced ballistic missile technology, to a level more appropriate to the pages of an airport pot-boiler. It trivializes analysis of a conflict that involves all the world’s great military powers, and which intermittently looks as if it might spill over into warfare that military planners from all sides assess will cost millions of lives, however and whenever the conflict ends.
The focus on Kim Jong Un as supreme leader is misplaced and dangerous. It obscures and prevents discussion of where real power lies in North Korea.
This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 29 June 2017.
Stalin’s increasing popularity in Russia is worrying, but its importance should not be exaggerated.
This week, yet another poll confirmed Joseph Stalin’s unwavering hold on the popular imagination of Russians. Surveys have documented steadily rising admiration for the Soviet leader in the last several years, but Monday’s open-ended study published by the Levada Center established him as “the most outstanding person” in history, for 38 percent of respondents. Vladimir Putin came in joint second position at 34 percent, alongside the poet Alexander Pushkin.
The poll sounds particularly alarming because instead of answering multiple choice questions, respondents were asked to name the first person to pop into their head – not just Russian, but anyone, anywhere. The fact that for 38 percent of people that was Stalin – without the respondent first being prompted – seems to confirm what many have been fearing for some time: that Russians are steadily forgiving and embracing a tyrant who oversaw a system that slaughtered tens of millions of its own people.
This article was originally published by World Affairs in June 2017.
“It’s easy predicting the future,” an old Soviet joke went. “What’s difficult is predicting the past.”
There is a war going on over the interpretation of history. A search for a “correct” version of the past has been launched in a number of countries, often by embittered nationalist forces, as in Poland. But the most aggressive assault is being orchestrated by dictators like Vladimir Putin, and China’s Communist Party leadership.
There is much at stake in this revisionist enterprise. The most alarming goal is to reappraise leaders like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, to whitewash their atrocities and ensure that, at least for a domestic audience, they are presented as heroic figures whose crimes were miniscule in comparison with their achievements. Another objective is to depict the country in question as both the ultimate victim and the ultimate winner.
This article was originally published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) on 10 June 2017.
Donald Trump entered the White House promising to be ‘the most pro-Israel president ever’. This hyperbolic bombast gratified what is certainly the most right-wing Israeli government ever, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s crushing victory over Arab armies in 1967, and half a century of occupation of the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem it has no plans to end.
President Trump, the self-described dealmaker, keeps hinting and tweeting he is on course to do ‘the ultimate deal’ that has eluded his predecessors: never spelt out but assumed to mean an Arab-Israeli peace encompassing a deal for the Palestinians, who have sought in vain the state proffered tantalisingly by the Oslo accords of 1993-95.
This most erratic of US presidents, meeting Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, in February, threw the international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Oslo to the winds, saying that the two-state solution, meant to offer security to Israel and justice to the Palestinians, may not be the way to resolve it. ‘I am looking at two-state and one-state [solutions], and I like the one that both parties like,’ Trump said, to nervous chortles from Netanyahu and general bemusement.