This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

The lights temporarily go out in the Cabinet Room as U.S. President Donald Trump talks about his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a meeting with House Republicans at the White House on July 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

RIP American Exceptionalism, 1776-2018

Daniel Sargent

Foreign Policy

When Benjamin Franklin went to France on a mission to win support for America’s fledging revolution, his fur hat intrigued Parisians, spurring emulation. But the fashion choice was also a considered statement of the distinct values of his country. From the very beginning, the affirmation of republican probity has remained a touchstone for U.S. diplomacy, just as a sense of the United States as a nation “conceived in liberty” has informed Americans’ understanding of their place in the world. As citizens of the “freest of all nations,” as Ulysses S. Grant put it, Americans favored “people struggling for liberty and self-government.”

It’s true that United States became in the 20th century an imperial republic, but even then, it disavowed conquest and subjugation. Liberation and emancipation became the refrain for America’s many wars, animated by President Woodrow Wilson’s refrain that the United States battles tyrants but emancipates ordinary people. The United States would even strive to elevate and redeem the citizens of the Axis powers it defeated in 1945. After 9/11, the trope became entrenched, as President George W. Bush aimed to sever al Qaeda from Islam and Iraqis from their president. “The tyrant will soon be gone,” Bush promised Iraqis. “The day of your liberation is near.” What other conquering power has code-named a major military operation for the liberation of the invaded, as Bush did with Iraq? (Doubtless it did not occur to Hitler’s high command to dub Operation Barbarossa “Operation Soviet Freedom.”) (Read more)


Can Imran Khan Really Reform Pakistan?

Steve Coll

The New Yorker

In 2011 and 2012, when Imran Khan, the former international cricket star and London night-club Lothario, first emerged from Pakistan’s political wilderness, he rode an Arab Spring-inspired wave of urban middle-class hopes for cleaner politics and better government. If Khan, a celebrity with his own income, came to power, the thinking went, then he might sweep away the family-based nepotism and corruption that had so curtailed Pakistan’s progress since independence, in 1947, and perhaps also loosen the Army’s grip on the country. Hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic, educated young people attended his rallies in cities such as Lahore, the country’s cultural capital. Khan fired them up by talking about a coming revolution in Pakistani politics, one that would modernize governance, attack inequality, and level the economic playing field through the impartial rule of law.

Khan’s tiny political party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, or P.T.I., expanded rapidly, and it surged in national and provincial elections, ultimately leading a provincial government for a number of years, to mixed reviews. But Khan fell short of winning a high national office and, in recent years, he has largely played a role of opposition agitator and provocateur. Now he appears to be within close reach of his ambition to serve as the Prime Minister. According to results in Pakistan’s general election, held on Wednesday, the P.T.I. won the most seats, by far, in Parliament, although not an absolute majority. The expectation is that Khan will be able to negotiate a majority coalition by attracting support from smaller parties and independent members of parliament. (Read more)


A Surveillance State Unlike Any the World Has Ever Seen

Bernhard Zand

Der Spiegel

These days, the city of Kashgar in westernmost China feels a bit like Baghdad after the war. The sound of wailing sirens fills the air, armed trucks patrol the streets and fighter jets roar above the city. The few hotels that still host a smattering of tourists are surrounded by high concrete walls. Police in protective vests and helmets direct the traffic with sweeping, bossy gestures, sometimes yelling at those who don’t comply.

But now and then, a ghostly calm descends on the city. Just after noon, when it’s time for Friday prayers, the square in front of the huge Id Kah Mosque lies empty. There’s no muezzin piercing the air, just a gentle buzz on the rare occasion that someone passes through the metal detector at the entrance to the mosque. Dozens of surveillance cameras overlook the square. Security forces, some in uniform and others in plain-clothes, do the rounds of the Old Town with such stealth it’s as if they were trying to read people’s minds. (Read more)


White Helmets heroes: time running out for volunteer of the Syrian war

Hannah Lucinda Smith

The Times

To some they are heroes, to others terrorists. No other group in Syria’s messy and prolonged civil war has divided opinion as sharply as the White Helmets.

Unarmed, unpaid, and trained according to a manual drawn up for firefighters during the Blitz, on paper these search-and-rescue workers should make easy good guys. They estimate that they have saved more than 100,000 lives, often digging through rubble with their hands as fighter jets swoop round above them to come in for a second strike.

But a concerted propaganda campaign against them, spearheaded by President Assad’s supporters, has found traction around the world. (Read more)


Trump and Brexit: how can the US and UK media tackle a culture of lies?

Richard Wolffe

The Guardian

This is a story of two media cultures struggling to cope with the political rise of brazen liars.

The BBC’s Emily Maitlis distilled the challenge when she demolished Sean Spicer, the hapless former White House press secretary, with a simple description of the simpleton’s record, starting with his whoppers about the crowds on the mall at Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“You joked about it when you presented the Emmy awards. But it wasn’t a joke,” said Maitlis. “It was the start of the most corrosive culture. You played with the truth. You led us down a dangerous path. You have corrupted discourse for the entire world by going along with these lies.” (Read more)

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