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

(Image: Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press)

How the unthinkable happened in Brazil

Fernando Henrique Cardoso

Washington Post

The final outcome of Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday confirmed a trend delineated in the first round: a significant victory for Jair Bolsonaro, a retired Army captain who for decades was a back-bench congressman without any significant legislative record. He continually voted in favor of corporate interests and against a liberal economic agenda. He is also a relentless advocate of gun ownership and an ultra-conservative on moral and cultural issues like abortion and gay rights. Tellingly, his favorite motto is, “A good criminal is a dead criminal.”

How did the unthinkable happen? Bolsonaro surfed a tsunami of popular anger and despair that swept away the entire Brazilian political system, along with the old party leaders. He was able to do so because of the people’s growing suspicion that representative democracy is incapable of delivering what they need. This disaffection was compounded by a brutal economic recession in Brazil, the longest in our history. Unemployment soared, urban violence reached staggering heights — nearly 64,000 homicides in 2017 or 175 deaths per day. Organized crime spiraled out of control. Political parties, especially the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT), floundered in corruption. (Read more)


Erdoğan’s Flights of Fancy

Kaya Genç

New York Review of Books

This week, planes began landing at Istanbul’s new airport. At least the guessing game over its name is complete—as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared “Istanbul Airport” open—since this is more than can be said for the airport itself: the additional terminal buildings and runways will not be finished until 2028. Then, finally, the airport’s planned capacity of 200 million passengers per year and its size (7,594 hectares) will make it the world’s largest airport, just as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan desired. It will be far ahead of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta (103 million passengers, 1,902 hectares), Beijing Capital (95 million passengers, 1,480 hectares), Dubai (88 million passengers, 2,900 hectares), and Tokyo Haneda (85 million passengers, 1,214 hectares). A report from Turkey’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation borrows from literature to ennoble the visionary nature of Erdoğan’s signature project: “Terminal buildings resemble vertical towns similar to those imaginary towns which Italo Calvino describes in his unforgettable work Invisible Cities.” Istanbul’s new airport is thus to embody its own Invisible City.

Even as, in recent weeks, the international community and foreign media have been obsessing over the fallout from the Jamal Khashoggi case, Turks are more preoccupied with domestic affairs and, in particular, their president’s grand plans for transforming Turkey into a regional economic powerhouse. The titanic scale of the new airport project that promises to deliver that vision has come, however, at a steep price, $12 billion, and at a time of severe economic crisis. Since January 2018, the Turkish currency has lost nearly 35 percent of its value against the dollar. Many consider the airport and Erdoğan’s two other huge infrastructure projects, a new intercontinental bridge in Istanbul and a canal connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, as irrational endeavors; and it is doubtful that most Turks can afford air travel when the average price of a ticket has risen 106 percent over the past year. But Erdoğan defiantly calls the programs his “crazy projects” and says they will help raise Turkey’s GDP to $2 trillion by 2023, and lift Turkey out of its financial crisis. (Read more)


The Real Terrorist Threat in America

Peter Bergen and David Sterman

Foreign Affairs

On 9/11, 19 Arab hijackers trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan killed almost 3,000 people in the United States in a matter of hours. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history and has indelibly shaped Americans’ understanding of security and terrorism ever since.

Unfortunately, that understanding is increasingly out of step with reality. Jihadist organizations are no longer the main terrorist threat facing the country. Since 9/11, no foreign terrorist group has successfully conducted a deadly attack in the United States. The main terrorist problem in the United States today is one of individuals—usually with ready access to guns—radicalized by a diverse array of ideologies absorbed from the Internet.

The multilayered domestic threat was made tragically clear last week. A series of package bombs was sent to former U.S. President Barack Obama, the financier and philanthropist George Soros, and other critics of President Donald Trump. A racially motivated shooting at a grocery store in Kentucky, which killed two people, appears to have originated as a plan to attack a black church. And on Saturday, 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue were shot and killed by a man with an extensive history of expressing anti-Semitic and anti-refugee views on social media. (Read more)


Keynes and the cost of peace

Margaret MacMillan

New Statesman

A  century after it was signed, the accepted view of the Treaty of Versailles remains that it was a gigantic mistake, so savage and vindictive that it drove the rise of Hitler and led directly to the Second World War. Germany, so it is argued, was deliberately and cruelly humiliated. The victors – France, Great Britain, and the United States – seized its colonies and parts of its territory in Europe, imposed disarmament, and, above all, sought to keep it economically enfeebled through reparations – exorbitant payments ostensibly extracted to pay for the damage caused by war. All this was justified because Germany and its allies were held solely to blame for the conflict’s outbreak in 1914. This, as many in the English-speaking world and Germany came to believe, and still do, was grossly unfair because Germany had actually not started the war; rather Europe as a whole – nationalistic, imperialistic, militaristic – had, in David Lloyd George’s words, “slithered” over the edge, heedless of the catastrophe to come.

The French, not surprisingly, have never fully accepted this version. France, as people sometimes forget, had not declared war on Germany; rather Germany had invaded it as part of war plans to defeat Russia and its ally in the West. In the four years of war France suffered huge human and material loss; the highest proportion of men of military age killed of any country except Serbia and the devastation of the northern departments that had contained much of French industry and its coal mines. (Read more)


Merkel’s long goodbye will be severe test for troubled continent

Jon Henley


When Angela Merkel first came into office in 2005, George W Bush was in the White House, Tony Blair was British prime minister, and the Elysée Palace was occupied by Jacques Chirac.

The German chancellor’s announcement on Monday that she would not seek re-election as head of her ruling centre-right CDU party and that her fourth term as chancellor would be her last, heralds the end of an era in which she has dominated German and European politics.

Merkel has been a symbol of steadiness and continuity. The departure of the EU’s de facto leader before Germany’s next federal elections – due in 2021 – comes as the continent’s political stability and consensus are arguably at greater risk than at any time since the end of the second world war. (Read more)


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