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Syria's Bogus Election

Syria is holding a presidential “election” today and Bashar al-Assad will win, probably with 99 percent of the “vote.”

Not even the world’s biggest political idiot will believe this is authentic, so why even bother? It’s happening because the United States is the world’s only superpower.

The international community, such as it is, expects elections to be held just about everywhere, and that’s because the United States expects elections to be held just about everywhere. Because the US is dominant, our preferences are the mainstream.

If you doubt it, ask yourself if democratic elections would be expected everywhere if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan won World War II and were to this day unreconstructed. Germany and Japan wouldn’t control every inch of the earth, but they’d certainly set the tone internationally.

And ask yourself if the international community would expect democratic elections if the Soviet Union won the Cold War. What if it was the United States that collapsed? And what if, instead of NATO’s eastward expansion, the Warsaw Pact extended all the way to Britain and France? Would elections be expected all over the world? I don’t see why they would. Countries that weren’t already invaded and conquered by Moscow or subverted by its proxies would do everything they could to avoid such a fate just as Armenia and Kazakhstan are doing right now.

In the world we live in, however, where the world’s only superpower is a liberal democracy, elections are considered the norm. Political freakshows like Moammar Qaddafi didn’t even pretend to believe in elections (he argued in his ludicrous Green Book that elections allowed 51 percent of the country to oppress 49 percent), and look at what happened to him. His regime was finally bombed into oblivion, and not by a cowboy like George W. Bush but by the dovish Barack Obama.

Even blood-soaked tyrants like Bashar al-Assad think they’ll benefit at least somewhat by pretending to adopt our political structure. Russia might even pretend to believe Syria’s election results. The Iranian regime and its state-run media will surely pretend to believe.

It does us no good at all that a monster like Assad goes through the motions of democracy. But how much fun would it be to live in a world where pleasing one or two totalitarian empires was the international standard instead?

Enough False Rhetoric From Putin

I have one request to Russia’s fascistoid leader: stop lecturing Ukraine and the world.

I’ve been listening to you for close to 15 years now and, frankly, I’m tired of your half-baked views and cockamamie opinions. I know you think you know a lot about the ways of the world, Volodya, but permit me to let you in on a secret that everyone besides you knows: You don’t.

Just what makes you think that a career in the KGB qualifies you to speak authoritatively about anything—and, especially, about constitutions, democracy, and legitimacy? Indeed, former members of criminal organizations might be better advised to keep mum about the very things they spent their entire careers trying to destroy.

But it gets worse. After all, we know you plagiarized your dissertation:

“Tell Morsi to Leave or Egypt will Burn”

I finally got around to watching Vice magazine’s mini documentary about Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Morsi. It packs a hell of a punch, especially with the benefit of hindsight.

Maybe I’m experiencing hindsight bias here rather than benefit, but it seems obvious, watching this, that something big and terrible was going to happen in Egypt.

Exactly what was going to happen could not have been obvious in real-time, but no country can withstand the eruption of mass anger and rage the Brotherhood triggered without somebody swinging a gigantic game-changing sledgehammer.

The Vice crew clearly knew it in real-time. Nobody knew the sledgehammer would be wielded by Egypt’s coup leader and military pharaoh General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, but somebody would wield one. That was for damn sure.

The last words in this short little film, spoken by Egyptian economist Ahmed el-Naggar, were prophetic. “The social revolution will be huge,” he said, “and it’ll come to completion in the near future. It will be an apocalypse.”

Everybody should watch this. It’s riveting viewing. It’s educational if you want to know at least one set of ingredients that can precipitate a military coup. And it casts serious doubt on the idea that radical Islamist government is inevitable in the Arab world.

The episode is 29 minutes long and split into halves. (The first is about the enormous ghost cities in China.) The Egypt segment begins at 13:45.

More Force, Less Peacekeeping for UN Troops

UN Peacekeeping Force Day, on May 29th, salutes those who serve—and have served—in the UN’s policy mechanism of choice for responding to violent local conflicts around the world.

Its story, since the first contingents of blue-helmeted troops from various member nations were deployed in 1948, is a checkered one, with some successes, a few shameful failures, and some recent significant—if risky—shifts in how it operates that could call the “peacekeeping” part into question.

It has also occasionally drawn criticism for prolonging the status quo: for example, in 1964 a UN peacekeeping force was deployed in Cyprus to separate Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Fifty years later, the peacekeeping force is still there, allowing the so-called Cyprus question to become—as former UN Under Secretary General Brian Urquhart once said—“a sort of national industry and sport for both sides.”

Ukraine’s Election Exposes Putin's Lies

Despite the best efforts of Vladimir Putin and his terrorist commandos in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s presidential elections did in fact take place on May 25th, under conditions that international observers concur were fair and free. As of this writing, Petro Poroshenko appears to have won in one round. 

Herewith a few lessons:

First, Ukraine is hardly the unstable almost-failed state that Putin and his Western apologists say it is. The terrorist violence was confined to two provinces—Luhansk and Donetsk. In the rest of the country, the voting proceeded smoothly. On top of that, Ukraine’s security forces were able to maintain law and order in much of the country, a positive development that builds on the armed forces’ creditable performance in their “anti-terrorist operations” in April and May.

Europe's Nationalist Right Votes for Putin

MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin may have suffered a setback with the successful presidential election in Ukraine, but he can claim a significant consolation prize. Elections to the European Parliament, held simultaneously with Ukraine’s presidential vote, resulted in a surge of far-right and nationalist parties—many of which are vocal allies of Putin’s Kremlin.

The End of an Era

For more than two decades Ukraine did its best to have good relations with both the West and Russia, sometimes veering a little more in one direction than the other.

That will no longer be possible. If Russia were a good neighbor, sure, it would be easy. Having good relations with both would be no more difficult than having good relations with Canada and the United States simultaneously. But not once in its history has Russia been a good neighbor.

Russia’s bloodless annexation of Crimea was bad enough, but now there’s fierce fighting in the eastern city of Donetsk between the Ukrainian military and separatists who wish to join Russia.

It’s hard to say for sure when a nation crosses the threshold from unrest to civil war. Ukraine is in the murky in-between zone right now. This might get wrapped up quickly enough that the history books will register this conflict as “fighting” rather than “war.” But it could so easily escalate, especially if Vladimir Putin can’t resist staying out of it, and it could also drag on for years.

Either way, it will be impossible for anyone elected to Ukraine’s highest office to win the approval of people on both sides of these barricades. And it will be impossible to move toward the European Union and NATO while simultaneously moving toward Russia’s anti-Western Eurasian Union as Putin insists. These are differences that can no longer be split.

Whatever happens, whether it’s a little bit bloody or epic, the borderland between Russia and the West will be contested and tense. And the post-Cold War era, at least in Eurasia, is over.

Chinese Fighter Jet in Near Miss With Japanese Recon Planes

On Monday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that his government had lodged a protest with Beijing for Chinese jets closing within meters of Japanese reconnaissance planes over the East China Sea. Tokyo has every right to be upset. Beijing, from all indications, looks like it was trying to create incidents by flying too close for safety.

On Saturday, Chinese Su-27 jets flew within 50 meters of a Japanese OP-3C and within 30 meters of a Japanese YS-11EB, both propeller-driven reconnaissance craft. “This is a close encounter that is outright over the top,” said Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Sunday. At no other time since World War II have Chinese and Japanese military planes come into such close proximity.

Colombia's Voters Uneasy With FARC Peace Talks

The first round of Colombia’s presidential election Sunday dealt a humiliating second-place finish to President Juan Manuel Santos, who bet his reelection campaign entirely on peace negotiations with left-wing guerrilla groups that have maintained an armed conflict in Colombia for 50 years, resulting in 220,000 casualties and billions of dollars in criminal revenues from drug-trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion. But instead of supporting Santos, and thereby furthering his peace project, the 32 million eligible voters either abstained massively or gave their vote to a hard-line opposition candidate, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who attacked the government’s peace strategy as suspect of surrender to the guerrillas.

Why Germans Are Smitten With Putin

The German liberal newspaper Die Zeit recently shed a bright light on the German population’s odd love affair with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Germans profess a love of democracy and human rights; Putin has done everything in his power to destroy democracy and human rights. Germans stand for peace; Putin has unleashed war on Ukraine in 2014 (and on Georgia in 2008).

So Much For All That

Last week I noted that an opposition newspaper run by the terrific author and blogger Yoani Sanchez was about to debut. I wondered aloud if the Cuban government was trying to fool its useful tools in the West again by pretending to respect free speech, but even that pessimistic assumption was too optimistic.

The government shut her newspaper down mere hours after her launch and is  redirecting readers on the island to a hysterical propaganda page.

US Indicts Chinese Military Officers for Cyber Spying

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the indictments of five officers of China’s People’s Liberation Army for “serious cybersecurity breaches against six American victim entities.” The significance? “These represent the first ever charges against known state actors for infiltrating US commercial targets by cyber means,” the attorney general said at a press conference.

Every nation spies, but China, as a matter of state policy, collects information and passes it on to state enterprises to help them compete in the international marketplace. Washington has continually complained but gotten nowhere with Beijing. Exasperated, Holder on Monday said “enough is enough.” Hence the criminal charges.

Crimea: Putin's War for Oil and Gas?

Sunday’s New York Times may have fitted the final piece into the puzzle of what Vladimir Putin’s costly Ukrainian landgrab is really about: offshore oil and gas. Putin has portrayed himself as a man with a mission, namely to protect ethnic Russians from an increasingly oppressive Ukrainian government. But that’s the story for domestic consumption, including the Russian Orthodox Church. In annexing Crimea, the Russians can also claim ownership of—or at any rate, control over—an enormous area of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, off the Crimean shoreline, and with them their underwater resources.

Crimean Tartars Remember Exile—in Kyiv

The 70th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars—when some 200,000 people were rounded up and expelled from their homeland in the space of two days, between May 18 and 20, 1944—was a much more subdued occasion in Crimea than previous memorial dates. For the first time in years, the Crimean Tatars could not hold their traditional rally in the central square of Simferopol and had to gather on the outskirts of the capital after the Kremlin-installed authorities banned most public meetings. Worse still, the Crimean Tatars marked the date in the absence of their leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev—who was deported from Crimea as an six-month-old and later spent 15 years in Soviet prisons for his campaign for the return of the Crimean Tatars to their homeland—because the Kremlin had banned Dzhemilev from entering Russia and Crimea.

Bachelet To Deepen Statist Policy in Chile

With no waste of time, the recently reelected President Michelle Bachelet of Chile and her socialist advisers have begun pushing a transformational agenda of education reforms and increased taxes that greatly expand statist intervention in the country’s mixed economy. The drive to increase state control was promised in Bachelet’s election campaign last year and in her inaugural address in March. But it was not until this week that the details were set forth, in an announcement in advance of her state of the union address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow. What Bachelet is proposing in her second term as president is a profound change in Chile’s educational system with measures that span everything from how private schools are financed to how schools and universities admit their student bodies.

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