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Transatlantic Unity on Marijuana

American and German Youtube users are most interested in asking their respective heads of government about the legalization of marijuana. This seems to be another indication that US and German social media users think much more alike than the political elites do. I am disappointed that more important questions are much less popular.

Last week, Chancellor Merkel responded on the government's Youtube channel to ten questions from citizens. She responded negatively to this questions about the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana which had received the most votes on Youtube:

Wie stehen Sie zur Forderung, den bestehenden Schwarzmarkt für Cannabis durch einen regulierten Markt mit Jugend- und Verbraucherschutz (Kontrolle von Qualität und THC-Gehalt) zu ersetzen und mehr Suchtprävention über Cannabissteuern zu finanzieren?

For Merkel it was the first Youtube Q&A, while President Obama has been conducting three YouTube question-and-answer sessions already. According to CBS News, the session in January 2011 was "as always" dominated by marijuana:

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The Forces Behind the Revolution in Egypt

Who gets the most credit for toppling Mubarak? And who will be blamed if the revolution turns nasty in the next 12 months? Who inspired the events that could change history like the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the Islamic Revolution in 1979?

Facebook? Twitter? Rising food prices? The "liberation" of Iraq? George W. Bush? David Hasselhoff? The Egyptian Army? The youth groups of the opposition parties? The Tahrir square campers? Or the tragic narratives of the two individuals Khaled Said from Alexandria or Mohammed Bouazizi from Ben Arous?

1. The BBC has a great image of "the camp that toppled a president."

2. Interestingly, the Boston Globe, often described as very liberal, gives George W. Bush some credit. A program to fund and train election monitors in Egypt "played a key role in the movement to topple President Hosni Mubarak's regime":

The program, which provided millions in direct funding to prodemocracy groups, helped dispatch 13,000 volunteers to observe Egypt's parliamentary elections in December. Thousands of those monitors, angered by what they said was blatant election rigging, joined the protests. Some became outspoken leaders; others used the networking and communication skills they learned to help coordinate 18 days of rallies. (...)

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France and US: Bad Judgment on North Africa

French Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie, who has served under several prime ministers and has held almost all of the big ministries, should resign immediately!

Moreover, I wish that the entire French government is so ashamed of itself that they cease to give grand speeches about human rights, democracy and values for the rest of the year.

Los Angeles Times

France trained Egyptian police officers in crowd control and sent tear gas to Tunis. And its foreign minister vacationed in Tunisia after the uprising, using the jet of a man linked to the ousted president. (...) French Prime Minister Francois Fillon confirmed this week that the government had authorized a shipment of tear gas grenades to Tunis on Jan. 12, two days before Tunisian President Zine el Abidine ben Ali was toppled from power. (...) Weeks ago, Alliot-Marie was criticized for offering to prop up Ben Ali's unpopular administration just days before he fled the country. She suggested sending France's "world renowned" security forces to help quell the uprising.

Compared to what France has done, the Obama administration's lapse of moral judgment is peanuts. Telegraph Independent:

Frank Wisner, President Barack Obama's envoy to Cairo who infuriated the White House this weekend by urging Hosni Mubarak to remain President of Egypt, works for a New York and Washington law firm which works for the dictator's own Egyptian government.

Meanwhile, Germany might facilitate a quick de facto resignation of Mubarak. Jerusalem Post:

The United States government's plan to end to the political chaos in Egypt appeared to be a scenario wherein Mubarak travels to Germany for a "prolonged health check," the report suggested.

Photo: © Rémi Jouan, CC-BY-SA, GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons

Does Europe Have Something to Say on Egypt?

Prime Minister David Cameron, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint UK-France-Germany statement on the situation in Egypt:

We urge President Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation which should be reflected in a broad-based government and in free and fair elections."

Of course, the NYT finds a negative angle to report on this: "The statement by Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Cameron exposes the lack of any coherent and united response by the European Union as a whole, even though under the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, its reaction to major events was intended to be swifter and united."

Well, the EU foreign minister did produce a united response yesterday calling for a peaceful, orderly and democratic transition. The problem is not the lack of unity, but the fact that we don't have something meaningful to say.

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Plutocracy: US Media Concerned about the Political Influence of the Super Rich

Conventional wisdom used to be that Europeans envy the rich, while Americans hope to emulate them. Now, Americans are increasingly concerned about rising inequality and the influence of the tiny elite of the super rich.

Plutocracy is a very popular topic of discussion in the US media at the moment. I am quite surprised.

It can't be a coincidence that even mainstream and center-right publications like Foreign Affairs, The American Interest and The Atlantic write about it extensively right now:

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Yanukovych: Ukraine Will Be a Bridge Between East and West

Ukraine's President-elect Viktor Yanukovych writes in the Wall Street Journal that “Ukraine Will Be a Bridge Between East and West”:

Let me say here, a Yanukovych presidency is committed to the integration of European values in Ukraine. Ukraine should make use of its geopolitical advantages and become a bridge between Russia and the West. Developing a good relationship with the West and bridging the gap to Russia will help Ukraine. We should not be forced to make the false choice between the benefits of the East and those of the West. As president I will endeavor to build a bridge between both, not a one-way street in either direction. We are a nation with a European identity, but we have historic cultural and economic ties to Russia as well. The re-establishment of relations with the Russian Federation is consistent with our European ambitions. We will rebuild relations with Moscow as a strategic economic partner. There is no reason that good relations with all of our neighbors cannot be achieved.

Can Yanukovych bridge the gap between East and West? Will he even try, or is this article simply political posturing to console those concerned about his pro-Russia stance?

Yanukovych was the most pro-Russia candidate, and has quickly sought to improve ties with Russia; he already suggested the Russian Black Sea Fleet may stay in Ukrainian waters and made clear Ukraine will not seek NATO membership. Ukraine will however continue moving toward EU membership (Businessweek).

His rival in the campaign and a leader of the 2004 western-supported Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko refuses to concede, and has requested the high court in Ukraine overturn the election results – an outcome seen as highly unlikely.

President Obama, the EU and NATO have already sent congratulations to Yanukovych.

With Yanukovych ditching NATO and seeking to improve ties to Russia and EU membership, the United States is the biggest loser from Yanukovych’s election. This outcome should not come as a surprise however: popular support in Ukraine for NATO membership has been consistently at or below 30 percent over the past few years, making NATO membership never really likely anyhow (AR forecasted this here).

With NATO membership for Ukraine never likely anyhow, perhaps the US has not lost much. In fact, Ukraine relations with the West under Yanukovych may not be much different than it has been under the Orange Revolution leadership for a few reasons:

* Ukraine will likely continue to develop a partnership with NATO, though not membership;
* Ukraine will want pragmatic and productive relations with the United States, and still seeks EU membership;
The acceptance by international observers of Yanukovych's election and his intent to pursue EU membership both support the fact that while the Orange Revolution leadership has been voted out, the western values it respresented - a democratic and free society - are now embedded into Ukraine. 

Whether or not Yanukovich can balance between the West and Russia is tough to predict.  However, Yanukovich's intent to pursue this balance is likely a genuine aspiration.

Lessons for Europe's Social Democrats from the Obama Campaign

David Vickrey, editor of Dialog International, wrote this guest blog post:

In the final days of the 2008 US presidential campaign, John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, accused his Democratic rival Barack Obama of being a "European socialist". McCain based this characterization on Obama's taxation reform program, a plan to "spread the wealth around", which, in fact, is nothing more than a reaffirmation of the tradition of progressive taxation in America.

The charge that Obama was a covert "European socialist" was especially curious since it was made during the weeks in September and October when the Republican Bush administration was nationalizing the American banking system. Certainly European social democrats found McCain's characterization laughable: there was nothing "socialistic" about the Obama campaign's stated policies. What did the candidacy of Barack Obama have to do with European social democracy? And what could social democrats possibly learn from a political campaign in the United States - the bedrock of unfettered capitalism and the epicenter of the global financial crisis? Plenty, according to the German journalist Werner A. Perger. Perger spent time in late summer 2008 in the US speaking with labor union leaders, political activists, and progressive thought leaders.

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In immediate response to the Russia-Georgia war, it has been popular to say that we are witnessing the 'return' of history. This was the title of a post by Stanley Crossick, crossposted on the Atlantic Review. There have been many who have heralded the return of history, some even more or less directly after Francis Fukuyama wrote his seminal essay 'The End of History?'. Most recently, Bob Kagan has written a book called 'The Return of History and the End of Dreams', which stems from the essay 'End of Dreams, Return of History'.

Francis Fukuyama answers some of the critics in his Washington Post column 'They Can Only Go So Far'. One interesting point Fukuyama makes is that we can't paint all forms of autocracy with one brush, that there are important differences between various forms of authoritarianism. He also argues that none of the current forms have an idea:

The facile historical analogies to earlier eras have two problems: They presuppose a cartoonish view of international politics during these previous periods, and they imply that "authoritarian government" constitutes a clearly defined type of regime -- one that's aggressive abroad, abusive at home and inevitably dangerous to world order. In fact, today's authoritarian governments have little in common, save their lack of democratic institutions.

The thing to say about 'The End of History' is that people generally misunderstand it. Fukuyama himself says so, and Blake Hounshell nods in agreement on Foreig Policy's Passport blog. It's unclear to me whether the idea is misunderstood by the many who have debated it in writing. Bob Kagan certainly gets the point.

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