Looking back at Margaret Thatcher, one can see that she was far more interesting than the caricatures would have it. If you look beyond her “handbagging” of opponents, beyond her hardhearted rep as “Thatcher the milk snatcher” (from poor kids), beyond her nasal voice, you see that she was a revolutionary.
She fit her times. She shook up a tired, ossified Britain- sometimes for the worse, but frequently for the better. Her uber-conservatism was a necessary tonic for an England gone gray. But beware of any efforts by Thatcher’s euologizers to apply her formulas to today’s America. Her prescriptions suited 1980s England, but not the United States of 2013.
What was so astonishing about Thatcher is that she didn’t only shatter the glass ceiling - she shattered the class ceiling. Before she took office it was not only inconceivable for a woman to lead Britain (or any major Western state) it was inconceivable that a grocer’s daughter could do so. An archaic class system smothered British political, social and economic life like a heavy rug.
Here’s my pick for most interesting foreign news story of the week – and it isn’t the absurd and dangerous posturing of Kim Jong-un.
It’s the sharp verbal jab delivered on Monday by ailing Mikhail Gorbachev to the pretensions of Vladimir Putin. Although Gorbie is frail and ailing, he denounced Putin for curtailing freedoms and curbing civil society. Mr. Putin, he said, had adopted “a ruinous and hopeless path.”
Gorbachev changed world history when he chose, in 1989, not to order the East Germans (still under Soviet control) to fire on the Berlin wall-jumpers. The Soviet leader thought he could reform communism, and he failed to grasp that the sclerotic communist system was beyond reforming. But he understands now that Russia can't move forward under Putin’s new tsar-ism.
As religious fundamentalists become ever more prominent in the battle against the Assad regime, outsiders may not realize that Syria is an unlikely candidate to become an Islamic state.
I was reminded of that reality when I spoke with Michel Kilo, the legendary pro-democracy Syrian oppositionist, and central author of the 2005 Damascus Declaration that called for “peaceful, gradual” political reform. Kilo, a Christian, who was jailed in the 1980s and again for three years in the mid-2000s, finally sought exile in Paris, where I met him last month at the La Rotonde cafe.
Kilo passionately described to me the poliglot Syria that did exist before Assad’s brutality tore open religious and ethnic fault lines. “The silent majority of Syrians are democratic,” he said. “If one day free elections come then the world will see. Minorities make up 35%, and they refuse an Islamic state, and 15% of Muslims at least are against an Islamic state, which means with a democratic election it would be impossible to have an Islamic state.”
Jon Stewart’s riff about the Cairo arrest of his Egyptian counterpart Bassem Youssef has led to a diplomatic incident – worthy of another satire.
Turns out, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted a video link to Stewart’s satirical slam at Egyptian President Morsi over the arrest, and the Egyptian president’s office got all huffy as did the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement whose party got him elected. The embassy then scrubbed the link to the Stewart segment, leading one Egyptian blogger to quip: “Forcing @USEmbassyCairo to delete a tweet. That is the only successful thing the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] did since they reached power.”.
Tune in tomorrow for the next chapter in the U.S.-Egyptian twitter wars.
When Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Asia next week, the top of his agenda will be – natch – what to do about North Korea.
And the most important converstion he’ll have will probably be with incoming Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi – since China is North Korea’s next-door neighbor, most crucial ally, and the only country that might be able to make Pyongyang show better behavior. Yet China has been reluctant to cut its critical flow of fuel, food and investments to North Korea, because it fears the country might collapse, leading to a unified Korea dominated by the south, with American military garrisons along the Chinese border.
So what could Kerry say to convince China that its best interests require it to rein in the young, reckless North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un? Here’s some suggestions from Doug Paal, director of the Asia program at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
You couldn’t invent a subject more ripe for satire. As Egypt’s economy goes down the tubes, and the country’s security falls apart, the government of Egypt has charged prominent TV comedian Bassem Youssef with insulting President Mohammed Morsi and Islam. His “crimes”? Lampooning everyone from Morsi, to fundamentalist clerics to the Egyptian opposition, for which he became known as “Egypt’s Jon Stewart”..
Perhaps Morsi’s minions really believe these insults are what’s causing the chaos in their country. Not surprisingly, America’s own Jon Stewart, who’s had Youssef on his show, has another view. His riff on the Youssef affair here and here is a brilliant dissection of Egypt’s failed revolution and Morsi’s hypocrisy, including clips of the Egyptian leader defaming Jews and Zionists (Youssef showed these clips on his show.).
When Pakistan’s former military ruler and president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, returned home last week from four years of self-imposed exile, a physician-turned- entrepreneur from Villanova was by his side. Raza Bokhari, a 1991 immigrant from Pakistan turned highly successful businessman and civic activist, describes himself as “a long term friend of Musharraf’s, and his current point of contact in the USA.”
In a phone interview from Islamabad, Bokhari said Musharraf returned to participate in upcoming May 2013 Pakistani elections – despite death threats, huge legal challenges, and an uncertain political future. He says the former president is “a brave man” but “it’s too early to tell” how things will turn out.
Musharraf resigned in 2008 under threat of impeachment and still faces various legal charges in Pakistan, for which he received pre-trial bail. His legacy is full of haunting contradictions.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s blustering threats to launch a missile attack on the United States and South Korea appear to be an attempt by the young leader to demonstrate his toughness to his people and his military. In fact, South Koreans seem more worried about potential cyber attacks like those on its banking system and TV broadcasters three weeks ago than they are about being bombed.
But the bizarre threats reminded me of a time, in the mid 1980s, when I attended a yearly meeting of the U.N.’s mixed armistice commission in Korea’s demilitarized zone which occurred in a small building whose courtyard straddled the boundary line between North and South Korea. That meeting day used to be the one day that South Korean or western media could walked across the boundary into a small area, paved with cement and surrounded by armed North Korean guards, that was technically inside the Hermit Kingdom.
As the gaggle of press stepped across the line from south to north, the “journalists” from North Korea, all wearing badges with photos of their great leader, started screaming in unison at the visitors. A group of diplomats and foreign press, mostly from then-communist countries, who had been bussed down from Pyongyang, stood by glumly watching the show. One of them, a Russian representing the then Soviet news agency Tass, whispered to me, “These people are impossible. They never let you out of their sight.”