Don’t Admire the Big Man

Surprisingly many Westerners admire the authoritarian leaders of other nations.

They should be careful what they wish for.

Accepting dictators as a necessary evil in the absence of an immediate alternative is one thing. Respecting them for what they are is quite another.

Comedian Jon Stewart ridiculed American rightwingers’ obsession with international strongmen on his The Daily Show Tuesday night, contrasting their fawning praise of Jordan’s king, Abdullah, Egypt’s Abdul Fatah Sisi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin with their indignation whenever their own president, Barack Obama, oversteps the constitutional restraints on his office.

But there is more at play here than hypocrisy. It’s not just that those demanding “strong leadership” would — rightly — complain when it is exerted at home; their protestations reveal an unhealthy desire to be led and a misjudgment of what makes a political system sound.

A psychologist might have more to say about the former, but the fact that it is evidently still widespread in Western societies is worrisome. If only because those very societies have made the most progress in empowering the individual. Read more “Don’t Admire the Big Man”

In German Election, Merkel Is the Safest Choice

Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel meets with other European conservative party leaders in Brussels, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

Polls predict that German chancellor Angela Merkel will cruise to a comfortable victory in this week’s parliamentary elections. We would welcome her reelection.

Although the liberal Free Democrats, who emphasize economic freedom and individual responsibility, are more aligned with the Atlantic Sentinel‘s views, their leader, economy minister Philipp Rösler, looks unfit for the chancellorship. Merkel, by contrast, has proven herself to be a wise leader since she first assumed office in 2005 — sometimes pragmatic, otherwise steadfast. Read more “In German Election, Merkel Is the Safest Choice”

Germany’s Merkel Dominates Preelection Polls

When German voters decide the new composition of the Bundestag in the fall of this year, one thing seems almost inevitable: Angela Merkel will remain chancellor, unless all three parties left of center agree to form a coalition government of their own.

Although the scenario seems highly improbable, Merkel will be presented with a tough choice of her own. While it is too early to put too much faith in opinion polls, the current numbers are startling: Merkel’s conservatives are consistently breaking the 40 percent mark while the Social Democrats led by Peer Steinbrück can barely meet 30 percent of voter approval.

But Merkel’s present coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats, are caught in a battle for political survival, failing to meet the necessary 5 percent mark to be represented in parliament in almost every poll. In recent weeks it has become clear that the Christian Democrats are already taking the possibility of a new coalition partner into their calculations, showing a dwindling support for the liberals in upcoming provincial elections. This strategy is painful for the liberals but makes sense from Angela Merkel’s point of view. Why rely on a razor’s edge majority on the right when a more comfortable margin could be reached with the Social Democrats or the Greens? Read more “Germany’s Merkel Dominates Preelection Polls”

New Government Won’t Change Dutch Foreign Policy

The Dutch Labor and liberal parties that announced this week they had reached agreement to form a new government are unlikely to user in significant changes in the Netherlands’ European and foreign policy.

Although Labor is seen as more pro-European, it backed the previous, right-wing government’s European policy while in opposition for close to two years as one of its partners, the nationalist Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders, refused to support the ruling Christian Democrats and liberals in the creation of two European bailout funds for the financial support of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

Before September’s election, which followed Wilders’ withdrawal from the ruling coalition, Labor leader Diederik Samsom vehemently disagreed with Prime Minister Mark Rutte when he insisted that Greece could not be given more time to comply with the terms of its two international bailouts.

Although their coalition agreement, which was published on Monday, does not stipulate a specific policy with regard to Greece, the parties note that the recipients of financial aid should work to improve their economies in the long term. They add, “Structural support from countries that do take their responsibility to countries that don’t is out of the question.” Read more “New Government Won’t Change Dutch Foreign Policy”

Miliband Repudiates New Labour at His Party’s Peril

Speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester on Tuesday, Britain’s opposition leader Ed Miliband seemed keen to distance himself from the “New Labour” program of his predecessors.

New Labour under Prime Minister Tony Blair in the 1990s signaled a more centrist socialist party that accepted many of the market reforms that were implemented in the previous decade by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and broadened Labour’s electoral appeal to middle-class voters. It was ideologically aligned to President Bill Clinton’s “Third Way” in the United States which preserved the fiscal and trade policies of the previous Republican administrations.

According to Miliband, New Labour was “was too silent about the responsibility of those at the top,” however. He argued that the wealthy “have the biggest responsibility to show responsibility to the rest of our country,” in other words: should pay higher taxes. Read more “Miliband Repudiates New Labour at His Party’s Peril”

The End of Ideology in South America

A new generation of conservative leaders appears to be stepping up in Latin America. In Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos just took over as president from Álvaro Uribe who had been the continent’s most right-wing leader in a decade. Chile recently elected billionaire Sebastián Piñera president while in Brazil, the opposition’s candidate, José Serra, stands a good chance of claiming victory this fall. It may be tempting to believe that South America is turning conservative. Not so, says Michael Shifter.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Shifter, who is the president of the Inter American Dialogue think tank, argues that South America isn’t making a turn for the right. Rather, he believes, it has shifted to the center. Read more “The End of Ideology in South America”