Ever since 1945, the US has regarded itself as the leader of the “free world”. But the Obama administration is facing an unexpected and unwelcome development in global politics. Four of the biggest and most strategically important democracies in the developing world – Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey – are increasingly at odds with American foreign policy. Rather than siding with the US on the big international issues, they are just as likely to line up with authoritarian powers such as China and Iran.
The US has been slow to pick up on this development, perhaps because it seems so surprising and unnatural. Most Americans assume that fellow democracies will share their values and opinions on international affairs. During the last presidential election campaign, John McCain, the Republican candidate, called for the formation of a global alliance of democracies to push back against authoritarian powers. Some of President Barack Obama’s senior advisers have also written enthusiastically about an international league of democracies.
What will the events of the year be?
Of course, there is the usual round of elections. Britain will go to the polls, probably on May 6th – a day of huge significance, since it is also my birthday and Tony Blair’s birthday, as well. What a nice present for him, to see Gordon Brown go down in flames. Then, there are the American mid-terms in November – which I suspect will be really bad for Obama. Brazil is having a presidential election in October. A rather less certain prospect is the plan for Sudanese presidential and general elections in April. Other than that, the big diary events of the year are the World Cup in South Africa in June and July; the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty in May in New York; and the next effort to negotiate a global climate-change deal in Mexico in November. I suspect the World Cup might be marginally more entertaining than the other two events.
Here are some interesting things I read during the holidays.
I must admit, I hesitated briefly before embarking on four pages on Waziristan in The Economist. But it is a brilliant piece of reporting, enlivened by some characters who seem to have walked straight in off the pages of a novel. I particularly liked the 92-year-old British major, Geoffrey Langlands, who is still the headmaster of a school in Waziristan. He was kidnapped about 20-years-ago and was kept captive in a freezing mountain hut, but describes his detention as “quite tolerable on the whole,”