By Anna Neistat, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anna Neistat is associate program director at Human Rights Watch and has undertaken extensive field research in Syria since the beginning of the uprising. The views expressed are her own.
While world leaders managed to produce a joint communique on Syria at the end of the G8 summit, the closing media remarks made it clear that Vladimir Putin hasn’t actually moved an inch on the issue. The Russian president once again lashed out at the European Union and the United States for considering arms shipments to the Syrian opposition, suggesting it will further destabilize Syria. At the same time, he made it clear that Russia will continue supplying a range of weapons to the Syrian government, arguing that this will help stabilize the region while preventing a foreign intervention.
Welcome to Russian doublespeak.
Some of you may have trouble understanding Moscow’s logic, or will at least find it remarkably cynical. But anyone who used to watch the prime time Soviet show “International Panorama” will be at an advantage in interpreting what Russia really means. After all, this is the same program that trained viewers to be able to distinguish between the “ignition of new offensive arms race” (U.S. development of strategic weapons) and “maintenance of the power balance and international security” (Soviet development of strategic weapons). Of course, regular viewers would also never confuse the “blood-thirsty hirelings of Capital” (anti-communist guerrillas) with the “valiant freedom fighters” (pro-communist guerrillas). And audiences would also be fully aware that Western intervention anywhere in the world is a “shameless attack on sovereignty by ruthless NATO occupants,” while Soviet invasion is a selfless fulfillment of “an international duty to support brotherly peoples.”
For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
The world has known Russian President Putin to be a man who knows what he wants and knows how to get it. He certainly isn’t the shy and retiring type. That's why last week I was surprised to see Putin asking very nicely and gently for the world expo to be held in Russia in 2020, please.
Having sat with him at close quarters, I was stunned by this Putin. He seemed so soft and tame. Perhaps it was because uncharacteristically, he was speaking in English. Now, to be fair, at least he can speak English – and quite well. Very few American or British leaders can speak any language other than English. Remember Newt Gingrich's bilingual apology a few years ago?
Or there’s President Obama trying his hand at Hebrew. Maybe they should all listen to Tony Blair, who admitted that trying to speak French was a bad idea – but then again, he tried it anyway.
Watch the video for the full Last Look.
Discussion of Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Africa has so far focused largely on the estimated cost. But as the president prepares for a trip that will take in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, there will be no shortage of policy issues to contemplate.
But what will be on the agenda? What are America’s interests in Africa? And what is president Obama hoping to achieve with his trip?
Steve McDonald, director of the Africa program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington will be taking readers’ questions on these and other issues. Please leave your questions in the comment section below.
By Fareed Zakaria
It is possible to imagine that Khamenei’s unexpected munificence, including his last-minute appeal for every Iranian – even those who don’t support the Islamic Republic – to vote, was planned, writes Suzanne Maloney in Foreign Affairs.
“In this case, those who see Rouhani’s election as a replay of the shocking political upset that Khatami pulled off in 1997 are off base. Instead, Rouhani’s election is an echo of Khamenei’s sudden shift in 1988 and 1989, when he charged Rafsanjani, a pragmatist, with ending the war with Iraq, and then helped Rafsanjani win the presidency so that he could spearhead the post-war reconstruction program. Now, as then, Khamenei is not bent on infinite sacrifice. Perhaps allowing Rouhani’s victory is his way of empowering a conciliator to repair Iran’s frayed relations with the world and find some resolution to the nuclear dispute that enables the country to revive oil exports and resume normal trade.”
Barack Obama has been flirting with self-containment and Germany won't shed it, argues Josef Joffe in the Wall Street Journal. “The two countries' macroeconomic policies have been at odds since the 2008 crash. America's strategic ken is shifting to the Pacific, the key arena of the 21st century. Washington is struggling with ungovernability, and Berlin is happy to outsource politics to Brussels and the ECB in Frankfurt.”
“These trends would be less painful if all the world behaved like that happy stretch between Berlin and Berkeley. But it doesn't, being torn by substrategic mayhem from the Maghreb to the Middle East, by terror and cyberattacks, by failing states like Syria that invariably suck in the rest. Throw in zero growth in Europe, shrinking growth among the once fabulous BRICs and an oppressive overhang of global liquidity.
“Who is going to mind the store? Russia, China, India? In the West, the U.S. and Germany are the two last men standing, yet they would rather sit down in their respective corners. The price is high: a ‘nonpolar’ or ‘a-polar’ world where nobody is in charge.”
By Global Public Square staff
We know that China does infrastructure better than anyone in the world. Their trains, their roads, their airports, their subways have been built at amazing speed on a grand scale and with great foresight. Well, the next great Chinese infrastructure project is a canal. But this canal won't link two Chinese cities together with a waterway. This canal will link the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
Yes, we have one of those already, in Panama. But a Chinese company wants to help build another one. The "HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd." will help finance a Nicaraguan canal at a total cost of about $40 billion.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with CNN about the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president, how he compares with outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and who really holds power in the country.
Beyond the rhetoric, how different are these two as far as their actual beliefs and approach to the nuclear program that Iran has launched?
They’re quite different. They're different in tone – you can see that. They're also different in that Ahmadinejad was a layperson, whereas Rouhani comes out of the clerical establishment. It makes him probably more capable of navigating.
The problem, however, is there's a deep structural contradiction within the Iranian system. The president doesn’t have much power on these core foreign policy and national security issues. Those are held by the supreme leader. Remember, the last two presidents of Iran have, by the end of their terms, fallen afoul of the supreme leader completely. Mohammad Khatami did start out as a reformist. He's now under a form of house arrest.
Ahmadinejad started out in some ways as an opponent of the clerical system. He's discredited. The supreme leader doesn't like him. So the real question is will the supreme leader look at the results? And now you have 20 years of polling where the Iranian people are basically saying, we want conciliation, we want reconciliation with the West, we want to join the modern world.
By Janet Fleischman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Janet Fleischman is a senior associate at the Global Health Policy Center of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (
@CSIS). The views expressed are her own.
President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa this month is focused on the pressing issues of economic growth and investment, democratization, and the next generation of African leaders. Yet a central element for achieving those goals is missing from the list – advancing the health and empowerment of women and girls. The Obamas have an opportunity to make this trip historic by explicitly committing the United States to focus on women and girls as a key pathway to progress for Africa. But will they seize it?
The President and First Lady can speak powerfully to African and global audiences on these issues. On January 30, President Obama issued an unprecedented presidential memorandum on advancing gender equality and empowering women and girls globally, calling it “one of the greatest unmet challenges of our time.” For many who worried that the energy and commitment that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought to those issues might dissipate with her departure, this high-level statement was most welcome. Many have also wondered whether Michelle Obama herself might become a champion for global women’s issues in the second Obama term, building on her support for women and girls in the U.S.
By Fareed Zakaria
Iran has a ‘deep state’ where the real power lies and a ‘shallow state’ where politics happens, writes Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest.
“Iranian newspapers are highlighting the voter turnout of 73 percent as a sign that the system is working. While voters understand very well where the real power lies, they still choose to participate in the political process. The Supreme Leader may be less worried that his pet candidates did poorly in the election than he is pleased to have an electoral process that lets voters blow off steam while the deep state rolls on.”
“The United States spends more than $8,000 a person per year on health care, well more than twice what Sweden spends. Yet health outcomes are far better in Sweden along virtually every dimension,” argues Robert Frank in the New York Times. “Its infant mortality rate, for example, was recently less than half that of the United States. And males aged 15 to 60 are almost twice as likely to die in any given year in the United States than in Sweden.”
“…Larger hospitals with heavier patient flows also enable their staff to hone their skills through specialization and experience. If you are getting a knee replacement or coronary bypass surgery, you want teams that do scores of such procedures each month.
“Doctors in the two countries also face different financial incentives. In the United States, under the fee-for-service model, they can bolster their incomes, often substantially, by prescribing additional tests and procedures. Most Swedish doctors, as salaried employees, have no comparable incentive.”
By Nazila Fathi, Special to CNN
Millions of Iranians poured into the streets Saturday to celebrate the victory of presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani. Huge crowds snarled traffic in the capital, Tehran, demanding the release of hundreds of political prisoners arrested during protests over sham elections four years ago. "My dead brother and sister, I got your vote back," people chanted, a reference to more than 100 demonstrators killed by the regime.
The surprise was not so much that 18 million votes were cast for Rouhani, slightly more than half the ballots, but the fact that the regime had endorsed his victory, triggering hope that international pressure over Iran's nuclear program and growing internal rifts at home might have forced the leadership to restore some of its lost legitimacy.
Rouhani is not a reformist, even according to Iranian standards. He had backed the violent crackdown against the pro-democracy student movement in 1999 and never formally aligned himself with the reformist camp. A cleric and a veteran politician since 1979, he was in the circle close to the founder of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini. He served five terms as a member of Parliament and 16 years as the head of the National Security Council.
By Matthew Levitt, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Matthew Levitt directs the Stein program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is the author of the forthcoming book Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God. The views expressed are his own.
The Group of Eight is holding its annual summit in Northern Ireland under the presidency of the United Kingdom. While the summit is slated to focus on trade, tax, transparency issues and of course Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron staked out several months ago a particular focus on counterterrorism for the G8 under the U.K. presidency. But with Hezbollah plotting attacks targeting civilians around the world from Europe to Asia, and in light of its military support for the brutal al-Assad regime in Syria, London should press for a G8 condemnation of Hezbollah at the meeting.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January, Cameron stated that among Britain’s top priorities for the G8 agenda this year was tackling the threat of extremism and terrorist violence. “I’ll put my cards on the table,” Cameron said in Davos. “I believe we are in the midst of a long struggle against murderous terrorists and a poisonous ideology that supports them.”
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy about the situation in Turkey and her role in the upcoming documentary ‘Girl Rising,’ which is premiering this Sunday on CNN at 9 p.m. ET.
How does it look to you, from Cairo, what is going on in Taksim Square?
I think the most important thing about what's happening in Turkey is that for me, it seems like Turks are trying to find a middle ground or a third way between what used to be just kind of the Ataturk, nationalist way and the Islamist way, as modern as it is, of Erdogan. And for me, as a Muslim from the Middle East, that's really important.
You’ve spent 10 years in America and gone back to Cairo. Do you worry that while you would like to see a more secular republic, you're worried by Erdogan's Islamism or the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamism?
On the ground, that stuff is pretty popular. So when Erdogan has put in these moderate restrictions on the sale of retail alcohol or he talks about women being allowed to wear the head scarf, in my experience, all my friends in Istanbul hate him for it. But the country at large likes it, because [this is a] 99 percent Muslim country, most people are devout. That actually resonates a lot more than people think. I assume the same is true in Egypt. Do you worry that your preferences are actually the preferences of a very small urban, kind of educated class?
I often compare the Muslim Brotherhood and their platform to the Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. who love to tout moral values. It's very easy to tout moral values, to be against abortion, to be against same-sex marriage here. And in Egypt and in the Middle East, it's very easy to say I'm going to ban alcohol and I'm going to make sure that all girls can or should wear head scarves. That is too easy and that is a violation of people's rights.