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Is Angela Merkel the world’s most powerful woman?

She may be the world’s most powerful woman, but German chancellor Angela Merkel has governed with the utmost caution—one of several contradictions that make her an enigma at home and abroad. After a year that forced Merkel into confrontations with Putin and Obama, Maureen Orth explores how a once frumpy physicist has led her reluctant country to new prominence on the global stage.

Photograph by Jock Fistick

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On Obama and the Nature of Failed Presidencies

The period of a failed presidency is not a quiet time. The president is actively trying to save his legacy in the face of enormous domestic weakness. Other countries, particularly adversaries, see little reason to make concessions to failed presidents, preferring to deal with the next president instead. These adversaries then use military and political oppositions abroad to help shape the next U.S. presidential campaign in directions that are in their interests.

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The Kurds Forging A New Nation In Syria

"It's not about religion here. We protect all sects" says a Kurdish soldier. Made up of enclaves across Northern Syria, Rojava is built on the principles of equality, providing sanctuary to a spectrum of minorities as well as refugees on the run from ISIS. Described by Aldar Xalil, member of the Rojava Government Council, as a “consensus based, democratic way of life”, the state enjoys a political liberty unfamiliar to other areas of the Middle East. Here, no religious restrictions are imposed on public behaviour and women are encouraged to engage in running municipalities and combat. But a close association with the PKK, a Turkish militant group with a similar ideology yet brutal past, has earned Rojava inhabitants the scornful label of “terrorists” and a cautionary approach from international players. As YPG spokesmen Redur Khalil explains, however, the national army of Syrian Kurdistan could be key in the fight against ISIS: “for the American and European plans to succeed, they will need allies on the ground”.

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The Sources of Russian Conduct: The New Case for Containment

An onlooker waves a Russian flag during a military parade in Belgrade to mark 70 years since the city's liberation by Russia.
An onlooker waves a Russian flag during a military parade in Belgrade to mark 70 years since the city's liberation by the Red Army, October 16, 2014. (Djordje Kojadinovic / Courtesy Reuters)

As the West searches for an adequate policy response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine, American and European policymakers would do well to reread George F. Kennan’s famous “X” article, published in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs. Compelling then, Kennan’s case for containing Russia makes just as much sense now.

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Cheap-Oil Era Tilts Geopolitical Power to U.S.

Photographer: Eddie Seal/Bloomberg

A new age of abundant and cheap energy supplies is redrawing the world’s geopolitical landscape, weakening and potentially threatening the legitimacy of some governments while enhancing the power of others. Some changes already are evident. Surging U.S. oil production enabled America and its allies to impose tough sanctions on Iran without having to worry much about the loss of imports from the Middle Eastern nation. Russia, meanwhile, faces what President Vladimir Putin called a possibly “catastrophic” slump in prices for its oil as its economy is battered by U.S. and European sanctions over its role in Ukraine.

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Russia: A wounded economy is closer to crisis than the West or Vladimir Putin realise.

VLADIMIR PUTIN is not short of problems, many of his own creation. There is the carnage in eastern Ukraine, where he is continuing to stir things up. There are his fraught relations with the West, with even Germany turning against him now. There is an Islamist insurgency on his borders and at home there is grumbling among the growing numbers who doubt the wisdom of his Ukraine policy. But one problem could yet eclipse all these: Russia’s wounded economy could fall into a crisis...

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A Legacy of Liberalism

If we are to go by evidence of social retrogression, liberals have wreaked more havoc on blacks than the supposed "legacy of slavery" they talk about.

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PERPETRATORS SELDOM BECOME HEROES: Gorbachev's Charm Offensive and Germany's 25th National Celebration of the End of the Berlin Wall

The great surprise of this year´s Berlin Wall celebration was the absence of the reliable partners, who preserved freedom and human rights in West Germany and Europe, like the United States, Great Britain and France, and that not one of them mattered on November 9, 2014 or played any role at Germany´s national ceremony.

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Sweden's wishful thinking on the Mideast: Naive notions about Iran and 'Palestine'?

Sweden is arguably the most "European" of European countries by virtue of its historically cohesive nationhood ("one big family"), militaristic and socialist legacies, untrammeled immigration, unmatched political correctness, and a supercilious claim to the status of a "moral superpower." These features also make it perhaps the most alien of European countries to an American conservative. In this context, I offer a summary and paraphrase of my discussion with two senior members of the permanent bureaucracy in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) held during a recent visit to Stockholm. Our affable but pointed discussion focused on the Middle East, on which we agreed on almost nothing; I might as well have been in Sudan's or Syria's MFA.

Arvfurstens Palats, an eighteenth century royal palace occupied since 1906 by the Swedish Foreign Ministry.

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The Unraveling: How to Respond to a Disordered World


The fraying edges of an American flag.

Order has unraveled, in short, thanks to a confluence of three trends. Power in the world has diffused across a greater number and range of actors. Respect for the American economic and political model has diminished. And specific U.S. policy choices, especially in the Middle East, have raised doubts about American judgment and the reliability of the United States’ threats and promises. The net result is that while the United States’ absolute strength remains considerable, American influence has diminished.

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Why mobile will be even more revolutionary than you think: The computer in your pocket will change everything

 Mobile's coming for you.

Mobile's coming for you. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A few years ago, famed venture capitalist Marc Andreessen published a seminal article titled "Why software is eating the world." The main thesis was that not only was the software industry primed for continuing growth (this was at a time of bubble hysteria), but that the growth of software was no longer just about the software industry itself, but rather about software transforming other industries. Thus far, the impact of software on business has been about the software industry itself (including the internet), or about software allowing other industries to do basically the same thing, except more efficiently. But now software is reshaping other industries.

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China and the U.S. Prepare For War

At a press conference in Beijing, General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to notify the other side before major military activities, and to develop a set of rules of behavior for sea and air encounters, in order to avoid military confrontations in Asia. "It's incredibly important that we avoid inadvertent escalation," Ben Rhodes, a U.S. deputy national security advisor, was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying. An "accidental circumstance," he said, could "lead into something that could precipitate conflict."

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Putin’s Project Sparta: The U.S. and Europe Must Respond to the Kremlin’s Coming Offensive in Ukraine

(Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA-Novosti/Kremlin)

Russia has moved a massive wave of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery into Ukraine’s Donbas region in recent days, accompanied by new uniformed troops without insignia, to bolster the armed forces of the Russian-sponsored Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples’ Republics. This military escalation follows Moscow’s political support for pretended elections to consolidate the two mini-states, a step that Europe and the US regard as a fundamental violation of the Minsk peace process launched in August. Ominously, evidence is growing that this buildup is preparing a new offensive by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his war against Ukraine—a campaign of attrition against Ukraine’s economically fragile state.

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The world’s most Catholic region is becoming dramatically less so


(Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

If any region of the world is the heart of modern Catholicism, it's Latin America. Some 425 million Catholics live there, more than 40 percent of the world's total Catholic population. Plus, for the first time in history, there is a Latin American pope — and he's quite popular, if you hadn't heard. Despite this, a new report on religion in Latin America from Pew Research Center has come to an unmistakable conclusion: Latin America, the world's most Catholic region, has become dramatically less Catholic over the past few decades.

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The Kremlin's Counterfeit Reinvention of Ukraine's History

For two hundred years, Ukraine and Russia have conflicted over Ukraine's history and sovereignty. Recently the Kremlin has tried to rebrand large regions of Ukraine as Novorossiya, or ‘New Russia'. The Ukrainians are fighting back, however. Long-term implications of this change in attitudes have not yet fully dawned on the Kremlin, but it is evident that the Russian invasion has radically altered Ukrainian perceptions of Russia, while reinforcing a sense of Ukrainian identity.

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What Happened to Our Souls?

We now live in a very spiritual age, but not a soulful one. Our politicians on both sides have ambition, but not much soul. Our digital devices now own us.

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The German Connection: An Unlikely Middle East Mediator Works in the Shadows

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Merkel in Jerusalem, January 2011. (Baz Ratner / Courtesy Reuters)

Almost 70 years after the fact, Germany and Israel are still rarely mentioned in the same breath, except when discussing the Holocaust (or, in a contemporary twist, when regional critics compare Israeli policies to those of the Nazi state). Yet Berlin, and the BND in particular, has long been one of the most successful intermediaries in the Middle East, occupying the niche role of interlocutor in prisoner exchanges between Israel and two of its bitter adversaries: Hamas and Hezbollah.

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The battle for Kobane Offers a Glimpse of Kurds' New Model Democracy

The struggle for Kobane is an event of global significance on a par with the Declaration of Independence, the Storming of the Bastille, the Paris Commune, or the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu. Success for the Kurds would challenge established intellectual, ethical and political horizons.

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Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber bragging about deceiving the 'stupid' American people: "Lack of transparency (lying) is a huge political advantage, but I would rather have this law than not."

Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber bragging about deceiving the American people, who he thinks are stupid.

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NORMAL COUNTRIES: The East 25 Years After Communism


The new normal: voting in Veresegyhaz, Hungary, April 2014.
The new normal: voting in Veresegyhaz, Hungary, April 2014. (Laszlo Balogh / Courtesy Reuters)

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall came down, a sense of missed opportunity hangs over the countries that once lay to its east. Back then, hopes ran high amid the euphoria that greeted the sudden implosion of communism. From Bratislava to Ulaanbaatar, democracy and prosperity seemed to be just around the corner. Today, the mood is more somber. With a few exceptions, such as Estonia and Poland, the postcommunist countries are seen as failures, their economies peopled by struggling pensioners and strutting oligarchs, their politics marred by ballot stuffing and emerging dictators. From the former Yugoslavia to Chechnya and now eastern Ukraine, wars have punctured the 40-plus years of cold peace on the European continent, leaving behind enclaves of smoldering violence.

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