Voice

Announcing the 2012 summit of the nonaligned and vaguely unhinged

In an event that will undoubtedly be as interesting to mental health professionals as it is to foreign policy wonks, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has flown directly from his Tehran cuckoo's nest to the padded cell of his partner in derangement, Hugo Chavez, for the 2012 Summit of the Nonaligned and Vaguely Unhinged. Despite Chavez' increasing irrelevance this was an act of considerable courage on Mahmoud's part both because you never know what's going to happen when you're dealing with El Loco but also because whenever a despot leaves a country as screwed up as Iran is at the moment, he can't be sure he's going to have a job when he gets back.

At the moment, given the parlous state of the Iranian economy, the likelihood of its further decline later this year, the upcoming parliamentary elections in March that could be another trigger for restiveness in that country, the increasing global pressure of every type regarding Iran's rogue nuclear program, and Ahmadinejad's profusion of enemies among Tehran's empowered classes, he can't be too comfortable, even when he is at home. The statement over the weekend by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that America simply will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons and our tough response to Iran's saber rattling in the Gulf of Hormuz can't make things any easier.

So, what's a would-be world leader -- who is increasingly isolated -- to do? Well, turn to someone who understands his problems. Other than Kim Jong-un and Ron Paul, there are few people on the world stage who understand better than Chavez the plight of being seen as a member of the lunatic fringe of the global elite. (Sorry, Ron, you're a member of the global elite whether your tin-foil hat wearing contingent of conspiracy theorist supporters are willing to accept it or not.) Indeed, like Chavez and Kim, Ahmadinejad's claim on world attention is based as much or more on his potential for irrationality as it is on any particular resource or capability of the country he represents. Oh sure, Iran and Venezuela have oil, and North Korea and perhaps soon Iran may have nukes. But the point is these are otherwise marginal countries with the capability of being little more than regional trouble makers, who have tried like recalcitrant sixth graders to get more attention than they deserve through acting up.

The only difference between Ahmadinejad -- whose Venezuela stop is the first on a trip through Latin America in search of Sofia Vergara, er, that famous Latin warmth and hospitality -- and Chavez and Kim is that if anything, his grip on power is more tenuous. Which is saying something, given that Chavez is battling cancer and faces what may be his first real electoral challenge in years, and Kim is an untested newcomer, the neophyte Pillsbury doughboy of rogue nations. Come to think of it, the one thing that all three of these guys have in common is that all three must worry that the day may soon come when their grip on power is actually weaker than their grasp of reality.

For the rest of us, we can only hope that day comes soon.

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David Rothkopf

Dictionary of American Politics, Part Two -- Demspeak

As was explained in part one of this post, following what is said or written about American politics is often difficult for Americans who are actually used to all the dissembling, spinning, deliberate misconstruing, hyperbole and other nonsense that is to spin facts and lies into glittering campaign finery.

But if you are not from the U.S., it's next two impossible to know what's important or what's not.  Given the central role America still plays in the world -- G-zeroists notwithstanding -- cutting through the headlines and the soundbites to get to the core truths about what's happening in the world's highest-priced democracy is essential.

That's why I've tried to pick out a few terms and explain what each party means by them.  Earlier this week, I visited the Republican lexicon.  Today, we'll take a look at a handful of key illustrations of the quirks and curiosities that comprise the Dem dialect, with a special focus on a few that pertain to foreign policy.

The 1 Percent -- This is a perjorative term of art for every rich, spoiled, corrupt, indolent, exploitative millionaire in America who is not a donor to the Obama reelection effort or the Democratic National Committee.  Donors are referred to as hard-working, job-creating illustrations of the enduring power of the American dream.  (Also understood to refer to those who should be shouldering burden for balancing U.S. budget by paying "their fair share" of taxes.)

The 99 Percent -- This refers to the disenfranchised, struggling victims of Wall Street and corporatist exploitation.  All these people deserve tax cuts, to be funded by the 1 percent.  The fact that there is no way to address the deficit without a bigger burden falling on most of the members of the 99 percent, too, is just not something that should be discussed in public until we are in the midst of robust recovery lest the truth and arithmetic derail everything.

Bush Tax Cuts -- Source of all problems in the U.S. economy, even though President Obama celebrated extending them as a canny political victory in the middle of his first term.  (Also known as the biggest political issue of December 2012.)

Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- The Holy Trinity of American politics.  They are sacrosanct and must never be touched -- even if major surgery is the only way to actually save their lives.

Financial Services Reform -- A political mirage allowing the president to seemingly take a tough stand against the 1 percent while not alienating too much the fat cats who are needed to pump money into Dem coffers.  Advocate it, sign it, but don't really overdo the enforcement side of it.

Campaign Finance Reform -- Something that is absolutely essential for restoring democracy in America, and which should be implemented just as soon as every currently serving Dem leaves office.

The President's Healthcare Victory -- Shhhh.  Please don't mention this.  Despite the fact that it actually benefitted millions, it is the Voldemort of Dem politics, "the policy whose name must not be spoken."

Romneycare -- Shhh.  Please don't mention this either.  Because as Dems, we'll be forced to admit we kinda like it.

The Unemployment Rate -- The president's true running mate (sorry, Joe.)  If it dips to around 8 percent or below, the president wins re-election.  Interesting fact: the president has almost no ability to impact this outcome and bares only a very limited responsibility for fluctuations in U.S. employment one way or another.

Europe -- Dem heaven.  An ability to balance the love of good cuisine with the love for a well-constructed government bureaucracy. Topless beaches. The fact that the eurocrisis probably will have more to do with whether Obama wins reelection than anything he or anyone in the U.S. might do compromises this love affair somewhat.

China -- Growing up, most Dem policy wonks wanted to be European, today they want to be Chinese. And we hate them for that. 

India -- China with democracy … really fractious democracy at that, and crazy, over-the-top, outspoken media chaos.   A fast growing developing country with an important strategic role and a historical past that gave us Ben Kingsley.  In other words, for visionary Dem foreign policy types, even better than Europe or China.  The ultimate destination/partner for the Dem wonkocracy.

The Middle East -- Er, nice to know ya, time to go, "yay, democracy," "boo, Iran," "love ya, Israel" ... we're out of here.

"Barack Obama has a good working relationship with Bibi Netanyahu" -- Ha.  

"It would be wrong to politicize the successful results of the Bin Laden raid" -- Let's play up this big success at every opportunity that arises.  Wanna bet the story of the Navy SEAL who pulled the trigger leaks closer to election day?  Best illustration of Dem cojones since Madeleine Albright first raised the possibility they might exist.

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