Foreign Policy: The Democrats Vs. The Dictators

Originally published on March 23, 2011 1:03 pm

Sweet 16 Results:

Game 17

Barack Obama vs. Nicolas Sarkozy

Give the French president points for hustle this week, standing atop the global political stage like a pint-size De Gaulle. But as Arthur Goldhammer writes for FP, Sarkozy's track record of global leadership — his helicopter diplomacy during the Georgian War and his dubious Union of the Mediterranean — don't inspire much confidence that his new hawkishness can save his ailing presidency. As for Obama, only the U.S. president could spend the week touring Latin America, ordering airstrikes in Libya, coordinating a relief effort in Japan, and being briefed on a war in Afghanistan, all while being criticized for ignoring foreign affairs. Obama coasts to the Elite Eight on his superpower status.

Game 18

David Cameron vs. Julia Gillard

Though he took power less than a year ago, Cameron already feels like a fixture in the European political firmament, along with the likes of Merkel and Sarkozy. The PM's ambitious transformation of the British economy and strong voice on foreign policy leave little doubt that, though he was elected with the shakiest of mandates from a divided electorate, this is Cameron's Britain now. Gillard, though she took power only a month after Cameron, still feels like a newcomer with little international presence, particularly compared with her Chinese-speaking, world leader-schmoozing predecessor, Kevin Rudd. She did make John Boehner cry, but let's be honest, that's not all that hard. Britannia rules the round. Cameron takes it.

Game 19

Dilma Rousseff vs. Juan Manuel Santos

Both of these Latin American leaders came into office in recent months with tough acts to follow. Rousseff's predecessor was, at one point, the most popular politician on earth. But Rousseff — who has survived both torture at the hands of a military dictatorship and a bout with cancer — certainly seems up to the pressure. While continuing to push through economic reforms and chart an independent foreign policy, Rousseff has largely avoided the showboating populism that was often her predecessor's Achilles heel. Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, Santos has attempted to escape the shadow of his enormously popular predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, with an ambitious agenda that includes massive new social programs and improved relations with longtime rival Hugo Chávez. It's paid off at home — he has a popularity rating of around 80 percent — but he's been frustrated in his dealings with Washington, failing to secure the passage of a free trade agreement and coping with what many see as an indifference to Colombia in the new administration. Rousseff wins by a (lovely head of) hair.

Game 20

Manmohan Singh vs. Ban Ki-moon

Both these leaders are known for their low-key technocratic styles — Ban's nickname in the South Korean government was "The Bureaucrat." Let's be honest, neither is all that intimidating. But when it comes to these leaders' recent performances, it's not even close. Singh has presided over the most impressive period of economic expansion in India's history, putting his country on the path to overtake China's economic growth in the next decade. Meanwhile, Ban can't even figure out which Libyan diplomats to accredit at Turtle Bay. And while it looks increasingly likely that India will get a seat on the Security Council, it looks less likely that Ban will still be secretary-general when it happens. Singh wins handily.

Game 21

Muammar al-Qaddafi vs. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

On paper, these two charismatic, oil-rich Middle Eastern leaders look pretty evenly matched. Both are known for their bombastic and often paranoid rhetoric. Both are longtime enemies of the United States. Both have used force against their own people to put down protests. Both have supported international terrorism. Both have, at various points, pursued nuclear programs despite international sanctions. Both are close, personal friends of Hugo Chávez. Yes, Qaddafi is certainly a better dresser, but it's hard to get away from the fact that he's currently hiding out from international airstrikes behind human shields while a rebel army controlling a large chunk of his country regroups. Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, seems more secure than ever. Ahmadinejad beats the sanctions for the win.

Game 22

Omar al-Bashir vs. Laurent Gbagbo

Though Ivory Coast strongman Gbagbo continues to hold on as his country descends into civil war, his prospects for long-term survival look pretty dim. And for Bashir, this is all old hat. He wrote the book on chaos and conflict within his own borders, having already waged multiple internal wars in his country and weathered a war crimes indictment. And now, bizarrely, he appears to have a realistic chance of normalizing relations with the United States. Bashir survives again.

Game 23

Vladimir Putin vs. Kim Jong Il

This is a fitting match-up, as Kim was probably born in Russia. According to official North Korean accounts, however, he was born on North Korea's highest peak under a double-rainbow. He also apparently shot a 38 under par (the first time he played golf) and has written over 1,500 books. Russia's prime minister is hardly immune from the cult of personality, but at least when he engages in feats of Chuck Norris-like derring-do, he's sure to get photographic evidence. Putin wins, and he didn't even have to take his shirt off.

Game 24

Hu Jintao vs. Hugo Chávez

Chávez's "21st Century Socialism" is really little more than a throwback to the Latin American leftist movements of the last century — state control of the economy, democratic erosion, and strident anti-American rhetoric. Hu's China, on the other hand, has updated the approach by marrying Communist-style autocracy with free-market capitalism. The results are pretty clear: Countries from Latin America to Africa, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia are either courting a rising China or trying to figure out how to counter it, while Chavez's model has few adherents left other than Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega. And the Venezuelan economy is contracting, while China's is growing by double digits. Are things really that bad? Well, recent statements From Chavez suggest that he might give up on Earth and take his ideological crusade to other planets. Hu wins, completing a sweep for the BRICs.

Elite Eight matchups:

Game 25: Obama vs. Cameron

Game 26: Rousseff vs. Singh

Game 21: Ahmadinejad vs. Bashir

Game 22: Putin vs. Hu

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