Bandar of Arabia
What should one make of the recent decision by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to name Prince Bandar bin Sultan the head of the kingdom’s intelligence agencies? Saudi watchers held in esteem by this column are unanimous in their belief that the appointment is an inspired move, and preparation for the closing chapter in the struggle for Syria. The king fired his half brother (Prince Muqrin) in favor of Bandar, his nephew. This is rarely done in Saudi Arabia, where decorum and seniority trump other considerations. The king isn’t necessarily fond of Bandar, who was, for 22 years, the Saudi ambassador in Washington; that he has brought him back to the top table at this moment tells us that this is a serious moment in Saudi diplomacy. The Saudis think it isn’t enough anymore to write large checks for others: their willingness to bring in Bandar tells us that they want to contest the regional game. The Saudis have also lost faith in Barack Obama, and it would appear that they’re preparing for a Republican victory in the U.S. presidential elections, what with Bandar’s deep ties to the Bush family and other prominent Republican figures.
Thank You, Thimphu
Can there possibly be a feel-good element in the story of 600 million people going without power for about nine hours in one of the world’s largest economies? Beguilingly, the answer is yes. As India staggered through a gargantuan blackout, itty-bitty Bhutan (population, 800,000; capital city, Thimphu) came gallantly to the rescue. The landlocked David, one hundredth the size of India, released emergency supplies of power to its sweating, beleaguered neighbor, easing Goliath India’s problems and—one presumes—mortifying its government in the process. Hydroelectricity is Bhutan’s cash cow: according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, its share of the country’s GDP is 20 percent. India buys 5,480 billion kilowatt-hours each year, and is now locking in contracts for decades to come. Om Shanti!
John Keegan, R.I.P.
Lovers of history are in mourning over the death of John Keegan, easily the most eloquent military historian of the last 50 years. Unabashedly Anglocentric, he was intrepid in the sweep of his judgment. How can one resist (or even argue with) a line like this, from his book The First World War, published in 1999? “The Somme marked the end of an age of vital optimism in British life that has never been recovered.”
Mocochinchi on the Rocks
Before he became Bolivia’s foreign minister, David Choquehuanca was an Aymara tribal philosopher—and it shows. Speaking about Dec. 21, the day that marks the apocalyptic end of the Mayan calendar, he offered up a compound of mysticism and ideology: “The planets will align for the first time in 26,000 years, and this is the end of capitalism and the beginning of communitarianism.” He added for good measure that the day “should be the end of Coca-Cola”—prompting a stampede of speculation that Bolivia was about to ban the diabolical capitalist beverage. An official clarification scotched those rumors: Choquehuanca had merely been expressing a hope that Bolivians would abandon Coke voluntarily in favor of mocochinchi, a local peach juice.
A Sari State?
To the consternation of Indian feminists and conservatives (strange bedfellows in any circumstance), a Bollywood starlet has—as she put it—“made history” by becoming the first Indian woman to be photographed unclothed for Playboy magazine. “At a time when innocent women across the nation from Gujarat to Guwahati have been subjected to sexual abuse and humiliation,” a killjoy commentator droned, “one wonders if Sherlyn Chopra’s pictures wound a woman’s integrity.” The feisty Chopra has not been slow to retort. “It is not an easy task to be nude in front of the camera and look good at the same time,” she said with tetchy pride, revealing that she was thinking of making Hugh Hefner her idol. Why? “Because he lives his life on his terms and conditions. I also live my life on my terms and conditions.”
With Luke Kerr-Dineen