My wish this Christmas Day is that under the tree, whether it be a pine tree or a palm, some of my foreign affairs favorites will receive the following gifts. Some are serious, some are clearly not.
1. For Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a successful conclusion in 2014 to at least one of three important negotiations that he is pursuing assiduously. These include the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the future division of Palestine into two states, living side by side in peace and economic prosperity. The second is the negotiations with Iran, seeking to trade off its nuclear program for the economic sanctions the world has imposed on it.
The third, with probably the worst prospects of the three, is negotiations scheduled to begin in Switzerland next month between as many internal and external parties to the Syrian war as possible.
2. For North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, eventual respite from visits to his bedside of Scrooge-like ghosts of his uncle Jang Son Thaek, whom he stripped of his offices and then had executed. Banquo’s ghost tormented Macbeth to the sticky end of his life. A nervous, sleepless Kim isn’t useful to any of us.
3. For Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, a successful Sochi Winter Olympics. Tempting though it might be to imagine seeing him twisting in the breeze as Russia’s games are variously boycotted, plagued by glitches or otherwise become an embarrassment to him, the rest of the countries involved and particularly the athletes, who have trained for years to compete, do not deserve to have their experience blighted by politics or Russian blunders.
4. For U.S. President Barack Obama, success in the last three years of his second term in pursuit of greater economic equality and restored societal mobility for Americans. One of those theologically pesky psalms, No. 72, says that God shall defend the needy among the people, rescue the poor and crush the oppressor. The United States needs that and Mr. Obama has indicated in two important speeches, the most recent his eulogy of Nelson Mandela, that those will be his goals over the next three years.
5. For South Africans, recovering from the loss of Nelson Mandela, a president dedicated to following that man’s precepts of governance. And no sign language interpreter.
6. For the growing number of African countries torn by war, wise leaders who will make peace among themselves. The year 2013 saw active carnage in the Central African Republic, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan. In each case it was brought about by people who claimed to be leaders who clearly didn’t care a whit about the well-being of the people of their countries. In each case the world also saw thousands of displaced people, crying, hungry babies, and even resurgences of diseases such as polio once thought conquered. If these purported leaders can’t see reason, apart from coal in their stockings they should end up dead, as tyrants sometimes do.
7. For the civilian and military leaders of China, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam and others who are persisting in making a fuss over ownership of rocks sticking out of the East China Sea, South China Sea and the Yellow Sea, seeking to drag the United States into their frays, I suggest that it would be appropriate to haul each of them out to one of the rocks and leave him or her there, to meditate until wisdom comes or he drowns, whichever comes first.
8. For U.S. military and civilian leaders, looking at these East Asian rocks as an opportunity to preserve a budget, a campaign contributor or a command slot, I suggest a comparable fate. Each of them could be given a yellow rubber duck to keep him company on his rock, unless the duck declined.
9. For Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who continues to hang the National Security Agency and other U.S. snoop bodies out to dry, a nice Russian Christmas with vodka, caviar, deep-toned bells and snow. He should also be granted the wisdom not to yield to invitations from Bolivia, Brazil, or Ecuador to seek asylum there. They can’t or won’t protect him from U.S. Special Operations forces or American bribes.
10. For Egyptian general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, new designer sunglasses and more medals to hang on his uniform to reinforce his image as a uniformed thug, having reached power through a coup d’etat that should have but didn’t cut off U.S. aid to Egypt. Of course, the Egyptians need that money in order to be able to pay U.S. defense contractors, whose stockings we wouldn’t want to be empty at Christmas. Never mind the imprisoned Egyptian presidents, journalists and opposition politicians. So much for the Arab Spring, in Egypt at least.
11. We offer condolences to the families of all including the Americans, who have been killed by lethal U.S. drone strikes, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. There is a rumor in Pittsburgh that city council or the school board may soon authorize drone attacks on red-light runners. (Remember to warn Santa.)
12. For Pope Francis, long life and the courage to stick to his guns. His message of the need for attention to the poor harmonizes well with that of President Obama. The United States is far from the worst, although one in six American children lives in poverty.
13. For one and all, in America and in Baghdad, Bamako, Bangui, Damascus, Juba, Kabul, Mogadishu, Pyongyang and Sana’a, a better 2014 than 2013 proved to be. It will clearly take work.
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette. (dsimpson@ post-gazette.com, 412-263-1976.)