I’m counting the glad tidings today:
1. Egypt: Egyptians are staying away from the polls in an election conducted under conditions that are far from free and fair. General Sisi will be elected, but without the acclamation he had once expected. Maybe he’ll feel he has to work for popular approval, which would be a big change in Egyptian political culture.
2. Ukraine: Ukraine pulled off its presidential election and appears to be gaining an upper hand over separatists who made the mistake of seizing the Donetsk airport, where newly elected Petro Poroshenko was intending to land. While Russian President Putin is still capable of rejecting Poroshenko’s legitimacy, I doubt he’ll do it. He needs Poroshenko to garner the Western support that will enable Ukraine to pay its debts to Russia.
3. Afghanistan: President Obama has decided to leave 9800 American troops in Afghanistan at the end of this year’s withdrawal, but they too are scheduled to come out within two years (end of 2016). That’s a whole lot faster than some people feel comfortable with, but it is presumably intended to give the new Afghan government incentive either to defeat the Taliban or negotiate a political settlement with them.
4. Middle East: I don’t really expect the Pope inviting Presidents Peres and Abbas to the Vatican to bring peace, but in my book he did the right thing to pray at the separation barrier as well as at the Wailing Wall. I have no objection to the Israelis protecting themselves from suicide bombings, but the wall should be on an agreed border, not built unilaterally and all too frequently on territory the Palestinians (and most Israelis) believe belongs within their state.
5. Europe: Yes, the European parliament election returned lots of xenophobes and extreme nationalists, but not so many that the European project is at serious risk of anything more than demands to be more responsive to popular opinion and more aware of resistance to bureaucratic arrogance. Whoever tweeted that those who want change won everywhere but in Germany, which is the only country that can really change things, got it close to right. The government parties did relatively well in Italy too.
6. India/Pakistan: Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif attended Indian Prime Minister Modi’s swearing in and both came away from their meeting sounding notes of hope and conciliation. They will need a lot of both to overcome the problems that divide the two countries, but it was at least a start.
None of this good news comes even close to making the world what it should be, and much of it might be reversed tomorrow. Syria in particular haunts me. I can’t bring myself to praise the UN Secretary General for proposing humanitarian assistance be authorized by the Security Council directly into liberated areas from Turkey, knowing full well that Russia will veto any such move. But when we have a good day or two somewhere in the world, we should acknowledge it.