In 2011, RonPaulism went mainstream in U.S. presidential politics. Four years ago, the Fed-bashing, gold-standard-pushing, unapologetically isolationist Texas representative was a far-flung outlier among Republican primary candidates. Then came the Republicans' 2010 congressional election wins and the startling success of the Tea Party movement -- of which Ron Paul's brand of libertarianism was a precursor.
Now Paul, a long-shot presidential hopeful once again, faces the opposite problem in the 2012 race: a slate of GOP contenders who are tearing pages out of his half-dozen books. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann blasted the allied intervention in Libya, and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman says it's time to "bring those troops home" from Afghanistan, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry threatened Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in language that even Paul might not use. They may not have the stomach for the full Ron -- say, commiserating with Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, as Paul did loudly in an August debate, or declaring that President Barack Obama should be impeached for assassinating American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. But the Republican Party's eventual nominee is likely to have walked at least part of the way to victory in Paul's quirky footsteps.
Sen. John McCain, no longer nursing his wounds from his stinging 2008 presidential defeat, has been unleashed again -- as a loud and consistent voice for muscular interventionism at a time when it is becoming decidedly unfashionable in American politics, even among the most hawkish Republicans. While the GOP presidential field is jockeying over who would draw down in Afghanistan fastest and Congress avoids pretty much anything having to do with America's role in the world, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has spent 2011 riding the wave of the Arab Spring, warning dictators and unsettled regimes from Burma to Egypt that their embrace of freedom must be absolute -- or else. He was among the first U.S. politicians to call for Hosni Mubarak to step down in Egypt, and he flew to Benghazi in April to rally the Libyan rebels. Two months later, along with Sen. John Kerry, he introduced legislation that authorized the president to act in defense of the ragtag desert militias McCain had called "my heroes." Over the summer, the senator warned Burma's brutal military rulers that they could be next. "Governments that shun evolutionary reforms now," he said, "will eventually face revolutionary change later." With Burma releasing political prisoners and Muammar al-Qaddafi killed by his foes, it looks like the old McCain -- the man who stood up against Bush-era torture, the one willing to stake his reputation for the Iraq surge -- is finally back.
In the past decade, the idea of a "responsibility to protect" has gone from an airy theory held by a small cadre of human rights advocates to a guiding principle of the world's strongest military alliance. Francis Deng and Gareth Evans played a prominent role in developing the intellectual scaffolding for R2P, as it's clunkily called, and it received its first practical application this year in Libya.
Gareth Evans on how we won the debate over stopping genocide.
Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, chaired the blue-ribbon panel that came up with the term "responsibility to protect" in 2001 and was the first to bring the idea to prominence with a 2002 Foreign Affairs article arguing that the international community "repeatedly made a mess of handling" the interventions of the 1990s, most spectacularly in Somalia and Rwanda, and should adopt more rigorous standards. The United Nations agreed with him at its 2005 world summit, reflecting the growing consensus that state sovereignty is not a right, but a privilege.
Deng, the first South Sudanese to obtain a doctorate and author of key works in the 1990s introducing the R2P concept, has sought to apply similar principles to his war-racked country. This year he traveled to his homeland, the world's newest country, to lead workshops on catching the symptoms of violence before they erupt: "I don't wait until I see signs of genocide," he said.
Muse Pollyanna -- someone has to stay optimistic.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus, please.
America or China? Both: God save us from a zero-sum game.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Spring, absolutely.
Reading list The Memory Chalet, by Tony Judt; Why the West Rules -- for Now, by Ian Morris; The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker.
Best idea U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Worst idea That, post-Fukushima, civil nuclear energy should be abandoned.