The List

Left Hook

Five ways the GOP can outflank Obama on foreign policy.

The global war on terror was the gift that kept on giving for Republican foreign-policy experts for the better part of a decade. The open-ended and amorphous struggle against al Qaeda and its offshoots not only offered rhetorical cover for traditional party priorities, such as rapidly expanding the military and striking against rogues such as Saddam Hussein, it was the perfect vehicle to denigrate Democrats as too soft to get the job done. No wonder President George W. Bush and political strategist Karl Rove thought that terrorism would be the issue that would help cement the permanent Republican majority of which they long had dreamed.

But with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq concluding, the American public profoundly fatigued with foreign entanglements, and the Treasury deep in the red, all but the most recalcitrant recognize that the Republican approach to foreign policy needs some reinvention. Indeed, recent polls suggest that America's chief complaint with the GOP these days is its unwillingness to compromise or change. Here are five foreign-policy priorities that the Republicans could push if they are serious about getting their mojo back (hint: Benghazi ain't one of ‘em).

Normalize relations with Cuba: If Nixon could go to China, why can't brave Republicans push for normalizing relations with Havana? The case is not a hard one to make. The embargo has been in place for more than 50 years, and while it has hobbled Cuba's economy, it has had disastrously little impact in securing regime change. A flood of U.S. commercial activity, tourists, advertising, and person-to-person engagement would almost certainly bring change more rapidly than sanctions, given that Cuba has remained a communist dictatorship largely because Washington has insisted that it shouldn't. The GOP could make the case on economic grounds, and although a portion of the Cuban-American community in Florida would surely despair, the move would likely be genuinely popular with the broader Latino community in the United States. Let President Obama try to defend why an embargo should stay in place. As an added bonus, the move would look decidedly pragmatic at a time when the party is battling the broad public perception that it is too often extremist and too often intractable.

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Rein in the drones: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul hit on a winner with his filibuster against the seemingly unchecked power of the president to launch deadly drone attacks. Of course, one has to skip by the obvious irony -- or hypocrisy -- of the GOP suddenly embracing human rights and civil liberties in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy after pushing for virtually untrammeled executive power under Bush. But consistency has not been either party's strong suit when it comes to foreign policy, and Republican leaders would be smart to leverage the drone discussion into a broader conversation that resonates beyond Paul's libertarian fan base. The time is ripe for a reasoned national conversation about the rules of the road when it comes to modern technology, warfare, and the power of the presidency. With a Democrat in the White House and Republicans wary of executive overreach (but still eager to reclaim 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), the dynamic is probably about right to strike a reasonable compromise.

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Resuscitate free trade: Republican foreign-policy experts used to care about trade -- and promoting freer, fairer trade was a core part of their agenda. No issue seemed to drop off the Republican radar more precipitously with the advent of the war on terror, and no issue is probably more deserving of resuscitation within GOP foreign-policy ranks. Without Republican leadership on trade, and partially as a result of the shift toward global economic austerity, trade discussions have largely ground to a halt. Protectionism is on the rise, but well-handled trade deals would help secure progress on both jobs and the deficit, key Republican priorities. Budget-conscious Republicans could also take on domestic agricultural subsidies as part of an effort to promote trade deals with Europe, India, and China, and help shrink wasteful U.S. spending in the process. If Republicans want to look serious on the economy, being a voice of reason on trade would make sense, and could also highlight tensions within the Democratic caucus on these same issues.

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Reverse mission creep in the U.S. military: This is an oldie-but-goodie. Hardly a day went by during the Clinton administration when Republicans in Congress didn't complain that Democrats were intent on having the Pentagon do everything but run daycare centers instead of doing what the U.S. military was designed to do: fight and win wars. Given the Pentagon's dramatic mission sprawl over the last decade, it seems like a good time to dust off this old playbook. AFRICOM is building schools in Africa. The new Navy motto, "A Global Force for Good," sounds more appropriate for a semester at sea program than for the U.S. military. The Department of Defense is conducting breast cancer research and training officers in global economic theory. Is this the military that Republicans think we need in a modern world? As with drones, Republicans had a big hand in creating the problem, but that doesn't mean they can't benefit from making hay with it.

Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images

Capitalize on North Korea: When Chinese Communists ousted their rival nationalists in 1949, the hue and cry of "Who lost China?" went up from Republicans on Capitol Hill who suggested that State Department ineptitude was to blame for Mao's rise to power. The question wasn't really a fair one in that the Chinese nationalists made more than their share of mistakes, but that didn't mean that the issue didn't resonate politically. With the Korean peninsula ever-more restive, Republicans may be positioned to get some mileage out of the situation if the situation continues to erode and U.S. handling of the crisis looks poor. The challenge for Republicans will be take shots at the White House for its handling of North Korea in a way that doesn't look crassly opportunistic or overtly bellicose. That might require more discipline in the Republican foreign-policy ranks than we have seen of late.

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The List

The World's Worst Traffic Jams

Think you have the commute from hell? Here are six epic bottlenecks that might make you feel a bit better.

We've all been frustrated by traffic, but rarely do we attempt to fix a city's traffic problems ourselves. Writing for Foreign Policy, Mike Rose documents how he did just that -- by using the newest version of SimCity to investigate the causes of Sao Paulo's congestion. Employing the computer game's fairly realistic modeling capabilities, Rose was able to simulate solutions to the gridlock along one of the city's most notorious roads. Which makes us wonder: What other places could use a logistical makeover?

To answer the question, we put together a list of some of the worst traffic jams the world has ever seen. Maybe SimCity could've fixed these too.

Aug. 14, 2010
62 miles

In August 2010, road construction designed to improve circulation on the outskirts of Beijing ended up causing a 62 mile-long crush of cars, trucks, and lorries on the Beijing-Tibet Expressway. The jam lasted for more than 11 days, keeping some motorists in their cars for five days.

According to Xinhua, the traffic jam didn't have to be as bad as it was; even after days of vegetating in their cars, stubborn motorists refused to take detours because they didn't want to pay more for gas and tolls.

But one man's nightmare commute is another man's business opportunity. During the week-and-a-half-long jam, vendors walked from car to car, selling instant noodles at four times and water at ten times the normal price. "If you said ‘no' or complained about the price they threaten to break your [wind]shields," one driver told the Inner Mongolia Morning Post. And who says China lacks entrepreneurs?

In some cases, events took quite a nasty turn. The Inner Mongolia Morning Post also reported incidents of modern-day highway robbers siphoning gas from lorries while their drivers slept, stealing cash from motorists, and, in one case, stabbing an older driver in the arm.


Sept. 21, 2005
99 miles

Responding to warnings about Hurricane Rita's approach -- and no doubt haunted by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina just one month before -- an estimated 2.5 million Texans hit Interstate 45 in an attempt to evacuate Houston. The resulting traffic jam was so bad that many chose to return home rather than take their chances with 140-mile-per-hour winds on the open road.

The jam was largely fueled by widespread fear: Texas officials never asked all Houston residents to evacuate their homes. And in the end, after the storm lost some momentum and shifted course, Houston ended up avoiding major damage. Nevertheless, the bottleneck on the interstate did cause some residents to question how Texans would fare in the event of an actual mandatory evacuation. And, as the New York Times reported, one Harris County official did admit that the massive congestion was "not in the plan."

Indeed, when some motorists manage to travel only 10 miles in nine hours on a designated evacuation route, it might be time to rethink your emergency planning.


June 10, 2009
181 miles (combined)

Sao Paulo is widely considered the worst traffic city in the world, with jams in and around the urban center stretching, on average, 112 miles during rush hour each day. In June 2009, the city set a world record for combined traffic jams when the total bumper-to-bumper volume reached 181 miles, covering over a third of all roads in the city.

It's no surprise that residents have learned to make the most of their time stuck in traffic: they shave, read, and sometimes pick up dates. One Sao Paulo resident, whose 11-mile commute to work can take up to two hours each way, met her husband in a traffic jam. "I was with a friend in my car and he was in his car also with a friend," she told the BBC. "In the stop and go of the traffic jam we started driving side by side and then he started looking at me." Apparently, after some window-flirting, a phone number was exchanged, and before long it was happily ever after.

With the Brazilian middle class booming, roughly 1,000 new cars take to the Sao Paulo streets each day. "It's like a war," one resident told the BBC, "Because everybody seems to become very selfish once they are behind the wheel of a car."

Sao Paulo's "sea of cars," as one resident described the traffic situation to the BBC, has had a negative impact on the economy (delivery prices are especially high) -- but the helicopter business is another story. With business executives increasingly choosing to spend a few minutes in the air rather than a few hours on the road, Sao Paulo's helicopter fleet has become one of the largest in the world.



Nov. 30, 2012
125 miles

When a snowstorm hit Russia in late November 2012, the line of cars on Highway M-10, which stretches between Moscow and St. Petersburg, came to a standstill that lasted for three days.

According to CNN, stalled drivers reported that cafes along the route were ratcheting up prices. The government's Emergencies Ministry set up tents along the highway that offered tables of warm food and drink and psychological support for those who were having trouble muddling through days of gridlock.

April 12, 1990
18 million cars

The gradual opening of the East/West Germany border in late 1989 and early 1990 made the crossing a hugely popular destination for Germans eager to see the family members they had been separated from for decades. At the start of the first Easter holiday during which Germans could cross the border (and also the first time in 23 years that East Germans were given a four-day Easter weekend), more than 18 million cars jammed up along the border. The bumper-to-bumper congestion still holds the Guinness World Record for the most cars in a single traffic jam.

Mit freundlicher Genehmigung von/permission of G. Mach/Wikimedia Commons

Feb 16, 1980
108 miles

What happens when hundreds of thousands of Parisians and their families all decide to return from their Alpine ski chalets on the same day? Add a little bad weather and you get the longest reported bottleneck -- or, as the French would say, embouteillage -- in history, according to the Guinness World Records.