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Democrats vs. Dictators: 2012

Democrats vs. Dictators: 2012

The Finals

Angela Merkel (Germany) vs. Vladimir Putin (Russia)

And so it came to pass that the second annual FP March Madness Democrats vs. Dictators Tournament of Champions has ended with a final showdown between Germany’s Iron Chancellor and Russia’s pugilistic prime-minister and president-elect.

Along the way, many loyal readers and disgruntled bracketologists have asked us: just where exactly do these games take place? Well, it all began a few weeks ago at “The Reaping” when 32 world leaders were selected by lottery, paraded through the streets of The Hague on horse-drawn chariots dressed in all their finery, then forced to enter the arena to compete in a deadly competition of endurance, strength, and cunning, all managed from afar by the cruel and capricious gamemasters at Foreign Policy magazine.

There were some unexpected twists along the way, including the last-minute benching of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Benjamin Netanyahu’s upset of Barack Obama, and newcomer Kim Jong Un’s impressive run to the final four. But in the end it came down to two global powerhouses.

Putin is making his second consecutive appearance in the finals, and after last year’s incident, he was careful to leave outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev under lock-and-key back in Moscow. “I am from Leningrad,” Putin remarked to reporters before the match began, drawing an obvious historical analogy. “We do not surrender.”

As is her style, Merkel was a bit more subdued, telling a supporter that she was simply glad “not to have to deal with Nicolas for a few days.”

After winning the coin flip, Merkel chose the event and venue for the first challenge: A penalty kick shootout at the Stadion der Freundschaft, home field of East Germany’s most distinguished football club FC Energie Cottbus, of which she is an honorary member.

With Putin’s small frame in goal, the chancellor acquitted herself well in front of the hometown crowd, sending three of her five kicks sailing over the Russian’s head. However, the visitor had a trick up his sleeve. Relying on some old associates from his days as a KGB agent in East Germany, Putin had his balls outfitted with a special remote-controlled gyroscrope, causing them to veer sharply away from Merkel’s outstretched hands at the last moment. He scored 5 out of 5, easily taking the challenge amid a chorus of boos.

For the second event, Putin played host on the snow-driven Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Far East. Once again taking advantage of Merkel’s well-known cynophobia, the Russian leader challenged her to a dog-sled race. Putin left the jittery German in the dust and quickly built up such a lead that he was able to stop for a bit of hunting along the way. After bagging a Kamchatka brown bear, three ermines, a bighorn sheep, several rare Stellar’s sea eagles and an orca (all with his trusty harpoon, of course), the overconfident Putin returned to the race only to find that Merkel, who had overcome her fear and fed her Siberian huskies a peculiar cocktail of Red Bull and Lowenbrau, had overtaken him. The second round went to Merkel.

The final tiebreaker took place at a neutral location: 49° 56′ 49″ W, 41° 43′ 57″ N. Yes, you guessed it sports fans: THE FINAL RESTING PLACE OF THE TITANIC!

With guest judge James Cameron supervising (and live tweeting) from the surface, the two leaders piloted small submersibles down to the wreckage of the bow section for a torpedo and robotic claw battle within the ship’s interior. It was clear from the start that Merkel’s high-tech unterseeboot was the superior craft, outmaneuvering Putin’s leaky lodka through the decaying ocean liner’s once-sumptuous banquet halls.

Merkel finally cornered Putin in the engine room and lined up a clear shot for a torpedo. Seconds passed as she pounded on the red button. Nothing. Frustrated, she looked closer at the small text on her craft’s launching mechanism, which read: “Realizzato in Italia.”

“Sabotage!” Merkel cried as Putin launched his torpedo, crippling her craft’s steering system and forcing her emergency ascent to the surface. Not yet satisfied with his performance, Putin climbed out of his craft and swam up 13,000 feet, clutching Kate Winslet’s necklace — which he had just happened to come across while he was down there — in his triumphant fist.

As his theme music blasted from the decks of the remarkably phallic aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, Putin was crowned 2012 World Leader March Madness champion by the editors of FP and vowed to retain the title for at least the next decade, regardless of the results of future contests. Putin wins.

* * *

Thanks everyone for reading and playing along. Congratulations also to Josiah Bragg, Juri Schnoeller, and Tim C., who tied for first place in our reader contest with the Putinesque score of 49. The top ten scorers will be receiving free one-year subscriptions to FP. See you next year! 

Final bracket:

The Semifinals:

Game 29

Angela Merkel (Germany) vs. Dilma Rousseff (Brazil)

Who gets the edge: the up-and-coming superpower or the Teutonic titan? Rousseff might have had the advantage here, but after blowing $12.7 million on the World Cup, she just didn’t have the resources to launch a competitive March Madness bid. Despite having beers tossed at her by irate Greek fans, Merkel kept her cool, executed her game plan with classic German efficiency and put an end to the tough Brazilian’s impressive run through the tournament. MERKEL WINS.

Game 30

Kim Jong Un (North Korea) vs. Vladimir Putin (Russia)

The report from the Korean Central News Agency: In a most glorious display of leadership and skill embodying Juche ideal, Esteemed Young Comrade Kim Jong Un unleashed a torrent of righteous thunder on the Bald Coward. All present were quick to acknowledge that North Korean way of competition was superior in all respects. “The Young Master has taught me importance of Kim Il Sung ideology,” said an obviously inspired Lebron James. “Esteemed Comrade Kim Jong Un is my inspiration and also my best friend.” After dispatching the Bald Coward,  the young master announced that having demonstrated his skill, he would gracefully bow out of competition rather than continue through this pointless charade organized by imperialist lackey propaganda journal Foreign Policy, thus demonstrating the central Juche tenets of humility and restraint.

Reality: Putin beat up on him like a 10-year-old green belt from Tomsk Oblast. PUTIN WINS.

Stay tuned for the grand final of March Madness 2012, midday on Wednesday, March 28. And check to see how your bracket’s doing on the leaderboard. With each round of games worth double, there’s a lot of movement — and remember there are 10 free subscriptions to the “imperialist lackey propaganda journal” on the line.

Also, if you’ve been having fun with this and want us to do it again next year, go vote for our Dictators vs. Democrats bracket over at the Atlantic Wire‘s meta-bracket Battle of the Brackets, where we’re up against that “capitalist stool-pigeon newsletter” Forbes.

 

WELCOME TO THE ELITE EIGHT! Check out the recaps below and see which readers still in the running on the leaderboard.

Game 25

Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel) vs. Angela Merkel (Germany)

As these two heavy-hitters prepared for battle on the big stage, everyone was the on their best behavior, trying not to bring up…you know… history. Netanyahu came in riding high off his upset victory against Barack Obama in the Sweet 16, but he may have been a bit too overconfident. Turns out that Merkel’s still has a few tricks up her lederhosen. That German submarine recently purchased by the Israeli Navy turned out to be a Trojan horse — and the Kaiser of KOs torpedoed the Israeli PM’s impressive run through the tournament. Down goes Bibi! MERKEL WINS.

Game 26

Dilma Rousseff (Brazil) vs. Cristine Lagarde (IMF)

Rousseff came into this one looking for payback. A European-dominated IMF has been pushing Brazil around for decades. Not anymore. Like Kaká bending in a corner kick, Rousseff structurally adjusted the French economist’s whole universe, forcing her to concede three seats on the IMF Governing Board before calling off her unrelenting attack. Desculpe Senhora Lagarde, but in these rounds it’s not acabo a brincadeira any more. ROUSSEFF WINS.

Game 27

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Iran) vs. Kim Jong Un (North Korea)

Anti-doping authorities nearly called this match off after reports of “enrichment” by a mysterious Dr. Khan, but the contest was allowed to go forward when it was revealed that both competitors had been given the same advantage. And what a matchup it looked: the aging theocrat’s experience vs. the youthful vigor of the esteemed comrade. The Supreme Leader vs. Supreme Commander. But one thing’s for sure: North Korea’s already existing nuclear program trumps Iran’s potential one. As time ran out Kim’s patented 360 dunk (the Centrifuge) added insult to injury, as the Ayatollah was heard cursing his scientists for telling him that breakout capacity would be enough and sulked back to Tehran. KIM WINS.

Game 28

Vladimir Putin (Russia) vs. Hu Jintao (China)

This was the one the world had been waiting for. The final match of the day pitted two superpowers against each other for undisputed dominance of the Eurasian landmass. Hu started out strong, launching a surprise attack against Russia’s vulnerable east (a move that basically involved sitting at the far end of the court). But in the end, the lame-duck dictator’s heart wasn’t in it, distracted as he was by coup rumors and plans to hand over power to that upstart Xi Jinping. “Wait, so you’re letting him take over, like for real? And you’re not coming back after six years?” asked a clearly befuddled Putin. The party secretary could only shake his head ruefully as he was dispatched from the competition by a judo roundhouse kick. PUTIN WINS.

 

Game 21

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Iran) vs. Thein Sein (Myanmar)

The Supreme Leader has seen this whole “gradual reform from above” thing tried before, and he’s not a fan. Following up on his surprise substitution for Ahmadinejad into Round 1, the Ayatollah Rock’n’Rolla steam-rolled through this one leaving the Burmese leader sulking back to Naypyidaw with his tail between his legs. KHAMENEI WINS.

Game 22

The Castro Brothers (Cuba) vs. Kim Jong Un (North Korea)

It’s an old-school Commie showdown! Can the stolid old cadres hold their own against Lil’ Kim’s New Jack Swing? While Cuba’s got a lot more going for it than North Korea these days — an educated population, some infrastructure, trade relations with most of the world’s countries, good weather, music that isn’t creepy — brute force tends to dominate in the dictator bracket. And while Raul may be in fighting shape, Fidel spends most of his time these days falling off of things. Meanwhile, Kim’s not playing around. As his official news agency puts it, “Anyone hurting the dignity of the DPRK supreme leadership will find no breathing spell in this land or sky.” Now that’s a suffocating defense. KIM WINS.

Game 23

Vladimir Putin (Russia) vs. King Abdullah (Saudi Arabia)

Abdullah’s been at this whole authoritarian petro-state game since Putin was in diapers. (Little known fact: infant Putin fashioned his own diapers from the skin of a narwhal.) Putin was reportedly enraged that Obama’s defeat by Netanyahu on Tuesday now makes impossible a showdown with his arch-nemesis, and all the excess capacity in the world can’t save Abdullah from a vicious beat-down at the hands of a 5’7 ball of fury. The House of Saud gets taken to the house. PUTIN WINS.

Game 24

Hu Jintao (China) vs. Omar al-Bashir (Sudan)

Please. If it wasn’t for Chinese support, Bashir would have spent the last four years eating Dutch prison food. There was some commotion before the event started when George Clooney ran onto the court demanding to be arrested, but once things got underway, it was over chop-chop. HU WINS.

 

GAME 17

Barack Obama (United States) vs. Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel)

On paper, the leader of the free world might seem to have all the advantages. But no one knows how to throw a well-timed elbow like the Tel Aviv Tornado. Last month’s AIPAC summit in Washington, at which Obama and his Republican rivals competed against each other in a who-loves-Israel-more-athon, ought to be evidence enough of who’s the senior partner in this special relationship. Yes, Bibi probably would like some of Obama’s bunker-buster bombs in case he decides to go ahead and attack Iran, but he’s not about to ask permission if they decide to go ahead with it. Bibi’s box-out offense has Barack backing down: if Israel bombs Iran, spiraling gas prices are an election year nightmare, and even the frosty relationship between these two could prove to be a liability for the U.S. president in November — say, alienating key voters in a swing state like Florida. And it’s only going to get worse … now that he’s had his clock cleaned in March Madness. It’s the biggest upset of the contest to far. NETANYAHU WINS.

GAME 18

Julia Gillard (Australia) vs. Angela Merkel (Germany)

It’s the world’s most powerful woman against … the world’s 23rd. Gillard might be a rising star in the antipodean league, but she’s no match against the Bundestag’s top brawler. This match turned out uglier than this year’s Australia Day. MERKEL WINS.

GAME 19

Moncef Marzouki (Tunisia) vs. Dilma Rousseff (Brazil)

This one’s a close match and all about personal toughness — both leaders have spent time behind bars in their country’s formerly authoritarian regimes and could more than hold their own against a Putin or a Hu in the final. But frankly, Dilma’s looking sharp these days, and Marzouki … well, he looks a bit like an older Malcolm Gladwell, sans hair. And when it comes down to country, Tunisia may have ambitions to become North Africa’s engine of economic growth, but Brazil is the country of the future that actually became the country of the future. Marzouki’s short-lived Cinderella story ends here. ROUSSEFF WINS.

Game 20

David Cameron (Britain) vs. Christine Lagarde (IMF)

Cameron may have been tucked into bed by Obama last week, and he certainly needed his rest going up against the formidable Lagarde, once described by Vogue as a “planet with a powerful field of gravity, orbiting through the skies of global high finance.” And with Britain backing away from the European project and the IMF wading to help save it, it’s clear who’s star is ascendant here. In the end, the Old Etonian proved unable to escape the gravitational pull and was burned up in the atmosphere of economic turbulence … or something like that. LAGARDE WINS.

 

The Sweet 16 is now set. Final recaps from Round 1 games below. See how your bracket is shaping up each day on our live leaderboard.

Game 13

Vladimir Putin (Russia) vs. Viktor Yanukovych (Ukraine)

After last year’s crushing defeat by Obama (thanks only to a last-minute intervention by Dmitry Medvedev), Putin rode his tricked-out trike into this year’s competition looking for revenge. Yanukovych is a controversial newcomer to the dictator’s side of the bracket, having been criticized for rolling back Ukraine’s democracy since he was elected in 2010, but nonetheless came out swinging — looking to make the most of his opportunity to compete. There was a bit of confusion prior to the game when officials informed Putin it wasn’t necessary to remove his shirt, but once things got under way, the prime minister and president-elect employed his patented “cutting off gas supplies” maneuver and easily got the better of his opponent. Did anyone think Putin was really going to let Ukraine tell him what to do? Said Putin: “You may be Viktor, but I am victor.” PUTIN WINS.

Game 14

King Abdullah (Saudi Arabia) vs. King Abdullah II (Jordan)

Two Abdullahs enter. One Abdullah leaves. Both monarchs have survived the Arab Spring largely unscathed; Jordan’s king by introducing some modest reforms, Saudi Arabia’s by, well, buying off his people with billions of dollars. And with increasing tensions in the Persian Gulf driving oil prices up, it’s always a mistake to bet against the House of Saud. Abdullah II puts up a valiant fight — and gets some points for being a pretty sensible Middle Eastern monarch in these crazy days — but it’s the aging patriarch who takes it. Jordan’s team managers will meet next week to consider whether the globetrotting Queen Rania might have been a more formidable competitor.  ABDULLAH WINS.

Game 15

Hu Jintao (China) vs. Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan)

A question mark hangs over Hu in this year’s competition. While he is the undisputed leader of one of the world’s preeminent military and economic powers, he’s also something of a lame duck — awaiting the arrival of heir apparent Xi Jinping later this year. And while Xi isn’t in the stands watching his boss play this early round, there are rumors swirling that he plans to sit in. It’s hard to say if that’s going to help Hu — who is already feeling a bit Manning-esque uncertain as to his political relevance, but this first-round matchup is still a cake walk. Despite Uzbekistan’s natural gas reserves and improving security relations with the United States, Karimov is in no position to compete with Asia’s top dog. HU WINS.

Game 16

Aleksandr Lukashenko (Belarus) vs. Omar al-Bashir (Sudan)

The final matchup of Round 1 features two severely weakened international pariahs. Bashir has seen unprecedented protests against his regime and suffered the humiliation of having his country split into two over the past year (don’t you hate when that happens?) while Lukashenko spent the year cracking down on protesters and now faces tougher sanctions than ever. Bashir, meanwhile, recently passed the three-year anniversary of the ICC’s warrant for his arrest and seems more entrenched than ever. (He’s even paying a visit to his old foe South Sudan.) On the other hand, Lukashenko recently dismissed criticism of his regime by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle by quipping defensively, that it’s “better to be a dictator than gay.” He doesn’t sound all that confident. BASHIR WINS.

Game 9

Mario Monti (Italy) vs. Moncef Marzouki (Tunisia)

It’s a cross-Mediterranean showdown between two newcomers to the tournament. The former central banker Monti is known for a cerebral and efficient — if not exactly thrilling — style of play. Marzouki, who was frequently arrested and spent years in exile as a human rights activist, plays with more passion but has little on-court experience. “Super Mario‘s” reformist zeal has been tempered a bit lately by battles with Italy’s entrenched government and labor interests, whereas Marzouki — despite tensions with Islamist parties within this government — is still the leader of last year’s “most likely to succeed” democratic revolution. And while Italy’s managers ponder whether to bring back Monti’s predecessor, a guy for whom flair was never really a problem, the Tunisian takes this one. MARZOUKI WINS.

Game 10

Manmohan Singh (India) vs. Dilma Rousseff (Brazil)

This battle of the BRICs isn’t actually as close as it seems. The former Marxist guerrilla fighter is more than tough enough to handle a 79-year-old economist. Perhaps age isn’t entirely to blame, but Singh, hampered by an anachronistic attachment to nonalignment in foreign policy, just doesn’t seem to know which basket to shoot on. And the crowd’s not entirely sold either: there’s a widespread perception that he’s just keeping the seat warm for the coach’s son. Some are interpreting the Obama White House’s decision not to designate Rousseff’s trip to Washington next month as an official state visit as being a snub to the Brazilian leader, so she may be angling for a semifinal throwdown with Obama. ROUSSEFF WINS.

Game 11

David Cameron (Britain) vs. Cristina de Kirchner (Argentina)

It’s a high-tension grudge match over the Falklands — or the Malvinas, if you prefer. Cameron studied up on March madness during his trip to the United States last week. Kirchner, meanwhile, has been racking up celebrity endorsements including Sean Penn, Roger Waters, and Morrissey. But with the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War approaching in early April, it’s not really clear that Argentina is in a position to retake the hydrocarbon and sheep-rich islands (passing non-binding resolutions isn’t going to cut it). Plus, Prince William is on the case. The Iron Lady would be proud. CAMERON WINS.

Game 12

Christine Lagarde (IMF) vs. Ban Ki-moon (UN)

The final match of the day is the much-anticipated multilateral melee. The six-foot Frenchwoman certainly has the height advantage, and when it comes down to it, more geopolitical clout too. While the IMF is at the center of the crisis response in Europe, last year’s bold authorization of the Libya intervention has proven to be a momentary anomaly. While Ban seems to want to take action to prevent the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, his hands are tied by Russia and China, making the U.N. more irrelevant than ever in addressing global security crises. Lagarde warned last week that the global economic recovery would be “a marathon, not a sprint.”  The same might be said of her progress through this competition, but either way, she’s off to a great start. LAGARDE WINS.

 

Game 5

The SCAF (Egypt) vs. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran)

Going into the game, Egypt’s tough-as-nails transitional military junta appeared to have the advantage in this one. A year after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the military’s grip on power seems pretty secure — although the upcoming election could change that. The military even cracked down on foreign-funded NGOs without seriously damaging its international relationships. Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, limped into this first round, dinged by enemies at home and abroad. Beset by sanctions and international pressure, he recently became the first president in Iranian history to be hauled before parliament to face accusations that he has mismanaged the country’s economy and defied the Supreme Leader. So, as they took the floor…

[Announcer]: The SCAF has taken the court. And here comes Ahmadinejad in his trademark baggy shorts, button-down shirt, and zippered Members Only jacket.

[Announcer 2]: Hey, wait, what’s happening?

[Announcer]: He’s being called back to the bench!

[Announcer 2]: Who’s that talking to him?

[Announcer]: It looks like Iran’s Guardian Council! Is there going to be a last minute substitution here?

[Announcer 2]: Is that who I think it is?

[Announcer]: Yes, it’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei! He’s lacing up his old-school Jordans and telling Mahmoud to take a seat!

[Announcer 2]: Looks like it’s clear who’s running the show, folks. And there’s fire in that wily old veteran’s eyes…

With Ahmadinejad riding the pine, Khamenei squeaks by the upstart Egyptians in a nail biter. KHAMENEI WINS. (Scoring note: If you picked Ahmadinejad, you still get points for the Ayatollah advancing.)

Game 6

Mohammed VI (Morocco) vs. Thein Sein (Myanmar)

It’s a battle of the reformist autocrats. With longtime regimes imploding all around him last year, Morocco’s Western-friendly king undertook a program of modest reforms, including a constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections. They may just have been wallpaper, but did enough to quell the worst of the Arab Spring-style protests. Myanmar’s turnaround, though, seems the real deal. A country once frequently mentioned in the same breath as North Korea is now allowing its most famous dissident to run for office and playing host to the likes of Hillary Clinton. It’s certainly too early to describe Myanmar as a democracy yet, but Thein Sein gets points for degree of difficulty and SLORCs his way through to the next round. THEIN SEIN WINS.

Game 7

The Castro Brothers (Cuba) vs. Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe)

It’s recreation hour at the dictator senior center. Mugabe (age 88) has been severely hampered for the last three years by an internationally imposed coalition government. He’s hoping to jettison his pesky opposition partners by holding elections this year, but it’s possible the government may not have enough money to hold the vote. Perhaps he was able to raise a bit of money from the Trump’s recent hunting excursion in Zimbabwe, but it doesn’t look good. The Castros (combined age 167) aren’t as formidable as they once were, but other than death, it’s hard to imagine anything that could remove them from power at the moment. Plus, an upcoming papal visit may bring good luck. The double-team Castro Bros. defense manages to hold off the diminutive African dictator. CASTROS WIN.

Game 8

Kim Jong Un (North Korea) vs. Hugo Chavez (Venezuela)

The final matchup of the day features unknown newcomer Kim Jong Un looking to make a name for himself on the big stage against veteran contender Chavez. But can the younger Kim go deeper in the tournament this year than his father, who was summarily dumped by Putin in round two of last year’s March Madness? El Presidente can still trash talk with the best of them — “mendacious gay Nazi Zionist” is nothing compared to the torrent of verbal abuse he unleashed on the pudgy 28 (or maybe 29) year-old rookie. But hampered by illness and an emboldened Venezuelan opposition, Chavez was looking a bit tired as he made his way to the locker room at halftime. And as the “brilliant comrade” took to the floor for second-half action, Chavez was nowhere to be seen. As we later learned from a pre-recorded message, he jetted off to Cuba at the last minute for some unspecified medical treatment … giving Kim the win by forfeit. KIM WINS.

 

Game 1

Barack Obama (United States) vs. Nicolas Sarkozy (France)

Despite dysfunction in the Republican field of challengers, Obama’s got a tough road ahead of him. Between rising gas prices and increasing chaos in Afghanistan, the president faces a tough reelection battle. On the bright side, employment numbers are starting to pick up and so are the president’s approval ratings. (Not to mention the demolition derby on the GOP side.) Sarkozy, meanwhile, is slightly trailing in the polls heading into next month’s election and spending his days scrapping with the far right about halal beef labeling and fending off allegations that his campaign was funded by the Qaddafis. The two incumbents may both be facing some tough moments, but how do they stack up on the court? Even with Sarkozy’s lifts, the petit prince can’t stop Obama’s hook shot.The defending champ cruises through this one. OBAMA WINS.

Game 2

Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel) vs. Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey)

Neither of these guys has been getting great press lately. Erdogan has faced increasing scrutiny abroad for his crackdowns on the free press and civil society. Netanyahu has received criticism at home for what some see as cavalier use of Holocaust imagery when discussing the threat from Iran. But in terms of diplomatic power, it’s not even close. Erdogan’s efforts to play mediator in the Middle East have mostly come to naught of late, while the speeches at last week’s AIPAC conference demonstrated that Israeli security — in particular, Netanyahu’s hawkish vision of it — still dominates in Washington. Let’s put it this way: Erdogan might be a silky point guard, but Bibi’s version of the power forward is all elbows — and he’s already looking down the road to a matchup with his old pal, Barack.  NETANYAHU WINS.

Game 3

Julia Gillard (Australia) vs. Felipe Calderon (Mexico)

An intriguing match-up of two dark horse contenders. It’s not even really close though. With a general election coming in July, Calderon is something of a lame duck and his PAN party is struggling in the polls. As the game begins, Calderon comes out guns ablaze — but we all know how well that strategy has worked in his unpopular and highly deadly multi-year campaign against Mexico’s drug cartels. Gillard, meanwhile, stays cool as a kookaburra having recently demolished former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s attempt to return to power. Aussie, Aussie Aussie, Oi, Oi Oi! GILLARD WINS.

Game 4

Lucas Papademos (Greece) vs. Angela Merkel (Germany)

Oof. Given that a German-dominated EU essentially installed Papademos in his current office, this one wasn’t much of a contest. FP’s game scouts report that Papademos appeared to just let Merkel score at will, though German commentators attributed his lack of defense to Greek laziness. Merkel, meanwhile, dug in her heels, literally, drawing blood from the Greek PM with nearly every shot. It won’t help Merkel’s reputation in Greece, where anti-German sentiment is at an all-time high, but it was a blowout. There might have been a sidebet going on — or Merkel didn’t cover the spread — because at the end she was seen to be grudgingly slipping some cash to Papedemos as he was helped off the floor. MERKEL WINS.   

The brackets are now set. The competitors are laced up and ready to go. It’s time to play World Leader March Madness, 2012.

Defending champion Barack Obama is back to defend his title this year, hoping that a second straight victory could power him through November. President-elect Vladimir Putin, fresh off a controversial election victory, is looking for revenge. North Korea’s new supreme leader — and reported basketball enthusiast — Kim Jong Un, is looking to avenge his father’s defeat in last year’s competition. The Arab Spring revolutions have brought us both Tunisian Interim President Moncef Marzouki on the democrats’ side and Egypt’s military junta — the SCAF — facing off against regional powerhouse Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the first autocrat matchup. And Bibi’s back in the picture.

Notable first-round rivalries include Falklands/Malvinas pugilists David Cameron and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a demolition debt derby between Lucas Papademos and Angela Merkel, a battle of the reformist autocrats between Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and Myanmar’s Thein Sein, and an Middle Eastern Abdullah-Abdullah showdown.

Here’s how to play: Fill out your bracket by clicking on the name of the leader you think will win each round. Enter your name, email — and Twitter handle, if you’ve got one — and click submit. Then share your brackets via Facebook and Twitter to spread the world. The deadline for bracket submissions is 12 p.m. U.S. Eastern time, Thursday, March 15. Then, once games begin, follow the leaderboard to see how you stack up. The readers with the top 10 scores will receive a free one-year subscription to Foreign Policy. Let the madness begin!