Fifteen gift suggestions for that special international relations nerd in your life.
- By Elias GrollElias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy, covering cybersecurity, privacy, and intelligence. , Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
Having trouble figuring out what to get someone who spends all day talking about the merits of collectivizing eurozone debt and the high stakes of the Senkaku Islands dispute? Well, we can’t help if you’re having trouble living with that person, but as the holidays approach, FP is here with some gift suggestions to make life a bit easier. And if that person happens to be you, well, here’s 15 holiday presents to make you or your loved one the envy of the foreign policy community.
A drone of your own
If your only idea of a drone is the remotely piloted military machine raining death on the hinterlands of Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, think again. 2012 was the year of the drone, and they have now become a huge consumer phenomenon — so much so that former Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson left the publication this fall to work full-time on his drone startup. Drones are now widely available on the Internet, and sites like udrones are selling them for as low as $550, which includes an autopilot and GPS system (the camera kit comes separately). If that’s out of your price range, there are some less expensive options — though as the price decreases, the features begin to drop off. For $299, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadricopter gives you an HD video-equipped drone that you can control using a smartphone or tablet. The lack of an autopilot system, however, limits its range to about 165 feet. The major difference between the larger, more expensive drones and the smaller cousins is autopilot, which allows you to plot missions and set the drone on its merry way. Just keep in mind that federal regulators are unlikely to bless your plan to deliver Mexican food by unmanned aerial vehicle.
The soundtrack of China’s political transition
Long before Xi Jinping became a household name during China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition this year, it was his wife Peng Liyuan — an accomplished Chinese folk and opera singer, and the civilian equivalent of a major general in the People’s Liberation Army — who was the superstar. If China experts are going to put in long hours parsing the mysterious machinations of the Communist Party, they might as well have the Chinese first lady’s best tracks — from "On the Fields of Hope" to "Putting the Horses to Pasture on the Mountain" — playing in the background. (For music fans hoping to familiarize themselves with 2012’s other super-topical musical act, keep in mind that Pussy Riot doesn’t record albums.)
Risk meets American decline
In a year that’s featured ample talk about doomsday scenarios, American exceptionalism, rising Asian powers, and declining U.S. military spending, Fantasy Flight Games has come out with the perfect board game. In its remake of the 1986 classic Fortress America, the United States, after unveiling a massive satellite- and laser-equipped missile defense system, must repel an invasion by the Asian People’s Alliance from the west, the Central American Federation from the south, and the Euro-Socialist Pact from the east. As FP gaming editor Michael Peck wrote in a review, it’s "the classic game of Risk meets classic American paranoia, seasoned with a touch of poetic justice. Now it’s America’s turn to experience foreign military intervention."
A full serving of national security leaks
When the Obama administration came under fire earlier this year for allegedly disclosing classified information for political gain, White House critics cited the leaks in two scoop-filled, agenda-setting books — Daniel Klaidman’s Kill or Capture and David Sanger’s Confront and Conceal — as well as a handful of articles (a Justice Department probe into the leaks is ongoing). Sanger details the government’s cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities, while Klaidman delves into the administration’s drone program and targeted killing policies. For full effect, deliver the gift in a shadowy garage or dark alley.
Mark the passage of time with Putin
Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is also a strong man, as FP‘s slideshows — which include photos of him locked in a tense judo match with a Japanese schoolgirl and fastening a satellite transmitter onto a tiger — attest. Why not tag along with an (often shirtless) Putin on his many adventures from the comfort of your own home with this 2013 Putin Wall Calendar? If you buy it this month, there’s a special bonus: for the remaining few days of December you’ll be able to pencil in meetings below a picture of Putin as a boy, looking as no-nonsense as ever.
The complete OBL raid package
If 2011 was the year the U.S. military killed Osama bin Laden, 2012 was the year the entertainment world cashed in on the operations. Members of SEAL Team 6, the unit that carried out the raid, consulted on the video game Medal of Honor: Warfighter, which earned them strict reprimands from their superiors in the military. Matt Bissonette, another member of the group, wrote a first-hand account of the mission, No Easy Day. National Geographic also got in on the action, with its documentary Seal Team Six. And tickets will soon go on sale for Kathryn Bigelow’s upcoming film, Zero Dark Thirty, which has been billed as the definitive dramatic treatment of the raid and has been making waves for its unsparing look at the CIA’s use of interrogation tactics. Buy them all, and throw in this Joe Biden-inspired bumper sticker for good measure.
Israeli war games
With Israel and Hamas at each other’s throats again this fall, the depressingly violent conflict in the Middle East increasingly looks like a stalemate — one in which the players keep making moves but the game never comes to an end. If that sounds like fun, then your favorite, die-hard Israel-Palestine watcher should enjoy "A Reign of Missiles," a new board game that puts the player in control of the Israeli military, balancing both diplomacy and kinetic action while trying to halt rocket attacks from Gaza. Carry out too aggressive a military campaign and the international community imposes penalties detrimental to Israel’s long-term interests. Bungle the military campaign and Hamas scores a major diplomatic victory. Obviously, it’s a bit of a downer. But the game is free and hosted on our website — all you’ll have to do is print out the component parts.
Kiss and tell
Do everyone on your list this year a favor and buy Paula Broadwell’s cringingly fawning biography of David Petraeus. They all want to read it — they’re just too embarrassed to be spotted walking out of Barnes & Noble with the unfortunately titled All In: The Education of David Petraeus under their arm. That can easily be solved with an Amazon bulk order. Just make sure you do a better job of hiding your email records than they did.
Sounds of Silvio
Know someone who’s particularly excited about the improbable comeback Silvio Berlusconi might stage in the upcoming Italian elections? Or maybe just excited about his engagement to the 27-year-old former TV host Francesca Pascale (the woman Berlusconi described as beautiful on the outside, but even more beautiful on the inside")? Drop them a link to this syrupy Bunga Bunga mix — inspired by Silvio’s infamous orgies — and call it a day.
A stake in the European debt crisis
Take a page from Bar and Bat Mitzvahs — where giving Israel bonds as presents is par for the course — and buy Greek bonds. Sure, they’re a risky bet, but if Greece manages to stay in the eurozone they could prove to be a smart investment. With S&P’s decision to upgrade Greek bonds by five notches from selective default to B-, this might be the perfect time to buy. Still, it might be better to think of the purchase as an act of charity.
After his resounding loss to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney famously complained to his donors that he had been defeated because his opponent had handed out "gifts" to various constituencies in an effort to win votes. True, it might be difficult to put a bow on the Affordable Care Act and leave it under the Christmas tree, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give gifts in the style of the 44th president. Just visit his official store, give mom something to wear to the inauguration, and tell her this is her payment for voting for Barry.
Got a Grinch on your list this year? Send them packing to the third annual Coal Investors Conference and Exhibition in Mongolia. With passes to the conference in the thousands of dollars, however, it’s worth noting that this would be one expensive lump of coal. The conference is occurring against the background of a Mongolian economic bubble. GDP was up 17.5 percent in 2011, a spike in output largely driven by the country’s coal, copper, and gold boom. But there are dark clouds on the horizon for future economic growth in the country, so punch your coal enthusiast’s ticket to the country before Mongolia’s boom withers away.
Clothes from Karimova
It seems like the world’s authoritarian rulers are falling fast these days, but Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, is still standing strong. And his daughter, Gulnara Karimova, has cashed in on her father’s status by launching her own fashion line, which is available online. But her father’s reputation — human rights groups have accused his government of harsh crackdowns on opposition groups and using torture extensively — has made it difficult to get her line off the ground. She was disinvited from New York Fashion Week after human rights groups pressured the organizers (never mind that the show, which she moved to the restaurant Cipriani, was panned). It might not be your ticket, but it’s big in Moscow.
Know someone who’s sunk into a depression now that the second Homeland season is over? Cheer them up with official gear from the show. For the wannabe undercover agents on your list, Showtime offers a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "What Would Carrie Do?" Just make it clear to whomever you give it to that bursting into tears or gulping down pills Carrie-style over Christmas dinner is not an option.
Seats don’t go on sale until August 2013, but who cares? A promised ticket to soccer’s biggest stage is undoubtedly the best present any soccer fan could receive. Never mind the geopolitical implications — like the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the 2014 World Cup will mark Brazil’s arrival on the world stage — or the rampant violence in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, into which the police have launched repeated military-style assaults to reclaim the neighborhoods from druglords; a trip to soccer’s Mecca in 2014 will be a pilgrimage for soccer fans to one of the sport’s holiest sites. Set that against the backdrop of the hype that will surround Lionel Messi — the greatest player of his generation (and perhaps of all time) who hasn’t yet won a World Cup — and the months of June and July in Brazil will be a spectacle unlike any other.
Of course, if that seems a bit pricey and your tastes are a bit more refined, we may have just the thing.