The surprise winners of early 2010

Admittedly, it’s only March and early March at that. Still the year has been full of surprises so far on the Washington politics and international policy beats. So, it’s only fair that the surprise winners get the credit they so richly deserve. Here are ten of them, in no special order: David Patterson: I know, ...

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Admittedly, it's only March and early March at that. Still the year has been full of surprises so far on the Washington politics and international policy beats. So, it's only fair that the surprise winners get the credit they so richly deserve. Here are ten of them, in no special order:

David Patterson: I know, it is hard to imagine New York Governor David Patterson as a winner when his brief term in office has vacillated between being a complete shambles and much, much worse. But look at it this way, did you ever think it possible that one man could make his disgraced predecessor Eliot Spitzer look so good, so fast? Heck, this guy makes you yearn for the comparative competence and superior values of Rod Blagoevich. In fact, we predict that the next career for Patterson -- which is likely to begin very, very soon -- will be to assist those whose reputations have hit an unexpected downdraft. If he can do what he has done for Spitzer, you can only imagine the calls he is likely to soon be fielding from Tiger Woods and John Edwards. "Caddy for me, Governor," the Woods call might begin, "and I am sure of never being the most despicable guy on the course." Gordon Brown: It is truly a tribute to the odiousness and vapidity of Conservative leader David Cameron that Gordon Brown, a man whose prime ministerial career has been marked by scandal and economic collapse, seems to have a chance of holding on to his job in the upcoming British elections. Despite a personality that makes him appear only in shades of grey even on high-definition, full-color television broadcasts and as something worse than that in tell-all memoirs, Brown at least has experience, a degree of international stature and a grasp of political principles that clearly distinguish him from former spin-maven Cameron, who, if he loses, will be responsible for the most significant British missed opportunity since they let their American colonies slip away (or at least since they allowed Emily Blunt to become engaged to John Krasinski). The Mossad: At a time when the legendary stealthy accomplishments of Israel's intelligence service were slipping from memory, along come those great press agents from Dubai to remind the world just how much the Mossad is feared by Israel's Arab enemies. Admittedly, the amount of evidence of their apparent hit job on Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh left behind by the Israelis was rather slipshod, but the effort to stir up anger against the Israelis only really serves to remind the world what an effective, dedicated intelligence service can achieve. The fact that al-Mabhouh's former aide confirmed he was a weapons smuggler doesn't help the effort to stir up moral indignation at this skirmish in a bigger, on-going war much either. Further, if the governments of the Arab world showed a fraction of the outrage over the killing of innocents that have over the execution of this Hamas militant, they might both improve their image and save the Israelis the trouble of bringing the criminals within their midst to justice. Hamid Karzai: Just when you thought this guy had discredited himself and his sponsors to the point of insuring his irrelevance, further proof that the opposite is actually true. In the latest chapter of "you need me more than I need you" chutzpah from this out-of-control boss of Kabul's Tammany Hall, the international community simply has rolled over and played dead while Karzai has taken over the electoral oversight commission that was created to serve as an independent overseer of the country's dirty politics. The fox has reinstalled himself in charge of the hen house and all the American government can say is: "Look, over here! Victory in Marja." Victory for what in the long-run, that is anybody's guess. George W. Bush: Speaking of names you felt were safely buried in the scrapheap of history, the upcoming, seemingly promising Iraqi elections have raised the specter (ugly to some of a more partisan nature than I) that Bush's Folly may be producing a somewhat more positive outcome than many predicted -- even as a better result in, say, AfPak (despite temporary victories) seems far more elusive. I don't want to say more about this because frankly it is causing my lunch to come back up a little, but then again, sometimes the truth is a little hard to digest. The invasion was still a mistake, the war a ghastly combinations of errors of judgment and execution. But admit it, if you had to take a bet right now on which would prove a more effective semblance of a democracy, Iraq or Afghanistan, which would you pick? The Jewish Lobbies: For many of you, seeing Jewish lobbies listed among "surprise winners" is probably also a bit difficult to swallow since you probably think that's always the way. Of course, people who believe such nonsense tend to get most of their political information from the graffiti over urinals, so perhaps they're not reading this site. Nonetheless, there are a few academics out there who have sought to suggest that the American agenda in the Middle East has been hijacked by a monolithic, all-powerful Jewish lobby. These people seemed to be briefly in the ascendancy during the first months of the Obama Administration, but circumstances have worked to their detriment. First, the one sure antidote to the naïve views of the self-designated "realists" -- reality -- set in and an administration that wanted to reach out to the Palestinians in the worst way discovered that the Palestinian Authority actually didn't have that much authority due to internal divisions. Then, the reality of long-standing divisions in the American Jewish community also manifested themselves with the rise of J-Street, a Jewish lobby that is barely on speaking terms with the State of Israel. Result: more sensible views, about both the reason for strong U.S. relations with Israel and about the myth of the Jewish lobby in Washington are starting to prevail.   Goldbugs: The world is probably facing the most uncertain sovereign risk picture it has seen in two decades. In Europe it's not just the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) who are looking like they've come down with macro-economic swine flu, the pandemic seems to be spreading across the Eurozone leaving all at risk. (Except perhaps the Germans who have quarantined themselves from the problem... which is not exactly in the EU spirit feel many of their neighbors.) Meanwhile Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase is saying, "Don't worry so much about Greece, California is in much worse shape," and if the state that is world's 8th largest economy is teetering at the abyss, can the rest of a country with potentially 1000 nearly-to-thoroughly insolvent regional banks be doing so well? And China and the rest of the emerging world have their own bubbles to worry about. Where do you go when investors will soon be taking the IOUs of recently floundering Wall Street houses rather than those of the countries who bailed them out? Invest in more gold maybe. Or real estate in rapidly-warming Antarctica. A nice igloo maybe, and lots of cans of soup... Small Cold Countries: Speaking of gold, Canada, Norway, and Austria beat Russia, China and all but two countries of the world in Vancouver Olympic medal totals. Host Canada produced as many medals as China and Russia combined and set a new record for most gold medals won in one games by one country. Norway continues to lead all nations in Winter Olympic medals won... and it has only 4 million people, which would make it the 13th largest city in China. And smallish, coldish Korea finished 7th among competing nations, but managed to field Kim Yu-na, who history will show is the greatest woman figure skater of all time (if in fact, it is proven that the ethereal, remarkable South Korean is in fact human, which seems unlikely given most of the humans I know.)  Jim Bunning: Senator Jim Bunning is a baseball Hall of Famer. He is used to winning. But who could have predicted that the soon to retire 78-year-old would save his greatest victory for the very twilight of his career... or that it would occur in the United States Senate, a place where victories of any sort are few and far between. Nonetheless, Bunning, facing stiff competition, has emerged as the most odious and unlikable member of a Congress that has already gone down in history as one of the least trusted, least-admired in U.S. history. Despite voting for countless indefensible tax cuts for the rich, Bunning earned his place by choosing to make a stand and block funding for extended unemployment benefits in the middle of a national economic crisis. He defended his position, saying he was trying to force the Congress to adopt saner spending policies -- but his decision to make the stand now at the expense of the most vulnerable Americans has earned him a place atop the list of the biggest creeps the perverse American political process has yet to produce. Perspective: Here is the greatest surprise winner of them all. But the fact is that perspective arrived in Washington, DC with a vengeance this winter... although it was, perhaps less surprisingly, acknowledged by virtually no one. How did this happen? Well, during this past winter Washington received more snow than it has in the past five winters combined, producing wonderful colorful headlines proclaiming Snowmageddon and the Snowpocalypse with some, of course, blaming it on Snowbama. But, despite the best efforts of flat-earthers like Matt Drudge to suggest that all this snow meant global warming was a sham, the reality was that even with all the snow in DC, January went down on the books as the warmest January on record. This just goes to show, that despite the bluster and the wind and all the snowjobs in America's capital, reality is quite another story indeed.

Admittedly, it’s only March and early March at that. Still the year has been full of surprises so far on the Washington politics and international policy beats. So, it’s only fair that the surprise winners get the credit they so richly deserve. Here are ten of them, in no special order:

  • David Patterson: I know, it is hard to imagine New York Governor David Patterson as a winner when his brief term in office has vacillated between being a complete shambles and much, much worse. But look at it this way, did you ever think it possible that one man could make his disgraced predecessor Eliot Spitzer look so good, so fast? Heck, this guy makes you yearn for the comparative competence and superior values of Rod Blagoevich. In fact, we predict that the next career for Patterson — which is likely to begin very, very soon — will be to assist those whose reputations have hit an unexpected downdraft. If he can do what he has done for Spitzer, you can only imagine the calls he is likely to soon be fielding from Tiger Woods and John Edwards. "Caddy for me, Governor," the Woods call might begin, "and I am sure of never being the most despicable guy on the course."
  • Gordon Brown: It is truly a tribute to the odiousness and vapidity of Conservative leader David Cameron that Gordon Brown, a man whose prime ministerial career has been marked by scandal and economic collapse, seems to have a chance of holding on to his job in the upcoming British elections. Despite a personality that makes him appear only in shades of grey even on high-definition, full-color television broadcasts and as something worse than that in tell-all memoirs, Brown at least has experience, a degree of international stature and a grasp of political principles that clearly distinguish him from former spin-maven Cameron, who, if he loses, will be responsible for the most significant British missed opportunity since they let their American colonies slip away (or at least since they allowed Emily Blunt to become engaged to John Krasinski).
  • The Mossad: At a time when the legendary stealthy accomplishments of Israel’s intelligence service were slipping from memory, along come those great press agents from Dubai to remind the world just how much the Mossad is feared by Israel’s Arab enemies. Admittedly, the amount of evidence of their apparent hit job on Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh left behind by the Israelis was rather slipshod, but the effort to stir up anger against the Israelis only really serves to remind the world what an effective, dedicated intelligence service can achieve. The fact that al-Mabhouh’s former aide confirmed he was a weapons smuggler doesn’t help the effort to stir up moral indignation at this skirmish in a bigger, on-going war much either. Further, if the governments of the Arab world showed a fraction of the outrage over the killing of innocents that have over the execution of this Hamas militant, they might both improve their image and save the Israelis the trouble of bringing the criminals within their midst to justice.
  • Hamid Karzai: Just when you thought this guy had discredited himself and his sponsors to the point of insuring his irrelevance, further proof that the opposite is actually true. In the latest chapter of "you need me more than I need you" chutzpah from this out-of-control boss of Kabul’s Tammany Hall, the international community simply has rolled over and played dead while Karzai has taken over the electoral oversight commission that was created to serve as an independent overseer of the country’s dirty politics. The fox has reinstalled himself in charge of the hen house and all the American government can say is: "Look, over here! Victory in Marja." Victory for what in the long-run, that is anybody’s guess.
  • George W. Bush: Speaking of names you felt were safely buried in the scrapheap of history, the upcoming, seemingly promising Iraqi elections have raised the specter (ugly to some of a more partisan nature than I) that Bush’s Folly may be producing a somewhat more positive outcome than many predicted — even as a better result in, say, AfPak (despite temporary victories) seems far more elusive. I don’t want to say more about this because frankly it is causing my lunch to come back up a little, but then again, sometimes the truth is a little hard to digest. The invasion was still a mistake, the war a ghastly combinations of errors of judgment and execution. But admit it, if you had to take a bet right now on which would prove a more effective semblance of a democracy, Iraq or Afghanistan, which would you pick?
  • The Jewish Lobbies: For many of you, seeing Jewish lobbies listed among "surprise winners" is probably also a bit difficult to swallow since you probably think that’s always the way. Of course, people who believe such nonsense tend to get most of their political information from the graffiti over urinals, so perhaps they’re not reading this site. Nonetheless, there are a few academics out there who have sought to suggest that the American agenda in the Middle East has been hijacked by a monolithic, all-powerful Jewish lobby. These people seemed to be briefly in the ascendancy during the first months of the Obama Administration, but circumstances have worked to their detriment. First, the one sure antidote to the naïve views of the self-designated "realists" — reality — set in and an administration that wanted to reach out to the Palestinians in the worst way discovered that the Palestinian Authority actually didn’t have that much authority due to internal divisions. Then, the reality of long-standing divisions in the American Jewish community also manifested themselves with the rise of J-Street, a Jewish lobby that is barely on speaking terms with the State of Israel. Result: more sensible views, about both the reason for strong U.S. relations with Israel and about the myth of the Jewish lobby in Washington are starting to prevail.  
  • Goldbugs: The world is probably facing the most uncertain sovereign risk picture it has seen in two decades. In Europe it’s not just the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) who are looking like they’ve come down with macro-economic swine flu, the pandemic seems to be spreading across the Eurozone leaving all at risk. (Except perhaps the Germans who have quarantined themselves from the problem… which is not exactly in the EU spirit feel many of their neighbors.) Meanwhile Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase is saying, "Don’t worry so much about Greece, California is in much worse shape," and if the state that is world’s 8th largest economy is teetering at the abyss, can the rest of a country with potentially 1000 nearly-to-thoroughly insolvent regional banks be doing so well? And China and the rest of the emerging world have their own bubbles to worry about. Where do you go when investors will soon be taking the IOUs of recently floundering Wall Street houses rather than those of the countries who bailed them out? Invest in more gold maybe. Or real estate in rapidly-warming Antarctica. A nice igloo maybe, and lots of cans of soup
  • Small Cold Countries: Speaking of gold, Canada, Norway, and Austria beat Russia, China and all but two countries of the world in Vancouver Olympic medal totals. Host Canada produced as many medals as China and Russia combined and set a new record for most gold medals won in one games by one country. Norway continues to lead all nations in Winter Olympic medals won… and it has only 4 million people, which would make it the 13th largest city in China. And smallish, coldish Korea finished 7th among competing nations, but managed to field Kim Yu-na, who history will show is the greatest woman figure skater of all time (if in fact, it is proven that the ethereal, remarkable South Korean is in fact human, which seems unlikely given most of the humans I know.) 
  • Jim Bunning: Senator Jim Bunning is a baseball Hall of Famer. He is used to winning. But who could have predicted that the soon to retire 78-year-old would save his greatest victory for the very twilight of his career… or that it would occur in the United States Senate, a place where victories of any sort are few and far between. Nonetheless, Bunning, facing stiff competition, has emerged as the most odious and unlikable member of a Congress that has already gone down in history as one of the least trusted, least-admired in U.S. history. Despite voting for countless indefensible tax cuts for the rich, Bunning earned his place by choosing to make a stand and block funding for extended unemployment benefits in the middle of a national economic crisis. He defended his position, saying he was trying to force the Congress to adopt saner spending policies — but his decision to make the stand now at the expense of the most vulnerable Americans has earned him a place atop the list of the biggest creeps the perverse American political process has yet to produce.
  • Perspective: Here is the greatest surprise winner of them all. But the fact is that perspective arrived in Washington, DC with a vengeance this winter… although it was, perhaps less surprisingly, acknowledged by virtually no one. How did this happen? Well, during this past winter Washington received more snow than it has in the past five winters combined, producing wonderful colorful headlines proclaiming Snowmageddon and the Snowpocalypse with some, of course, blaming it on Snowbama. But, despite the best efforts of flat-earthers like Matt Drudge to suggest that all this snow meant global warming was a sham, the reality was that even with all the snow in DC, January went down on the books as the warmest January on record. This just goes to show, that despite the bluster and the wind and all the snowjobs in America’s capital, reality is quite another story indeed.
David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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