Hypothetical holidays: A imaginary gift list

It’s Christmas Eve, and my brain has been deadened by hours of grading a take-home final exam. (The papers themselves aren’t bad, but reading dozens of answers to the same questions can get a bit mind-numbing). I can’t dull the pain with egg nog or some other suitable spirit until this evening, so I’m taking ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

It's Christmas Eve, and my brain has been deadened by hours of grading a take-home final exam. (The papers themselves aren't bad, but reading dozens of answers to the same questions can get a bit mind-numbing). I can't dull the pain with egg nog or some other suitable spirit until this evening, so I'm taking a quick break to offer this holiday post.

My own holiday shopping is finished, thank goodness, but I began wondering about what sorts of gifts I'd like to see some prominent world leaders receive. In the spirit of the season, here's a hypothetical gift list for a few people who've been on my mind over the past year or so.

1. For Barack Obama.  A copy of Machiavelli's The Prince.   President Obama is ending the year on an up note, having successfully managed to end Don't Ask Don't Tell and obtained Senate approval for the New Start Treaty. I think the former achievement is more important than the latter, but both are worthy accomplishments. The new Congress won't be nearly as friendly (and the last one was no picnic), so the president will need all of Machiavelli's wily advice to confound his opponents. Let's hope he learns that it's better to be feared than loved, at least when you're dealing with today's Grand Obstructionist Party.

It’s Christmas Eve, and my brain has been deadened by hours of grading a take-home final exam. (The papers themselves aren’t bad, but reading dozens of answers to the same questions can get a bit mind-numbing). I can’t dull the pain with egg nog or some other suitable spirit until this evening, so I’m taking a quick break to offer this holiday post.

My own holiday shopping is finished, thank goodness, but I began wondering about what sorts of gifts I’d like to see some prominent world leaders receive. In the spirit of the season, here’s a hypothetical gift list for a few people who’ve been on my mind over the past year or so.

1. For Barack Obama.  A copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince.   President Obama is ending the year on an up note, having successfully managed to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and obtained Senate approval for the New Start Treaty. I think the former achievement is more important than the latter, but both are worthy accomplishments. The new Congress won’t be nearly as friendly (and the last one was no picnic), so the president will need all of Machiavelli’s wily advice to confound his opponents. Let’s hope he learns that it’s better to be feared than loved, at least when you’re dealing with today’s Grand Obstructionist Party.

2. For Hillary Rodham Clinton: a pair of reading glasses, an espresso machine, and a couple of days off.   Why?  So she can read the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.   I just downloaded this sucker, and it’s over 200 pages of bracing bureaucratic prose.  I plan to read it myself over Xmas break, but I’ll bet it takes me a few espressos to get through it too.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be cited more than read, even by people at State.

3. For Julian Assange: A DVD of Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, to enjoy while he’s under house arrest, and a copy of Sexual Etiquette 101, to help him stay out of trouble in the future.

4. For Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas:  A copy of Roger Fisher and William Ury’s  Getting to Yes, and Ali Abunimah’s One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Because if we don’t get to "yes" on two states, one state is what you’ll end up with.

5. For Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:  A copy of The General in His Labyrinth, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Chavez has been obsessed with Simon Bolivar -to the extent of exhuming his remains in an attempt to prove that the South American hero was poisoned-but Marquez’s novel also offers a warning of the sort of fate that Chavez himself may be destined for.

6. For UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: A copy of Albert Camus’ essay "The Myth of Sisyphus." Running the United Nations must sometimes seem like a Sisyphean task, and every bit as absurd as Camus judged the fate of man to be.  But perhaps the Secretary-General can take comfort from Camus’ conclusion — "we must imagine Sisyphus happy."

7. For North Korean heir apparent Kim Jong-un: A DVD of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The question is: will he govern like Nurse Ratched, or like McMurphy?

8. For General David Petraeus: A Youtube link to Pete Seeger’s "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy." There just might be a lesson in there.

9. For Chinese General Secretary Hu Jintao: A framed reproduction of Matisse’s Fall of Icarus, as a reminder of what can happen when one flies too high too fast.

10. For readers of this blog: My thanks for your interest, your sometimes spirited dissents, and your generous words of support. May each of you bask in the love of family and friends this holiday season, and may we all grow a little bit wiser in the year ahead.

Happy holidays!

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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