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31 December 2013, Gateway House

2013: foreign policy follies

The year 2013 has had its share of geopolitical faux pas. Gateway House looks at five memorable foreign policy follies of world leaders. Read on…

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Pravda mix-up

Irked by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times of September 11, arguing against action in Syria, U.S. Senator John McCain wrote a rejoinder titled ‘Russians deserve better than Putin’. In it, he ticked off Putin for daring to criticise American action. McCain was under the impression that his piece would be published in Pravda, the official mouthpiece of the Russian Communist Party. It did end up on “Pravda,” but this one was an electronic news website,, founded in 1999. McCain will have to wait another day to have his say and his way with Putin.

Manmohan’s Hamlet moment

To go or not to go? To yield to electoral interest or to national interest? To choose Tamil Nadu or to choose India? These were the questions nagging Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the weeks leading up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo from November 15-17. Finally, less than a week before the meet, Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid was despatched to Colombo as India’s official representative. Meanwhile, UPA allies fumed over any friendly gesture towards Sri Lanka. Like Hamlet’s indecision, it did Singh little good – both the DMK and the AIDMK now want to partner with the opposition BJP in the 2014 national elections.

The ill-timed ‘selfie’

This one is likely to go down in history as the “bad taste selfie.” It happened at the solemn memorial ceremony in Johannesburg in South Africa on December 10, held to honour the late Nelson Mandela. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, her British counterpart David Cameron, and U.S. President Barack Obama found relief in posing together with big smiles for a mobile phone self-portrait. The image was quickly picked up by major international news outlets and went viral on social media sites. Many questioned whether the moment of mirth was appropriate for the occasion, despite the stirring tribute paid to Mandela by President Obama only moments earlier.

‘Not actually snooping’

The rest of the world was outraged after revelations by Edward Snowden on June 30 that U.S. intelligence services were spying on 38 countries, including allies like India. But Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid chose to defend the U.S. surveillance programme, calling it “not actually snooping.” Instead, he said claimed it was a “computer analysis of call patterns,” countering the MEA’s own earlier statement which had said the snooping was unacceptable. The MEA subsequently went into serious damage control mode– but Khurshid’ original statement remains memorable.

Is Santa Canadian?

Canada made a preliminary submission to the UN on December 6, making a claim to the North Pole, in an effort to assert its sovereignty over the resource-rich Arctic. Many see it as one more step towards strengthening the claim made by Canada in 2010 that Santa Claus is actually Canadian.

This blog was compiled by the Gateway House team.

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