(Author's note: This is a slightly longer piece than usual. I have been interested in the British reconquest of Sudan since stumbling upon it while reading William Manchester's The Last Lion years ago. Once I finally got around to researching and writing about it, I found it hard to stop.)
At the Edge of Empire
Riding at the head of his scouting party, Winston Churchill was likely the first British officer to catch a glimpse of Khartoum. What he saw was less a city than a skeleton, having being abandoned after the violent expulsion of the British from Sudan 13 years earlier. At the city’s edge rose a new settlement, Omdurman, comprised of mud huts and centered on the domed tomb of the Mahdi—the Islamic uprising’s prophetic leader. It was 9am and the heat on the desert plain was already intense. Vultures circling overhead lent the landscape an eerie stillness. Missing from the landscape, to the relief of many in the scouting party, if not Churchill, was the great army of the Mahdi. All they could see for miles around the city were a line of low brush, the mighty Nile, and the unforgiving desert.
As Churchill began to imagine that the cities would fall without resistance, the line of brush moved against the horizon. What he had believed to be vegetation was in fact an army of 60,000 extending miles into the desert. The fanatic defenders of Omdurman unfurled banners of Quranic scripture while the metal of their swords and spears glimmered across the horizon with the rising sun. Churchill, who would be no stranger to grand armies, would write of his view across the desert plain that morning as, “perhaps the impression of a lifetime.” It was September 1st, 1898 and within 24 hours Churchill would be on horseback surrounded by 3,000 screaming warriors and locked in the sights of two enemy rifles. He would be at the heart of the last great cavalry charge of the British Empire and lucky to escape with his life.
El International Crisis Group, una organización no gubernamental, recientemente publicó su reporte mensual “Crisis Watch” y sin sorpresa dos países en Latinoamérica han llegado en la categoría de coyunturas que empeoran: Venezuela y Paraguay. La prolongada declinación de Venezuela es bien conocida- bien antes de la eliminación de los poderes legislativos de la oposición política por la Corte Suprema (cuál es controlado por el gobierno), el gobierno estaba encarcelando opositores, manipulando la economía, y debilitando instituciones democráticas. Por la otra mano, el caso de Paraguay es menos conocido. Esta semana su parlamento aprobó una enmienda a la constitución para prolongar el periodo un presidente pueda mantener el poder. Rápidamente, manifestantes se apoderaron el parlamento y lo incendiaron. Todo esto se continua una larga y dolorosa historia que se ha tomado Paraguay desde un poder regional en el siglo 19 hacia el país dañado y pobre lo que es hoy.
President Obama recently conceded that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. That might be an understatement. According to research published in the medical journal The Lancet, alcohol is a more dangerous drug than crack and heroin when the combined harms to the user and to others are assessed. While the methodology behind the rankings can be credibly challenged—surely, heroin is more addictive and prone to overdose—it nonetheless highlights the arbitrary societal exemption granted to alcohol over other mind-altering substances.
From a policy perspective, there will never be just one legacy for the September 11th terrorist attacks. As that day's 14th anniversary came and went this past Friday, it was hard not to see how the fissures of its aftermath continue to color our political discourse.
To the neoconservatives in power at the time, the attacks necessitated a massive expansion of domestic surveillance powers, the adoption of "enhanced" interrogation techniques for intelligence gathering, and a policy of regime change for noncooperative states with links to violent Islamic extremism. Tax cuts, a massive expansion of government (notably the mess that is the Department of Homeland Security), and our country's two longest wars were, in their view, justified by the magnitude of the tragedy.
Until sectarian violence started to choke the dream of a small footprint in Iraq, the Democrats played the role of quiet passengers along for the ride. After awakening to the looming economic and political calamity, their narrative has been that Republicans ignored the necessary war (Afghanistan) while bungling a needless one (Iraq); all the while overstepping their constitutional bounds in Guantanamo and in CIA detention centers around the world—all of which Democratic leaders had been thoroughly supportive of, or at least unquestioning of, while it seemed to be working.
Unlike the empire that first concocted it, the sun will never set on the Gin and Tonic—or the “G n’ T” to its most loyal imbibers. However, before this vaunted alcoholic brew acquired its current state of ubiquitousness, it needed a push from science and historical happenstance.
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