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Pierre Trudeau: One Long Curve, Full of Turning Points

With the October 2015 election of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada, we take a look back at his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, one of the most influential and memorable Prime Ministers in Canada’s history. He served as Prime Minister from 1968 to 1979 and then again from 1980 to 1984. Throughout his time in power in Canada, he struck people as a brilliant mind and a passionate politician.   He dominated Canadian politics from the 1960s until the 1980s, retiring in 1984.

Trudeau’s key accomplishments include preserving national unity against the Quebec sovereignty movement, suppressing a violent revolt in the October Crisis, fostering a pan-Canadian identity and achieving sweeping institutional reform.  This included the implementation of official bilingualism and the establishment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Trudeau kept Canada in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but differed from U.S. policy by establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China before the United States did and befriending Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Read more

The Murder of Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Warrior for Peace

The assassination of 73-year old Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin came at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv in favor of the Oslo Accords. Rabin had served two terms as Prime Minister, from 1974-1977 and again from 1992 until his death. He was a soldier with extensive experience combatting Arab states, serving as Defense Minister from 1984-90, yet he was willing to take on equally great risks for the sake of achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

In 1994, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rabin along with PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for concluding the Oslo agreement. It was seen as potentially a huge step toward resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, beginning with a partial Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and the creation of a Palestinian Authority. Rabin was killed on November 4, 1995 by three shots fired by an Israeli right-wing nationalist who opposed the Accords.

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The “Other” Embassy Attack of November 1979 — The Siege of Embassy Islamabad

The attack on the American embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and the subsequent 444-day imprisonment of American personnel has become the stuff of legend – it was followed day by day on the news by millions of Americans, many of whom put yellow ribbons on trees and their houses as a sign of solidarity. It was the subject of an Academy-Award winning movie, Argo, and ultimately led to the downfall of President Jimmy Carter. However, most people would be hard-pressed to recall a similarly dramatic attack, which took place a mere 17 days after the attack on Embassy Tehran.

On November 21, rioters, incited by false Iranian radio claims of an American attack on Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia, stormed U.S. Embassy Islamabad, trapping more than 130 people inside the communications vault for several hours. Several people died, including one young Marine Security Guard, Steve Crowley; the entire embassy was burned and eventually had to be rebuilt (with money from the Pakistani government). Read more

The 1989 Romanian Revolution and the Fall of Ceausescu

1989 was the year of remarkable popular uprisings throughout the world, most notably Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. December saw the fall of one of Eastern Europe’s most brutal dictators, Nicolae Ceaușescu and it did not come peacefully.

The Romanian Revolution started in the city of Timișoara on December 16, as one ethnic Hungarian pastor spoke out against regime policies. This led to massive protests and a crackdown by the military. Ceaușescu then made a speech at Palace (now Revolution) Square, on December 21, where people in the crowd, who had been bussed in to show support, began openly booing him and chanting “Timisoara!”

Rank-and-file members of the military switched, almost unanimously, from supporting the dictator to backing the protesting population. Rioting in several Romanian cities forced Ceausescu and his wife Elena, who was also Deputy Prime Minister, to flee the next day. They were quickly captured, tried, and then executed on Christmas Day 1989. Read more

Kopeks and Big Macs – Russia’s Move to a Market Economy

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the winter of 1991, the newly-formed Russian Federation took on the challenge of creating a market-oriented economy from the world’s largest state-controlled economy. President Yeltsin’s economic reforms led to hyperinflation and loss of financial security for many who had depended on state pensions, and Russia’s GDP contracted an estimated 40 percent in seven years.

Adding to the complexity of making this transition was Russia’s decision to settle the USSR’s huge external debts. State enterprises were privatized and foreign investment encouraged, but changes in elements needed to support this transition, such as commercial banking and laws, did not keep pace.

Nonetheless, many Russians did prosper in the new economic environment and by the mid-1990s were enjoying the same luxury brands and fast food as their Western counterparts. Most notably, the first McDonald’s opened in the USSR on January 31, 1990. Read more

The Velvet Revolution, November 1989

In 1989, change was in the air throughout all of Eastern Europe. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika – openness and restructuring – signaled a radically different tone from Moscow and people in the Eastern Bloc took notice. The Berlin Wall, which had long stood as a concrete symbol of the clash between East and West, fell on November 9th. Czechoslovakia’s particular insurrection was known as the Velvet Revolution because of its relatively peaceful nature.

It began on November 17, International Students Day, ironically enough at a government-sponsored rally, as Czech students filled Wenceslas Square to peacefully march in remembrance of the students killed by the Nazi occupation 50 years earlier. Protests began to swell to hundreds of thousands and the government, to its credit, realized it could not win by force and quickly gave in to popular sentiment. Read more

The 1991 Iraq War — A Messy End

An international coalition launched Operation Desert Storm, authorized by UN Resolution 678, on January 17, 1991, to force Saddam Hussein’s army out of Kuwait. Iraq responded by launching missile and artillery strikes on targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia and invading Khafji, a small Saudi Arabian city. In some brilliant military maneuvering by General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf, Coalition ground forces were able to move into Kuwait by February 24, a mere five weeks after the offensive had begun. By the 27th, Saddam Hussein ordered the retreat of Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The following day, President George H.W. Bush declared a cease-fire, marking the end of hostilities.

Despite Saddam’s crushing defeat and the Coalition’s unbelievably quick victory, there was disagreement in Washington and New York as to how the Coalition and the United Nations should proceed. As UN Ambassador to the UN Thomas Pickering said, “One of the things that we do wonderfully is plan wars and execute them and one of the things we do traditionally terribly is to figure out on what basis to end them.” Read more

The 1991 Iraq War – The Battle at the UN: The Gathering Storm

Although several resolutions were passed by the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Iraq, they did not have the desired effect of forcing Saddam Hussein to order his military to stand down and withdraw from Iraq. Saddam, in an effort to rally Arab support for his position, said he would only withdraw from Kuwait if Israel withdrew from the Occupied Territories and Lebanon, if Syria withdrew from Lebanon, and there were “mutual withdrawals by Iraq and Iran and arrangement for the situation in Kuwait.” Any agreement would also involve the reversal of sanctions and boycotts on Iraq. The United States was staunchly opposed to any concessions to Iraq. Although several UN members and the Secretary General tried to negotiate with Iraq, it soon became clear these efforts were going nowhere.

Eventually the “mother of all resolutions,” Resolution 678, was passed in the UN Security Council, which set a deadline of January 15, 1991 for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait before the member states of the UN used “all necessary means” to force Iraq out of Kuwait. Read more

The 1991 Iraq War — The Battle at the UN

As an after-effect of the Iraq-Iran War which raged from 1980 to 1988, Baghdad found itself crippled by debts to neighboring countries, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and felt its debts should be forgiven. It pressured both countries to let it off the hook; the Saudis and Kuwaitis were not interested, however. Iraq, which considered Kuwait to be Iraqi territory, then accused Kuwait of exceeding oil production quotas set by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreements. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, seizing complete control of the country in less than 24 hours.

The UN Security Council responded just hours after the invasion and passed UNSC Resolution 660, which condemned the invasion and demanded a total withdrawal of Iraqi forces; Resolution 661 imposed tough sanctions on Iraq. Not surprisingly, the negotiations proved to be quite complicated. Read more

Indira Gandhi’s Assassination and the Anti-Sikh Riots, October 1984

Indira Gandhi was one of the most powerful women of the 20th Century, whose initial rise to power in 1966 was supported by those who labored under the mistaken belief that she would be a timid leader who could be easily manipulated. Quite the contrary, her tenure was marked by ruthless politics and the centralization of government power.

During her time as Prime Minister, militant members of the Sikh population, led by the extremist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, began pushing for special status for their majority Sikh region of Punjab. The situation became volatile and many were killed in incidents across the Punjab region. As a result, in June 1984 Gandhi ordered Operation Blue Star to flush out the Sikh militants and remove Bhindranwale. The army stormed the holy Sikh temple complex, Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, in Punjab where he was taking refuge. In the following days, nearly 500 were killed by the Indian army, including Bhindranwale; the army suffered over 300 casualties. Read more