Long-read, world leader profiles are becoming a tradition for Suggests: the latest is a The New Yorker piece that explores how China’s Xi Jinping became the most authoritarian leader since Mao. In tracing his transformation from provincial administrator to president, author Evan Osnos highlights Xi’s shaking up of the system, including relentless crackdowns on corruption, but also his growing cult of personality:
The state news agency has taken the unprecedented step of adopting a nickname for the General Secretary: Xi Dada—roughly, Big Uncle Xi.
Sticking with a New York state of mind, if you’re interested in the enigmatic origins of the Houthis in Yemen, read Robert F. York’s review in The New York Review of Books of Safa al Ahmad’s film Yemen: The Rise of the Houthis. It serves as a useful backgrounder on a conflict that’s also involved al-Qaeda and now Saudi Arabia. For another perspective, I recommend reading Yemen expert Sarah Phillips’ work, including her latest Lowy Interpreter post that sheds light on the Houthis’ relationship with Iran.
Over on World Politics Review, Clint Watts has a provocative essay on how al Shabaab serves as a model of decline for Islamic State. Watts argues that the combined pressure of a coalition reduced al Shabaab ‘from the dominant entity in Somalia to a fractious force pushed to the rural interior’, providing insights into how events in Iraq and Syria may unfold. All eyes remain on al Shabaab, however, as more reports emerge about an attack by the group on a university in northeastern Kenya yesterday, killing 147 people.
Speaking of Islamic State, make time for this discussion between Graeme Wood—best known for his recent essay on ‘What ISIS really wants’—and Robert Wright on bloggingheads.tv on Wood’s research on IS’ social media material, its ‘Islamic’ credentials and why sending group troops would be a terrible idea (video, 50mins).
Kevin Rudd’s TED talk on China and the US is finally available online, and it begins with the words ‘Hello, my name’s Kevin. I’m from Australia. And I’m here to help’. Keep watching to see whether his alternative narrative can steer Washington and Beijing away from a collision course (video, 20mins).
Lastly, we pay our respects to military working dog Sarbi who passed away from a brain tumour last week. On a positive note, replacing their fallen canine colleagues is a new breed of military working cats. Results, so far, have been mixed:
Kitten First Class Nermal, a gray, mackerel tabby, has been assigned to stop a known hostile from stealing documents and embedding an improvised explosive device within a computer. Instead, Nermal can be seen batting a ball of yarn around for forty-five seconds before becoming bored and then discovering an unassuming but fascinating box.
Happy Easter long weekend, readers!