Archive for June, 2016

“Lebanese troops have been quietly making steady progress, fighting against Islamic extremists”

29/06/2016

In a remote corner of Lebanon near the border with Syria, Lebanese troops have been quietly making steady progress, fighting against Islamic extremists holed up in the rugged mountains. It is a fight less visible than the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State group in Syria, Iraq and Libya. But hardly a day passes without army artillery stationed on the edge of this restive eastern Lebanese town pounding nearby militant positions. Aided directly by the United States and Britain — and indirectly by the Syrian army and its Lebanese militant Hezbollah allies working on the other side of the border — the under-equipped Lebanese military has registered steady successes against the militants. In recent months, Lebanese armed forces have clawed back significant territory once held by IS and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, known as the Nusra Front, and have killed and detained hundreds of extremists, forcing many others to flee. According to the army, the militants still hold about 50 square kilometers (19 square miles) of land in the border area, compared with 20 times this size in the months after Syria’s conflict began.

“European leaders are likely to favour as amicable a settlement as possible”

29/06/2016

A piece notes that after Brexit, the talks, despite minor tensions will be resolved cordially in the interests of all, “There has been no single official response by the European Union to the U.K.’s decision last week to vote in favour of leaving the bloc. Instead, we’ve seen a flurry of mixed and competing messages – a sort of good cop-bad cop routine, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pounding on the table and German Chancellor Angela Merkel asking Britain to take a few deep breaths and think. Toughest of all have been leaders of the EU’s institutions. Negotiations for exit must start immediately, argued Juncker, alongside European Parliament President Martin Schulz – Europe can’t be held hostage to an equivocating Britain. Seeing a chance to make a power grab, high-profile European parliamentarians – such as former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt – have, too, demanded a speedy departure and pressed for a seat at the Brexit negotiating table alongside representatives from the 27 EU member states”.

The author mentions that “By contrast, the member states themselves, and their leaders in particular, have been much more guarded. Belgian and Italian officials argued for speeding up divorce proceedings at a meeting of national diplomats last weekend, but they were in a minority. Most agreed to proceed with caution. Merkel, in particular, has warned against any anti-British backlash. Europe’s pragmatic national leaders are likely to prevail over the EU true believers in Brussels. All may have been irritated over the years at the U.K.’s prickly relationship with the EU, and its departure from the union will force all remaining member states to think long and hard about how they can renew their cooperation. But none of that’s a reason to expect an ugly divorce. A popular view in Brussels, and in some national capitals, is that ever since the U.K. joined the Common Market in 1973 it has vetoed ambitious projects of continental integration, leaving the EU weaker and more divided. The U.K.’s exit is, for these Machiavellian federalists, a golden opportunity to take the EU in a different direction, to advance their project of “ever closer union,” involving deeper fiscal union and the launching of new pan-European institutions like a European army. But to take advantage of this chance, they believe, they must move quickly – hence the hostility to Britain’s dallying”.

The writer makes the point, “There is also the fear that the referendum result may not stick, and so negotiations on Brexit must start before the U.K. has a chance to change its mind. Options for backing out are already being floated by some from the “Remain” camp. And a cold-feet reversal wouldn’t be as radical as it appears. After all, the EU has ignored referendums in the past: The Irish were asked to vote again after rejecting the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and the French and Dutch voted against the constitutional treaty in 2005, only to see it reappear virtually unchanged in the form of the Lisbon Treaty a few years later. Most recently, Greeks overwhelmingly rejected a bailout deal in 2015, but their prime minister signed off on a worse one shortly afterward. But this attitude falls on deaf ears in many national capitals, and member states will have the final say on how to deal with the U.K. Among national leaders, the prevailing belief is that the block must proceed with caution when formulating its response to the U.K. referendum. This stems from the realization that the U.K.’s vote is not an isolated event, but connected with wider European politics”.

Crucially he makes the point that “Experienced politicians, such as Merkel, view the political meltdown taking place in the U.K. with great concern. The fallout from the Brexit vote has revealed the fragility of the British government’s authority and how weak mainstream political parties in the U.K. have become. For Merkel, who has made the center-ground in German politics her own, or for embattled leaders like Matteo Renzi in Italy and François Hollande in France, events in Britain are a sobering reminder of their own domestic political struggles. Renzi recently lost mayoral elections in Rome and Turin to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and his political future looks more uncertain than ever. Hollande leads a Socialist Party that has lost much of its support among working-class French voters, just like the British Labour Party has. The French political establishment will take the success of the U.K. Independence Party in the EU referendum as a warning about the chances of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in next year’s presidential elections”.

He concludes “In some ways, other EU member states are in more of a bind than the U.K. Since the U.K. does not use the single currency, its vote to leave the EU is complicated but achievable. For eurozone countries, exit is almost unimaginable. Faced as they are with deep domestic discontent, governments in the eurozone share many of the U.K.’s problems but have fewer options available to deal with them. And the already fragile and stagnant eurozone is hardly in a fit state to withstand the economic shock of Brexit. Shares of Southern European banks, for instance, took a dramatic hit after the Brexit result was announced and many eyes are on Portugal and Italy”.

Correctly he ends “For these reasons, the good cops are likely to win out: When negotiations around Brexit do begin, they are likely to be orderly and reasonable. There will be no excessive generosity, given that the remaining EU member states want to discourage their populations from arguing for a similar in/out referendum. But a hostile set of negotiations driven by a desire to punish the U.K. are also very unlikely. After all, voters in France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere across Europe are angry with their own politicians, whom they consider remote and self-serving. They are far less preoccupied with punishing the U.K., a sentiment that belongs to disappointed Eurocrats more than it does to European citizens. What these citizens are concerned about is the dire economic performance of their economies, one which acrimonious negotiations with the U.K. would not help. Concerned about the impact of Brexit on the eurozone, European leaders are likely to favour as amicable a settlement as possible, where the economic interests of all concerned are accommodated”.

He finishes “As befits a bloc made up of national governments whose politicians are acutely aware of the fragility of their own authority, the response to the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU has so far been muted. The nastier and more jubilant responses have come from those parts of the EU that are more isolated from the realities of national politics – from the European Commission and the European Parliament. The sense of opportunity felt by Euro-federalists does not extend much beyond the Brussels bubble, and it is certainly not shared by governments in national capitals. There, the feeling is more one of a generalised political crisis that needs to be managed carefully if it is not to engulf the EU as a whole. The EU’s future rests upon its national governments being able to contain growing voter dissatisfaction with mainstream political establishments. This is the greatest challenge for the EU, and one that means European leaders will continue to tread very carefully over the next few weeks”.

“Cairo court voted to annul his decision to transfer sovereignty of two islands”

29/06/2016

In a rare display of rebellion against the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, a Cairo court voted to annul his decision to transfer sovereignty of two islands to Saudi Arabia. Judge Yehia el-Dakroury declared that Egypt’s maritime border would not be redrawn, meaning that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir would remain under Egyptian sovereignty. Sisi previously awarded the two islands to Saudi Arabia in a highly controversial deal during a visit to Egypt by King Salman, which also coincided with the signing of oil deals and development packages from the Gulf kingdom. The deal was designed to coincide with a bridge joining Saudi Arabia to the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. Tuesday’s decision was met with cheers inside the courtroom and celebration on the steps of the courthouse, even as Egypt’s government declared its intention to appeal against the decision within hours of the verdict”.

Brexit and Trump

29/06/2016

David Rothkopf writes about the UK decision to leave the EU and Donald Trump, “Winston Churchill has been widely quoted, albeit likely erroneously, as having once said that Americans would always do the right thing — after having exhausted all the other choices. I wish I could say the same of the British. The U.K. vote to leave the European Union is one of the great follies in the modern history of democracy. It sends a chilling message to the people of the United States. Voters — even voters in a country with a long and great tradition of democracy informed by a world-class education system and information resources — are capable of tremendous stupidity”.

Of course Rothkopf is guilt of enormous reductionism. He ignores the role of the lies played by the press and politicians, the gross generalisations about the British education system as well as the ignorance and stupidity of the voters themselves who are the least educated about the EU on the entire continent.

Rothkopf argues “In Scotland, the news inspired the dumpster fire that is the GOP presumptive nominee for president to flash one of his disturbingly overly whitened grins. It’s just the kind of collective idiocy on which his candidacy depends. So he took a break from promoting one of his golf courses to explain how pleased he was with a development that significantly weakens the U.K., the EU, and thereby America’s most important alliance while also undercutting the global economy. (To be completely fair and balanced, Trump’s foreign policy had its first major success today when he was actually able to find Scotland on a map.) Let’s hope he understands real estate development better than he understands foreign policy —although there is plenty of evidence to the contrary in that realm as well. As markets already began to demonstrate within minutes of learning that the worst was happening in the U.K., leaving the European Union will be a financial calamity not only for the British people, but also for hapless victims in markets worldwide”.

He notes that “The pound, British real estate markets, stock markets, investment flows, and countless other economic indicators will collapse. With them will go jobs, growth rates, and hope. A recession may follow. Certainly a decline in British relevance will accompany them. Not only will it lose economic and political clout, but Scotland and Northern Ireland may do their own Brexits, ditching the formerly united kingdom that has long been their home. (This raises the delightful possibility that even as Trump gloats, his golf course will soon not actually be in Great Britain and in fact, will become part of the EU.) The few positive consequences of the shocking vote will be lower prices for scotch and, um, I don’t know, Cadbury cream eggs? I mean, if there were products we still bought from Britain they would be cheaper. Which is to say if you’re looking for a silver lining here, it’s going to be hard to find one. Perhaps if you are patient, the horrific consequences of this move will bring to the U.K. economy will someday demonstrate conclusively that those supporting a Brexit were nitwits. But by then it will be too late. Bre-entry will be on people’s lips soon enough, but the damage will have been done”.

Continuing his journalistic style he mentions that “That this could happen in the wake of the brutal murder of a promising young British politician by a right-wing maniac Brexit supporter is nauseating. That it came in the wake of massive warnings from markets and experts worldwide that the costs would be enormous is disappointing. That it came in a country full of people who were literate enough to read even a little bit about what it might cost the U.K. to leave the EU is deeply unsettling. Is this the end of the British empire? No, that came with the collapse of colonialism in the wake of World War II. Instead it is the further marginalization of a once-great power. Today, Britain is not part of the world’s largest economic bloc. It has an army that is not much larger than the New York Police Department. It has weak leaders (and has just elevated into a top role a nationalist, racist demagogue, Nigel Farage, further discrediting the political process in the home country of “the mother of parliaments.”) Is it however a sign that the current global distrust of institutions may produce further disruptions? Yes it is”.

Pointedly he does raise the valid question, “Is it an encouraging sign for Donald Trump? Well, he will think it is. After all, as noted above, it was good for Britain’s leading racist nationalist demagogue, why not for America’s? And Lord knows you will see a mass of columns written in the next few days saying that because experts were surprised by the Brexit vote and because it depended on the alienation of voters, incipient nationalism, and the appeal of rabble-rousing populists that somehow this necessarily implies Trump is boosted by it. (After all, the Brexit was also supported by a blowhard with bad hair — in the person of former London Mayor Boris Johnson.) But the reality is that what is happening in the U.K., while sharing some characteristics with the pro-Trump movement, does not change the electoral math in the United States that has even leading GOP publications like the Weekly Standard concluding that Trump’s election is nearly impossible. It does not change the fact that Trump has an opponent far more skillful and resourceful than David Cameron and the “remain” faction had in the U.K. Demography favours that opponent, Hillary Clinton — and as of this week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand a ruling blocking U.S. President Barack Obama’s immigration reforms, it has now been made even clearer to a large segment of America’s Latino population that a GOP win would be an existential issue for their families”.

Rightly he raises the point that “The kind of anger and alienation that also led to the “leave” vote in the U.K. may fuel his candidacy and this catastrophe in Great Britain may raise the hopes of Trump and his supporters. But, you see, there is a big difference between these two issues. Britain is not only declining, it also seems to be a country committed to accelerating that decline. America remains the richest and most powerful nation on Earth despite what Trump’s promise to make this country “great again” might suggest. The stakes are too high to allow the Trump clown show to take its national tour all the way to the White House. And then, of course, there is that likely apocryphal but nonetheless perceptive analysis attributed to a great leader who dates to the last days that Britain was still Great — and that, of course, is Churchill. He’s right. We may explore other possibilities — possibilities like Trump has presented in primary elections. But in the end — in this case, in the general election in November — as we have done often in the past, we will likely rise to the occasion and end up doing the right thing. In this case, that means that while we in America also have our nationalists and demagogues, we are once again on a divergent path from our mother country, the one whose empire began to fall, when America decided to leave it. Perhaps among other things our founding fathers had the foresight to see there would someday be devastating days like this Thursday coming for the leadership in London and for the people of the not so Great Britain, not likely to be a United Kingdom … or even a consequential one … for much longer”.

“Deter any attempts to destabilize the region”

27/06/2016

The U.S. Navy chief said on Monday he hoped the deployment of two aircraft carriers on a training mission in East Asia would deter any attempts to destabilize the region, where military tensions have risen amid China’s growing assertiveness. The U.S. carriers John C. Stennis and Ronald Reagan began joint operations in seas east of the Philippines at the weekend in a show of strength ahead of an international court ruling expected soon on China’s expansive territorial claims in the contested South China Sea. Admiral John Richardson, the chief of U.S. Naval Operations, told a Washington think tank it was not often the United States had two carrier strike groups in the same waters and it was a sign of U.S. commitment to regional security”.

 

End of low oil prices?

27/06/2016

Keith Johnson argues the end of low oil prices is coming, “In the past two years, a flood of crude has pushed down oil prices, battering corporate balance sheets and wreaking havoc with budgets in oil-dependent countries from Russia to Iraq. That’s beginning to change thanks to the double whammy of rising demand and pinched supplies of oil — especially unplanned outages and disruptions in places like Canada, Nigeria, and Libya. Expect prices to start rising in response. On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency said it expects the oil market to be balanced for the rest of the year, meaning the world will pump roughly as much oil as it consumes. That should nudge prices higher. Oil is currently trading around $50 a barrel, double the nadir reached earlier this year. If the oil market is getting closer to a normal balance of supply and demand, it’s no thanks to major producers inside OPEC — especially Saudi Arabia — that have kept pumping with abandon even as prices plummeted”.

Johnson writes “Rather, the market can thank global disruptions of oil supplies, which in May reached their highest level in five years. The production declines were in large part due to wildfires in Canada that knocked some oil sands production in Alberta offline. Other oil-producing regions have also been reeling: A new generation of militants in the Niger delta in southern Nigeria are targeting crude production facilities there, while Libya’s continued political disintegration has kept oil production and exports there at a fraction of prewar levels. Other major oil-producing countries, especially Venezuela, face severe economic and political stresses; plenty of energy experts figure Venezuelan exports could tumble sharply later this year. Altogether, those outages, attacks, and wildfires knocked 3.7 million barrels of oil production a day offline. That helped push oil prices to their yearly high. For the past two years, the world was so awash in oil that the market could afford to shrug off the virtual disappearance of the Libyan oil industry, for example, or watch the return of Nigerian rebels with equanimity. Now, though, outages are set to cause bigger ripples in a tighter market”.

He mentions that “While the wildfires in Canada, which at their worst took off more than 1 million barrels a day of production, are winding down, disruptions in Nigeria and Libya are likely to be long lasting, the IEA said. And those outages have done what OPEC chose not to do: Close the spigot a bit. “The spate of disruptions have helped put a more solid floor under crude prices and accelerated the rebalancing in global supply and demand,” said Robert McNally, founder and president of the Rapidan Group, an energy consultancy. Nigeria is a particular concern because of both the scope of the disruption — vandalism and attacks knocked out close to 1 million barrels per day of production in May — and because the new generation of militants seems unwilling to negotiate with the government as their predecessors did”.

Johnson concludes “Those outages by themselves wouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern, or at least they haven’t been for the past two years. But now that demand for oil is also rebounding — that’s particularly true in India as well as in the world’s two-biggest oil consumers, China and the United States — there’s less slack in the system if something goes wrong. And that’s especially the case given Saudi Arabia’s flat-out oil production policy. The kingdom is still pumping oil at near-record levels, producing 10.2 million barrels a day. That means Saudi Arabia has a lot less ability to “surge” oil production to meet global needs; the more it pumps on a daily basis, the less spare production capacity there is inside OPEC. And since spare capacity is essentially the shock absorber for the global oil market, the world could soon be in for a very bumpy ride”.

Chinese ship shadows US carrier

27/06/2016

A Chinese observation ship shadowed the U.S. aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in the Western Pacific on Wednesday, the carrier’s commander said, as it joined warships from Japan and India for drills close to waters Beijing considers its backyard. The show of U.S. naval power comes as Japan and the United States worry China is extending its influence into the western Pacific with submarines and surface vessels as it pushes territorial claims in the neighbouring South China Sea, expanding and building on islands. China has been angered by what it views as provocative U.S. military patrols close to the islands. The United States says the patrols are to protect freedom of navigation. The Japanese government on Wednesday said a separate Chinese navy observation ship entered its territorial waters south of its southern Kyushu island. China said it was acting within the law and following the principle of freedom of navigation.

Brexit, the result of austerity?

27/06/2016

Daniel Altman argues that a part of the reason for Brexit was Cameron’s austerity policies, “I’m the guy who said the European Union would disintegrate, but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. And I didn’t imagine that we would have the ill-timed economic policies of David Cameron’s Conservative government to thank. A big motivation for the vote to leave was the frustration of Britons with their economic situation. When people are in pain, they look for any way to fight back. For the more xenophobic among them, immigrants became the target. For others, it was the establishment, minus the toffish former mayor of London and a few grandees of proto-racist fringe parties. In both cases, voting “Leave” was the biggest and easiest way to put a sharp stick in their enemy’s eye. As satisfying as that might have felt, the economic situation today may be even worse. The collective fantasy engendered by the Leave campaign, which harnessed the power of mob psychology by appealing to voters’ worst impulses, is over, and the United Kingdom is waking up with the bed sheets a mess, the front door open, and its wallet gone missing. Introspection is creeping in. “My god, what have I done?” barely begins to describe it”.

Altman goes on to aruge that “Half of the United Kingdom’s international trade will become, at least temporarily, subject to increased bureaucracy and controls. With its companies facing more difficulty buying, selling, and operating on the continent, British investments will become less attractive, depressing the value of the pound. Britons will no longer have the right to work in 27 other countries, and foreign goods will become more expensive and perhaps harder to find as well. It may seem odd to call this Cameron’s fault, since he led the “Remain” campaign as prime minister. Moreover, the Tories’ association with xenophobic scaremongering was arguably stronger when Michael Howard led the party in the 2005 general election. Howard promised to limit inflows of asylum-seekers and slap quotas on other forms of immigration, even though most immigrants held work permits and the number of asylum-seekers had actually been falling. Cameron — who allegedly wrote Howard’s speeches back in 2005 — faithfully towed the party line that there were too many foreign workers in the country, riding anti-immigration sentiment to a resounding electoral victory last year. But the influence of his economic policies was much more tangible than that of his rhetoric, unnecessarily exacerbating the suffering of millions of Britons at a time when the country was already under enormous pressure”.

He posits that “By taking an axe to government services, Cameron set in motion the destruction of more than a million jobs in the public sector. As I wrote in an earlier column, these cuts were inflicted on the national budget for ideological rather than fiscal reasons. The Tories were set on them since 2005, when the economic picture was vastly more positive. And while the Labour Party had also proposed a measure of fiscal austerity, its plan relied more on tax increases, which would have had a smaller direct effect on the economy. Slashing so many jobs in the aftermath of the global financial crisis had some very predictable effects. While the unemployment rate peaked in the United States in October 2009, it didn’t max out in the United Kingdom until two years later. Then it took almost two more years to drop by just one percentage point. That’s four extra years of pain”.

Altman writes,”Eventually, many of the public sector jobs were replaced by private sector jobs. But in a labour market with lower demand, wages were destined to fall. In fact, between 2008 and 2014, Britons suffered a double-digit drop in the buying power of their weekly pay. Imagine that — every pound in your pocket eroding until it was worth only 90 pence. The combination of lower real wages and a long period of unemployment undoubtedly took a heavy human toll”.

The result of this shrinking state is, “Hence the anger. Inevitably, some people turned it on the foreigners both in their midst and among the nameless hordes supposedly headed their way. Others targeted the sitting prime minister, who spearheaded the Remain campaign — and the same man who needlessly caused much of their pain, just for the sake of dogma. The Leave campaign brought these two groups together, and now things are bound to get even worse. The weakened pound will make imports more expensive, hitting working-class people who depend on cheap consumer goods. Many firms, especially branches of foreign companies, will freeze hiring and investment as they await an uncertain future. And the bureaucratic mess of disentangling the United Kingdom from the European Union will suck up even more tax money that could have gone into public services. So where is Cameron in all of this? Heading for the exit. Rather than take responsibility, he has exalted his own supposed achievements and foisted the fault back on the public, declaring that the country has chosen a “different path” that “requires fresh leadership.” It’s a change that will come several years too late”.

 

China accuses Indonesia of opening fire

25/06/2016

China has accused the Indonesian navy of opening fire on a Chinese fishing boat in disputed fishing grounds. China’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that one fisherman was injured and several detained. The incident happened on Friday near the Natuna islands, off the coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Monday that China would be asked to respect his country’s sovereignty around the islands. “This is not a clash, but we are protecting the area,” Mr Kalla told Reuters news agency. Indonesian Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti tweeted that the navy “made the right move by maintaining the sovereignty of our seas”. “Stealing fish is a crime,” she said”.

“A fresh referendum on independence”

25/06/2016

A piece from the Guardian notes the reaction to the British exit from the European Union with another Scottish independence referendum, and the breakup of the United Kingdom likely, “Scotland is on the brink of staging a fresh referendum on independence after Nicola Sturgeon requested talks with the EU on separate membership after the UK’s vote to leave. The first minister said she believed a second referendum on independence was highly likely after Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU, but was unable to prevent the leave campaign winning by 52% to 48% across the UK as a whole. Sturgeon said that was a “democratic outrage” and constituted the clear, material change in Scotland’s circumstances referred to in the Scottish National party’s carefully worded manifesto commitment in May to hold a second independence vote if needed”.

The report mentions that “Sturgeon announced that she was instructing Scottish government officials to draft fresh referendum legislation for Holyrood, only two years after her party lost the first independence vote in 2014, to ensure it could be held quickly if enough Scottish voters backed it. UK government sources said David Cameron, who quit as prime minister after the referendum defeat, was anxious that his successor make sure the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland government were closely involved in the UK’s Brexit negotiations to avoid increasing Scottish grievances and fuelling the case for independence. Sturgeon’s cabinet will meet in emergency session on Saturday morning at her official residence Bute House, and is expected to agree plans to put forward referendum legislation in September’s programme for government. Holyrood would need Westminster’s legislative approval to stage an official referendum, as it did in 2014. Cameron had previously said no UK government would give that again so soon, but Sturgeon said on Friday it would be inconceivable for Westminster to ignore a democratic vote by MSPs requesting that authority”.

Crucially the report adds “In a significant boost to her strategy, MSPs in the Scottish Green party indicated she could win the six Scottish Green votes in the Scottish parliament that she needs to ensure a Holyrood majority, as momentum behind a second vote sharply rose after the UK result became clear. The most recent polls suggest independence does not yet have clear majority support, but SNP sources and activists within Women for Independence (WFI) said there had been a surge in membership requests on Friday, with people offering to campaign and donating money. The SNP said it had been inundated with emails from previous no voters now pledging their support for independence after the conclusion of the EU referendum. The Radical Independence Campaign, which was heavily involved in registering first-time and alienated working-class voters during the last referendum campaign, likewise reported an increase in donations. “The surge is back on,” said one WFI activist. A number of prominent former no voters have declared themselves ready to consider supporting independence should another referendum be called. The novelist Jenny Colgan, who wrote for the Guardian in September 2014 of the joy of Britishness, tweeted that she was weeping with relief as Sturgeon promised to fight for the interests of Scots who had voted to remain”.

Crucially it mentions “Echoing earlier remarks by her predecessor Alex Salmond, Sturgeon said it made clear logical sense for those powers to be in place quickly and before the UK’s exit from the EU was completed by an expected deadline of 2018. There will be added urgency to that timetable after senior European commission and parliament figures said they wanted the Brexit talks speeded up, and for the UK to leave as soon as possible to lessen the uncertainty now facing the EU. Sturgeon said pressing ahead with an independence bill would ensure a seamless transition for Scotland from having EU membership as part of the UK to having it as an independent nation. She said her primary concern was to ensure that Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU, by 62% to 38%, was brought into effect. She said she would “take all possible steps and explore all options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted. In other words, to secure our continuing place in the EU and in the single market in particular.” Sturgeon is writing this weekend to all EU member states to set out her case for Scotland remaining in the UK and to press for urgent talks in Brussels with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Junker, during which she will emphasise Scotland’s strong pro-European vote”.

It ends “Sturgeon was careful to avoid giving any guarantee, however, that a second referendum would be held, stressing that the challenges of leaving the UK were complex and still unclear because the UK-EU negotiations had not yet begun. The SNP would face significant economic, legal and political questions about leaving the UK. With the collapse in oil prices but high levels of public spending, it has a structural deficit of £15bn, and a weak economy hovering close to recession. It would need to strike a deal with London about paying off its share of the UK’s £1.6tn debt. It would also face losing Scotland’s share of the UK rebate, having to find the cash needed for Scotland’s contribution to the EU, and require the EU’s agreement on its currency. EU members may expect Scotland to join the euro”.

 

Brexiteers reverse campaign pledges

25/06/2016

The leave campaign has appeared to row back on key pledges made during the EU referendum campaign less than 24 hours after the UK voted for Brexit, after it emerged immigration levels could remain unchanged. Leading Brexit figures had disagreed throughout the campaign on issues including immigration, free movement and the cost of the UK’s EU membership. But within hours of the result on Friday morning, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, had distanced himself from the claim that £350m of EU contributions could instead be spent on the NHS, while the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan said free movement could result in similar levels of immigration after Brexit. Hannan said: “Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.” His comments came after the leave camp made voters’ concerns about the impact of immigration on jobs, infrastructure and the NHS a key part of their campaigning. There had been no suggestions of changing the status of any EU nationals in Britain, Hannan told the BBC, adding that no one had said this might be the case in the event of a leave victory”.

The EU: Cameron’s downfall

25/06/2016

Having seen the numerous missteps made by Cameron that led to the exit of the UK from the EU an important article discuss the downfall of Cameron, “They used to call it Greek tragedy when the fates wrought their revenge on human folly and weakness. But maybe a better term in the case of the folly and weakness of the modern Tory party is European tragedy. For, as a broken David Cameron announced his resignation on Friday morning, one question must have been battering his exhausted brain more than any other. How was it that a modern-minded liberal Conservative leader who long ago told his party to “stop banging on about Europe” if it wanted to get back into power after three successive defeats – and who then delivered two terms in government – has himself been brought down by that same party over that same European question? Cameron himself played the role of tragic hero as he notified the nation of his intention to step down before the autumn. “There can be no doubt about the result,” he said. “The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected.” But he added that the tortuous negotiations ahead with the EU would require “strong determined and committed leadership” that he felt he could no longer provide. “The country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.” And there seemed scant consolation in his laconic summary of what he would rather be remembered for”.

The report makes the point that “All of that is likely to be forgotten in the European tumult. The warnings from history could not have been clearer. Party divisions over Europe had been the undoing of both Cameron’s predecessors as Conservative prime minister. Margaret Thatcher’s fall in 1990 was triggered by her increasingly anti-European rhetoric and stance. John Major’s long slide to defeat in 1997 was powered by his inability to prevent poisonous divisions over the Maastricht treaty on European integration. Right from the start of his own rise to the top, Cameron knew the dangers. Yet the faultlines in Cameron’s own approach to Europe were always there too. The young Cameron was never one of those Tories who ate, drank and slept Europe; but nor was he an heir to the pro-European generation of liberal Tories such as Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke. Instead, fatally as it has now transpired, he was always a “Eurosceptic – but not as Eurosceptic as you are”, as he put it to his first political boss, the former chancellor Norman Lamont”.

The piece continues “Cameron’s lifelong soft Euroscepticism meant he had no answer to the hardliners on Europe once the issue had become turbocharged by austerity and immigration. Cameron’s differences with the more committed Eurosceptic wing of his party have always been over emphasis and tone, not substance. He has had no alternative vision of Europe to offer, in the face of the party’s Europhobes. Although he was always in favour of remaining, he failed to make the case for UK membership until almost the last minute. If Cameron’s default position had always been “Eurosceptic – but determined to make Europe work”, things might have been different. But it was the opposite. “I’m much more Eurosceptic than you imagine,” he once told Labour’s Denis MacShane. When he was first running for parliament in the Oxfordshire constituency of Witney, which he won in 2001, Cameron characteristically tried to have the best of both Tory worlds on the issue. He should be thought of as a Eurosceptic, he told the centre-right libertarian Sean Gabb, “on the basis that I oppose the single currency and any further transfer of sovereignty from the UK to the EU”. But, Cameron added, he was not in favour of withdrawal and accepted the supremacy of EU law in some cases”.

Interestingly the article point out that ““Let me get this straight,” he repeated in a Guardian article in May 2003 about the EU constitution plan, which Tony Blair supported but on which the Labour party was reluctant to allow a referendum, “I am no Euro obsessive”. Readers could not accuse him of “excessive Daily Mail reading, too much time spent alone with Bill Cash or anything else”. But, he added, “the Euro-maniac Blair” would have to concede a referendum on “the wretched thing”. “He’s Eurosceptic, no shadow of doubt,” the Tory pro-European grandee Sir Nicholas Soames told Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott for their anti-Cameron biography Call Me Dave. “He’s immensely irritated by it and frustrated by it in every way. But he’s not a Get Out man.” But nor was he ever explicitly enough a Stay In man. In 2005, as he began campaigning to succeed Michael Howard as the liberal and modernising alternative to what Theresa May famously called “nasty party” Toryism, Cameron promised that, under him, the Tories would pull out of the European People’s party alliance in the European parliament. He did it because he wanted to siphon votes from his rivals David Davis and Liam Fox by burnishing his own Eurosceptic credentials”.

It adds that “It is doubtful if that promise was decisive in Cameron’s victory as party leader. But it is certain that the decision drove a wedge between the Tories and their Christian Democratic, centre-right fellow parties in Europe. In particular it poisoned relations and trust with Angela Merkel, who was to be the key figure in European politics in the years ahead. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, Cameron put tactics before strategy in his handling of Europe. So, when Cameron made his famous remarks to the Tory conference in 2006, his first speech as leader to the party, the warnings were more tactical than strategic. “Instead of talking about the things that most people care about, we talked about what we cared about most,” he reminded his party as he assessed the Tories’ third successive electoral defeat at Blair’s hands. “While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life, we were banging on about Europe.” Many saw these words, especially in retrospect, as an attempt to shift the way the party approached Europe. But the words were an attack on the consequences of the party’s approach, not on the approach itself. Cameron was being consistent with his own soft Euroscepticism, not innovative in the way that might have equipped him to fight his corner more effectively when the referendum came in 2016. Back in 2007, when Europe was gearing up for what became the Lisbon treaty on EU reforms, Cameron was again consistent in his own terms. First he pledged “a cast-iron guarantee” from the Tories to hold a referendum on the treaty. Two years later, with the general election now approaching, Cameron declared the guarantee was no longer relevant, since the treaty was now law and could not be reopened. He had managed both to fire up the hardliners and to outrage them”.

The piece continues “Yet Cameron did not make a virtue of his change of policy on the treaty by embracing it – even though it embodied many of the less centralising approaches to Europe that he had advocated. Throughout this time, his adviser Steve Hilton was pressing for Cameron to prepare the ground for exit from Europe. In practice, however, Cameron neither prepared for exit nor for engagement. Instead the juggling act continued. The 2010 election, which was in most respects a triumph for Cameron, ensured ever more frantic juggling. Going into coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrats meant the referendum on UK membership of the EU that many Conservatives continued to advocate was put in the deep freeze. The coalition’s official policy was that there would be no in/out referendum and that only Cameron and Nick Clegg could settle European policy between them. This was a purgatorial outcome for the hard Eurosceptics. Not only had Cameron made a coalition with the Liberal Dems, whom they despised; he had also sold the pass on Europe, again. The hard right’s revenge came in October 2011 when the MP David Nuttall’s motion for a referendum triggered the largest Tory postwar revolt on Europe, with 81 Eurosceptics voting against the government. Two months later, Cameron tried to assuage his rebels by vetoing a eurozone rescue plan at an EU summit in Brussels. The clashes left Cameron isolated on both fronts. The Tory rebels, in Lord Finkelstein’s words, never took yes for an answer. Meanwhile Merkel and many of the other heads of government were outraged at Cameron’s defiance”.

Pointedly the article mentions Cameron’s lack of backbone in standing up to the unhinged Tories, “Although Cameron still tended at this time to treat the EU issue as a party management problem, the eurozone crisis and migration pressures were beginning to transform the issue into something much larger, much angrier and less manageable. The rise of Ukip – with whose policies a significant minority of Tory MPs agreed – pushed ever more Tories into the referendum camp. In June 2012, Cameron finally cracked and said a referendum might be necessary. From that moment the issue became when, not whether, Cameron would pledge a referendum as Tory policy at the next election. When a worried Clegg challenged him in 2012, Cameron’s response was that of a tactical politician. “I have to do this. It is a party management issue. I am under a lot of pressure on this. I need to recalibrate,” he told Clegg, according to David Laws’s account of the coalition. “He’s so busy wondering how to get through the next few weeks that he could endanger Britain’s international position for the next few decades. It’s all very very risky,” Clegg told Laws in 2012, wholly accurately as things were to turn out. When Clegg put this to Cameron later in 2012, Cameron’s reply was eloquent and to the point: “You may be right. But what else can I do? My backbenchers are unbelievably Eurosceptic and Ukip are breathing down my neck.” After a long buildup, Cameron finally made his referendum pledge in 2013 in a speech at the Bloomberg offices in central London”.

The piece mentions that “The speech put the promise in the context of an unusually eloquent argument by Cameron for Britain to remain in the EU. Perhaps if he had gone into the 2015 election emphasising that Britain must stay, he would have been in a stronger position to stem the slide of ministers and backbenchers into the leave campaign in 2016. But Cameron didn’t do that. Once again, he let the issue go off the boil. Meanwhile, though, the pressure from immigration and the fear of Ukip transformed the political climate. Cameron only began to make the case to remain in the weeks running up to this week’s vote. By then the damage had been done”.

It concludes “Although Cameron had been expecting another hung parliament in 2015, he emerged from the general election unencumbered by coalition. As a result, the referendum pledge made at Bloomberg and set in stone in the Tory manifesto had to be banked. Throughout late 2015 and early 2016, Cameron bargained for concessions from EU partners whose minds were far more focused on the continued economic crisis, immigration from Syria and elsewhere, and terrorism. The deal Cameron unveiled at the end of the Brussels summit on 19 February might have been a strong enough package to sell to an electorate that wanted to back a popular prime minister – as Harold Wilson’s equivalent deal was when Britain voted to stay in Europe in 1975. But times had changed. Cameron may have promised to fight “heart and soul” for Britain to stay in, but immigration, an impatient electorate and the absolute determination of the anti-European press and hard-sceptic MPs ensured that 2016 would be completely different. In the end, Cameron has been faced with forces and dynamics in British life that he has proved powerless to control. Indignation about immigration, disrespect for politicians, a reluctance to be frightened by warnings, press distortions and Labour’s weakness in delivering its vote all did their bit to fuel a general mood of popular payback against the political and economic establishment, as well as the EU. The remain campaign threw everything but the kitchen sink at their leave opponents, but the assaults only seemed to strengthen the mood of defiance. Even the killing of Jo Cox did nothing more than cause a temporary lull in the leave mood. Three years ago, in a comment on Cameron’s referendum pledge in the Bloomberg speech, Tony Blair likened it to a comedy western of the 1970s. “It reminds me a bit of the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles where the sheriff says at one point as he holds a gun to his own head: ‘If you don’t do what I want I’ll blow my brains out,’” Blair warned. This week, Cameron has done just that”.

 

Kerry and Zarif meet over sanctions

25/06/2016

The Obama administration has met its sanctions relief obligations to Iran under last year’s landmark nuclear deal but is willing to further clarify what is and isn’t allowed in response to renewed Iranian complaints that it’s not getting all the benefits it deserves, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday. Speaking after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Oslo, Kerry said the administration had lived up to both the letter and the spirit of the agreement and had gone the extra mile to explain to foreign firms what they are now permitted to do. “We have lifted the sanctions we said we would lift and we have completely kept faith with both the black-and-white print as well as the spirit of this effort,” Kerry said. “In fact, I have personally gone beyond the absolute requirements of the lifting of sanctions to personally engage with banks and businesses and others who have a natural reluctance after several years of sanctions to move without fully understanding what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do.” The meeting, at which Kerry also raised the importance of Iran influencing Syria’s government to ensure humanitarian aid deliveries and respect a fragile truce, came just a day after Iran’s supreme leader and Zarif renewed accusations that the U.S. is not living up to its commitment to ease sanctions under the agreement that gave Iran the relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program”.

How Brexit happened

25/06/2016

After the Brexit vote a report from the Guardian discusses how the UK voted to leave the EU, “Britain’s self-ejection from Europe is the culmination not just of four months of heady campaigning but four decades of latent Euroscepticism, which, through good times and bad, never really went away. Campaigners have agitated for EU withdrawal ever since the UK joined the common market in 1973. Labour’s official policy for the next decade was to quit, and a sizeable proportion of Conservatives have never been comfortable Europeans. The issue hounded John Major’s premiership, lay dormant through the Tony Blair years before rearing its head once again as the economy turned sour at the end of the last decade. David Cameron was keen to move his party away from “banging on about Europe” after he became leader. But once in Downing Street, he found it impossible to resist pressure from his backbenchers to call a poll as the idea of leaving the EU gained wider traction in the country with the rise of Ukip, populist rage against remote elites and discontent about immigration. Brexit, a term coined in 2012 before becoming mainstream political currency last year, moved from being a niche obsession to a victorious, mainstream political movement”.

The piece goes on to mention “As prime minister, Cameron tried to throw his restless Eurosceptic backbenchers enough red meat to keep them happy – like withdrawing from the centre-right federalist EPP group in the European parliament. However, this would never be enough for the right of the Conservative party – from Iain Duncan Smith to John Redwood – who would stop at almost nothing to free the UK from what they see as rule by Brussels, even at the expense of tearing apart their party. Cameron’s troubles began as it became clear that the 2010 intake of Tories was more Eurosceptic than the last, as they set about applying pressure for a referendum from the outset. As early as October 2011, David Cameron realised he was facing years of trench warfare with Eurosceptic backbenchers after 81 Conservative MPs supported a referendum on Britain’s membership in the largest postwar rebellion on Europe. John Baron, the Tory MP for Basildon and Billericay in Essex, was one of the ringleaders with a letter from 100 colleagues demanding a referendum on the EU in July 2012“.

The piece adds “Cameron thought he had scored a Margaret Thatcher-style victory when he vetoed a rise in the EU budget later that year, but the episode appeared to inflame anti-Brussels feeling. In December of that year, Boris Johnson publicly called on Cameron to attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU before calling a referendum. The prime minister finally committed to an EU vote in January 2013 with what has become known as his Bloomberg speech, promising to renegotiate and then call a referendum by the end of 2017. Those familiar with his thinking at the time say Cameron had what was, in hindsight, an overoptimistic belief that he could lance the boil of Tory Euroscepticism by making such a promise. It was also unlikely he would ever have to call such a poll because the Conservatives did not believe they would win an overall majority and could rely on the Lib Dems to veto the plan, like they did before 2015. However, Cameron’s victory last year, partially on the back of the promise of a referendum, meant there was no turning back”.

It goes on to point out the roles of immigration the aloof elite and UKIP in the result, “Polling suggests discontent with the scale of migration to the UK has been the biggest factor pushing Britons to vote out, with the contest turning into a referendum on whether people are happy to accept free movement in return for free trade. Public unease has been fuelled by a failure to prevent immigration from piling pressure on jobs markets and public services, and a refusal by politicians to acknowledge the sheer numbers of Europeans making new homes in the UK after the EU’s expansion east in 2004 and 2007. Cameron promised before the 2010 election to bring migration down to the tens, not hundreds, of thousands. However, his failure to live up to his promise, repeated in 2015, has undermined trust in his leadership and contributed to a sense that UK politicians are powerless to lower migration from the EU. The leave camp tried to make the arguments for Brexit more about the economy and sovereignty than immigration, but quickly found that “taking back control” over immigration was the most resonant message. They also linked immigration to shortages of primary school places, difficulty in getting a GP appointment, and depressed wages. The other force that welled up during the campaign was a wholehearted distaste for the thing that Brussels had become in the 40 years since Britain last voted in a referendum on its place in Europe. The UK has never voted on being part of the EU, which was formed at the time of the Maastricht treaty in 1993 and expanded its remit from an economic community to include foreign affairs, justice and policing. The leave camp argued that Brussels has been on a mission to expand its powers and sought further political integration, which is far removed from what the UK originally voted for. Voters appear to have decided that this was their one chance to leave a union they never particularly embraced and did not consent to in the first place. It should not be forgotten that the referendum came at a time when populist revolts against elites were gaining momentum, from Eurosceptic parties in France, Germany, Austria and Scandinavia to Trump’s brand of Republicanism in the US”.

The piece goes on to rightly mention that “The leave campaign has throughout painted the EU and Brussels officials as a hotbed of unaccountable political elites who were not democratically voted by the British people. Despite MEPs being elected and leaders on the EU council each having their own mandates, it has become a tenet of Euroscepticism that the union is too remote from the people it is governing. Brexit campaigners frequently cited the “five presidents” of Europe, who they claimed no one had ever heard of, and pointed out that the unelected European commission proposes laws that end up passed by the parliament. It hardly helped that the remain campaign was steered by almost the entire political establishment, with David Cameron, George Osborne and every living UK former prime minister from Tony Blair to John Major lining up to warn that leaving would be a terrible thing”.

The report goes on to note “Cameron might never have called the referendum had it not been for the rise and rise of Nigel Farage and Ukip. By January 2013, when the prime minister called the EU vote, Ukip had started to gain traction in local elections and was polling in double digits for the first time. There was a feeling that several Tory backbenchers could defect if Cameron failed to heed their calls for a plebiscite. Even after promising the referendum, Farage managed to gain millions of votes in the 2015 election, many of them in Labour areas as well as Conservatives. His frequent media appearances also helped cement a link between immigration and the EU in the public mind, preparing the ground for leave’s successful referendum campaign long before it officially kicked off. David Cameron overplayed his hand on EU reform when he raised hopes that he might be able to curb free movement in an FT article in November 2013. He aimed high but quickly had to water down what he was seeking from other EU leaders who were not prepared to open up the fundamental principle”.

It concludes “Realising his error, the prime minister then tried to make the issue about limiting benefits for migrants, rather than restricting numbers. His final negotiation, announced in February, came back with a ban on migrants getting full benefits for four years after arriving with no detail about how the tapering system would work. Cameron tried to make the best of his renegotiation, hailing it as a major success that he got the 27 other member states to agree. However, the process ended up cementing the impression that Brussels was inflexible and unwilling to make big concessions to keep Britain in the union. When the two political big beasts and friends of Cameron came out for Brexit, it gave a huge boost to the leave campaign. Brexit had previously been caricatured as an obsession of very rightwing Conservatives and Ukippers but Johnson and Gove legitimised the push for leaving the EU. Both highly articulate and savvy media performers, they made it more of a fight between equals against Cameron and Osborne. Johnson’s personal popularity seemingly across many different sections of society may also have made a difference as he crisscrossed the country in a battlebus selling a better Britain outside of the EU. Matters were not helped by equivocating on the part of Labour, whose leadership never looked truly comfortable campaigning with Cameron, and some of whose traditional support has drifted off towards Ukip in the belief that it will address concerns about immigration more robustly than metropolitan Labour MPs”.

State Department revolts against Obama

25/06/2016

More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war. The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times by a State Department official, says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.” Such a step would represent a radical shift in the administration’s approach to the civil war in Syria, and there is little evidence that President Obama has plans to change course. Mr. Obama has emphasized the military campaign against the Islamic State over efforts to dislodge Mr. Assad. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, have all but collapsed. But the memo, filed in the State Department’s “dissent channel,” underscores the deep rifts and lingering frustration within the administration over how to deal with a war that has killed more than 400,000 people”.

Brexit

25/06/2016

The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. The Guardian reports on what happens to the Conservative Party now, “David Cameron did not realise it at the time, but his decision to suspend collective responsibility and allow his ministers to campaign against him in the EU referendum, was the moment that the Conservative gloves came off. It wasn’t meant to be like that. At the start, four senior figures in the party, including the 1922 Committee chair and leave campaigner, Graham Brady, and head of Conservative In, Nick Herbert, set up a steering group in a bid to maintain party unity by laying down some ground rules. Back then, the mantra of Conservative advisers was for MPs to do their best to avoid “blue on blue” conflict. When Boris Johnson came out as a leave supporter, he promised that he would not be debating with the prime minister directly. The steering group never got off the ground, and a few weeks later the former London mayor was challenging Cameron to a face-to-face battle, allowing newspapers to depict the prime minister as a chicken”.

The reports adds, “For the Tories, the battle over Britain’s place in Europe had become toxic with both sides resorting to heavier-handed tactics day by day. The effort with which Cameron and his chancellor, George Osborne, tried to win makes the pain of the Brexit outcome all the more intense and humiliating. “This did get a lot more heated than we all expected,” said one remain MP, who argued that the ferocity of the leave campaign and its focus on immigration had taken him aback. A cabinet secretary said the personal attacks by Johnson and Michael Gove on their friend, the prime minister, including over his integrity, would not be forgotten. But the power is not in the hands of those who wanted Britain to stay. A leave campaigning MP told it from his perspective, saying: “The damage has been done by the way [the remain campaign] have conducted themselves. An awful lot of people are very offended. They have called us economically illiterate, dishonest, and little Englanders. George’s exercise last week was probably the worst.” The MP was referring to the day that Osborne unveiled a budget scorecard that suggested income and inheritance tax could be hiked in the wake of a Brexit vote. The chancellor called it “illustrative” but dozens of his own MPs labelled it a “punishment budget” and vowed to vote against it. And that wasn’t the only tactic by the Downing Street duo that leave campaigners felt went too far – spending £9m on leaflets delivered to every home, and Treasury report after report that was seen as scaremongering have left a bitter taste. Some MPs believe that this is the outcome that a clear majority of their party wanted in their hearts, whatever they said in public. “Brexit is the most uniting outcome,” said one”.

It mentions “Before the Brexit result, Cameron was preparing to have a domestic policy drive next week to reunite his party. There were three key areas to be used as a way to unite the Tories and drive a wedge between them and the real enemy, in many of their eyes, the Labour party: Trident, a policy to scrap the Human Rights Act, and Cameron’s life chances strategy. On Trident and the British bill of rights, Tories smelled Labour blood, knowing that both policies would force the opposition into taking positions that could sit uncomfortably with an important part of the working class electorate with which it needs to reconnect. Life chances was to be a cross-governmental effort, led by the Department for Work and Pensions, to improve the opportunities for the most disadvantaged in society. It was a policy through which Cameron wanted to dictate his legacy; reminding people that he began as a modernising leader who wanted desperately to detoxify his party and end an obsession with Europe. But it is hardly a unifying agenda for a party that has lost its leader. It seems unlikely now that Cameron will ever break free from his most significant act – a referendum that tore Britain from its European neighbours in a way that shocked the world. Like Iraq for Tony Blair, it is his record on the EU that is now likely to overshadow his premiership”.

In response to the vote in which a UK turnout of 72% was recorded, the pound collapsed and markets tumbled, just as the Remain camp predicted, “Shares plunged and the pound plummeted to a 31-year low as panicked traders reacted to the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the prospect of recession amid months of market turmoil. The FTSE 100 fell more than 8% within the first few minutes of trading on Friday, with shares in banks particularly hard hit and nursing their biggest falls since the collapse of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008. At the opening bell on Wall Street, US shares were down sharply, with the Dow Jones industrial average shedding more than 500 points, down nearly 3%. There were even sharper falls on bourses in mainland Europe, where economists said Brexit would hurt an already fragile recovery. After the heavy early losses, UK markets were calmed somewhat by David Cameron’s announcement that he would resign, and a pledge from the Bank of England that it would take any measures needed to stabilise markets and the economy. More assurances to step in where necessary followed from the US central bank, the International Monetary Fund and from finance ministers in the G7 group of big economies. The Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, said:“Inevitably, there will be a period of uncertainty and adjustment following this result.” “But we are well prepared for this,” he added in a televised statement. The Bank will not hesitate to take additional measures as required as markets adjust and the UK economy moves forward.” The G7 finance ministers said they would consult closely on market moves and financial stability and cooperate as appropriate”.

 

 

“Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State in Fallujah”

25/06/2016

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State in Fallujah after a day of rapid advances as security forces pushed deep into the city center, dislodging the militants who have controlled it for nearly 2½ years. In a televised address, Abadi said that some “pockets” of resistance remained in the city, about 45 miles west of Baghdad, but that it was largely under the control of security forces. Earlier in the day, Iraqi forces raised the country’s flag over the local council building, while commanders reported that they had retaken a string of neighborhoods as the militants abandoned their positions. The Islamic State has been “broken” in the city, said Col. Abdelrahman al-Khazali, a police spokesman”.

Saudi’s Vision 2030

23/06/2016

A piece argues that the recent reforms will cause problems for the Saudi kingdom, “Saudi royal family has gambled its prestige on a bold economic reform plan, meant to revive an economy battered by sharply lower oil revenues. But the prescriptions of “Saudi Vision 2030” are fraught with risk, not least because it threatens to dissolve the social contract that binds the House of Saud to the Saudi people. Vision 2030, formally ratified this week by the Saudi cabinet as the National Transformation Program, provides a blueprint for a kingdom that offers less charity and more austerity. It calls for Saudi Arabia to reduce its dependence on the energy sector, privatise state-owned enterprises, and cut state largesse. The long-term objective is to prepare Saudi society for life in the twilight of the oil age. “We have an addiction to oil,” admitted Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who leads the pro-reform camp within the ruling House of Saud. “This is dangerous. It has delayed the development of other sectors.” He hopes that, within two decades, the world’s greatest petro-state will derive most of its revenues from global investments and a diverse range of industries rather than energy”.

The report notes “The initiative amounts to future shock for a conservative society. Specific targets include tripling non-oil revenue by 2020, to roughly $141 billion, and the creation of 450,000 jobs outside the government sector. In a country where two-thirds of workers are on the state payroll, public sector wages will be reduced to 40 percent of the budget, down from the current level of 45 percent, over the same time frame. To finance these changes, public debt is expected to substantially rise by $200 billion over the next five years. No explanation was offered as to how any of these targets could be realistically achieved within their timeframe. Saudi Arabia is adopting Vision 2030 for the very simple reason that its current economic model is unsustainable. In the two years since oil prices tanked, wreaking havoc on the economies of major energy exporters, the kingdom finds itself trapped by the rising waters of a liquidity crisis. Last year, the country’s gross domestic product shrank 13 percent and net foreign assets plunged $115 billion as the government burned through cash to plug a $100 billion budget deficit. Though oil prices have rebounded to around $50 per barrel, the national budget calls for a break-even price of $66.70 this year — sharply down from last year’s $94.80 and a sign of the urgency to bring spending under control”.

It mentions that “In an effort to stem the hemorrhaging, the Saudi government in March signaled its willingness to take out billions in bank loans. Even so, the IMF issued a dire prediction of national bankruptcy in four years if current patterns of spending continued. Saudi Arabia’s fiscal woes date back to its ill-fated decision in the fall of 2014 to pump surplus crude into a buyer’s market. Though oil prices were set to tumble anyway — the market was oversupplied and consumer demand had slowed — Saudi intervention accelerated and intensified the collapse, driving prices down to levels not seen since the early years of the century. The Saudis insisted their action was motivated by the need to defend market share, but never hid their glee that lower prices would hurt the economies of geopolitical foes Iran and Russia (not to mention production rivals, especially the United States). But prices tumbled much lower and for far longer than they predicted, blowing a hole in state finances”.

Interestingly it notes “The situation was made worse by the fact that Saudi coffers had already been drained by a raft of new social and defence expenditures. Three years earlier, fearing the spread of the Arab Spring revolts against authoritarian rule, the Saudi royal family had announced lavish new subsidies and welfare programs estimated to cost $130 billion. The U.S. decision to not rescue traditional allies, like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, prompted Riyadh to launch a conservative counter-revolution — pouring tens of billions of dollars in aid and arms to allies threatened by social, political, and religious unrest. The kingdom committed billions more to defence expenditures meant to counter its archrival, Iran. This year, Saudi Arabia replaced Russia as the world’s third-biggest military spender, with $56 billion allocated to equip its armed forces”.

It continues “Saudi Arabia’s spending binge coincided with the emergence of the ailing King Salman’s young son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed, as the pre-eminent voice dictating policy in the kingdom. In less than a year, and to the obvious distaste of older members of the royal house, the ambitious, voluble 30-year-old prince has pushed for changes on issues ranging from the economy and defence to women’s rights and political reform. Germany’s intelligence service warned in a leaked report of the “latent risk that in seeking to establish himself in the line of succession in his father’s lifetime, [Mohammed] may overreach.” Some say he already has. In addition to his role as second in line to the throne and chief of the royal court, Prince Mohammed’s decisive interventions in military and economic affairs have earned him the moniker “the prince of war and oil.” With no apparent experience in military affairs, foreign policy, or strategy, his decision to take over the defence portfolio placed his family’s prestige and reputation squarely on the outcome of two open-ended wars in Syria and Yemen. It was a remarkable gamble: He did this knowing that the kingdom ranked well down the global pecking order in terms of military effectiveness”.

The piece concludes “But it’s in the economic realm where Prince Mohammed’s influence has been felt most acutely. With a bachelor’s degree in law under his belt, the prince decided that he should not only lead the effort to restore short-term fiscal solvency but embark on the monumental task of transforming Saudi Arabia from a rentier state to an industrialized economy freed from the constraints of the commodity markets. And his goal couldn’t be more ambitious: Saudi Arabia, he predicted, will be weaned off oil revenues within a generation. The Saudi template for reform titled “Vision 2030” mirrors an earlier reportthat appeared in December on the website of McKinsey & Co., a global consulting company that provides neoliberal solutions for real-world problems. Salman has admitted that the Saudi government works closely with the company. Saudi critics — and there are many — sneer that the Planning Ministry should be renamed the “McKinsey Ministry.” In recent years, McKinsey has cultivated a generation of young Arab princelings enamored with Western-style economic reforms, and with thoroughly mixed results. As one of the company’s more trenchant critics recently pointed out, “Many of the countries who drank the McKinsey Kool-Aid became epicenters of the Arab Spring. Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Yemen — each was convulsed by demonstrations, often animated by economic grievances.” McKinsey’s approach to reforming foreign governments is dangerously flawed. The company’s school-lunch approach to economic reform — one size fits all, regardless of appetite and culture — makes no effort to consider each country’s unique history or social background. It also fails to consider whether the recipient’s political structures are robust enough to withstand the unrest that often emanates from job losses, privatization of state-owned enterprises and social services, subsidy cuts, and increases in the cost of living”.

It ends “In an interview with the Economist, Salman declared himself an admirer of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But unlike Britain in the 1980s, Saudi Arabia today has no free press, no elected parliament, and no right to assembly. It lacks flexible political structures that might absorb and channel explosive social energies away from the center. Was the prince aware that even with these systems in place, his idol was eventually deposed? He did not say. Nor did the prince offer a convincing answer when asked if the Saudi people would continue to accept taxation without representation. “This is not a decision from the government against the people,” he insisted. “This is the decision of Saudi Arabia. With the government that represents the people.” Boiled down to its essence, that amounts to the classic autocrat’s response:L’état, c’est moi.”

UAE withdraws troops from Yemen

23/06/2016

The United Arab Emirates said Wednesday that the “war is over” for its troops in Yemen, though it may continue to keep them there for counterterrorism operations. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan carried the announcement on his official Twitter account late Wednesday. He was quoting the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, who had given a speech saying the “war is over for our troops.” An Arabic version of his comments was worded slightly differently than the English one, saying the war is “practically” over. The statement left open the likelihood that Emirati troops would remain in Yemen, where they operate in the southern province of Hadramawt and the port city of Aden. The Saudi coalition’s spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment”.

Homophobia and Islam

23/06/2016

Islam’s homophobia problem has been noted, “Though it was nearly 3,000 miles away, it was with great sadness and growing concern that I read the news about last weekend’s shootingby an American Muslim citizen at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, that left 49 people dead and 53 others injured, with some still clinging to life. That devastating attack has imparted an ironic importance to a conversation I’ve had more than once with my good friend Rob Wells, a human rights activist. We’ve talked about what would happen if such an attack befell a gay bar here in Edmonton, Canada. It’s the kind of winding speculation that inevitably leads us to wonder what the certain backlash against the Muslim community in Alberta might look like as well. Though we’ve been friends for 11 years, in many ways Rob and I are very different — he’s a retired white man in his 60s and a committed Christian, while I am a Muslim gay man of color and an assistant professor of economics at MacEwan University”.

The writer mentions “But we both care deeply about the impact of hatred stoked in the name of our respective religions on vulnerable minorities. Rob goes out alone with his placards to protest issues that affect vulnerable LGBT youths, and I’ve spent the past decade studying the nexus of Islamic law and same-sex unions. We’re both volunteer members of the Edmonton Police Service’s sexual and gender minorities liaison committee in Alberta”.

The author goes on to note “Unfortunately, whether the tranquility of Edmonton is kept intact or not, the Orlando attack is not going to be the last of such dastardly acts. Concerted and sustained actions that directly counter hatred are urgently required — whether they’re between Vancouver and New York, or just broadly across North America. And those efforts cannot wait. Attacks like the one in Orlando — and Fort Hood and San Bernardino — have the potential to foment anti-Muslim bigotry, which is increasingly being witnessed in the circles that support the rhetoric of Donald Trump. And it’s incumbent upon the leaders of Muslim communities to not only respond but to be proactive. To be sure, the fact that extremist Muslim murderers are ignoring the Quranic proscription against wanton killings and anarchy on Earth, and those people from Muslim backgrounds who are violating the sanctity of the holy month of Ramadan by engaging in senseless violence, is alarming for Muslim community leaders. But some remain on the defensive each time such carnage is perpetrated in the name of their faith, opting to dissociate the actions of terrorists from Islam and relinquish any responsibility to unite diverse communities”.

The author notes how some Muslims have tried to separate Islam and homophobia, “But there are Muslim leaders, predominantly from the United States, who have been swift to denounce the latest in the never-ending series of terrorist acts undertaken by people who claim an affiliation with Islam. Such condemnations are necessary but not sufficient for the urgent task of building bridges between diverse communities. The Council on American-Islamic Relations expressed solidarity with the LGBT community in the wake of the attack and even urged Muslims todonate blood for the injured victims”.

He argues that “more needs to be done from within the Muslim leadership — from the community to the national level — that addresses bullying, discrimination, and violence against the LGBT community in general and LGBT Muslims in particular. There are several influential Muslim leaders who continue to be indifferent to the targeted abuse and murder of gays when they refuse to renounce draconian punishments of homosexuals or by depicting them in the worst possible ways. Terrorism and extremism do not emerge out of a vacuum, but are either based on or later rationalized by a pre-existing and readily reinforced warped narrative, one that is stoked by homophobic leaders who hide behind the thin veneer of religious freedom. According to the Muslim scholar Farouk Peru, who teaches Islamic studies at King’s College London, when prominent Muslim leaders condemn terrorism but support draconian punishments for gays under Islamic law, they cause a cognitive dissonance for the Muslim community. And this, he warns, is especially harmful to those who are struggling with their sexuality. In the most extreme cases, he wrote in a blog post following the Orlando attack, the issue may have deadly results. It’s this dissonance created by “‘moderate scholars,” he wrote, that will inevitably “create hatred in the hearts of their followers which will then erupt in the way the Orlando shooting most probably happened.” We must draw Muslim, LGBT, and the LGBT Muslim communities together to work on areas of common concern and to work together to issue coordinated and consistent messaging to their communities in the aftermath of violence or in the face of bigotry. However, our objectives can be realised only when we make the effort to know one another. We cannot tarry, as lives are at stake, especially those of vulnerable LGBT Muslim youths who must contend with both homophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry”.

He concludes “Indeed, when it comes to the LGBT and Muslim communities, I’m encouraged by some of the bridge-building already in the works. And I can say from personal experience that those at the intersection of having a Muslim and LGBT identity are in the best position to do this work. The statement by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity that emphasizes such intersections and the need to avoid pitting the LGBT and Muslim communities against each other and the statement by Muslims for Progressive Values that calls for addressing the mass shooting in Friday sermons are examples of such work. But this work needs to become mainstream within Muslim communities. As concerned citizens, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike, we need to ensure that we do not allow hateful speakers to dole out hatred like poisoned candy bars to impressionable youths. We cannot afford to let hatred fester in our cities by our complacency with people who have narrow viewpoints on the world. Just as Christians and Jews are in the best position to counter bigotry within their respective communities, it is incumbent upon members of the Muslim community to rail against Muslim fearmongers, especially those who seek control through religious leadership. The Quran cautions Muslims against taking priests and scholars as lords besides Allah”.

He finishes “Events like the Orlando shooting should wake us all up —Muslim and non-Muslim alike — to positive action that allows us to embrace all communities. Indeed, when we nurture diversity, the more extreme voices get drowned out. The need of the hour is to get a grand coalition of Muslims — Sunni, Shiite, Ismaili, Ahmadi, Bohra, Sufi, among others — to work with one another against hatred of any community, specifically the LGBT. If we simply condemn terrorism but fail to address the warped religious narrative that destroys lives, then the fears that Rob and I have shared in the course of regular exchanges between two friends may sadly someday be realized and perhaps even in our peaceful city of Edmonton”.

“Granted military commanders new powers to assist Afghan troops”

23/06/2016

President Obama has granted military commanders new powers to assist Afghan troops combat the Taliban, U.S. officials said, in a move that pulls the United States farther away from the president’s goal of ending the long Afghanistan conflict before he leaves office. The new measures approved by Obama late last month will permit military leaders to send U.S. troops on battlefield missions with conventional Afghan forces, broadening an activity that now occurs only with elite local troops, and will expand the use of U.S. air power for offensive missions against the Taliban. Officials said they will only be approved in limited circumstances when they are expected to have “strategic effect.” “This added flexibility is fully supported by the Afghan government, and will help the Afghans at an important moment for the country,” said a senior administration official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss decisions that have not been made public”.

“He’s the one negotiating the terms of his surrender”

21/06/2016

A piece argues that Sanders has influened the party platform, “Sanders has accepted he’s lost the war but, having won key battles, he’s the one negotiating the terms of his surrender. The Vermont Independent senator turned Democratic presidential contender met with presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton for two hours behind closed doors at a Washington hotel Tuesday night as the polls closed in the last primary of the Democratic nominating contest. A truce is taking shape between the former Senate colleagues, with Sanders and Clinton vowing in recent days to work together to defeat presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in November. Still, Sanders came to the summit with a list of demands for reforming the Democratic Party, including a vow to push for “the most progressive platform ever passed” by the party. He’s already staked out positions well to the left of Clinton’s foreign policy on issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to the war against the Islamic State, setting the stage for potentially bitter fights”.

Worryingly the piece notes “he has succeeded — and even exceeded observers’ expectations – in forcing the Democratic Party to re-evaluate its long-held assumptions about the use of military force abroad. Clinton embodies many of those views, and Sanders won millions of votes by coming at her from the left and arguing for a less interventionist foreign policy. The Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign declined to comment on what contributions Sanders may have made to the foreign policy debate during the Democratic primary. Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs also did not respond to a request for comment. Sanders’s campaign announced he will give a video address from Burlington, Vermont, on Thursday, raising expectations that he will formally abandon his quest for the nomination — and yet, the email announcing the address was titled: “The political revolution continues.” Sanders launched his campaign with a laser-sharp focus on domestic issues like universal health care and an expanded social welfare system. By the end, though, he had succeeded in putting Clinton on the defensive on issues like Libya’s unraveling, the ongoing carnage in Iraq, and international trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she came out against despite backing it countless times as Obama’s top diplomat”.

The report goes to point out “While often deflecting questions on the specifics of his foreign policy, Sanders sought to undermine Clinton’s far deeper experience by questioning her judgment — a strategy Trump has already begun to emulatein his general election campaign. And Sanders also forced concessions from the DNC that could have a lasting impact on the party far beyond its convention in Philadelphia in July. Due to Sanders’s undeniable success in mobilising Democratic voters and bringing new ones — particularly young people — into the party, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz gave him five seats on the powerful committee charged with drafting the party’s platform. Clinton, who ultimately won 3 million more votes than her rival, received just one extra seat. Even before the picks were named, Sanders’s national security advisors said he should’ve focused more on foreign policy, believing him to be more closely aligned with the Democratic base on the issue than Clinton. Several promised to push for a platform with more liberal foreign policy proposals than she has espoused, particularly in calling for more “evenhandedness” toward Palestinians in language about the long-stymied peace process”.

Thankfully the piece mentions “Jim Zogby, a foreign policy advisor for Sanders who was named to the drafting committee, credited the Vermont senator for pushing Clinton totalk more about Palestinian rights and whether Israel had used disproportionate force in retaliatory strikes. “Ending the taboo about discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a measured and balanced way was historic,” Zogby told Foreign Policy on Tuesday. He has said he will push for the word “occupation” to be included in the platform to describe the nearly five-decade Israeli presence in land Palestinians claim for a future state”.

With ill omens for the future of US leadership and willingness to look overseas the report mentions “Rather than fade away with Sanders’s campaign, Trump has given the judgment attack a second life. In recent weeks, he has parroted Sanders’s language and even invoked his name, wielding the word “judgment” some half a dozen times in as many days in late May and early June. Lee said of Sanders’s tactic, “I could question his judgment,” referring to his vote for the 2001 authorization. “But I’m not going to say that,” she laughed, “questioning another’s judgment is pushing it a little bit.” Still, she doesn’t think it will hurt Clinton in the general election, particularly against Trump who “has no foreign policy.” She said Sanders did succeed in raising “an alternative vision on foreign policy: The fact that Democrats can be strong on national security and care about global peace, without continuing to use the military option as a first resort rather than the last.” It remains too soon to tell how enthusiastically Sanders will campaign for Clinton and what else he would be willing to do to help defeat Trump. The senator continued to withhold his endorsement following Tuesday night’s meeting, though many outside observers believe he will eventually throw his support behind her”.

It ends “Wasserman Schultz said in a statement timed with the meeting: “Now that our 2016 primaries are officially at their end, Democrats are ready to unify and take on both Trump and the Republican Party that he represents.” Sanders has long accused Wasserman Schultz of being in the tank for Clinton and replacing her is one of his primary demands, though she insists she’s staying put. Still, Briggs, the Sanders spokesman, told reporters earlier Tuesday that the senator will not drop out “today, or tomorrow, or the next day” and “plans to stay in this through the Democratic convention.”

Cutting ISIS off

21/06/2016

U.S.-backed forces seized control of the last route into Islamic State-held city of Manbij in northern Syria on Friday, completing their encirclement of the main target in a major advance against the militants, a monitoring group said. The Syria Democratic Forces, supported by U.S.-led air strikes and American special forces, launched and advance last week to seize Islamic State’s last territory on the Syria-Turkey border and cut the self-declared caliphate off from the world. Other enemies of Islamic State, including the governments of Syria and Iraq, also launched major offensives on other fronts, in what amounts to the most sustained pressure on the militants since they proclaimed their caliphate in 2014″.

France, balancing against China?

21/06/2016

A report notes that European nations are balancing against China in the South China Sea, “France has thrown its hat into the acrimonious South China Sea debate, calling for more European naval patrols in a contested waterway that is at the center of a growing dispute between China and the United States and its Asian allies. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking Sunday at a three-day security conference in Singapore, called on European navies to have a “regular and visible” presence in the region to uphold the law of the sea and freedom of navigation. “If we want to contain the risk of conflict, we must defend this right and defend it ourselves,” he said”.

The article goes on to mention “Although the French defence minister did not explicitly call out China, his remarks amounted to thinly veiled criticism of Beijing, which has aggressively pursued its territorial claims in the South China Sea with vast dredging work and construction of military facilities on artificial islands. “If the law of the sea is not respected today in the China seas, it will be threatened tomorrow in the Arctic, in the Mediterranean, or elsewhere,” Le Drian told the security conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue and hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. France’s stance marked the latest international pushback against China’s tough tactics in the strategic waterway, where more than $5 trillion worth of goods pass through annually. The Singapore conference gathered top defense officials and diplomats from the region and beyond to hash through the security challenges facing Asia, especially the increasingly bitter spat over China’s claims to nearly the entire South China Sea. Beijing defended its policy at the forum and accused Washington of meddling in the region. But China was the target for indirect criticism from other countries, and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued a stark warning to Beijing in a speech at the conference”.

The piece describes “China would face unspecified U.S. “actions” if it tried to reclaim land at the disputed Scarborough Shoal off the coast of the Philippines, Carter saidSaturday. And on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking ahead of amajor summit this week with Beijing on economic and security issues, urged China to avoid declaring an air-defense identification zone over the South China Sea. Doing so, he said, would be a “provocative and destabilizing act.” Since it started pressing its claims to little reefs and rocks, and feuding with other countries over fishing rights, Beijing has sought to keep the argument from being “internationalised,” preferring to deal with its smaller neighbours on a one-to-one basis. China has regularly worked to keep the South China Sea disputes off the agenda at biannual meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes many of the countries with which Beijing is butting heads, especially the Philippines and Vietnam. But China’s intransigence on sovereignty and territorial issues, coupled with an increasingly aggressive deployment of muscled-up coast guard ships, a rapidly modernising navy, and a building spree on reclaimed reefs, has driven many of those Southeast Asian countries closer to the United States. Washington, for example, just ended a ban on the sale of U.S. weapons to Vietnam and has redoubled defense ties with the Philippines”.

Crucially it makes the point that “Other Asian countries are also worried about China’s activities. Japan last year said it would consider carrying out naval patrols in the South China Sea, even though Tokyo and Beijing have their own heated dispute in the East China Sea. This year, India has become increasingly vocal about the challenge China poses to free navigation in the Western Pacific. And now, with France’s comments, even European nations are advocating a more muscular response to Chinese encroachment. For France and Europe, said Le Drian, it’s not just about protecting economic and trade interests in the region. It’s also about upholding the international order and rule of law. Le Drian said he would soon provide more details on his proposal for regular patrols by European navies. The timing of the French defense minister’s remarks was no accident. An international court in The Hague is due to rule this month on a long-running dispute between China and the Philippines, and Beijing has rejected the tribunal’s authority while lobbying other governments to back its view. The Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to rule against China, and Washington has been calling on Beijing to abide by the results of the decision”.

It concludes “France’s involvement in the Asia-Pacific region hasn’t been purely theoretical. It inked a $40 billion deal this year to sell advanced submarines to Australia, citing increased fears over the region’s security, and called for a greater French presence around its colonial possessions in the Southern Pacific. Le Drian’s words over the weekend also offer a reminder that while China is trying to parlay its growing economic might in Europe into diplomaticdividends, some European heavyweights are still ready to push back against Beijing. Chinese leaders want to overcome what they call a “century of humiliation,” which started with European naval imperialism in the Opium Wars of the 19th century and lasted through the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. But, ironically, their actions appear to be forcing European gunboats to again steam for the South China Sea”.

Assad escalates the war

21/06/2016

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signaled Tuesday that his government intends to escalate military efforts to crush the five-year-old uprising against his rule, saying the bloodshed will not end until he has regained control over all areas of Syria lost to the rebellion. His tough words came amid indications that Russia is preparing to reengage in the war in support of Assad, almost three months after it threw its support behind a U.S.-backed cease-fire and announced it was withdrawing most of its military from Syria. The violence has already been ticking up, with government and Russian warplanes conducting air raids over northern Syria in the past week and rebels launching an offensive to recapture territory south of the city of Aleppo. According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russia tripled the number of its airstrikes over a four-day period last week, to levels not seen since before the imposition of the cessation of hostilities in late February”.

Brexit, the UK and returning to a mythical past

19/06/2016

In this, the 4,500th post, an article notes the view of those who favour Brexit being based on falsehood and a mythical past, “At some point during the final weeks before Britain’s June 23 referendum on membership in the European Union, the rhetoric of its debate became disconnected from reality. Appeals to passion have left no space for rational persuasion. A body politic that sees its serving justice secretary claim that “people in this country have had enough of experts” on national television in a formal debate, is an etiolated one, a shadow of itself. It is a country in which mock naval battles on the Thames have somehow come to be considered more effective rhetorical devices than deliberation and discussion. This surreal, and pathetic, political atmosphere was punctured yesterday by the appalling murder of MP Jo Cox. It was fitting that all campaigning was suspended out of respect; it is fitting that the democratic process will ultimately not be impeded; and it now befits this land for the debate to return to sanity in its final days. For the stakes could not be higher. Chancellor George Osborne was right to say this is a battle for the soul of this country. At heart, this is a fight between two basic interpretations of my country’s constitutional identity: Is Shakespeare’s “sceptered isle” a Little England or a Great Britain?

He argues that “Today’s world is a globalised one, and the EU allows the U.K. to operate more effectively in it. That is the basic, real-world argument, to stay in the EU. There is no need to attach to this pragmatic view any grand vision. The EU is flawed, but the U.K.’s relationship with it has been incrementally negotiated, and tailored, over 43 years to the effect that membership is the best vehicle currently on offer for the U.K. to amplify its economic strength in a globalised world. The Little Englanders reject this. They obsess about the lack of a positive case to stay in the EU, as if some grand vision were needed beyond the basic economic case for Remain. There is something puritanical about the zeal with which the leaders of the Leave campaign envisage a promised land for the U.K. outside the EU; indeed, they represent not just the populist jingoistic tradition in English politics, but a tradition of radicalism that goes back to Oliver Cromwell and the Civil War. This is a tradition that we have never quite known what to do with. Cromwell’s body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey in 1661 and posthumously “executed,” but his statue still stands ominously outside Parliament: The radical tradition can only ever be tamed, never buried”.

He makes the point that “The Little Englanders crave grand vision because for them, the glass of reality is always half-empty — modern Britain, the fifth largest economy in the world, with a London that vies with New York as the world’s global city, is not good enough for them: They want radical change that will sweep away the messy web of compromises that have been incrementally built up to respond to the complexity of the real world. This vision strips away all impurities, in order to revert to some kind of original state — an imagined golden past, leading to a promised golden future. Historical reality is not allowed to disturb the perfection of the Leave campaign’s imagined providence. Thus, in one breath, the Leave campaign’s golden place without history is England’s green and pleasant land — albeit an England imagined without the accompanying British Empire, given that that would involve recognition of all immigrants that came along with it. But in a contradiction only tenable when history is recast as fantasy, in the same breath, this golden place is also imperial Britain, ruling the waves; but this Britannia is not located in any historical reality, for that would mean confronting the tricky chronological truth that the empire collapsed before the U.K. joined the EU in 1973, so EU membership cannot possibly have frustrated imperial ambitions that fell apart on their own”.

He pointedly mentions that “The Brexiteers are routinely confronted with the point, so exceedingly obvious that it is almost banal, that the U.K. will still need access to the single market after a Brexit, or face economic chaos: Without it, all the British and foreign companies that have invested in the U.K. to trade into the EU tariff-free will have to leave the country to continue to do so; the City of London would likely see many firms move their European center of gravity to Frankfurt or Paris; and U.K. companies that want to continue to trade with the EU post-Brexit (half of U.K. trade is currently with the EU) will still need to comply with European law to trade into the single market anyway. Without access to the single market, the U.K.’s sovereign debt rating will likely be downgraded, which will make it more expensive for the government to borrow money to finance the £74 billion fiscal deficit needed to pay for schools, hospitals, and so on. The hit to the overall tax base as a result of leaving would make any savings from the payments the U.K. sends to pay for the central apparatus of the EU appear negligible by comparison, and likely precipitate deeper fiscal austerity, tax hikes, and cuts to public services. But this real-world context is but irritating trivia for Brexit puritans”.

Importantly he argues “once that is accepted as cold, hard fact, the Leave campaign arguments shrivel into nonsense. Trading within the single market means subscribing to most of the EU’s rules that govern its operation, regardless of the legal mechanism adopted to maintain access. Both the “Norway model” and the “Swiss model” — the two options most commonly referenced by pro-Brexit camps — require adhering to EU product standards, submission to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over issues of compliance with those standards, and a high degree of freedom of movement (that is, immigration). This makes Brexit not just pointless, but positively foolish, as all it does is shift the U.K. from a position where it can influence and veto EU rules, to one where it has no say in their formulation at all, but must still comply with most of them. Even if the U.K. really did leave the single market (which it would not, unless self-castration is a more popular pastime in this country than I realized), it’s hard to see how the British versions of EU regulations would be that different anyway. There will be no bonfire of bureaucracy and red tape: Complex international markets require meeting a vast number of standards in order to do business, whether or not those standards are negotiated by the U.K. on its own, or the U.K. as part of the EU”.

He then mentions correctly, “Contrary to fantasy, Brexit would, in the boring world of fact, create a massive pile of suffocating bureaucratic work for the U.K. civil service to work through, in order to convert EU rules to U.K. rules. And in the end, would a U.K. civil servant really draft rules so different from those of an EU civil servant on the types of plastics allowed in children’s toys, or what pesticides are safe, or the levels of trans-fats in margarine? The bureaucratic nightmare of re-drafting literally millions of pages of rules aside, if at the end of the day the rules were more or less the same, what’s the point? When the economy tanks after Brexit, and a whole generation of British citizens see their working lives, and their children’s life chances, screwed up by fantasists who spend their free-time driving each other into a fervor over obscure regulations, we sure won’t care a jot about our new found freedom to decide on the size of bananas. The Brexiteers will counter-argue that it’s not just the EU’s regulation of economic minutiae that are at issue, but more social issues like child benefit allowances for EU workers, or whether or not companies can ban the hijab from being worn at work. Fair point; but Brexit is the wrong answer: All non-EU member states that have negotiated tariff-free access to the single market (like Norway and Switzerland) have to comply with much, if not most, EU law on these social issues anyway, given that they tend to come up in areas like EU employment law. But as non-EU members, London post-Brexit will only be cc’d, rather than consulted, on Brussels’s decisions on these laws. Is that undemocratic? Yes, definitely. Such an arrangement for the U.K. would be a massive failure of policy, and would rightly invite criticism from any Britons concerned about their constitutional liberty, which is why I fail to understand why the Leave campaign thinks it is a good idea”.

Crucially he posits that “Then there’s the question of just who constitutes these fast-growing economies. The triad used to be China, India, and Brazil. Then Brexiteers stopped talking about Brazil after the reality of economic freefall there risked puncturing the fantasy. Moreover, they are strangely silent on the massive credit bubble developing in China right now, and the difficulties of actually doing business in India given the glacial legal system and the corruption there. Indeed, there is a sharp irony in the fact that the same Brexiteers who wrap themselves in the flag of national values are so quick to sell out on them when it comes to deals with emerging markets which so obviously have much lower standards when it comes to rule of law than one finds inside the EU. Having been trounced on questions of economics, the Leave campaign has, unsurprisingly, stopped talking about the economy, and instead has relentlessly pushed the immigration argument, and pushed it well beyond the truth (the Leave campaign’s website tells us, for instance, that Turkey will join the EU, which is highly unlikely). But even this supposed trump card is flawed. First, there is the problem already discussed: Being in the single market means accepting high levels of free movement, just as Norway and Switzerland have. End of argument — at least in the real world”.

He concludes “As if it were an afterthought for the Leave campaign, consider the effect of Brexit on the U.K. itself. Scotland will likely ask for a second independence referendum in the event of Brexit: The 2015 referendum was as much a vote to stay in the EU as the U.K., given that an independent Scotland would have had to head to the back of the queue to join the Union. With the U.K. outside of the EU, Scotland might well decide to leave — endgame for Great Britain. But that’s fine, apparently, if all you care about is Little England. Let us once again recall the key point. Despite the mountains of commentary and data, there is only one key fact in this whole debate: If the U.K. wants to stay in the single market, which it will, Brexit is foolish. Contrary to the Leave campaign’s motto — “Vote Leave, Take Control,” the opposite will be the case: Britain will still have to apply EU rules, but lose control over their content. Great Britain is a land of ancient sanity, and we will see on June 23 whether our people choose to take the world as they find it, or whether to embark on a Panglossian and profoundly un-British quest to strive for the best of all possible worlds: one which came in the imagined past, will come in the imagined future, but somehow never arrives in the present”.

“U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet will send more ships to East Asia”

19/06/2016

The U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet will send more ships to East Asia to operate outside its normal theater alongside the Japan-based Seventh Fleet, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, a move that comes at a time of heightened tensions with China. The Third Fleet’s Pacific Surface Action Group, which includes the guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance and USS Momsen, was deployed to East Asia in April. More Third Fleet vessels will be deployed in the region in the future, said a U.S. official who requested anonymity. He and a second official said the vessels would conduct a range of operations, but gave no details. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims, as well as close military ties with the United States. China has been angered by what it views as provocative U.S. military patrols close to islands that China controls in the South China Sea. The United States says the patrols are to protect freedom of navigation”.

Brexit and the hatred of experts

19/06/2016

A piece discusses the UK debate on the EU, “To understand what’s happening in Britain on the eve of its referendum over membership in the European Union, the best place to start might be a two-minute comedy sketch. The sketch, which first aired in 2008 on the BBC, features comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb as two newsreaders who happen to be live on air when they receive some shocking news: “It appears,” announces Mitchell, “that an invasion of the Earth, by an unknown but vastly powerful extraterrestrial aggressor, is underway.” It’s a historic moment, and Webb’s character swings into action: “So,” he says, “a massive and unstoppable alien attack threatens the Earth. What’s your reaction? Are you affected by the end of civilization as we know it? What’s your perspective? Maybe you live on Earth, or know someone who does. How do you feel about it? Email us with your thoughts on your imminent molecular evaporation at bbc dot co dot uk slash emergency apocalypse address, all one word …”

The author goes on to make the excellent point “The gag works because it captures not just the media’s desperate craving for “engagement” of any kind, but also how, in the world we live in, the opinions of the masses have been elevated over the analysis of the elites. This isn’t an age when we want to hear from presidents or prime ministers, but from Lucinda Richards from London, who wants to know: “Will these so-called aliens be required to pay the congestion charge? Somehow I think not.” As Mitchell’s presenter implores his viewers in another sketch in the series, “You may not know anything about the issue, but I bet you reckon something.” On June 23, Britain will decide whether or not to leave the EU — and it is shaping up to be a day of reckoning, in every sense of the word. Take the economy. Convinced eurosceptics may be animated by emotional questions of liberty, sovereignty, and self-determination. But surveys consistently show that, for the bulk of voters, the most important issue is the economic impact of Brexit”.

Crucially he adds “This ought to be a boon for the Remain camp. Brexit may or may not bring long-term economic benefits. But the idea that it would have immediate economic costs is as close to settled fact as you can get in politics. The massed ranks of the IMF, the OECD, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, theBank of England, the Bank of Japan, and the economics profession have lined up to warn of the adverse consequences of Brexit for British households and the world economy. The U.K.-based Institute for Fiscal Studies — whose verdicts are generally treated in British politics as gospel truth — has said that it could add two years to the government’s austerity program and has warned that the fiscal bonanza promised by the Leavers camp will almost certainly be outweighed (and then some) by heavierborrowing costs. Downing Street and the Remain camp have pushed this message with the subtlety of an artillery bombardment. Yet the polls show no movement in their direction – if anything, they show the opposite. The same surveys that proclaim the economic impact of Brexit to be the most important issue for voters also show that only 5 percent of them believe their standard of living would be diminished significantly by it. They’ve heard from the experts. But they reckon they’re wrong”.

He continues “What lies behind this? Partly, it’s a “plague on both your houses” phenomenon. I’ve written before about the remarkable and aggravating extent to which both sides in this referendum are willing to flat-out lie to the public: The Remain camp claims Brexit could trigger war, while the Leavers plaster their battle buses with a figure for British payments to the EU (£350 million a week) that is knowingly fictitious. But there’s reason to think there’s something more at work here. In a recentdebate on the EU, Faisal Islam of Sky News challenged Michael Gove, co-chair of the Leave campaign, to name a single independent economic authority who thought Brexit was a good idea. Instead of answering the question, Gove — an astonishingly cultured and erudite man who can range in a single speech from Pericles to Gladstone to “the unfulfilled yearning of the Tristan chord” in Wagner — made a virtue of ignorance. “I’m glad these organizations aren’t on my side,” he said. “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” All these know-it-alls did, he insisted, was say “that they know what is best.” Gove, by contrast, placed his “faith in the British people.” You can see the same mentality on social media, where Gove’s acolytes positively rejoice in the invincibility of their ignorance. When I tweetedrecently about the polling figures that showed people didn’t believe the dire warnings on Brexit’s economic consequences, for example, I was told that “the public know that the ‘warnings’ come from vested interests with little credibility at predicting the future.” Other responses mocked the “sneering elites” and “over-educated elitists.” The prevailing sense is that the experts are either the dupes of Brussels — or its corrupt and salaried pawns”.

He makes the accurate point that “What has taken hold of the British electorate, much to Cameron’s alarm, is a strain of the post-truth, anti-elitist tendency that has long animated public life in America. As professor Steve Barnett of the University of Westminsterargued some years ago, here and elsewhere, the hierarchy of social deference has inverted: Instead of trusting leaders, elders, and experts over celebrities, friends, and random acquaintances, we now view those who set themselves above us with increasing contempt. Barnett put forth his thesis in 2002, but the trend shows no signs of slowing: Hence the popularity and continued proliferation of deliberately unpolished politicians — Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Beppe Grillo, and Jeremy Corbyn among them — who seem to speak as tribunes for the scorned and neglected masses. Never mind that Gove and Boris Johnson, who also claim this populist mantle, are, respectively, the Oxford-educated justice secretary and lord chancellor, and the Eton- and Oxford-educated former mayor of London. They’re still crusading against “the establishment” — and, seemingly, winning. Whatever happens in the referendum, then, this campaign has fascinating — and alarming — lessons for Britain’s future. This is still thought of as the country of the stiff upper lip, of respect for tradition and order and hierarchy. We have a queen, a House of Lords, a political and professional class dominated by the products of the elite private schools. But that country is also one seething with anti-establishment feeling, just like the rest of the West — in which solid common sense is seen as more than a match for any fancy economics degree”.

He ends “Whether it’s Cameron who stays in Downing Street or Johnson who replaces him, how can they govern a country in which large sections don’t believe a word they say? In which the prime minister’s reputation and authority — meant to be the key assets on the Remain side — can crumble to the point where only 18 percent of voters say they trust him? Could Johnson, for example, sustain his popularity once he became the face of the government’s every decision, and the focus of the inevitable discontent? In 1975, the British people voted by a huge margin to stay in the European Community, which they had joined only recently. Asked to explain the win, Roy Jenkins — one of the campaign’s leaders — said complacently that “the people took the advice of people they were used to following.” The question haunting British politics is: What happens now that they’ve stopped?

Former Gitmo prisoners fight again

19/06/2016

The Obama administration believes that at least 12 detainees released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have launched attacks against U.S. or allied forces in Afghanistan, killing about a half-dozen Americans, according to current and former U.S. officials. In March, a senior Pentagon official made a startling admission to lawmakers when he acknowledged that former Guantanamo inmates were responsible for the deaths of Americans overseas. The official, Paul Lewis, who oversees Guantanamo issues at the Defense Department, provided no details, and the Obama administration has since declined to elaborate publicly on his statement because the intelligence behind it is classified”.

“Negligence can cost a bishop his job”

17/06/2016

A report notes news from Rome, “Never one to slow down on the weekend, Pope Francis on Saturday signed two documents designed to reflect progress on two battle fronts: The Catholic Church’s response to clerical sexual abuse, particularly bishops’ accountability, and reform of the Roman Curia, the global Church’s governing body. The first document is a motu proprio, meaning a legal text, titled “As a loving mother,” which talks specifically about the causes that could merit removing a bishop or an eparch from his post”.

The report adds “In the document, Francis acknowledged that the church’s canon law already contemplates removing a bishop for “grave reasons,” but said he wanted to be more specific on the fact that negligence can cost a bishop his job. One of the specifications added by the document is the fact that negligence of the bishop “in particular in relation to cases of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults” is now one of the “grave reasons” that would legitimise the removal of a bishop from his position. For decades, survivors of clerical sexual abuse and their advocates have been demanding that the Church hold bishops accountable for failing to act in cases of child sexual abuse, either by ignoring accusations or for moving sexually abusive priests from one parish to another instead of reporting them”.

The piece goes on to mention “The law also says that a bishop can be removed if his actions or omissions cause “grave harm,” either physical, moral, spiritual or financial, to individuals or communities. “As a loving mother the Church loves all her children, but treats and protects with a very particular affection the smallest and helpless” says the text released on Saturday by the Vatican, available only in Italian. “Aware of this, the Church is particularly vigilant in protecting children and vulnerable adults. Such role of protection and care involves the whole Church, but particularly its shepherds,” the text continues, naming the bishops and eparchs. A motu proprio is an edict by the pope that can either be addressed to a part of the Church, for instance the bishops, or to the institution as a whole. “As a loving mother” has no addressee, so it’s assumed that it’s meant for the global Church. As any law, the document then goes to list the procedure for removing a bishop from his post, saying that he can only be removed if he has “objectively failed in a very serious manner to the diligence that is required by his pastoral office, even if not by a serious moral fault of his own.” In the cases of child abuse or vulnerable adults, “the lack of action” has to be “serious” to merit removal. According to the document, the new set of rules applies also for leaders of religious orders, not only bishops”.

The writer continues, “The second article of the motu proprio says that the corresponding Vatican office can start the investigation when there’s sufficient proof of negligence or wrong doing, giving the suspected bishop the possibility to defend himself. Since these are cases of negligence but not crimes, the corresponding offices are the Congregations for Bishops (for most Latin rite prelates), Evangelization of Peoples (for bishops in mission territories), Oriental Churches (for the Eastern churches in communion with Rome) and Consecrated Life (for religious orders). If found guilty, the bishop will have 15 days to voluntarily hand in his resignation, before being forcefully removed, and it’d be possible to temporarily replace a him while the investigation is ongoing. Lastly, the document also says that each decision to remove a bishop from his post will have to be personally approved by the pope, who will be assisted by a group of legal advisers”.

It elobrates that “the new regulations will become effective on Sept. 5, 2016. A Vatican spokesman on Saturday said there’s no question of a “retroactive” norm, since older cases were covered by the previous law, whereas from now on the process will follow what Francis has set out. The motu proprio follows a 2015 institution of a tribunal within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith specifically to judge bishops “with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors.” However, that tribunal is currently at a standstill, with no personnel having been appointed to it yet”.

On the other front the writer notes that “The second document signed by Francis on Saturday and also released only in Italian, are the statutes for a new “mega-dicastery” in the Vatican, a direct result of the work being done by the pope’s group of 9 cardinal advisors who guide the pontiff in the reform of the Roman Curia. In a nutshell, two current Vatican offices, the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family will become one: a Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. The new body should begin its work on Sept. 1, and it´s still unknown who will head it. Currently, the Council for the Laity is headed by Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, while family is under Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia”.

It ends “Although early in the reform Francis had voiced the possibility of a married couple heading this new dicastery, the document released on Saturday says it´ll be headed by a prefect, always a cardinal or an archbishop “unless specified” by “some special law.” It will also have a secretary, “who could be a lay person,” and three sub-secretaries, one for laity, one for family and one for life, that “will have to be laity.” Francis’ reform of the curia will conclude with a revised, or completely new, version ofPastor Bonus, currently the curia´s internal constitution, issued by Pope John Paul II and which the Argentine pontiff decided to revise”.

Trump’s links with Gaddafi

17/06/2016

Donald Trump tried to raise money from the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi two years before a 2011 revolution toppled the brutal leader, according to four people with knowledge of the effort. Trump even tried to set up a meeting with the tyrant himself, three of the sources say, to explore business ventures — despite the Libyan leader’s notorious sponsorship of terrorism that killed scores of Americans. The Trump campaign did not respond to repeated requests from BuzzFeed News for comment on his dealings with Qaddafi, which have not previously been reported. But the presumptive Republican nominee is facing questions this week about his flip-flops on the U.S. policy toward Libya. Trump supported efforts to depose the dictator in 2011, just as the Obama administration was pulling together a military coalition to help battle Qaddafi. More recently, Trump said that the administration’s effort in Libya was misguided”.

 

The new for new ideas from a Clinton presidency

17/06/2016

David Rothkopf argues that Trump is a trap for Clinton, “Donald Trump is a gift to Hillary Clinton. And a trap. Because as good as it was (and as satisfying as it was to hear), it fell into the pattern of every other phase of this campaign so far, which is making everything about Trump. For Clinton to win, she needs to energise the electorate about what she is for and not just what she is against, or the outcome may well be very much like that experienced by Trump’s opponents thus far. Clinton’s foreign-policy address in San Diego Thursday was certainly effective as far as it went. In fact, it was so effective at enumerating Trump’s flaws as a potential commander in chief it revealed a somewhat different challenge Clinton and her speechwriters face: Figuring out how to keep such speeches short enough so that audience members could get home in time to tuck their kids into bed. “Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different,” she said in one of her many effective, slashing assaults on the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. “They are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas — just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies.” In those brief couple of lines, you can see the beauty of opposing a human toxic waste dump like Trump: No hyperbole is necessary. Just tell it like it is, and it should be clear to any listener with a third-grade education that Trump has no more business being president than he would have teaching a course on humility”.

Rothkopf writes that “When she said Trump is “temperamentally unfit to hold” office, no one who has watched him can doubt it, but listing his idiocies — from suggesting more countries have nukes to actually arguing it wouldn’t matter to us if they used them, from singing the praises of the North Korean regime to suggesting we hand over Syria to the Islamic State — drove home the point with precision. And if her onslaught wasn’t enough, a day or two earlier that same North Korean regime actually endorsed Trump’s candidacy, an act that on its own speaks volumes about just how unfit Trump really is. North Korea wants to bring down America, folks. And its leaders know the surest way to do that is to put The Donald into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. No, it was clear Clinton’s advisors saw giving a foreign-policy speech as a special opportunity because Trump has made himself so stunningly vulnerable in that respect”.

He makes the point that “The problem with beating Trump — to paraphrase Clinton about her former boss Barack Obama’s foreign policy — is that simply being against him is not a foreign policy. (She once suggested Obama’s “don’t do stupid shit” “insight” was not enough to constitute a foreign policy. And, of course, there is no doubt that electing Trump would be the stupidest shit of all.) But that alone is not a vision for America’s future. Nor — and perhaps more importantly — is that platform alone likely to inspire more voters to see the positive reasons for voting for Clinton. Voters deserve a better speech than she gave Thursday, and if she wants to counter the wave of irrational emotion that is the only thing that could sweep a man like Trump into office, Clinton is going to have to start making people more passionate about why they should stand and vote for her, rather than why they should be against the creep the GOP now seems to be uniting around”.

He rightly makes the point that “In order for Clinton to inspire in voters the same kind of passion, she must make clear how the ideas she stands for are new and different and why she is the right person to be president at this moment, the person with the vision to imagine and realize a new world for our children and our children’s children. We need — and she needs — a few big, new ideas. And though it was expert in its dissection of Trump, Thursday’s speech was workmanlike, bland as oatmeal about her own foreign policy, and ultimately devoid of big, new ideas. There was nothing objectionable in it, of course. The points she raised — how the United States needs to be fostering strength at home, cultivating alliances, using diplomacy and development, being “wise with our rivals,” having a plan to defeat terrorists, and staying true to our values — were solid ones. It was just what you would expect from a professional who has years of familiarity with these issues”.

He mentions that “Being “wise” with Russia and China makes sense, of course. But we could use specifics and, while we’re at it, less reflexive China and trade bashing on the campaign trail. It creates a tension that Bill Clinton discovered. It’s easy to blame trade problems on foreigners. But it is also wrong, and when in office, he reversed on these issues as his wife is likely to discover she must also do. But we can go further: We need a doctrine of interdependence with China that recognizes it as a vital ally, as well as a potential rival, one that harnesses better our common interests. And we need to find a new path forward to ensure our deteriorating relationship with Russia does not get worse — even while sending a message that a new administration will not be as feckless in opposition to displays of raw Russian aggression as Obama has been. Of course, we need to defeat terrorists — which means a shift from playing whack-a-mole with an ever-evolving array of terrorist groups to combating extremism more broadly. That means not just knowing what we are against in the Middle East and elsewhere but what we are for”.

He ends “There are still five months left in this campaign. Frankly, that’s more than enough time for a whole campaign (or two). Trump is bad and must be stopped. The only way to do that is to vote for Clinton. But if she does not reach for the big ideas, surround herself with new faces, make certain voters know that she is not just the face of an establishment that fears a Trump presidency (for good reason), she may not win the support of enough voters to actually win. Trump is tapping into passion and frustration with Washington. She can’t help but be seen as part of the system … unless she makes it clear that her experience has not only convinced her massive, fundamental change is needed but that she has the ideas and the people around her to help produce that change. Experience, intelligence, and steadiness are great traits in a president. But they are not enough for a candidate. A candidate needs to inspire, to resonate with the electorate not just in their heads but in their hearts, and to give them real hope, and the one candidate capable of doing this has yet to begin doing so. Perhaps Thursday’s speech was a necessary step — outlining the Trump threat. If so, good enough, but we can’t wait too long for the follow-up speech, one that describes the promise of a Clinton presidency and moves us to stand behind it”.

ISIS, tearing itself apart

17/06/2016

The killing of Abu Hayjaa al-Tunsi, a Tunisian jihadi, sparked a panicked hunt within the group’s ranks for spies who could have tipped off the U.S-led coalition about his closely guarded movements. By the time it was over, the group would kill 38 of its own members on suspicion of acting as informants. They were among dozens of IS members killed by their own leadership in recent months in a vicious purge after a string of airstrikes killed prominent figures. Others have disappeared into prisons and still more have fled, fearing they could be next as the jihadi group turns on itself in the hunt for moles, according to Syrian opposition activists, Kurdish militia commanders, several Iraqi intelligence officials and an informant for the Iraqi government who worked within IS ranks. The fear of informants has fueled paranoia among the militants’ ranks. A mobile phone or internet connection can raise suspicions. As a warning to others, IS has displayed the bodies of some suspected spies in public — or used particularly gruesome methods, including reportedly dropping some into a vat of acid.

“Rhodes is portrayed in the profile as the master of reducing issues to tweets”

15/06/2016

An article from the World Today notes the role of Ben Rhodes, “On May 5 The New York Times Magazine published a profile of Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. Such an article might have attracted little interest but Rhodes’s condescending remarks have made him the focus of much negative attention. His comments not only call into question the honesty of policy statements from the White House, but they also display a fundamental disregard for the news media’s role in informing the public about what its government is doing. Performing that role requires that the relationship between press and government, although characterized by dynamic tension, be built on a foundation of mutual respect”.

The piece adds “Rhodes told the article’s author, David Samuels, that journalists who cover international affairs from Washington ‘literally know nothing’ and are part of a foreign policy establishment he dismisses as an irrelevant ‘Blob’. Samuels reports that Rhodes has ‘a healthy contempt’ for the Blob and its members – including Hillary Clinton and former Defence Secretary Robert Gates – who ‘whine incessantly’. Rhodes is portrayed in the profile as the master of reducing issues to tweets and having few scruples about twisting public opinion in ways that advance the White House’s political agenda. Other administrations have similarly embraced ‘messaging’, but few have had a high-ranking staff member be so foolish as to brag publicly about his skill as a manipulator”.

The author goes on to write that “Even more unsettling in this article is the total absence of evidence that Rhodes understands the purposes or history of American foreign policy. Rhodes, who is 38, left university wanting to become a novelist. The 9/11 attacks led him to venture into international affairs, and his writing skill carried him through a series of Washington jobs that took him to the White House. He comes across in the Samuels article as a slick salesman, someone who would be just as comfortable spinning the attributes of a used car as he is in convincing the public to follow the White House lead on global affairs”.

Correctly, the writer mentions “This article, along with Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent essay The Obama Doctrine in The Atlantic, point to a fundamental shallowness in the Obama administration’s worldview. These reports are in line with cautionary words from Gates, who in his 2014 memoir, Duty, noted his concerns about the Obama national security staff, writing that they had no ‘firsthand knowledge of real-world governing’ and ‘lack an awareness of the world they had just entered’ Rhodes is part of this; well-meaning, perhaps, but not possessing the knowledge someone in his position should have. Although Rhodes’s claim that journalists ‘know nothing’ is wrong as well as insulting, they could know more”.

The piece ends “Rhodes and his White House colleagues have disproportionate influence over US foreign policy because of significant shifts of authority away from State, Defence, and other cabinet departments, with the White House enjoying mission creep. The National Security Council (NSC) was created in 1947 to bring together top-level foreign policy advisers and provide greater coherence to foreign policy planning. Its director, the national security adviser, has sometimes wielded considerable power, visibly, by Henry Kissinger during the Nixon administration, for example, and less visibly but more effectively by Brent Scowcroft during the George HW Bush presidency. The NSC staff has grown enormously. During Scowcroft’s tenure, it comprised 50 people. It has doubled with each successive presidency: 100 during Bill Clinton’s tenure; 200 under George W Bush; and during the Obama presidency it has reached 400 (and it is most definitely not eight times more efficient that it was during Scowcroft’s time). Senator John McCain has introduced legislation to cap the NSC staff at 150, but managing the White House is not the business of Congress. Obama and his aides have opened themselves to such pressure by allowing the NSC to become so bloated, although the current national security adviser, Susan Rice, has promised substantial shrinkage by the time Obama’s term ends”.

He concludes “The fragility of the balance of power between the White House and other parts of the executive branch was apparent during the efforts to secure congressional approval of the Iran nuclear agreement, during which Rhodes’s messaging skills were heavily relied upon by the administration. This episode is closely examined in Samuels’ article, and this is where Rhodes opened himself to much of the criticism he has since received. Rhodes and his team recruited friendly arms control experts to speak at think-tanks, post material on social media sites, and brief reporters. Rhodes told Samuels: ‘We created an echo chamber … They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.’ He added: ‘We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively,’ and said of the agreement’s opponents, ‘We drove them crazy.’ There is something vaguely Nixonian about those comments. Rhodes has since defended himself, writing ‘the objective of that kind of effort is to build as much public support as you can – that’s a function of White House communications.’ But when does an effort to build public support cross the line into manipulation of the public? Ben Rhodes is now paying for his hubristic encounter with The New York Times. As Barack Obama wraps up his presidency with trips to Europe, Asia and elsewhere, Obama cannot be pleased that his presumed alter ego has become the focus of so much negative attention”.

It finishes “Despite Washington’s perennial fascination with personalities, larger issues are involved. The National Security Council staff is enormously powerful, and it has a duty to knowledgeably craft America’s global agenda and to provide honest information about that process to American and global publics. As the Ben Rhodes episode illustrates, that duty is not being carried out as it should be”.

 

China doesn’t fear trouble

15/06/2016

A senior Chinese admiral strongly defended his country’s activities in the South China Sea Sunday, restating Beijing’s sovereignty in the region and warning it “had no fear of trouble.” Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, addressed the tensions resulting from overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, an annual conference on security in the Asia-Pacific region.Sun said that the issue had “become overheated because of provocations of certain countries for their own selfish interests.” He also reiterated that Beijing would not recognize a pending decision of an international tribunal in The Hague in a case brought by the Philippines contesting China’s claim to some territory in the region.

Chinese geopolitics in Europe

15/06/2016

Keith Johnson writes that China’s foray’s into Europe are as much about geopolitics as economics, “China is actively building out the European portion of its ambitious new “Silk Road” plan, with port deals from Greece to the Netherlands, railroad investments in Greece, Serbia, and Hungary, as well as a handful of historic, high-profile state visits this spring by President Xi Jinping. Beijing’s multibillion-dollar plans to build overland and maritime links across Central and South Asia — whether that means huge investments in Pakistan or gas pipeline deals in places like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan — grab the lion’s share of attention. But the ultimate prize in the Silk Road plan — also known in China as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative — is someplace else: Europe”.

He goes on to argue “That’s true both because Europe represents a bigger and richer market than the relatively poor countries that dot the steppe, and because Beijing’s ambitions aren’t purely commercial. “It is not an economic project, it is a geopolitical project — and it is very strategic,” said Nadège Rolland, an analyst at the National Bureau for Asian Research, a think tank. As it has across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, China is trying to parlay its economic heft into bigger diplomatic influence in Europe, especially in cash-strapped states in the east and southeast. That task is made easier thanks to the increasing weight and reach of Chinese state-owned companies. Beijing began encouraging consolidation among competing firms last year as a way of trying to deal with overcapacity in Chinese industry, where having several giant firms in the same sector was leading to inefficiencies. The resulting mergers created giants like such as CRRC Corporation, formerly a pair of railroad equipment makers and now the world’s second-biggest industrial company, and COSCO, cobbled together from a pair of state-owned shipping firms and now the world’s fourth-largest shipping company. Both of those mega-firms are active in China’s recent European investments: COSCO is snapping up stakes in ports, while CRRC is working to build new rail lines in Eastern Europe. Another state-owned giant, ChemChina, has been on a European buying spree in the last year, gobbling up agricultural firms, tire makers, and machine tool manufacturers. And their state-backed involvement makes clear that more is at stake than the financial bottom line”.

Johnson adds “One of the unstated purposes of China’s entire Silk Road program is to buy political goodwill from countries along the way. Decades ago, Chinese investment in Africa often brought support from those countries for Chinese positions in the United Nations. Chinese investments in Afghanistan, for instance, have recently translated into Kabul’s support for China’s territorial positions in the South China Sea disputes. In Europe, China’s investment push has indeed led to a few diplomatic victories. Fueled by big investments in the energy sector, Xi received red-carpet treatment from British leaders on a state visit last year, and China considers the U.K. its best friend in the West. Several of Europe’s biggest countries, including the U.K., France, Germany, and Italy, supported China’s creation of a new international development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, despite heated objections from the United States”.

Not supursingly, he notes “China is perhaps making its biggest inroads on Europe’s periphery. It has created a new grouping, known as the “16+1,” of the 16 Central and Eastern European countries including some inside and some outside the European Union. The informal club has responded to Chinese infrastructure investment with closer ties and a more compliant approach to issues that are prickly for Beijing, especially human rights. The Czech Republic, for example, once outspoken on the subject of Tibetan independence, now hews closer to Beijing’s line regarding its continued control of the Himalayan nation. Beijing hailed Slovenia as one of a group of 40 countries China says back its position on the disputes in the South China Sea; plenty of other countries on that list, from Afghanistan to Mozambique to Venezuela, have also been on the receiving end of China’s economic largesse”.

Thankfully he mentions “China is also encountering plenty of pushback — and not just in Europe. In Central Asia, Beijing is a preferred partner for the region’s many autocratic governments who welcome China’s non-interference in their affairs. But China’s growing footprint there has received a much cooler reception from the local population. Kazakhstan, which has inked $50 billion worth of deals with China, has been wracked since April by protests over the fears the government will open the country up to large-scale Chinese purchases of land. In neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, mounting public pressure caused the government to abandon plans to offer mining concessions to Chinese firms in lieu of paying back $1 billion in loans. In Europe, China’s geopolitical ambitions have run into growing opposition, both in the street and among some governments. Protesters defaced Chinese flags in the Czech Republic during Xi’s visit this spring, for example. And earlier this month, the European Parliament recommended against granting China “market economy status,” a label Beijing craves and which it believes it is entitled to 15 years after joining the World Trade Organization. The EU reticence is driven, in part, by concerns of continued unfair Chinese competition, including “dumping” the detritus of its industrial overcapacity in Europe, which makes life more difficult for struggling European firms”.

Johnson notes that “Europe has also begun to push back against China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. Slovenia made clear, in contrast to Beijing’s public pronouncements, that it does not take sides on the dispute. In April, France signed a $40 billion deal to build advanced new submarines for Australia, prompted by French concerns about Chinese military expansion in the Western Pacific. More recently, Britain urged all countries including China to respect an upcoming ruling by an international arbitration panel on the South China Seas imbroglio; Beijing has attacked the tribunal’s legitimacy and vowed to ignore whatever ruling it hands down. Those setbacks suggest there’s a limit to the leverage that Chinese investment can buy in Europe, despite the region’s continued economic woes, said Le Corre”.

Trusting Trump with security?

13/06/2016

Some U.S. intelligence officials are concerned that Donald Trump’s “shoot from the hip” style could pose national security risks as they prepare to give him a routine pre-election briefing once he is formally anointed as the Republican presidential nominee. Eight senior security officials told Reuters they had concerns over briefing Trump, whose brash, unpredictable campaign style has been a feature of his rise as an insurgent candidate. Despite their worries, the officials said the “Top Secret” briefing to each candidate would not deviate from the usual format to avoid any appearance of bias. Most of the officials asked for anonymity to discuss a domestic political issue. Current and former officials said that the scandal over Hillary Clinton’s use of emails also raises concerns about her handling of sensitive information. The likely Democratic nominee is facing an FBI probe into whether security was compromised and laws were broken by her use of a private email server for government business while she was Secretary of State.

“The Clinton Doctrine is better equipped than that of Obama or Trump”

13/06/2016

In Foreign Affairs a piece notes the Hillary Clinton Doctrine, “On April 27, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivered his first foreign policy speech of the campaign. In the statement, Trump promised to ensure “global peace,” rebuild the U.S. military, eliminate the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and change Washington’s approach to NATO. His platform is as ambitious as it is contradictory and implausible. He advocates for a U.S. withdrawal from international conflict even as he wants to boost Washington’s role in promoting world peace. This is a far cry from the likely Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who has called on the United States to intervene more directly in global conflict. Not only are Clinton’s and Trump’s foreign policy platforms vastly different from each other, they are both miles apart from that of U.S. President Barack Obama. The “Obama Doctrine,” as it has become known, has kept the United States out of conflicts that did not pose a direct threat to national security in the White House’s view, but not without consequences. This policy has had its successes, such as the raid that killed former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. But it has also had its failures, such as the missed opportunity to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which would have prevented the conflict from spawning incipient threats. When Obama departs, this foreign policy will go with him; no matter who wins in November, the next president will take a different approach to the world’s varied challenges, making foreign policy a crucial issue in this year’s election”.

The writer goes on to describe the “Obama Doctrine” what is in effect a quasi-isolationism, “The crux of the Obama Doctrine has been to seek multilateral intervention when possible and unilateral action when necessary. Over the last eight years, Washington has avoided intervening in conflicts that, in the view of the administration, did not pose core national security threats, whether in Asia, Europe, or the Middle East. But this seemingly credible foreign policy approach was overshadowed by the administration’s “pivot to Asia,” wherein Washington chose to focus more on Asian security and less on transatlantic concerns. The United States sent fresh troops to Australia, bolstered its presence in Japan, and established new naval access in the Philippines and Singapore. European and Middle Eastern allies, sensing that Washington was neglecting their needs in order to counterbalance China’s ascendance, reacted negatively. The Obama administration soon rebranded the policy as the “rebalance to Asia,” but it was too late to reassure allies sufficiently”.

The piece goes on to mention “In assessing Obama’s foreign policy as a whole, his critics tend to highlight instances where he chose strategic restraint instead of intervention. In the April 2016 issue of The Atlantic, for example, author Jeffrey Goldberg focuses narrowly on the president’s policies in Syria to argue that Obama walked a path of restraint across the world. The president’s grand strategy, however, is at least mildly activist in nature. This is true even in areas where the administration has exercised the most caution, such as the Middle East. Obama recommitted to U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, oversaw the Iranian nuclear deal, attacked al Qaeda and ISIS, and focused (albeit belatedly) on Syria by pushing hard for a diplomatic deal. Although Obama deserves fair marks for his overall foreign policy record, his administration has made a series of critical strategic errors: it bungled the pivot to Asia, and it failed to regain the trust of Washington’s allies in the Gulf. Moreover, the overdue rebalance back to Europe failed to prevent Putin from outfoxing Western allies in Ukraine and Syria”.

Quite rightly he argues that “the Trump Doctrine should fail before he gets a chance to put it into practice. His perspective on U.S. foreign policy is contradictory, confusing, and destined for the historical dustbin if enacted. For example, Trump has promised to restore “global peace,” rebuild the U.S. military, eliminate ISIS, contain “radical Islam,” and act as a reliable ally. At the same time, he has also promised to withdraw from NATO if allies do not take more responsibility for their own security”.

He turns to Clinton “Clinton’s foreign policy may be the most sound of all three. Her policies are more robust than Obama’s on every major security challenge and are better positioned to help the United States secure favourable outcomes to a range of global conflicts. The world’s challenges require a determined use of U.S. leadership­, not isolationism. And in the areas where Obama’s restraint has failed, the more activist Hillary Clinton Doctrine (not to be confused with that of her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s doctrine of humanitarian intervention) could likely prevail. The Hillary Clinton Doctrine would counter Russian aggression by strengthening the European Reassurance Initiative, which would permanently place larger amounts of allied troops and weaponry in eastern Europe. Obama’s ERI focused on the installation of equipment and modest, rotating brigades of multinational troops. Most important, the administration has failed to negotiate reciprocal commitments from its European allies. When the Free Syrian Army could legitimately have crippled Assad’s regime, Clinton favoured creating a no-fly zone that would have facilitated the attack. This would have prevented Russia from entering the conflict and tipping its outcome in Assad’s favour, as well. She also called for a refugee safe zone, which could have stopped the migration crisis before it started. Had Obama supported regime change in Syria, Clinton would likely have helped orchestrate the UN’s biggest peacekeeping operation to date. This would have prevented ISIS from taking root in the country and could have led to a stable and successful transition of power. At any rate, the world would have likely avoided a prolonged civil war that has turned into a proxy battle that threatens Middle Eastern and European security alike. Even now, Clinton favors a no-fly zone and a refugee exclusion zone. Under her plan, NATO would guard the sky, Turkey would provide ground forces, the EU would oversee refugee zones, and the UN would monitor Syria’s diplomatic channels”.

The writer correctly argues that “The former secretary of state received blame for mishandling the Benghazi siege, but her assessment of Libya’s challenges following the overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi was nevertheless correct. It took nearly two years for Libya’s government and security apparatus to deteriorate. There was ample time for the international community to support a civilian stability operation that could have disarmed or disbanded the country’s militias. Instead, Western allies failed to secure the peace after NATO’s successful military operation, and a civil-cum-proxy war gradually emerged. These forces also failed to prevent regime weapons from spreading across the region. This was the case in Mali, where arms helped propel a brutal conflict that ended only after a costly French intervention. As president, Clinton would refocus Washington’s attention on Libya—not only to root out ISIS training camps but to support the country’s coalition government as well. The Ukraine crisis provides another instance where Obama’s restraint proved costly. By failing to support Ukraine’s fight against Russia, the Obama administration squandered the West’s opportunity to deter Moscow from future aggression. A Clinton administration, however, would have provided Ukraine with lethal weapons at the onset of the crisis. This would have prevented Russia from aiding separatist rebels in Crimea and could have made Putin think twice before intervening in Syria. Furthermore, her administration would not only raise the cost of Russian aggression and restore conventional deterrence in Europe, it would give the Ukrainian government a more complete set of tools that could help restore the country’s freedom from Moscow”.

He argues that a Clinton administration would make Europe responsible for its own security. However this is unlikely. With renewed American leadership the Europeans would have little reason to increase defence spending, yet this is a price worth paying for increased US involvement in world affairs.

He ends arguing that “Global instability is set to continue, and likely increase, after Obama leaves office. The next president will have a slim margin of error for solving these problems. But had the Clinton Doctrine been in place over the last four years, odds are that the United States could have kept Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council happy, deterred Putin from intervening in Syria, removed the Assad regime from power, and gotten the UN to shepherd a governance transition after his removal. Libya would have been a more stable (albeit struggling) country as well. In Asia, Washington would have seen Beijing’s hard-liners have less influence in Chinese affairs. And in Europe, Clinton could have made U.S. allies provide a greater share of their own security burden. Plus, a Clinton administration would have also been able to negotiate a successful nuclear deal with Iran. The number of security crises is more than likely to increase over the coming years, and the Clinton Doctrine is better equipped than that of Obama or Trump to deal with them”.

Libya advances on ISIS

13/06/2016

Libyan security forces captured a second town from in as many days from Islamic State, a spokesman said, pushing the militant group back toward its stronghold of Sirte and away from positions near major oil terminals. The Petroleum Facilities Guard took control of Nawfiliyah, about 130 km (80 miles) from Sirte, though fighting outside the town raged on and some PFG members had been wounded, spokesman Ali al-Hassi said. The PFG captured the nearby town of Ben Jawad on Monday after clashes that killed five of its combatants. PFG forces say they are fighting on behalf of a U.N.-backed unity government that arrived in Tripoli in March to try to end factional chaos prevailing since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, with Islamist militants taking root in the security vacuum. PFG forces have advanced since separate brigades aligned with the unity government pushed Islamic State back to the outskirts of Sirte from the west. Western states are counting on the unity government to bring together Libya’s armed factions and tackle Islamic State, which has exploited anarchy in the oil-producing North African state to establish its strongest base outside Syria and Iraq”.

Bibi moves (even further) right

13/06/2016

A report notes the Israeli reshuffle, ““It’s delusional,” said Benny Begin, a senior Likud parliamentarian, when asked what he thought of Avigdor Lieberman’s incipient appointment as Israel’s new defense minister. “[It] exhibits irresponsibility towards the security establishment and all of Israel’s citizens … the prime minister apparently prefers to exchange the day-to-day hardships of running a narrow coalition for hardships and dangers exponentially greater stemming from this appointment.” Begin, the son of Likud founder and former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was just one voice in a cacophony across the Israeli political spectrum shocked at the recent turn of events. A week that began with rumours of a national unity government between the center-left Zionist Union opposition party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud ended with an abrupt volte-face by Netanyahu: Out went the option of the Zionist Union, and in came Netanyahu’s former foreign minister, the ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, as defence minister. In response, outgoing Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon resigned in protest from both the government and Knesset. In a parting shot at Netanyahu, he said that he had lost confidence in the premier and that dangerous extremists had taken over both the country and his Likud party”.

The report goes onto add “Despite the war of words, the entire episode leaves Netanyahu in a politically stronger position — but it’s certainly a gamble. The drawn-out negotiations succeeded in smashing the Zionist Union, Israel’s largest opposition party, into violent, bickering factions, and likely signaled the end of Isaac Herzog’s tenure as party chairman. Netanyahu successfully neutralized a right-wing nuisance by bringing Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party into the governing coalition, in the process expanding his previously razor-thin majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset to 67 seats. This will likely allow the passage of two major pieces of legislation: a natural gas framework agreement to replace the one previously struck down by the Supreme Court, and a two-year budget. The budget deal will go a long way in ensuring his government’s survival, as failure to pass a budget triggers, by law, early elections. Meanwhile, it’s likely not a coincidence that the first order of business announced by Netanyahu in the immediate wake of the Lieberman-Yaalon kerfuffle last week was the reworked gas deal. But a government that had already been described as “the most right-wing” in Israeli history has now become even more extreme, a development sure to cause unease internationally. President Barack Obama’s administration has already said the Lieberman appointment “raises legitimate questions” about Israel’s policies moving forward”.

The piece continues “But for Netanyahu, the political gains appear to outweigh the domestic and international opprobrium. Among the prime minister’s right-wing base, his recent political maneuvers have been cause for celebration. Yaalon is no dove — he consistently spoke out against a Palestinian state, once calling Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive and messianic” for his peace efforts — he did believe in upholding the rule of law and the IDF’s moral standards. This made him an outlier both in the Netanyahu government and Likud. The divide between Yaalon and Netanyahu burst out into the open in the aftermath of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria’s killing of an already-neutralised Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron in March. Yaalon, along with the IDF high command, condemned Azaria’s actions, promising a full investigation and trial. In contrast, many right-wing politicians, like Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, came out in support of Azaria, calling him a hero. While Netanyahu paid lip service to the IDF’s ethical doctrine of “purity of arms,” he also made a show of ringing up Azaria’s father and urged the military judges trying the case to show understanding towards the soldier”.

Worryingly he makes the point that “It is an open secret that a large segment of the Likud’s Central Committee is today made up of highly disciplined religious-nationalists who vote in Likud primaries to influence the makeup of the country’s ruling party, and then in general elections turn around and vote for other pro-settler parties. One such Central Committee operative, Yossi Dagan, head of the West Bank’s Shomron Regional Council, was asked by the Yediot Aharonot daily last weekend what he expected from the new defence minister. “To return the deterrent [value] to the IDF and to remove obstacles to [settlement] construction” in the West Bank, Dagan replied flatly. Another Likud Central Committee member, Avi Roeh, the head of the Binyamin Regional Council, told the newspaper that he hoped Lieberman would think of new ways to save illegal settlement outposts mandated for demolition. “Yaalon, who obsessively attributed holiness to every court decision, didn’t even want to try,” Roeh said. “We need someone here who will dare.” Netanyahu, for his part, defended the Likud strongly against Yaalon’s attacks”.

Pointedly he argues that “It is these two contradictions — between Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, and between settlements and peace — that lie at the crux of the current political moment. Yaalon ran afoul of his own party, and his own prime minister, precisely on issues relating to the continued occupation of the West Bank: settlements, rules of engagement, security and economic cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and above all, the relationship between the political echelon and the defense establishment. It is indicative of the disconnect between the government and the army that Yaalon was the only retired general in recent memory to have entered politics on the side of Likud; with him gone, Netanyahu’s cabinet is bereft of major security figures save for Yoav Galant, a retired general from the center-right Kulanu party”.

It ends “Netanyahu’s latest maneuver may prove to be his undoing — a bridge too far that finally galvanizes the long-serving prime minister’s many challengers. Perhaps, as former Defense Minister and Likud member Moshe Arensopined, a “political earthquake is in the offing.” Recent polls have shownthat if Yaalon joins with other prominent center-right politicians then this new party would have a chance at toppling Likud — although who this party’s choice for prime minister would be is still far from clear. Netanyahu is gambling that the short-term damage wrought by the Lieberman appointment will be outweighed by the creation of a stable, ideologically coherent government. He is also betting that the international community, for all its bluster, won’t punish such a government for its policies, and that his political opponents will be too fractured to mount a serious bid to topple him. But above all, Netanyahu is gambling that through a mixture of apathy, fear, or conviction, the Israeli public is more like the modern Likud than most would like to believe”.

European defence spending rises

11/06/2016

Spending on defence by European members of NATO will grow for the first time in a decade, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Financial Times in an interview published on May 31. “The forecast for 2016, based on figures from allied nations, indicates that 2016 will be the first year with increased defense spending among European allies for the first time in many, many years,” Stoltenberg said. “We are faced with uncertainty. We are faced with more threats, more security challenges, than in a generation,” he said. Last year, NATO’s European allies spent $253 billion on defense compared with U.S. military spending of $618 billion. That amounts to about 1.43 percent of the allies’ gross domestic product, thus putting them about $100 billion under their 2 percent annual spending commitments, The Financial Times reported. NATO did not provide exact figures for 2016, but Baltic states which border Russia have announced large military spending increases this year, with Latvia’s spending surging by 60 percent, Lithuania’s jumping by 35 percent, and Estonia’s and Poland’s both increasing by 9 percent. The United Kingdom’s military spending is also expected to increase this year.

Trump administration members?

11/06/2016

A report from Foreign Policy discusses who might advise Donald Trump, “None of the Republicans who might be considered for a seat in the cabinet of a President Donald Trump — including a Vice President Newt Gingrich, Secretary of State Bob Corker, Defense Secretary Tom Cotton, Attorney General Chris Christie, or Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sessions — shares every part of the GOP nominee’s ever-evolving “America First” doctrine. Some even say they’re concerned about it. But that’s not stopping either Trump or the prospective picks from flirting with the prospect of uniting under the roof of the White House”.

He adds “Trump has amassed enough delegates to ensure his coronation as his party’s nominee at the Republican convention in July, fueling intense speculation about his running mate and other members of his potential administration. But the mogul’s rejection of decades of GOP foreign-policy thinking and his own neo-isolationist views about America’s role in the world are raising a difficult question: Who will put aside their own beliefs and serve in his potential administration? Take Gingrich, who says that Trump is right to keep his distance from the GOP establishment. The former House speaker was once the very definition, authoring the conservative 1994 “Contract with America” platform, and has earned millions of dollars since leaving office by leveraging his connections to other powerful Republican lawmakers. “You have a national security and foreign policy system that is out of sync with reality,” Gingrich told Foreign Policy this week, adding that 70 percent of Trump’s picks should “come from outside of Washington.” The former Georgia congressman helped engineer the GOP’s first House majority in almost half a century in the 1990s. He vigorously supported the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, the 2003 Iraq invasion and, as a presidential candidate in 2012, the previous year’s U.S. military intervention in Libya. Now, however, he is praising Trump for having the exact opposite positions on trade and the use of American power in places like Iraq and Syria”.

The report goes on to mention “For his part, Trump, who has no political experience, has said he’s seeking Republican foreign policy and military veterans to serve as his closest advisors. To generate maximum publicity for the Republican convention — and to calm establishment figures worried about who he might appoint — his camp is even considering the unorthodox move of unveiling members of his cabinet in Cleveland. Trump’s campaign declined to comment. “We are not ready to discuss at this time,” said spokesperson Hope Hicks. Trump is clearly trying to burnish his foreign-policy credentials. He recently embarked on a “feel good” tour in Washington, meeting with Cotton and other conservative voices. He’s also making a point of publicizing meetings with GOP foreign-policy leaders like Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and former Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger. And in early May, Trump tapped none other than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to serve as chairman of his transition team. As a rival presidential candidate, Christie slammed Trump as inexperienced and unserious, saying, “We do not need reality TV in the Oval Office right now.” Trump now says he’d make a “great” attorney general”.

The piece goes on to note that “As for his running mate, a Monday meeting at Trump Tower in New York with Corker fueled speculation the Tennessee Republican might top his shortlist. Joining Trump’s ticket would force Corker to do some rhetorical gymnastics to explain how his own views are now in line with Trump’s. The Tennessean has a reputation for bipartisanship, working with the so-called Gang of Eight senators who tried to pass immigration reform by introducing an amendment to strengthen their bill’s border security provisions. “I just hope that we don’t let demagogues prevail,” he said of opponents of the effort in 2014. And though he’s been critical of the Obama administration’s national security strategy, particularly surrounding the Iran nuclear deal, Corker worked closely with White House officials on a stalled effort to debate and authorize the U.S.-led war against ISIS. Corker has also criticized Trump personally, saying in December that Trump’s proposed Muslim ban runs “completely counter to the values and principles of our great nation.” Trump, by contrast, has railed against the immigration reform push as “amnesty,” and slams both the Bush and Obama administrations for the rise of ISIS. Trump has also wrongly said he opposed the invasion of Iraq”.

The report concludes “For now, Corker says he believes Trump is “evolving” toward a “more realist” foreign policy, though he didn’t offer any details. Corker also dismissed rumors he might join a Trump ticket. “Anyone who is asked will probably weigh between where they are now, and where that opportunity was,” Corker said. “And if they thought they could have impact, would do so.” Corker also said that some of Trump’s “initial reaction” to questions of foreign policy has reflected his lack of experience. But he said the mogul is benefiting from more experienced advisors. Trump’s team describes it as “professionalizing” his campaign, including by giving what was billed as a major foreign-policy address last month at a Washington think tank, which Corker praised for challenging the Washington foreign policy establishment of which he is a part”.

It ends “Yet Trump has also either doubled down or flip-flopped on some of his more controversial foreign-policy prescriptions. On his proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States, he’s since said Americans would be excluded, emphasized it would be “temporary,” and described it as merely a “suggestion.” Trump has also repeated his threats to pull the American military back from NATO and Japan and South Korea, encouraging those long-standing American allies to arm themselves with nuclear weapons while saying he’d meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to get a deal to get rid of his own array of nuclear arms. Trump’s sometimes contradictory views about U.S. foreign policy mirror the American public’s own muddled thinking. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that nearly 60 percent of registered voters want the U.S. to “to deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own.” But for the first time in a decade, more Americans, and especially Republicans, say military spending should be increased rather than reduced. As Trump considers his cabinet, his warming relationship with top Republicans could leave earlier but lower-profile supporters in the cold. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a Marine Corps veteran who endorsed Trump in February, said Trump “missed an opportunity” by not meeting with such veteran congressional supporters during a recent trip to Washington. Hunter, who deployed on three combat tours, including to Fallujah, which Iraqi forces are currently attempting to take back from ISIS, has been a reliably hawkish voice in Congress since his election to his father’s House seat in 2008, when the elder Hunter ran for president. He has slammed the Obama administration’s strategy in the fight against the Islamic State, saying airstrikes won’t do the job and “somehow we need to get involved in this fight … and show them how to win again.” Obama’s foreign policy, he said, is “feckless” and “naive” for attempting to withdraw from the world”.

It ends “Trump too, was initially for the Iraq War before he was against it. As a candidate, he’s said he’d “bomb the shit out of” ISIS, and would send U.S. forces into Iraq to seize its oil and give the proceeds to veterans. But in a March debate, he suggested, “we would have been better off if the politicians took a day off instead of going into war” in Iraq or Libya. Gingrich predicted foreign policy would ultimately sink likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who advocated for intervention in Libya as secretary of state. “You can’t go back and look at her position on Qaddafi and conclude anything but it was totally uninformed and led to a total disaster,” he said. Trump’s sell on foreign policy this fall in the general election would be “easy,” Gingrich said. “If you think you’re winning in the Middle East, vote for Hillary. If you think the trade deals have been good for America, vote for Hillary,” he said. Still, though he’s made clear he’s open to it, Gingrich wouldn’t say whether he’d serve as Trump’s vice president, if called”.

 

“Turkey has recalled its envoy to Germany in protest”

11/06/2016

Turkey has recalled its envoy to Germany in protest against German MPs declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians during WWI as “genocide”. Turkey called the vote “an example of ignorance and disrespect”. Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their people died in the atrocities of 1915. Turkey says the toll was much lower and rejects the term “genocide”. The vote heightens German-Turkish tensions at a time when Turkey’s help is needed to control migrant arrivals. The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said the resolution would seriously affect relations with Germany, and that the government would consider further measures in response to the vote”.

“Historians will blame Barack Obama, rightly, for contributing to the disorder”

11/06/2016

Kori Schake writes a response to the exposition of the Obama Doctrine in the Atlantic, “There is much to unpack in Barack Obama’s remark to Jeffrey Goldberg that Saudi Arabia needs to “share” the Middle East with Iran. Note that he makes little distinction between the claims of an American ally and a state sponsor of terrorism, or their respective methods. It is the progressive’s equivalence, akin to Apple’s insistence that it cannot grant “backdoors” to the U.S. government even with a court order because then it would have to permit even the most repressive governments access to the data on people’s phones. President Obama has done a creditable job of engaging with American adversaries, creating opportunities for cooperation. Whether that is enough to balance the erosion of the international order caused by his policies—an erosion Obama would surely say is not his fault, and instead attributable to titanic, uncontrollable global trends—may prove the essential question surrounding his foreign-policy legacy”.

She goes on to argue “Goldberg’s article begins with Obama weighing whether to intervene in Syria’s civil war, the defining choice of his time in office. In my judgment, though, the reviews of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan that Obama undertook in the first year of his presidency provide the template for understanding the failures of his administration. During the presidential campaign, Obama had criticized George W. Bush for under-resourcing the Afghan War, creating an expectation in the State and Defense Departments that the new president would seek to bring objectives and means into better alignment. The reviews were run by some of the foreign-policy establishment’s best hands, yet White House officials bridled at being boxed in; they complained that the military wasn’t giving them good options, then refused options that aligned with the president’s stated policies. These officials, it seems, never considered the possibility that they were giving vague or contradictory political direction. They acted as if deploying tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan was outlandish, whereas military officials considered that number small in relation to what they were being asked to achieve. Obama made policy decisions with trusted aides outside the traditional policy process”.

She makes the valid point that “All this resulted in strategic incoherence—a disconnect between the description of the threat to the United States and the means Obama was willing to commit to counter it, countervailing messages regarding an escalation of effort and an arbitrary timeline to execute the mission. The bureaucracy was excluded and emasculated; power clearly now resided only in the off-line White House staff. It is the process, as much as the policy decisions, that has contributed to the Obama administration’s poor record on national security. I imagine Brent Scowcroft, the former George H.W. Bush national-security adviser whom Obama professes to admire, would be aghast at a national-security process that failed to seriously consider elementary drawbacks to the preferred course of action, as appears to have been the case during the Obama administration’s decisions to intervene militarily in Libya and not enforce its red line against chemical-weapons attacks in Syria. I hope that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough asked Obama, on their famous walk to reconsider enforcing the red line and striking the Assad regime, what Scowcroft would think of a last-minute refusal to honour a president’s own policy, or the long-term costs of a president failing to live up to his word. But I strongly suspect he didn’t”.

She goes on to argue that “In Goldberg’s article, Stephen Sestanovich describes Obama as a “retrenchment” president akin to Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon—leaders elected to scale back the country’s overseas commitments. That seems to me not quite severe enough a judgment. The better parallel is to Lyndon Johnson fighting wars “he believed to be unwinnable” (as Goldberg describes Obama). Sending soldiers into harm’s way when you consider their fight pointless must weigh heavily on the conscience. And that may be the best explanation of Obama’s inaction: He does not appear to believe that military force can achieve anything lasting. And yet he cannot see that the uncertainty he projects about his policies, and the half-hearted military efforts he undertakes, are what prevent military force from being successful. Obama claims to believe that, in Goldberg’s wonderful description, “rhetoric should be weaponized sparingly.” But what is most striking about Obama’s foreign policy is the enormous chasm between the president’s soaring rhetoric and stingy policies. He seems to enjoy describing the mega-forces shaping the international order, but fails to connect their centrifugal effects with his failures in what former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz calls “tending the garden.” He speaks in the cadences of moral gravity, but (his Nobel Prize acceptance speech notwithstanding) acts as though there are no costs to inaction. He parsimoniously weighs what support he gives without appreciating that helping others solve their problems not only leaves the United States with fewer problems abroad, but also gains America goodwill among those who can help solve its own problems. What we are now witnessing is the degree to which American reticence sets all boats rocking”.

She correctly ends “America may yet ride out the tumult. It is better buffered than most states against a more chaotic and dangerous international order. But I expect historians will blame Barack Obama, rightly, for contributing to the disorder”.

 

OPEC rejects production ceiling

11/06/2016

OPEC will stick to its policy of unfettered production after members rejected a proposal to adopt a new output ceiling, but ministers were united in their optimism that global oil markets are improving. While crude prices dipped briefly after Thursday’s meeting, there was little of the rancor that punctuated last December’s gathering. The more harmonious atmosphere meant the group was able to appoint a new secretary-general — Nigeria’s Mohammed Barkindo — something it hadn’t been able to agree on since 2012.  “The atmosphere in today’s meeting was calm without any tensions,” Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, whose disagreements with his Saudi counterpart had unsettled previous meetings. There is “very good unity” among members, he said. The change of mood reflects two developments: a Saudi Arabian oil minister determined to make his first meeting a success and, more importantly, the 80 percent rally in oil prices since January that’s made ministers confident OPEC’s two-year old strategy of trying to win market share from higher-cost producers is working”.

“the Chabahar port deal also offers India a way to outflank Pakistan”

11/06/2016

An article by Keith Johnson notes how India is trying to outflank Pakistan, “India’s plan to spend $500 million on a new port complex on Iran’s Indian Ocean coast caps a decade-long quest to find a way to get sorely needed supplies of energy. But the Chabahar port deal also offers India a way to outflank Pakistan and elbow its way into the economic and diplomatic jockeying that is reshaping Central Asia. During a visit to Iran this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a spate of deals that included the long-sought accord to develop the port of Chabahar, which sits less than 50 miles from Gwadar, the deepwater port China is developing in Pakistan. The development plans will give Iran its first deepwater port, to finally allow it to conduct global trade with big cargo ships rather than the small ships its ports can currently handle, thus ending its reliance on the United Arab Emirates as a shipping intermediary”.

Johnson writes “The Chabahar plans also include factories as well as road and rail links to Afghanistan and beyond. Once complete, the new port could help India bypass Pakistan and deepen its ties with energy-rich countries in Central Asia like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Chabahar also promises to give Afghanistan an outlet to the sea, potentially boosting the trade prospects of the landlocked and war-torn nation. “It’s meant to ease access to key markets,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center. The port and rail connections will give India, which has become one of the biggest energy consuming countries in the world, access to natural gas from Iran and countries in Central Asia, as well as offering quicker transit for Indian trade as far afield as Russia. “For India, it’s about economics and energy,” he said. Chabahar has been on the drawing board for more than a decade, but was stalled due to Iran’s international isolation. But Iran and India have long had close ties: Even when Iranian oil exports were sharply limited by U.S. sanctions, India remained one of Iran’s biggest customers. Now that sanctions are being lifted as part of the nuclear deal, India is rushing to take advantage”.

Interestingly, he adds “closer ties with Iran could also complicate India’s relations with the United States just ahead of Modi’s long-awaited visit to Washington next month. Spurred by concerns over Chinese expansion in Asia, and particularly in the South China Sea and in the Indian Ocean, New Delhi and Washington just opened the door to greater defence cooperation, especially between their navies. The United States is keeping a close eye on the Indian investment in Iran, a State Department official told Congress this week. But since the deal is mostly meant to give India trade access it currently doesn’t have — rather than deepen military ties with Tehran — it won’t likely raise red flags, Nisha Desai Biswal, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said at the hearing. That would be good news for New Delhi, which has long been seeking alternative ways of addressing its growing energy needs without relying on an ambitious, quixotic, $10 billion plan to build a pipeline that would snake from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. Groundbreaking has begun on the project, known as TAPI, but the pipeline’s viability is threatened both by terrorism and instability in Afghanistan and by long-standing enmity between Pakistan and India. Chabahar could pave the way for India to tap the vast deposits of natural gas in Central Asia without worrying about shipping its energy supplies through war-torn Afghanistan or through Pakistani territory. And if post-sanctions Iran is able to attract enough foreign investment to rejuvenate its natural gas fields,  the Shiite republic could also become a source of gas for India”.

Pointedly he adds “That’s not to say that broader geopolitical calculations don’t enter into New Delhi’s thinking. In recent years, China has pushed its own plan to integrate Central and South Asia with a so-called “new Silk Road” that includes overland road and rail links and a maritime route across the Indian Ocean from China to Europe. Chinese investment in Gwadar is part of that, as is another port deal in Sri Lanka and a military base in Djibouti. Just this week, a Chinese firm inked a deal to develop port and industrial facilities in Oman. The deepening diplomatic and military ties between Beijing and Islamabad in particular make many in New Delhi nervous. “The Chinese penetration into the subcontinent is of course a concern for India,” said C. Raja Mohan, the director of Carnegie India. That concern about China combines with the legacy of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, which at a stroke pushed Indian borders away from both Iran and Afghanistan. Ever since, Pakistan has refused to allow India access through its territory, cutting it off from Afghanistan and essentially locking India out of China’s Silk Road projects”.

He ends “For India, said Mohan, Chabahar offers a route to sidestep the geographical legacy of partition and regain direct access to its former neighbours. It’s a way to not only push back against perceived Chinese encirclement, but also gives India a path to play a bigger part in developing Afghanistan and Central Asia. Indeed, some Chinese commentators have concluded that the Chabahar port plus the road and rail links will give India a much bigger voice in Afghanistan’s future. “Basically, it all comes down to the historical consequences of partition,” Mohan said”.

China pressures America over the South China Sea

09/06/2016

China will “pressure” the United States on maritime issues at talks in Beijing next week because of Chinese concern about an increased U.S. military presence in the disputed South China Sea, a major state-run newspaper said on Tuesday. China has been angered by what it views as provocative U.S. military patrols close to islands China controls in the South China Sea. The United States says the patrols are to protect freedom of navigation. “Beijing will pressure Washington over maritime issues during the upcoming Strategic and Economic Dialogue, as the United States’ increasing military presence in the South China Sea is among China’s major concerns,” the official China Daily said, citing unidentified officials. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims”.

“The supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban targeted by the drone strike”

09/06/2016

An interesting article notes the links between Iran and the Taliban, “On May 21, after a drone strike obliterated a car and its two occupants in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, local officials discovered a Pakistani passport, miraculously intact, amid the smoldering wreckage and two bodies charred beyond recognition. The passport belonged to a man identified as Wali Muhammad. Its photo bore an uncanny resemblance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban targeted by the drone strike, who lay dead close by. According to reports in the Pakistani press, the passport indicated that its owner, presumably Mullah Mansour, had been returning from Iran, where he had been since April 26. He had also traveled there for several weeks in February and March. Mullah Mansour’s decision to visit Iran and leave his sanctuary in Balochistan — where the Afghan Taliban’s top leadership had long been safely ensconced — is odd. After all, Tehran is no friend of the Taliban; on the contrary, it has formally aligned itself with Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban actors. It played an instrumental role at the 2001 Bonn Conference that established a post-Taliban government. In the early years of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Tehran gave Washington maps showing Taliban positions, and its military offered to train 20,000 Afghan troops”.

The article adds “Iran also has good reason to distance itself from the Taliban. Simple sectarian considerations — Iran is Shiite, the Taliban is Sunni — offer one explanation. But the divergences run deeper: The Taliban harbours links to Jundallah, an anti-state Sunni terror group in Iran. It oversees a flourishing narcotics trade that feeds Iran’s crippling heroin epidemic, and it has been blamed for the killings of nearly a dozen Iranian diplomats at their consulate in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998, which brought Iran and Taliban-run Afghanistan to the brink of war (according to some accounts, the Pakistani anti-Shiite militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba was behind that attack). Western authorities have a simple explanation for Mullah Mansour’s presence in Iran: He was there to receive medical treatment, according to a European official quoted in the New York Times, in order to avoid Pakistani hospitals and the watchful eye of his patron, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. No specifics were given as to what he was being treated for. The Wall Street Journal, curiously, has reported that Mullah Mansour was actually in Iran to visit family. In any case, U.S. officials knew of his whereabouts and, aided by communications intercepts, were able to track him there. According to a tweet by NPR correspondent Tom Bowman, Washington even had his SIM card number”.

The report goes on, “Mullah Mansour’s trip to Iran may well have been a simple trip to the doctor. But the trip may have had more nefarious purposes, too. Despite the differences between Tehran and the Taliban, they share some key interests and have often cooperated operationally. Indeed, Tehran and the Taliban have a more symbiotic relationship than meets the eye. In particular, they are both wary of the West and particularly the United States. And each seeks to undercut Washington’s influence. Thomas Joscelyn, an international security analyst and senior editor with the Long War Journal, has presented a compelling case of long-standing links between Iran and the Taliban. These links date back to 2000, when, according to unclassified U.S. government memos, Mullah Mohammed Omar tasked Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, the Taliban governor of Herat province, with improving relations between the organization and Tehran. As a result of this outreach, Iran agreed to supply the Taliban with mines and small arms. (On two separate occasions in 2007 and 2011, international forces in Afghanistan intercepted arms shipments from Iran destined for the Taliban.) The two sides also inked an open border agreement that enabled the Taliban to smuggle money, goods, and fighters into Iran. Khairkhwa’s outreach laid the groundwork for a later, major triumph of Iran-Taliban cooperation: the 2012 opening of a Taliban office in the Iranian city of Zahedan, home to many of the several million Afghans residing in Iran”.

The writer goes on to make he point, “News reports over the last year suggest increased levels of Iranian cash and arms transfers to the Taliban. But why? One reason, which may also help explain Moscow’s recent outreach to the Taliban, is the shared unease about the rising influence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, where several thousand former Taliban fighters, most of them in the eastern province of Nangarhar, have declared their allegiance to the group. Some of Mullah Mansour’s supporters, demoralized by their leader’s sudden death, could join these Islamic State-aligned fighters. Another factor that may help explain Iran-Taliban comity is the Taliban’s desire to wean itself off Pakistani sanctuaries and other largesse. As I’ve written previously, NATO interviews with Taliban detainees reveal that many of the group’s leaders and fighters chafe at their reliance on Islamabad, a patron many Taliban members do not trust because of the tight control it likes to exert over them as well as its willingness to arrest those Taliban personnel deemed uncooperative. With the Taliban reeling from the death of Mullah Mansour in Balochistan — a sanctuary where the group had never felt vulnerable before — it may have an even stronger incentive to secure alternative arrangements that do not involve Pakistan. For the Taliban, this could amplify the utility of retaining, if not intensifying, its ties to Tehran — and particularly, as some observers have suggested, by using areas it controls in Afghanistan to work out arrangements with Iran to receive covert financial support”.

He ends “In reality, Tehran is likely to play a double game: It will continue to work with Kabul while providing covert support to the Taliban. The U.S.-Iran nuclear deal may have eased some of the tensions in U.S.-Iran relations, but the two nations have not magically become friends. Meanwhile, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, which may not be drawn down as quickly as President Barack Obama had wished, will continue to trouble Iran, even if it is secretly reassured that U.S. forces could help bring a modicum of stability to Afghanistan. Furthermore, Iran is unlikely to simply wash its hands of an organization that controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since 2001. Ultimately, the complex ties between Tehran and the Taliban exemplify a slight variation of a well-known diplomatic dictum: The enemy of my enemy is my frenemy”.

 

Encircling ISIS in Libya

07/06/2016

Forces loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed unity government say they aim to encircle Sirte, Islamic State’s stronghold in Libya, having moved to within 15 km (10 miles) of the city center. The forces, composed of fighters mostly from the western city of Misrata, are now closer to Sirte than they have been for nearly a year. Last summer Misrata brigades withdrew from Sirte and Islamic State took full control there. Western states are hoping the unity government can bring together Libya’s competing factions to defeat Islamic State, though the new government has struggled to secure support beyond its power base in the west of the country. Earlier this month Islamic State surged forward towards Misrata, which lies about 240 km northwest of Sirte, taking control of the town of Abu Grain and a number of villages and checkpoints in the area before being pushed back”.

“This is how fascism comes to America”

07/06/2016

Robert Kagan in the Washington Post, writes that “The Republican Party’s attempt to treat Donald Trump as a normal political candidate would be laughable were it not so perilous to the republic. If only he would mouth the party’s “conservative” principles, all would be well. But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone. And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up”.

Kagan goes on, “That this tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably surprised Trump as much as anyone else. Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous. Republican politicians marvel at how he has “tapped into” a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms. As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France — that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people”.

Kagan unswervingly continues, “This phenomenon has arisen in other democratic and quasi-democratic countries over the past century, and it has generally been called “fascism.” Fascist movements, too, had no coherent ideology, no clear set of prescriptions for what ailed society. “National socialism” was a bundle of contradictions, united chiefly by what, and who, it opposed; fascism in Italy was anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, anti-capitalist and anti-clerical. Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Führer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation. Whatever the problem, he could fix it. Whatever the threat, internal or external, he could vanquish it, and it was unnecessary for him to explain how. Today, there is Putinism, which also has nothing to do with belief or policy but is about the tough man who single-handedly defends his people against all threats, foreign and domestic. To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche. In democracies, at least for politicians, the only thing that matters is what the voters say they want — vox populi vox Dei. A mass political movement is thus a powerful and, to those who would oppose it, frightening weapon. When controlled and directed by a single leader, it can be aimed at whomever the leader chooses. If someone criticizes or opposes the leader, it doesn’t matter how popular or admired that person has been. He might be a famous war hero, but if the leader derides and ridicules his heroism, the followers laugh and jeer. He might be the highest-ranking elected guardian of the party’s most cherished principles. But if he hesitates to support the leader, he faces political death”.

He adds, “In such an environment, every political figure confronts a stark choice: Get right with the leader and his mass following or get run over. The human race in such circumstances breaks down into predictable categories — and democratic politicians are the most predictable. There are those whose ambition leads them to jump on the bandwagon. They praise the leader’s incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won’t let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin’s show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway. A great number will simply kid themselves, refusing to admit that something very different from the usual politics is afoot. Let the storm pass, they insist, and then we can pick up the pieces, rebuild and get back to normal. Meanwhile, don’t alienate the leader’s mass following. After all, they are voters and will need to be brought back into the fold. As for Trump himself, let’s shape him, advise him, steer him in the right direction and, not incidentally, save our political skins”.

Crucially he argues, “What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will likely comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not a Republican Party that lay down before him even when he was comparatively weak. And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt? This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him”.