Archive for July, 2016

“Liberalism is in crisis and illiberalism in the ascendant”

29/07/2016

James Traub argues that liberalism is not working, “I was in Poland this year, I asked everyone how a nation that exemplified the commitment to liberal democracy had elected a party, called Law and Justice, which openly appealed to nationalism, xenophobia, and religious traditionalism. Quite a few people responded with a question of their own: “What about Donald Trump?” Wasn’t the United States, that is, heading in the same direction? Yes, I came back, but since liberal principles are more deeply embedded in American voters and institutions, Trump won’t win. Now I find myself wondering: Isn’t that more or less what David Cameron and other advocates of staying in the European Union told themselves about British voters? I wonder if the West is sleep-walking toward “illiberal democracy,” the ideology championed by Hungary’s Viktor Orban, emulated by Poland’s Law and Justice, and implicitly endorsed by Trump and many of the Brexiteers. Turkey’s increasingly autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone further down this road than anyone. These populists win elections by rallying citizens against what they describe as “liberalism” — secular hostility to majority religious values, a cult of individualism that undermines the collective good, a concern with immigrants rather than citizens, and a celebration of the free market that weakens state control. (See Orban’s 2014 speech on the subject.) It would be a mistake to think that those cynical tactics can’t work in the more evolved democracies of Western Europe. Austria, to take one more example, may elect Norbert Hofer, a frank Islamophobe who advocates widespread gun ownership to counter an alleged immigrant threat, in a presidential election to be restaged later this year”.

Traub goes on to point out “These are the stakes I was thinking of when I wrote last week that elites had a moral obligation to stand up to the politics of resentment rather than exploit them. I now understand, from the torrent of abuse I received, that a great many readers thought I was saying that people who take issue with the forces of globalization, whether from the left or the right, should defer to elites, the high priests of the globalized world. That’s a repellent thought. I regret the use of the word “elites,” which conjures up the Trilateral Commission or a Masonic temple. I won’t use it again. Now I will try to explain myself. Illiberal democracy is a highly effective political strategy because many of the constituent principles of liberalism, especially the ones seized on by the populists, are intended to serve as bulwarks against majoritarianism. Perhaps the first liberal was James Madison, who in the Federalist Papers made the case that democracies, by their nature, endanger the rights of political minorities and must design institutions to protect those rights. Over the course of the 19th century, liberalism evolved to include advocacy of civil liberties, free markets, and activist government. The high-water mark of liberalism was the mid-20th century, when the world was threatened by the totalitarian nightmares of communism and Nazism. For its great exponents, like George Orwell, liberalism meant anti-totalitarianism”.

He makes the argument that “there are good reasons why liberalism is in crisis and illiberalism in the ascendant. Political leaders must find a way of dealing with the breakdown of the liberal order if they are to protect and preserve its basic principles. As I’ve written in previous columns, even Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has bravely opened Germany’s doors to hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Afghan refugees, now understands that she has left her public too far behind and has instead struck a deal with Turkey to stanch the flow of migrants. And free trade has become politically toxic and will continue to be unless more is done to buffer the effects on factory workers and others who see themselves as getting the short end of the globalization stick. Policy must change both to cushion globalization’s effects and to create the political space so that liberal-minded leaders can pursue sound policies. But there is no policy change that will mollify people who can’t stand the way the world is going and want to return to a mythical golden age where women and Mexicans and refugees and gays and atheists didn’t disturb the public with their demands. Populist leaders have a message for them: Liberalism is a plot to keep you down. Social tolerance threatens traditional culture, an independent media tells self-interested lies, and extending rights to accused terrorists undermines public safety. (See this very bizarre 2006 speech by Polish politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski.) Above all, as Turkey’s Erdogan tirelessly repeats, those who don’t share the majority’s views — ethnic minorities, secular elites, journalists — are enemies of the state and must be marginalized or crushed”.

Correctly he points out that these trends are made more dangerous by the post-truth age in which we live, “This is why I argued that rationalism itself is at stake and that the cynical fellow travelers of the illiberal democrats are feeding an anti-intellectual narrative. Michael Gove, until recently a contender to be England’s next prime minister, answered predictions — correct ones, as it turned out — that Brexit would lead to disaster by saying, “People in this country have had enough of experts.” The word “expert” is, of course, the pejorative term for someone who knows what he or she is talking about — like Gove, I imagine, who graduated from Oxford and spent years as a minister in Conservative Party governments. What Gove was actually saying was that people should be free to build gratifying fantasies free from unpleasant facts. Similarly, the Republican Party has spent years carving the path down that Donald Trump is now careening by telling voters that America’s borders are being overrun, a national default would bring no lasting harm, global warming is a hoax, and so on and so on. It wasn’t only Trump, but Ted Cruz and others, who campaigned on the need for massive increases in border security. Republican primary voters ate up this rhetoric — even though net immigration from Mexico is now flat. America has had enough of experts”.

He argues that “Absent a collective faith in reason, very little stands in the way of the gratifying fantasy, or the dreadful nightmare, that populists’ forge from voters’ hopes and fears. Of course, I don’t believe that deference to expertise, to technocratic knowledge, or even to science will defeat the scourge of illiberal democracy. Only good politics drives out bad politics. Perhaps only good populism can drive out bad populism. An obviously irate President Barack Obama recently argued that he, not Trump, was the real populist in American politics — since he cared about working people and Trump doesn’t. In fact, Obama’s remote, cerebral manner has, if anything, whetted the public’s appetite for a snake-oil salesman like Trump. We will always have charming scoundrels among us, but reckless populism is more pernicious than it was a decade or a generation ago. That’s not because Donald Trump and Viktor Orban are worse than their predecessors, but because so many people in the West feel cheated or betrayed by the impersonal forces of globalization and are seeking an alternate reality to occupy, whether Little England or Industrial Age America. The cynics who provide comfort for those delusions are as dangerous as the extremists”.

 

 

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China’s show of force

29/07/2016

The Southern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army unveiled a series of new weapons for sea and air combat during a visit by top military officers. In a rare revelation, the weapons were shown on state television in the wake of a landmark international tribunal rejecting Beijing’s claims to almost all of the South China Sea. Military experts said the disclosure was intended to show that the newly formed Southern Theatre Command, which covers the South China Sea, was well-prepared for any potential military confrontation with the US. In an inspection tour after the ruling, General Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the PLA, called on troops to train hard to meet any challenges, Xinhua reported on Tuesday. “Air and sea patrols should be tightly organised to handle all kinds of emergencies to ensure security of sea and air borders,” said Fan, who was accompanied by General Ma Xiaotian, commander of the PLA Air Force, and General Wei Fenghe, chief of the army’s Rocket Force, which operates the country’s missile arsenal”.

The press, democracy and Brexit

29/07/2016

An important article notes the decline of the British press, “There is a conceit among many senior editors in the U.K. that Britain has “the best journalism in the world.” At its best, certainly, British journalism is very good indeed. From the sober analysis of the Financial Times and the Economist to the tub-thumping of the tabloid press to the BBC’s worldwide reputation for accuracy and impartiality, the British public has access to a healthy mixture of domestic, foreign, and investigative reporting. On many occasions, democracy has been well served by journalists who make important stories accessible and hold power to account”.

Correctly he notes that “At its worst, however, journalism in Britain can be truly awful. Five years ago, much of the world was rightly shocked by revelations of phone-hacking on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid News of the World. The subsequent judicial investigation into the culture, practice, and ethics of the press, led by Lord Justice Leveson, exposed the tasteless practices on which some British tabloids had come to rely: the invasions into personal privacy, the gross intrusions into private grief. At the time, it seemed like a new low for the industry. If the Leveson inquiry revealed the tawdry side of the media business in the U.K., however, the Brexit campaign has featured a different kind of journalistic abuse: contempt for basic norms of truth and accuracy”.

He points out that “In the lead-up to the June 23 European Union referendum, British mainstream media failed spectacularly. Led, inevitably, by the viscerally anti-EU Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Express, and Telegraph papers, most of Britain’s national press indulged in little more than a catalog of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies. It was a ferocious propaganda campaign in which facts and sober analysis were sacrificed to the ideologically driven objectives of editors and their proprietors. The interests of readers, much less the interests of British democracy, were barely considered. Three days after the vote, I spoke to a Labour Member of Parliament who represents a constituency in northern England with one of the lowest proportions of immigrants in the country. Despite this, a majority of her constituents had voted to leave the EU. Why? Mainly, she said, because they were convinced that waves of immigrants would soon overwhelm their communities, take their jobs, and undermine their way of life. They were particularly concerned about the looming massive influx of Muslims, given the imminent European debut of Turkey – a country that stands no chance of joining the EU in my lifetime, let alone in the next few years”.

He questions, “How did things get so bad? In part, you can blame the internet, which has gutted traditional business models of journalism around the world. British journalism has been particularly vulnerable: For historical and geographical reasons – partly due to early industrialization and partly due to efficient distribution networks in a small country – Britain has long enjoyed the largest national press in any mature democracy. Nine national newspapers (10, until March, when the Independent went online-only) still battle furiously for eyeballs. This is, in many ways, for the good. But this frantic competition for a diminishing pool of readers and shrinking ad revenue, particularly at the tabloid end of the market, partly explains why some publications have been willing to sacrifice basic journalistic norms of accuracy and respect for privacy. But a second, equally powerful reason is unique to the United Kingdom — the passionate right-wing ideology that drives many of those newspapers. The country has a long history of explicit partisanship in its journalism. While there has always been a predominance of right-wing papers (at times, very right wing: the Daily Mail famously supported pro-Fascist groups during the 1930s), in the past, this was partly balanced by the mass circulation of the Mirror newspapers. But the Mirror’s decline has been precipitate; the Mails online dominance, on the other hand, driven by its embrace of celebrity news and pictures (mostly of young women in various states of undress), has enhanced its popular and political influence. Led by the Murdoch-owned Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Telegraph, with the Times (also Murdoch-owned) in a supporting role, the partisan right now overwhelms the comparatively insignificant presence of the Daily Mirror and Guardian on the left, especially with the left-leaning Independent now relegated to an online-only presence. During the referendum campaign, this toxic combination of uncompromising devotion to a political cause and contempt for the truth played a major role in leading Britain down the Brexit road”.

He mentions that “In a June 18 blog post, journalism blogger Liz Gerard compiled a montage of front-page headlines in order to demonstrate how the constant reiteration of words such as “migrants” and “borders” in large, bold font systematically ramped up the xenophobic message. “Turks, Romanians, Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Albanians: millions of them apparently want to abandon their homelands and settle in the English countryside — and only leaving the EU will stop them,” Gerard wrote. “No claim was too preposterous, no figure too huge to print.” The tabloid campaign against the EU itself — its faceless pen-pushing bureaucrats, its absurd regulations, and how much it costs the U.K. as an institution — lent itself perfectly to the oft-repeated Leave mantra of “Take back control.” Perhaps the most egregious example was a front-page Daily Mail headline on June 16 (inevitably repeated by the Sun) claiming that a truckload of migrants had arrived in the U.K. demanding, “We’re from Europe – let us in!” The story ran despite video footage that clearly demonstrated the new arrivals had informed officials that they were, in fact, refugees from Iraq and Kuwait. In a futile attempt to demonstrate that they aspired to some notion of journalistic integrity, the following day’s paper carried a “correction” consisting of 54 words at the bottom of Page 2″.

The article goes on to point out that “This was a much-repeated pattern throughout the referendum campaign: Journalist Hugo Dixon, who founded a pro-Remain fact-checking site called InFacts, drew attention to both the number of inaccurate stories and the chronically inadequate “corrections” relegated to inside pages. The problem was compounded by the sheer weight of anti-EU press. According to a Loughborough University study, once newspaper circulation is taken into account, just 18 percent of media coverage was pro-Remain compared with 82 percent pro-Leave. It’s difficult to prove conclusively that this constant drumbeat of headlines directly influenced voters’ decision-making. What is clear, however, is that it influenced the national conversation and, in particular, played an agenda-setting role for broadcasters, which in the U.K. (as in most of Europe) are bound by strict impartiality rules and are therefore more trusted by consumers to provide a nonpartisan approach. Remain campaign strategists were confident that the message of economic risk would succeed – as it had in the Scottish independence referendum – but they did not factor in a deeply hostile press whose slogans served as an echo chamber that broadcasters could scarcely resist”.

He notes how “This echo chamber was particularly evident on the vaunted BBC, which, by an unfortunate coincidence, is immersed in negotiations with the government about the renewal of its 10-year charter, always a tricky and delicate task. As a result, its normally self-assured journalists have been obsessed with “balance”: Any argument that receives airtime is accompanied by a counterargument, however patently absurd. This silliness was on display, for example, during a broadcast on the highly influential Radio 4 Today program, which featured an eminent scientist on the huge scientific research risks of Brexit. She was then “balanced” by a marginal and wholly unrepresentative cancer specialist who had previously stood as a candidate for the anti-EU UK Independence Party. Overall, the BBC’s EU referendum coverage was much more inclined to follow rather than lead. Film director Lord Puttnam, the former deputy chairman of Channel 4, a competing broadcaster, memorably described the BBC’s journalism during the campaign as “constipated.” In her post-referendum media roundup, the Guardian’s Jane Martinson revealed that, within an hour of Leave’s declaring victory, Sun editor Tony Gallagher told the Guardian: “So much for the waning power of the print media.” There was a further twist a few days later, when, on one of the most dramatic days in British politics, prominent Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, long considered the most likely next Conservative leader, abandoned his leadership bid. A leaked email suggested that, among other obstacles to a successful bid, he didn’t have the support of Murdoch or Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre. Even in the age of social and digital media, which so many commentators believe will democratize communications, old-fashioned media proprietors and editors still serve as political kingmakers in Britain”.

He concludes questioning if anything can change, “In the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal, Parliament did, in fact, accept Leveson’s key recommendation: that the press’s efforts at self-regulation should be periodically scrutinized by an independent body in order to ensure that it is abiding by its own Code of Conduct – whose first rule is that newspapers should “take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”. A Leveson compliant system would include regulatory sanctions for errant publications, such as equal prominence for corrections and fines for systematic code breaches. Had such a system been put in place, perhaps Brexit coverage would have been different. The kind of deliberate distortions that featured repeatedly across most of the tabloid press may have, at the very least, been discouraged by a regime that would oblige newspapers to print a front-page headline correction to counter a front-page headline lie. In any event, the new Conservative government, under huge pressure from the same press barons who undid Johnson, has stalled on implementing Leveson’s recommendations, and the British press today therefore feels free to break its own industry code with as much frequency and impunity as before 2011. To deflect criticism, it has established a “new” regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which is owned and run by the major publishers. As the referendum campaign demonstrated, IPSO has been ineffectual in holding its newspaper members to account. Those same commentators who preach the revolution of social media also like to cite new media like BuzzFeed, Vice News, and other online outlets as examples of greater plurality and more opportunities for journalists. These are all welcome additions, but so far they have been unable to compete with the legacy of traditional news brands, which are extending their online presence. According to some sources, the entertainment-focused Daily Mail website, which attracts upward of 200 million global visitors every month, is the most popular English-language site in the world. Perhaps that will gradually change. Meanwhile, broadcast journalism still aspires to the highest standards of accuracy and impartiality, and another hope lies in detaching those broadcast newsrooms from their mind-numbing dependency on agenda-driven newspapers”.

 

Turkish state of emergency

29/07/2016

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday announced a three-month state of emergency, saying this would enable the authorities to take swift and effective action against those responsible for last weekend’s failed military coup. Erdogan, who has launched mass purges of state institutions since the July 15 coup attempt by a faction within the military, said the move was in line with Turkey’s constitution and did not violate the rule of law or basic freedoms of Turkish citizens. “The aim of the declaration of the state of emergency is to be able to take fast and effective steps against this threat against democracy, the rule of law and rights and freedoms of our citizens,” Erdogan said. The president accuses a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, of being behind the coup. Gulen, who has many followers in Turkey and abroad, denies the charge”.

Francis humiliates Sarah

27/07/2016

A report notes how Rome rowed back from comments from cardinal Sarah, “In the wake of recent comments by its chief liturgist recommending that priests celebrate Mass ad orientem, meaning facing east with their backs to the people, beginning in Advent, the Vatican released a statement on Monday saying no new rules along those lines are in the works. A Vatican spokesman also rejected the vocabulary of a “reform of the reform” in liturgical practice, saying that phrase is “at times the source of misunderstandings.” Father Federico Lombardi said the decision to release a statement clarifying comments made by Cardinal Robert Sarah, of Guinea, came after the prelate met with Pope Francis on Saturday. “Cardinal Sarah has always been rightly concerned about the dignity of the celebration of the Mass, in order to adequately express an attitude of respect and adoration of the Eucharistic mystery,” Lombardi said”.

The piece notes “The papal spokesman added that some of Sarah’s expressions had been misinterpreted by the press, as a signal that changes in liturgical norms were imminent. “It is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – eastwards, or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes,” Sarah had said July 5, opening a conference in London called Sacra Liturgia. Although his comments were phrased as suggestions and not an edict, Sarah’s desire for a return to the ad orientem posture nevertheless generated wide reaction and debate, in large part because the posture is widely associated with the older Latin Mass in use prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). In truth, the rules for the post-Vatican II Mass also allow for the use of the ad orientem posture, and some priests celebrate it that way. In the public imagination, however, it’s generally seen as a more traditional way of doing it. In the aftermath of Sarah’s comments, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster in the UK sent a letter to priests in his diocese saying that the Mass was not the time for priests to “exercise personal preference or taste.” According to the Catholic Herald, Nichols also noted the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which lays out the rules for celebrating Mass, states in paragraph 299 that “the altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.” In his statement, Lombardi quoted the same paragraph both in Latin and in Italian”.

The report goes on to mention “Sarah was appointed to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Francis in November 2014. Lombardi said that when he visited Sarah’s dicastery, Francis expressly told the Guinea cardinal that the “ordinary” form of celebrating the Mass is the one promulgated in the missal by Pope Paul VI, meaning, after the Second Vatican Council. The pope also said that the “extraordinary” form while accepted under the means expressed by Benedict XVI in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, shouldn’t become the norm. “There are therefore no new liturgical directives for next Advent, as some have wrongly inferred from some of Cardinal Sarah’s words,” Lombardi said. Lombardi’s rejection of the phrase “reform of the reform” is also noteworthy in light of Sarah’s comments in early July”.

The piece ends “In his remarks, Sarah had said that during a private audience with the pope last April, Francis had asked him to study “the question of a reform of a reform” to see how to enrich the twofold use of the Roman rite – the “ordinary form,” meaning the post-Vatican II liturgy in the vernacular languages, and the “extraordinary form,” or the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass”.

ISIS not mentioned at Democratic convention

27/07/2016

Democrats opened their convention with an emphasis on inclusion and public service, and little mention of law and order or the rise of the Islamic State — a stark contrast to the Republicans’ focus on homeland security at their convention in Cleveland last week. Hillary Clinton has made a strategic calculation to present an optimistic view of America and its place in the world as she is formally nominated this week. It’s a bet that voters will reject what her campaign calls the inaccurate fear-mongering of Republican nominee Donald Trump. But some Democrats worry that the contrast could help Trump make up in rhetoric for a lack of traditional national security credentials. “My hope is that people will see through this,” said Michèle Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon official under President Obama and a Clinton supporter. “It’s policy by bumper sticker. There will be some people who will find the strength of his rhetoric very appealing.”

May’s Brexiteers, Johnson, Davis and Fox

27/07/2016

David Francis writes about the team for Brexit, “The prime minister who took power because of the Brexit just formed a cabinet shaped by the Brexit — but it’s not at all clear how that new government will actually manage the Brexit. The appointments by newly minted British Prime Minister Theresa May came quickly and in succession. Brexit opponent George Osborne is out as British treasury secretary, replaced by fellow opponent Philip Hammond, who left his job as foreign secretary. Hammond is being replaced by Boris Johnson, the flamboyant and controversial former mayor of London who championed the pro-Brexit movement”.

Francis writes that “Two new positions have been created to deal with the logistics of the Brexit. David Davis, a Eurosceptic conservative who campaigned to leave, wasnamed secretary of state for exiting the European Union — the so-called Brexit minister — created to guide the process to show the U.K. out of the EU. Liam Fox, another veteran of the Eurosceptic right, was appointed to the new role of international trade minister, charged with delivering the improved trade deals pro-exit campaigners promised the U.K. could get if it left the EU. He’s also pro-Brexit. In other words, five people — the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer, both anti-Brexit, and the foreign secretary, Brexit minister, and international trade minister, all pro-Brexit — are now charged with seeing Britain out of the European Union, which means they have to come to terms with 27 other nations on issues ranging from exports to migration to marriage privileges. It’s already shaping up as a messy and chaotic divorce”.

He points out that “The prime minister has said that she would not soon invoke Article 50, which would officially begin the process of formally removing Britain from the EU, before 2017 and that talks with Brussels should not be launched before the end of year. She said Britain needs time to develop its negotiating strategy. European leaders want May to get on with the Brexit, and have said no talks would start before London officially moves to leave. British officials want the U.K. to have access to the European common market, a notion powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected. She said there would be no “cherry picking” of what London wants to keep from its EU membership while jettisoning the aspects of the relationship it dislikes, such as policies allowing EU citizens to have passport-free travel to the U.K. Hammond has said talks between London and Brussels could take six years, four years longer than allowed by Article 50″.

The piece notes that “The truth is no one knows what will happen next simply because a nation has never left the European Union, said Nicolas Véron, a French economist and visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “A lot of things will happen in six months,” he told Foreign Policy on Wednesday, referring to May’s refusal to invoke Article 50 before 2017. “We don’t know what, but six months is a lot of time for unexpected things to happen in politics.” One immediate reaction was clear: shock that Johnson has become the new face of British diplomacy. The former mayor of London is known for getting stuck on a zip line and knocking over a Japanese child while playing rugby, as well as for odd statements about drugs and food. “It’s difficult to really make sense of the choices, especially Boris Johnson,” said Véron, who characterized the picks, and how they were made public, as chaotic. “The less chaotic choice is Hammond as chancellor. I struggle to make sense of the Johnson appointment in particular.” He added that he wasn’t familiar with either Davis or Fox. Mujtaba Rahman, a Europe expert at the Eurasia Group, told FP the makeup of the cabinet is a reflection of British politics more than it is an effort to put together a team that can deal with Europe; it’s slightly favoured in the pro-Brexit camp, just as the referendum was. He added, “Boris Johnson in particular is a serious risk, given his role in the Leave campaign and subsequent withdrawal from the premiership.” That’s because Johnson has, at best, a spotty reputation as a British diplomat. In the run-up to the Brexit vote, he compared Winston Churchill’s fight against totalitarian regimes in World War II with Britain’s efforts to leave a “federal superstate” and blasted President Barack Obama for his anti-Brexit stance”.

Correctly he point out Johnson’s myriad other gaffes, “Johnson has also praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for protecting Palmyra from the Islamic State. Then, in May, he was awarded 1,000 pounds, or $1,314, in a British magazine contest on who could write the most offensive poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It reads:

There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.

A 2015 trip to Iraq by Johnson has also proven controversial. Documentsreleased by the Foreign Office in January 2016 showed it had to pick up a bar tab run up by Johnson, block his planned trip to the front line of the war against the Islamic State, and stop him from driving a sports car out of an Iraqi showroom. Even May has been critical of Johnson’s ability as a statesman. Speaking in late June, before Johnson announced he would not be running for prime minister, she said: “Boris negotiated in Europe. I seem to remember [the] last time he did a deal with the Germans, he came back with three nearly new water cannon[s],” referring to anti-riot weapons Johnson secured as London’s mayor”.

The piece notes “When asked about Johnson’s appointment Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at Wednesday’s press briefing, “We’re always going to be able to work with the British, no matter who is occupying the role of foreign secretary because of our deep abiding special relationship with the United Kingdom.” He added the relationship between London and Washington “goes beyond personalities.” The other officials named Wednesday all face daunting challenges. Hammond, who has vast experience dealing with European leaders like Merkel and French President François Hollande, must navigate the U.K. through what nearly three-thirds of economists recently surveyed by Bloomberg predict to be a looming recession due to the Brexit. He must also deal with a pound sterling hovering around 31-year lows against the dollar. Britons have seen the value of their currency drop as 1.32 pounds equal one dollar. On June 23, the day of the referendum, one pound was worth $1.49. In addition, capital has been fleeing the country in the wake of the Brexit. Last week, M&G Investments suspended a 4.4 billion-pound ($5.7 billion) real-estate fund there, following in the footsteps of Aviva Investors and Standard Life Investments after a number of investors pulled out of their funds”.

It concludes “Finally, Hammond, along with Fox, will have to repair the trade relationship between London and Washington. Obama has said that Britain would moveto the back of the line when it comes to negotiating a U.K./U.S. trade deal, as opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the entirety of the EU.

French troops in Libya

27/07/2016

Three French soldiers were killed during a mission to gather intelligence in Libya, President Francois Hollande said Wednesday in the first official confirmation that France has troops in the country where IS controls a key city. Hollande said the troops died in a helicopter accident while taking part in “dangerous intelligence operations”. He did not say when the incident took place. Libyan sources gave a different account of events, telling AFP the M17 helicopter was shot down by surface-to-air missiles. They were “probably targeted by Islamist groups in the Magroun area, about 65 kilometres west of Benghazi” on Sunday, a commander of forces loyal to a controversial general, Khalifa Haftar, said. Another source close to Haftar — who opposes the internationally backed unity government in Tripoli as well as the Islamist factions that have overrun large parts of the country — said the dead soldiers were military advisors”.

Clinton and Kaine, preparing to govern

27/07/2016

A report from the New York Times notes that Clinton’s pick of Kaine means that she is looking to govern rather than campaign.

It opens “In selecting Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate, Hillary Clinton is sending the clearest signal yet that she is confident she will win the presidential election. If she were worried, she would have chosen Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who could have helped her win that critical Midwestern state — where she is now tied with Donald J. Trump. And Mr. Brown could have energized progressives nationally, who were far more enthusiastic about Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont than they have been about Mrs. Clinton. Other picks could have helped her more on Election Day. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, for instance, would have turned out Democrats and independents in his swing state. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey would have galvanized fellow African-Americans in key cities like Philadelphia and Detroit. Tom Perez, labour secretary, and Julian Castro, housing secretary, might have boosted Hispanic voting in Florida and the West. Mr. Kaine, by contrast, doesn’t bring obvious political rewards. Mrs. Clinton is likely to win his home state of Virginia in any case. The members of his natural demographic — white men — aren’t going to forget their problems with Mrs. Clinton just because Mr. Kaine is on the ticket. And he isn’t a break-up-the-big-banks liberal who will bring home the left wing of the party”.

Crucially the piece notes that “His value is almost entirely about governing — about what he can do for Mrs. Clinton in the White House rather than at the ballot box. To that end, the pick is deeply revealing about how she sees the general election and how she would govern as president. Mrs. Clinton is showing her cards: In her view, she already has a straight flush heading into the fall with President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts ready to campaign for her. She doesn’t think she needs an ace in the hole in November, according to Clinton advisers. Mr. Kaine’s chief job in the general election is to win the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 4 — it happens to be in Virginia — against his Republican counterpart, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana. Mr. Kaine and Mr. Pence are both solid debaters, but Mr. Kaine is more natural as an attack dog, a quality that Mrs. Clinton prizes. And as a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee, he is well suited to highlighting Mr. Trump’s knowledge deficits on world affairs”.

Naturally it notes that “Clinton herself is more popular than Mr. Trump with women, Hispanics, African-Americans and immigrants, which gives her some assurance that she can carry these voters without any particular help from her running mate, her advisers say. She is optimistic that because Mr. Trump is so divisive, she has no reason to fear him in traditionally Democratic states. She is investing far more money than the Trump campaign in voter turnout operations in battleground states, as well as spending far more on television commercials”.

The article goes on to discuss how Clinton and Kaine hold similar views on policy and style, “Kaine is a strong advocate of gun control, opposes the death penalty and favoured the Iran nuclear deal. He has also backed some restrictions on abortion and is a strong supporter of Israel. While he holds many progressive views, the fact that he does not come across as a fire-breathing partisan has helped give him a reputation as a moderate. He comes across like the nuts-and-bolts governor and mayor he once was — perhaps even a little boring — but it’s a style and approach to governing that won’t upstage Mrs. Clinton. “Tim is a sensible and pragmatic guy whose presence on the ticket will be very reassuring to centrist Democrats,” said Steven Rattner, a Wall Street financier and longtime ally of the Clintons. That won’t be so reassuring for supporters of Mr. Sanders, however. Mr. Kaine has supported free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Clinton’s top rival for the Democratic nomination, and other liberals regard as job and wage killers. Mr. Kaine hasn’t been an outspoken champion for the extensive overhauls of banking and Wall Street regulations that Mr. Sanders wants, nor has he been an advocate for sharply raising taxes on the wealthy”.

The report goes on to mention how “Democrats close to Mr. Sanders, who has already endorsed Mrs. Clinton, say they do not expect him to lead a revolt against Mr. Kaine, who the Vermont senator has called “a very decent guy.” Clinton advisers say they are hopeful that Mr. Kaine will win over more progressives with his stand on guns and his lines of attack against Mr. Trump. They also say that picking Mr. Brown, or even Ms. Warren, was problematic because Republican governors would have filled those seats, hurting Democratic chances of retaking the Senate. Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, will replace Mr. Kaine if he and Mrs. Clinton win”.

Interestingly the piece goes onto note how Kaine does not have a significant ego, “Among Democrats who know him well, Mr. Kaine is considered a self-effacing workhorse who shuns the spotlight and prefers digging into domestic policy and national security rather than showboating on Sunday news programs. Mrs. Clinton sees herself in much the same way. Unlike some of his rivals for the ticket, he is widely viewed by colleagues as fully capable of being president — Mrs. Clinton’s top criterion for a running mate. Mrs. Clinton also wants a vice president who acts as a sounding board for her, as Mr. Biden did for Mr. Obama and Al Gore for her husband, and can handle any task, domestic or foreign. Given his decades of experience in government and politics, Mr. Kaine wouldn’t face much of a learning curve as No. 2 to Mrs. Clinton, who is itching to dive into work after Inauguration Day. He is a strong advocate of comprehensive immigration reform and a fluent Spanish speaker, which she thinks could make him a valuable emissary on the issue with voters and former Senate colleagues. Mr. Kaine has a down-to-earth style, and drew praise for his response to the mass shooting on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007. He also received high marks when he delivered strongly bipartisan message in response to President Bush’s State of the Union address in 2006. Mrs. Clinton, with her reputation for partisanship and unpopularity with Republicans, was eager for a governing partner who would help reach out to the other party”.

The piece goes on to mention how Kaine and Bill Clinton get on well together, “Mrs. Clinton also wants a vice president who would have a good relationship with Mr. Clinton, especially since the two-term president would likely have some sort of policy role and be an outside presence in the White House. Mrs. Clinton remembers her rivalry with Mr. Gore during the first two years of the Clinton administration and wants to avoid distractions like tension between Mr. Kaine and Mr. Clinton. So far the signs are good: Mr. Clinton strongly supported the choice of Mr. Kaine, Clinton advisers say, and the two share similar policy views and were governors of Southern states”.

US and Russia both criticise UN

27/07/2016

The United States and Russia both criticized United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday for overstepping his mandate in a report on the implementation of a Security Council resolution backing a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Most U.N. sanctions on Iran were lifted in January when the U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed that Tehran fulfilled commitments under its nuclear deal with Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States. But Iran is still subject to a U.N. arms embargo and other restrictions. U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman briefed the 15-member Security Council on Monday on Ban’s first bi-annual report on the implementation of the remaining sanctions and restrictions on Iran. “The United States disagrees strongly with elements of this report, including that its content goes beyond the appropriate scope. We understand that Iran also disagrees strongly with parts of the report,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the council. Power said “while some have argued that to be balanced, the report should give Iran a chance to express complaints about sanctions relief under the deal,” the Security Council did not mandate Ban to report on such issues.

IMF and neoliberalism

25/07/2016

An unusual article notes how even the IMF might be seeing the problems of unrestrained free markets, “The research department of the International Monetary Fund dropped a political bombshell last month. The furor was set off by the publication of an article — “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” — that sparked a near-panic among advocates of free market policies and celebrations among their critics. The piece concluded that, over the past 30 years, the proponents of the economic philosophy known as “neoliberalism” have been systematically overselling the benefits of the two planks at its heart — namely, fiscal austerity during economic slowdowns and the deregulation of financial markets”.

The article adds “This is a huge concession for an institution long known for its ideological self-assuredness. Essentially, the article contends that these two policies, which the IMF has long championed, are of questionable utility. It finds that they “have not delivered” the higher economic growth rates that were promised and may have even done more harm than good. Additionally, according to the article, both fiscal austerity and increased financial openness have often exacerbated economic inequality, which itself could become a drag on future economic growth rates. In other words, the venerable institution had essentially everything wrong — at least as far as these two key tenets of neoliberalism go. Most strikingly, the article infers that three policy prescriptions long advocated by the IMF’s critics — regulation of some capital flows, Keynesian fiscal stimulus policies, and effective economic redistribution — all have more merit than the IMF has long contended. As Ben Norton wrote in Salon, these conclusions amount to heresy: “It is somewhat like the Pope declaring that there is no God; it is a volte-face on almost everything that the IMF has ever stood for.” Longtime IMF critic Naomi Klein tweeted sarcastically, “So all the billionaires it created are going to give back their money, right?” Presumably not. But the significance of the article — at least in the long term — is that it might signal a deeper reckoning, both within the IMF and more broadly across Western capitals, about the failure of 30 years of neoliberal policies to bring about financial stability or lessen widening economic divides”.

The author goes on to write that “In the meantime, unsurprisingly, the IMF leadership was quick to distance itself from the piece, making clear that it had no intention of abandoning neoliberalism. The organization’s chief economist, Maury Obstfeld, conceded that the shock of the 2008 global financial crisis has “led to a broad rethink of macroeconomic and financial policy in the global academic and policy community,” including within the fund, but argued that the troublesome article “has been widely misinterpreted” and “does not signify a major change in the fund’s approach.” Similarly, the Financial Times described the article as “more a reflection of the vigorous debates [underway] inside the IMF than a brutal takedown of the free market policies the fund has long advocated.” Indeed, despite the uproar, it’s not clear that the IMF’s approach to economic development is about to change”.

Crucially it mentions that “Many IMF watchers have noted that the fund continues to operate as usual, attaching austerity policies and other neoliberal reforms as binding conditions to its loans. Economist Jerry Epstein said while such internal debates within the IMF are healthy, they have so far had little or no impact at the operational, country level of IMF policy. Isabel Ortiz of the U.N. International Labor Organization wondered, “Will the operational side of the IMF even listen to the researchers?” The controversial article’s lead author, Jonathan Ostry — who is the deputy director of the IMF’s research department — said the piece focused on two specific policies and was not meant as an attack on “the entire neoliberal agenda or the Washington consensus.” On the other hand, he also hinted that he hoped the article would be the first of more to come and that it would set up the opportunity to more broadly examine neoliberalism this year”.

Correctly the author notes that “The fact that the IMF is using the word “neoliberalism” in such a high-profile way is telling, since it is employed almost exclusively by critics of economic liberalization. Advocates of neoliberalism prefer to avoid the term, assuming that the policies are so self-evidently right that they don’t need a name at all. The fact that the IMF’s own research department has acknowledged the term could be interpreted as a nod to the fund’s critics that some of its policies did reflect ideological biases and that other approaches are valid. If so, it’s about time. The challenges raised by neoliberal economic development policies were easy for Western leaders to ignore when they were limited to crises in the developing world, such as Latin America in the 1980s, East Asia in the 1990s, and Russia and Turkey in the early 2000s. But since the 2008 financial crisis struck the rich countries too, their shortcomings have been harder to deny. With economic inequality untamed, financial markets still unstable, and fiscal austerity having utterly failed to revive economic growth and employment to pre-2008 levels, it’s increasingly difficult to keep pretending that the status quo is working”.

The article writes that “Before Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher repopularized the ideology of free markets in the 1980s, the need for Keynesian economics and financial regulation had been widely accepted for a 40-year stretch following the Great Depression, and the advocates of free markets languished on the sidelines. Western leaders had learned the best way to prevent socialist revolutions and fascist dictatorships was to adopt policies that would avoid financial crises and lessen economic inequality. But the Reagan-Thatcher revolution set about unlearning those lessons, and the worsening inequality and financial instability of the last 30 years were the unfortunate result. If the IMF’s article is the first sign of a swing back in the other direction, Norwegian economic historian Erik Reinert, for one, won’t be surprised. He has noted that the popularity of free market policies has risen and fallen cyclically throughout history, such as before and then after the French Revolution, before the 1847 financial crisis that was followed by a string of social revolutions across Europe in 1848, and before the stock market crash of 1929 that was followed by the Great Depression. During each of these cycles, free markets were championed for a while but then eventually abandoned as financial crises became more frequent and economic inequality more pronounced”.

The writer goes on to make the point that “Today, in a time when Thomas Piketty’s critique of worsening economic inequality is a best-seller, leading U.S. presidential candidates rail against free trade deals, right-wing anti-immigrant parties win elections across Europe, and even the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development calls on its members to put the brakes on austerity, it’s clear that the political center, which has favoured neoliberal policies for the last 30 years, is no longer holding. The high-profile IMF mea culpa may well be a first shot across the bow, a sign that we are now entering what Reinert calls our own modern-day “1848 moment.”

 

“Turkish authorities have expanded a crackdown”

25/07/2016

Turkish authorities have expanded a crackdown on military officials to include police, judges, governors and millions of civil servants in a massive purge of opponents following a failed coup attempt. The Interior Ministry’s move on Monday to suspend nearly 9,000 employees raised the number of bureaucrats fired or detained to nearly 20,000. Also Monday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim suspended annual leave for more than 3 million civil servants. More than 7,500 people have been detained. A mutinous faction of Turkey’s military staged the attempted overthrow Friday night, hijacking fighter jets and helicopters to strike key installations and security forces. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his supporters now say that they face an unprecedented threat and that the campaign to root out traitors is necessary to restore the rule of law. But the sheer scale of the purge in the days since the thwarted coup has alarmed Turkey’s allies in the West and raised fears that the NATO member is on a slide toward ever more authoritarian rule”.

The Italians pyrrhic victory

25/07/2016

John Allen writes about the own goal by the Italians managing the Church’s finances, “There are many ways of analyzing the fault lines in the Vatican, but perhaps the most time-honoured (if also often exaggerated) is the tension between an Italian old guard and pretty much everybody else. By conventional political logic, anyway, Saturday saw the Italians notch a fairly big win”.

Allen perceptively goes on to make the point that “It could turn out, however, to be a Pyrrhic victory – because by taking back control over a range of financial powers, the old guard has also reclaimed the blame the next time something goes wrong. On Saturday, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio, meaning a legal edict, delineating the division of responsibility between the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and the Secretariat of the Economy (SPE). The former is headed by Italian Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, the latter by Australian Cardinal George Pell. In effect, the motu proprio restores several important functions to APSA that had been given to Pell’s department in 2014. One local news agency bottom-lined the result this way in its headline: “The Italians win!” To understand what’s going on, we need to take a step back. Although public fascination with Vatican finances usually focuses on the Institute for the Works of Religion, the so-called “Vatican bank,” in truth most of the bank’s $6.5 billion in assets is not Vatican money – it belongs to depositors, with almost half resting in the accounts of religious orders from around the world”.

Crucially Allen points out that “The real financial heavyweight in the Vatican has long been APSA, controlling both real estate as well as investments, and also running a wide range of other functions such as purchasing and payroll. The total value of the real estate holdings alone under APSA’s control is officially estimated at around $1 billion, though many observers suspect that because of a lack of up-to-date market valuations, the actual figure may be several times higher. As part of the first round of financial reform in 2014, many of APSA’s functions were stripped away and handed over to SPE under Pell, including real estate, purchasing and contracts, support services, and so on. The vision was that APSA would be transformed from a financial administrator into the Vatican’s “Central Bank.” That move was suggested by a papal study commission on finances, and was seen in part as a reaction to scandals that had plagued APSA, including a cause célèbre involving a former APSA accountant known as “Monsignor 500 Euro” who was arrested by Italian authorities in a cash-smuggling scheme”.

Naturally enough Allen notes that “From the beginning, however, there was resistance. Many in the Vatican saw Pell’s takeover of APSA’s functions as a power grab, and there was a natural temptation to style what was happening as pushy Anglo-Saxons trying to dislodge the Italians. Politics aside, there was also a question of substance about the right way to promote a division of powers. From the point of view of Pell’s critics, you can’t have SPE responsible both for oversight of financial management and direct administration – it’s a clear case of “who will guard the guardians?” Those favourably inclined to the pope’s decision on Saturday describe it as an option in favour of building interlocking systems of administration and control, which aren’t dependent upon any one personality to function properly. Pell’s supporters, on the other hand, argued that allowing APSA to be in charge of purchasing for itself as well as others is also a conflict of interest, which is why responsibility should be lodged somewhere else. As that internal debate unfolded, management of Vatican real estate was returned to APSA in early 2015, but most other functions remained with SPE”.

He goes on to mention “Last fall Francis set up a working group led by Italian Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, former head of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs, to study the situation further, and Saturday’s motu proprio is the result of its work. The motu proprio stipulates that effectively immediately, most of the remaining responsibilities previously held by SPE for direct financial administration, including asset management and purchasing, are going back to APSA. The only significant area of administration in which SPE will now have a direct role is human resources. The underlying principle is what the motu proprio calls a “clear and unequivocal distinction between control and vigilance.” The net result is a back to the future scenario – after all the upheaval of the last three years, the APSA of 2016 won’t look terribly different from the APSA of early 2013″.

He goes on to mention “However, the motu proprio also specifies that Pell’s department will still be responsible for “oversight and vigilance,” including approving APSA’s budget and balance sheets. In other words, APSA may have many of its traditional powers back, but SPE has the authority to oversee how those powers can be deployed. The next battle to determine how much SPE’s influence still counts may come over draft procedures Pell’s office has issued for matters such as disbursements of petty cash, tracking expenditures, and payments, which are designed to apply to all Vatican departments. The procedures have been criticized by some other players, especially Libero Milone, who was appointed as the Vatican’s first Auditor General in June 2015. Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, has suggested bringing together the various officials responsible for financial oversight and administration to reach consensus. In the meantime, Saturday’s motu proprio will be seen as a setback for Pell. Veteran Italian commentator Andrea Tornielli, for instance, wrote on Saturday that SPE is now no longer a “super-ministry,” and the new system will force Pell and his team to become more “collegial.”  The Associated Press reported that Francis had “clipped Pell’s wings.” Under the heading of the law of unintended consequences, however, there’s an ironic dimension to this “reform of the reform” worth noting”.

Pointedly Allen argues that “Prior to Saturday, if a new financial scandal had erupted at the Vatican, there would have been no debate over who’s responsible – Pell had the power, and with the power comes the blame when things break down. Now, however, the political calculus is different. If some new mess takes shape at APSA, it would no longer be Pell’s fault, at least in any direct sense. It would be on Calcagno and his team – and, more broadly, on the forces that pushed to put them back in charge. And, let’s face it – the possibility of a fresh scandal blowing up is not exactly the world’s longest shot. The Vatican has been a magnet for such meltdowns over the years, and while new controls are now in place, you don’t just upend a culture overnight. In other words, for the Vatican’s old guard, the motu proprio right now probably appears a satisfying result. Depending on how things break, however, it could be a classic case of the old wisdom, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”

Turkey requests Gulen’s extradition

23/07/2016

“Turkey’s prime minister says Ankara has sent dossiers to the United States for the extradition of a U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, over his alleged links to the July 15 failed coup attempt. “We have sent four dossiers to the United States for the extradition of the terrorist chief. We will present them with more evidence than they want,” Binali Yildirim told parliament on July 19. Yildirim accused the United States of double standards in its fight against terrorism. Washington has said it will only consider an extradition request if clear evidence is provided. The Turkish government blames Gulen for orchestrating the attempted military coup, in which more than 200 people were killed. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for the cleric’s extradition from the United States. Gulen has condemned the coup and denied involvement”.

Clinton-Kaine

23/07/2016

A report in the New York Times notes that Hillary Clinton has chosen Senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential choice, “Hillary Clinton named Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia to be her running mate Friday, selecting a battleground-state politician with working-class roots and a fluency in Spanish, traits that she believes can bolster her chances to defeat Donald J. Trump in November. Mrs. Clinton’s choice, which she announced via text message to supporters, came after her advisers spent months poring over potential vice-presidential candidates who could lift the Democratic ticket in an unpredictable race against Mr. Trump. In the end, Mrs. Clinton decided that Mr. Kaine, 58, a former governor of Virginia who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had the qualifications and background, and the personal chemistry with her, to make the ticket a success”.

It reports that “Clinton had entertained more daring choices. She considered Thomas E. Perez, the secretary of labor, who would have been the first Hispanic on a major party ticket; Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who would have been the first African-American to seek the vice presidency; and James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral who served as the supreme allied commander at NATO but had never held elected office. Ultimately, Mrs. Clinton, who told PBS that she was “afflicted with the responsibility gene,” avoided taking a chance with a less experienced vice-presidential candidate and declined to push the historic nature of her candidacy by adding another woman or a minority to the ticket. Instead, the campaign, which had become concerned about its deficit with white men, focused on Mr. Kaine and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and looked more closely at Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado”.
The article notes that “At a campaign stop with Mrs. Clinton in Annandale, Va., last week, Mr. Kaine tried out for the role. “Do you want a ‘You’re fired’ president or a ‘You’re hired’ president?” he asked the crowd. “Do you want a trash-talker president or a bridge-builder president?” He compared Mrs. Clinton’s record of public service to that of his wife, Anne Holton, Virginia’s secretary of education. In recent days, former President Bill Clinton and the White House had expressed support for Mr. Kaine. Mrs. Clinton will formally introduce Mr. Kaine as her running mate at a campaign stop on Saturday at Florida International University in Miami, which has a large number of Hispanic students. The announcement came after a day of campaign events in Orlando and Tampa in which Mrs. Clinton tried to offer a rebuke, both in actions and in words, to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. In Orlando, she laid flowers on a makeshift memorial outside the Pulse nightclub, where a gunman who expressed sympathy with the Islamic State killed 49 people last month. At an earlier round-table discussion with emergency medical workers and elected officials, Mrs. Clinton nodded solemnly and hardly spoke, an implicit contrast with Mr. Trump’s 75-minute speech on Thursday night”.

The piece goes on to note how “At a rally in Tampa on Friday evening, Mrs. Clinton blasted the bleak vision of America presented by her Republican rival. “The last thing that we need is somebody who is running for president who talks trash about America,” Mrs. Clinton said. She showed solidarity with Mr. Trump’s top primary rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. “I mean, I never thought I’d say these words, but Ted Cruz was right,” she said, and then quoted Mr. Cruz’s despondent Wednesday night speech. “Vote your conscience.” Now some of the job of discrediting Mr. Trump will fall to Mr. Kaine, who wrote on Twitter that he was eager to hit the campaign trail. “Just got off the phone with Hillary,” he said. “I’m honored to be her running mate.” Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Kaine have similar positions on many issues, and they are said to share an easy rapport and an interest in policy details. “I do have a fondness for wonks,” Mrs. Clinton said in the PBS interview. Asked whether Mr. Kaine was boring, Mrs. Clinton said, “I love that about him.” She added, “He’s never lost an election.” Republicans seized on the selection and tried to sow discord among Democrats, arguing that the pick was evidence that Mrs. Clinton had been dishonest with her party’s liberal base. “Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine does nothing to unify a fractured Democrat base which is repelled by her dishonesty and cronyism,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “After spending last week pandering to grass-roots Democrats with Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton has chosen someone who holds positions that she’s spent the entire primary trying to get to the left of.” The Trump campaign quickly labeled Mrs. Clinton’s new running mate “Corrupt Kaine,” pointing to lavish gifts he had received during his years as governor and lieutenant governor of Virginia”.

Worryingly it points out that “some in the party’s liberal wing expressed dismay, claiming that Mr. Kaine was out of step with it on some of its core issues, like trade. “As we saw in Donald Trump’s speech last night, Republicans will run hard against Democrats on trade this year,” said Stephanie Taylor, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Unfortunately, since Tim Kaine voted to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Republicans now have a new opening to attack Democrats on this economic populist issue.” She added, “The mood of the country is a populist one.” The son of a welder who owned a small metalworking shop, Mr. Kaine, a Roman Catholic, grew up around Kansas City, Mo. He attended a Jesuit school and took a break from law school at Harvard to spend time as a Catholic missionary in Honduras, an experience that his family has said shaped him and helped him become fluent in Spanish. Early in his career, Mr. Kaine worked on fair housing and civil rights issues as a lawyer. He was elected to the City Council in Richmond, Va., in 1994, and proceeded to climb the ranks of elected office in the state. He became the city’s mayor in 1998, the state’s lieutenant governor in 2002 and the governor in 2006. He also served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As governor, Mr. Kaine drew some support from rural parts of the state as well as strong backing in the state’s Democratic-leaning suburban areas. He led the state through one of its darkest times, the shooting at Virginia Tech that killed 32 people in 2007. In 2013, Mr. Kaine implored the United States Senate to find a “small measure of courage” to fight the gun lobby and impose tougher background checks on gun ownership”.

It goes on to mention “Mr. Kaine was an early endorser of Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid in the 2008 nominating fight against Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Kaine was also considered on Mr. Obama’s shortlist of vice-presidential candidates before Mr. Obama selected Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. In 2012, Mr. Kaine defeated George Allen, a Republican, to take the Senate seat being vacated by the Democrat Jim Webb. Mrs. Clinton’s choice of Mr. Kaine underscores the rising political importance of Virginia, a state with a significant suburban and minority population. Mr. Obama defeated John McCain in the state by more than six percentage points, the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson’s victory in 1964 that the state had voted for a Democratic presidential nominee. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from July 15 shows Mrs. Clinton ahead of Mr. Trump for the state’s 13 electoral votes by nine percentage points. The search for a running mate began in April, after Mrs. Clinton had decisively won the New York primary, with a number of candidates. Mrs. Clinton came to the process with a unique vantage point, having been closely involved in her husband’s selection of Senator Al Gore of Tennessee in 1992, a choice that brought youth and Southern charm to a ticket already overflowing with it. With just days remaining before her announcement of a running mate, Mrs. Clinton had not yet made up her mind as her advisers debated what attributes voters might want in a vice president”.

It ends, “As the search narrowed, Mrs. Clinton wanted to test her chemistry on the campaign trail with Mr. Kaine. After their Virginia rally last week, she invited him to her home in Washington for a meeting that lasted until 10:30 p.m. Last Saturday, the day after meeting with other candidates in Washington, she invited Mr. Kaine and his wife to lunch at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., with her family. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, just after her fiery speech in Tampa, Mrs. Clinton called Mr. Kaine to give him the news, before calling President Obama to let him know that she had chosen his friend”.

China warns the GOP

23/07/2016

China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday urged the U.S. Republican Party to stop making “groundless accusations” against China in its party platform, which says China practices cultural genocide in Tibet and has ludicrous claims in the South China Sea. China’s government has generally avoided making direct comments about the election, wary of being seen to interfere, though in April Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei called Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump an “irrational type” due to his tariffs proposal on imported Chinese goods. In an English-language statement issued via the official Xinhua news agency on Thursday, the ministry said the Republican platform contained “accusations about China on issues related to Taiwan, Tibet, trade and the South China Sea” and are an interference in China’s internal affairs”.

Trump-Pence

23/07/2016

The New York Times reports that Trump has named Mike Pence as his running mate, “Donald J. Trump named Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana as his running mate on Friday, adding to the Republican ticket a traditional conservative who boasts strong credentials with the Christian right, and bringing an end to a vice-presidential selection process that seemed at risk of spinning out of control. Mr. Trump had said on Thursday night that he intended to delay the unveiling of his running mate out of respect for the attack in Nice, France. The moment, he said on television, was not right. On Friday, he proceeded with the announcement anyway”.

The piece mentions that “Instead of a showy rollout in a Manhattan hotel, as his campaign had planned, Mr. Trump named Mr. Pence to the Republican ticket by way of Twitter. He said they would hold their first joint event on Saturday morning. By choosing Mr. Pence as his partner, Mr. Trump has opted to bow to political convention and also to gamble on a comparatively untested choice. Mr. Pence cuts a far more generic political profile than Mr. Trump. He is viewed as a sturdy and dependable politician by Republicans in Indiana and Washington, and chided Mr. Trump for his proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States, calling it “offensive and unconstitutional” in a Twitter post in December. Before the Friday announcement, congressional leaders including the House speaker Paul D. Ryan and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, told reporters they would approve of the choice of Mr. Pence”.

Not supursingly the report mentions that “At the same time, Mr. Pence has a record of hard-line views on cultural issues that Mr. Trump has tended to play down in the presidential race. In Mr. Pence, Mr. Trump now has a running mate who has advocated for defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting abortion rights, and who signed a so-called religious freedom law that critics said would lead to discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Hillary Clinton’s campaign attacked Mr. Pence on Friday as “the most extreme pick in a generation,” citing his views on abortion, gay rights, immigration and the minimum wage. John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, said Mr. Trump had reinforced “some of his most disturbing beliefs by choosing an incredibly divisive and unpopular running mate known for supporting discriminatory politics and failed economic policies.” Both campaigns will scramble to define Mr. Pence over the next week. He is little known on the national scene, and a CBS News poll conducted before his selection found that nearly nine in 10 Americans did not have an opinion of him”.

It mentions “Trump and Mr. Pence, who have no personal friendship that predates the campaign, engaged in a whirlwind courtship over the last week, holding a rally together in Indiana and meeting several times in private. But Mr. Trump agonized over his final decision. Late Thursday, Mr. Trump wavered over his selection of Mr. Pence, people briefed on the discussions said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe Mr. Trump’s private venting. He expressed fury to campaign aides over news media reports that his advisers were informing political allies of the Indiana governor’s selection, and bristled at the idea that he was locked into the choice. In a phone call with members of the campaign leadership, Mr. Trump questioned whether Mr. Pence really was the right choice, and Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, reiterated the case for choosing Mr. Pence, according to a person briefed on the call”.

It goes on to make the point that “The newly forged ticket will face a grueling test in the coming days, as two very different political performers get accustomed to each other as teammates. The Trump campaign said both men will appear together at the Hilton Midtown on Saturday, and the campaign previously committed to a joint interview on “60 Minutes” on CBS. The chemistry between the two politicians, in the coming days, could determine just how extensively they will campaign together during the summer and fall. According to Republicans briefed on the Trump campaign’s deliberations, Mr. Pence could conceivably travel the country in large part on his own, shoring up support for Mr. Trump in conservative areas and Republican-leaning states, like North Carolina and Arizona, where Mr. Trump appears vulnerable. Within Mr. Trump’s inner circle, Mr. Pence is seen as a reliable sidekick for the presumptive Republican nominee, unlikely to cause trouble for the ticket or upstage Mr. Trump in any way”.

 Interestingly it notes “But the relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence remains a work in progress, and they could well form a closer bond over the course of the campaign. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump has preferred to work more or less as a solo act. Even on Thursday evening, with his vice-presidential announcement delayed and images of bloodshed playing across national television, Mr. Trump proceeded with his own political schedule: He addressed a fund-raising event in California and gave multiple television interviews, calling in one for a formal declaration of war by Congress against the Islamic State. Mr. Manafort, the campaign chairman, said on Fox News on Friday morning that the presumptive Republican nominee had responded emotionally to the violence in France in deciding to delay a formal event with his running mate. Yet with Mr. Pence as the favored candidate, Mr. Trump could not afford a long delay in announcing his decision. The Indiana governorship is on the ballot in November, and state law required Mr. Pence to file paperwork by noon on Friday in order to withdraw from the race and be replaced on the ballot by another Republican”.
It concludes “Without a public affirmation of his partnership with Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence could have been placed in an uncomfortable position — forced either to end his bid for re-election without an irreversible commitment from Mr. Trump, or to abandon his quest for the vice presidency due to an accident of scheduling. Mr. Trump appeared to hesitate over his decision throughout the week, flying to Indiana for an extended visit with Mr. Pence, and then summoning several other potential running mates to meet with him in Indianapolis after his private aircraft broke down. Advisers to Mr. Trump indicated to Republicans in Washington on Wednesday night that they planned to make an announcement with Mr. Pence, but on Thursday both Mr. Trump and his press officers stressed that he could still change his mind. Mr. Trump said Thursday evening on Fox that he had not made a “final, final decision.” And when his final announcement came on Friday, Mr. Trump caught at least one other vice-presidential finalist by surprise. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, said in an email a few minutes before 11 a.m. that he had yet to hear directly from the Trump campaign about its decision”.

Crucially it reports that “Even as Mr. Pence endured as the clear favourite of Mr. Trump’s advisers, both Mr. Gingrich and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey lingered as alternative possibilities — tempting options for a presidential candidate drawn more to feistiness and loyalty than to workmanlike political diligence. Choosing Mr. Christie or Mr. Gingrich would have armed Mr. Trump with a proven political brawler on the ticket, as well as a longer-tenured personal friend as his running mate. Trump advisers argued that both men were too volatile and too risky for an already freewheeling campaign”.

Libya, reopening oil ports

23/07/2016

Libya’s government of national unity is working to reopen four of the OPEC country’s biggest oil ports after securing a deal to help unify the fractured nation’s state energy company. Four ports accounting for about 860,000 barrels a day in crude-exporting capacity have been shut due to political turmoil and fighting. A July 2 deal to unify rival administrations of the National Oil Corp. was meant to end the conflict over who can control oil sales in Libya, where factions are working to set up a Government of National Accord to help rebuild the country after five years of strife.

Obama leaves troops in Afghanistan

21/07/2016

A report from the Washington Post notes the decision of President Obama to keep troops in Afghanistan, “President Obama announced revised troop plans for Afghanistan on Wednesday, keeping 8,400 U.S. troops in the country when he steps down early next year, the clearest indication yet of his inability to end the long war there. “I strongly believe that it is in our national security interest, especially after all the blood and treasure we’ve invested in Afghanistan over the years, that we give our Afghan partners the very best opportunity to succeed,” Obama said in remarks at the White House. He had hoped to leave a force of 5,500 in early 2017”.

It goes on to make the point “The decision is likely to be the last in a series of adjustments that Obama, who came into office promising to end costly U.S. wars in the Muslim world, has made to a withdrawal schedule he hailed in 2014 as proof the United States was “finishing the job” in Afghanistan. That goal has remained stubbornly out of reach as security has deteriorated across Afghanistan in recent years. Local forces, reliant on foreign troops for air power and other kinds of support, have struggled to contain sustained offensives by Taliban militants who, even after the death of their leader this spring, remain a potent force. Obama, speaking alongside Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States is no longer fighting a “major ground war” in Afghanistan. He ticked off a list of accomplishments he said made the country a safer, more inclusive place than it was under the Taliban’s repressive rule. He also acknowledged that the Afghan government would need more time to build up its military capacity before it can stand fully on its own”.

Crucially the article notes “There are now about 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, tasked with a dual mission to support local troops and hunt down al-Qaeda and other militants. That compares with a force of about 100,000 stationed there during Obama’s 2010 troop surge. In a conference call with reporters to discuss the announcement, senior administration officials said the revised troop number, a slight decrease from the current level, reflected recommendations from the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. “Mick” Nicholson Jr. The changes were approved by Carter and Dunford, they said. “The president’s guidance was just to have a recommendation as to what the best presence and necessary resources would be at the end of 2016,” said one official who, like others, spoke on a condition of anonymity imposed by the White House”.

The report goes on to add “In a statement, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Obama’s announcement, which signaled an extension of crucial support at a time when militant attacks have exposed local forces’ weaknesses in key military areas, including intelligence and air power”.

It mentions that “Already over the past two years, Obama had given commanders in Afghanistan new powers to combat militants, an acknowledgment that the official end to U.S. combat operations at the end of 2014 did not signal a halt to the fighting. Daniel F. Feldman, who was Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan until last year, said Wednesday’s announcement would send a positive signal to Afghanistan and its neighbours. “It’s important for what it means for military and security resources, and important symbolically in terms of demonstrating continued commitment,” Feldman said. Pakistan, where Taliban leaders are believed to reside, continues to play an important role in Afghanistan’s fate. But Wednesday’s decision could be a political liability for Obama, opening him to criticism for altering earlier plans, while failing to satisfy Republicans who believe Afghanistan’s insecurity merits a larger force”.

Not supursingly, it makes the point that “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would have preferred to keep current troop levels untouched. “When the President himself describes the security situation in Afghanistan as ‘precarious,’ it is difficult to discern any strategic rationale for withdrawing 1,400 U.S. troops by the end of the year,” he said in a statement. As part of current military plans, the United States will also maintain six major bases across Afghanistan. That will afford U.S. and NATO troops greater reach into contested areas and make it easier to rebuild a larger force if the next U.S. president decides to do so. The announcement comes several days before Obama attends a NATO summit in Poland that had imposed something of a deadline on the White House”.

Importantly for the case of context it adds, “Officials acknowledged that about 40 governments participating in the Afghanistan effort, including many from NATO, want to know how to calibrate their own contributions of about 6,000 troops. Germany and Italy make the largest contributions, with nearly 1,000 troops each. The announcement “allows us to have a more constructive discussion at the NATO summit,” an official said. Officials did not specify what additional funds would be needed to maintain troop levels beyond the initially budgeted 5,500 but said they would discuss the matter with Congress”.

Kerry meets Putin, discusses military cooperation in Syria

21/07/2016

Secretary of State John Kerry met with President Vladimir V. Putin in Moscow late Thursday night to discuss a proposed extensive military cooperation agreement that for the first time would coordinate American and Russian air attacks on the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Both men said they were hopeful of reaching an accord. “I hope after today’s consultations you’ll be able to advise him of the progress made and possible headway for us to make,” Mr. Putin said, referring to conversations between Mr. Kerry and President Obama. Mr. Kerry responded: “Hopefully, we’ll be able to make some genuine progress that is measurable and implementable and that can make a difference in the course of events in Syria.”  The proposed agreement calls for the creation of a joint military command center staffed by military and intelligence officers who would share information so as to permit “integrated operations.” It has generated deep unease at the Pentagon and in some quarters of the State Department, where it is seen as too conciliatory to both the Russians and the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

Frexit?

21/07/2016

An article notes the possibility of Frexit, a French exit from the EU, “after Grexit and Brexit, the next crisis to confront the European Union will be Frexit. It will prove to be the worst of all. While dramatic, the Greek tragedy had a limited run. While seismic, the British divorce will not necessarily upend Brussels. But for historical and institutional reasons, a French crisis would be cataclysmic. The midwife for the EU’s birth, France now risks becoming its gravedigger”.

The author makes the point that “the French believe, rightly, there can be no Europe without the people of their own glorious nation. That corollary breathes life into France’s traditional conception of a united Europe and thus lends vitality to the continent’s abstract ideals. It also motivates Europe’s traditional bouts of frustration with France. Upon coming to power in 1958, Charles de Gaulle insisted upon the necessity of a “European Europe.” In principle, this meant a united Europe of equals; in practice, de Gaulle meant a Europe in which France would be more equal than the others. Tellingly, when he signed the Rome Treaty in 1958 (the future EU’s act of conception), it was not because he believed in “Europe.” Instead, it was because he believed in an independent and sovereign France, one yoked to the accomplishment of “great undertakings.” De Gaulle accepted the EU because it ensured France’s own magnificence”.

The author points out that “A funny thing happened, though, on France’s way to a future of peace and prosperity. While the former grew humdrum, the latter grew hazier. After enjoying the 30-year period of postwar growth — known as the “trente glorieuses” — the French economy faltered during the oil crisis of the early 1970s and never fully recovered. While successive French governments continued to lay bricks for the European project, they failed to restart the national economy — which slowed from an annual average of 4 percent during the trente glorieuses to slightly more than 1 percent now forecast for 2017 — just as they failed to resolve the predicament of the growing number of unemployed, which currently stands at slightly more than 10 percent. As the foundations of a new European order were being laid, France’s imperial past caught up with it as hundreds of thousands of immigrants from its former colonies in North Africa — Morocco, Tunisia, and especially Algeria — settled in the country. Recruited to fill jobs created during the trente glorieuses, these same immigrants found the welcome mat pulled from under their feet as France’s economy slowed and then headed south by the end of the 20th century. By the turn of the 21st century, the diffuse fear of “le grand replacement” — coined by the essayist Renaud Camus and positing the submersion of a white and Christian France by Arab and Muslim immigrants — had become an article of faith among the growing number of French turning to the extreme right-wing Front National (FN)”.

He aruges the French is unsure of its identity which is rebounding on the EU, “The inability of both conservative and socialist governments to redress the growing social and economic fissures in French society, and to reinvent the republican model for the 21st century, has encouraged the retreat to nativism and nationalism. Tellingly, a 2015 poll revealed that if the 2005 referendum on the European Constitution were to be held again, 62 percent of respondents would vote against it, a 7 percent rise from the original “non” vote. It is a crisis, moreover, the French government seems incapable of addressing. The day after the British vote was tallied, and the stock markets went into a tailspin, President François Hollande went before the nation and again underwhelmed it. He explained that “Europe could not go on as before,” expounded on the need to “reinforce the eurozone and democratic governance,” and exhorted Europe to take the necessary “leap” to secure its future. Stapled to the end of these oft-repeated pieties — spoken by a president with the mien of a funeral home director — was a solemn chestnut: “History,” Hollande intoned, “is knocking at our door.” It remains unclear when or whether Hollande will open the door. Not only are 26 other nations huddled behind the same door squabbling over how to answer the knocking, but the weightiest nation seems in no great hurry to answer it at all. While Hollande was, in his inimitable style, urging his fellow leaders — in particular, German Chancellor Angela Merkel — to make haste, Merkel agreed that Europe must make haste, but slowly. Very slowly. After meeting with the leaders of Germany’s political parties, Merkel appealed for “calm and determination” and warned against “simple and fast solutions that would only further divide Europe.” In a word, whereas Hollande urged the principal duo of the EU, France and Germany, to take the lead, Merkel instead emphasized gemeinsam, or collective, action”.

The report mentions that “The tumult is greatest on the party’s left. Shortly before the Brexit vote, Arnaud Montebourg was unpersuasively denying reports that he planned to enter the primary race. Having been tapped by Hollande to serve as economy minister, Montebourg found himself unemployed in 2014 when the government, scrambling to meet the EU’s deficit requirements, largely swallowed its austerity demands. Not only has Montebourg since been a consistent critic of these policies, but his earlier anti-globalization sentiments — summarized in his 2011 manifesto Votez pour la démondialisation (Vote for De-Globalization) — are now crystallizing into a “dé-europisation” stance. Montebourg is not the only prominent figure on the left who is, as he recently described himself, “euro-épuisé,” or “Euro-exhausted.” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the perennial presidential candidate of the Parti de Gauche, has long inveighed against “the caste of Eurocrats and politics of austerity” imposed on EU member states. Not surprisingly, he welcomed the Brexit vote as a reality check for the French political class, as well as a promising harbinger of his own political prospects. “This is the beginning of the end to an era,” he exclaimed. “Either we change the European Union or we leave it.” Though he hotly refuses such comparisons, Mélenchon’s reasoning and rhetoric echo that of his ideological opposite and nemesis, Marine Le Pen. Among the ways Le Pen has transformed the party founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is to have turned inside out its relation to Europe. Fervently anti-Communist, anti-Gaullist, and thus pro-Europeanist during the Cold War, the FN began its long lurch toward its current hyper-nationalism with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The near-death of the Maastricht Treaty referendum in 1992, the full death of the European Constitution in the 2005 referendum, and its resurrection two years later in the widely despised Lisbon Treaty (signed by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy without a referendum) showed Le Pen père and fille the electoral advantages of mining the deepening vein of popular alienation from Brussels”.

Importantly he notes “In the wake of the Brexit vote, Le Pen could scarcely contain her satisfaction. At a short press conference at the her party’s headquarters, Le Pen stood in front of a newly minted poster displaying a pair of hands breaking free of a handcuff made of gold stars. For those unable to interpret the image, there also ran a caption: “And Now France!” Indeed. In her opening remarks, Le Pen congratulated the British people — along with the “very brave” Boris Johnson and her “friend and ally” Janice Atkinson (a European Parliament deputy formerly with the UK Independence Party) — for reminding France that, yes, “it is possible to leave the European Union.” She also abstained from playing the religion, race, and immigration cards that brought her to prominence: The French already know the hand she is holding. As a result, she mentioned the word “immigration” just once but repeated more than a dozen times the words “liberty” and “democracy” — the very values born in Europe, she has argued, but scorned by the EU and France’s traditional political parties”.

Crucially, “In 2014, Le Pen was already promising that, if elected to the presidency, her first order of business would be to schedule a referendum on whether France should remain in the EU. Suddenly, this promise seems a bit less fantastic, all the more because she has largely succeeded in making the FN a party like the others. (In a recent and underreported finding by France’s prestigious polling institute, the IFOP, the historic gap between those who say they will vote for the FN and those who do vote for it has almost entirely closed. This suggests, as IFOP director Jérôme Fourquet notes, that the shame FN voters once felt is a thing of the past.) In the most recent salvo of polls from early June, in which the French were asked for their presidential preferences, Le Pen is the first over the finish line. In nearly every poll, she breaks the barrier of 30 percent, leaving her competitors in the dust”.

He ends “For the moment, the nature of France’s electoral process — in which the top two finishers face off in a second round of voting — remains a rampart against a Le Pen presidency. Polls reveal that the only competitor she would defeat in the second round is the discredited and derided François Hollande. The candidacies of Alain Juppé and Sarkozy, the leading contestants for the nomination of the conservative Les Républicains, pose another obstacle. In a projected second round, both men would attract enough voters from the center and left to decisively defeat Le Pen. Finally, Le Pen’s path to the Élysée is also mined by the French public’s complex attitude toward the European Union. In an Odoxa poll taken last week, the French clearly stated that while they cannot live with the EU, they also cannot live without it. Sixty-four percent of respondents do not wish to see France quit the EU, yet at the same time only 31 percent saw the EU as a “source of hope.” Yet, as Le Pen underscored in her press conference, much can happen in the 10 months remaining between now and France’s presidential elections. Juppé’s Europeanism and economic liberalism can easily morph into political liabilities; by the same token, voters will not forget that Sarkozy, who now insists that the Lisbon Treaty be rewritten, had rammed through that same treaty in 2007 when he was president. Most important, if the United Kingdom manages a smooth divorce from the EU, a majority of French voters may come to see a “grande France” as a source of hope, just as a majority of British voters last week saw hope in a Little England”.

 

UK buys Apaches

21/07/2016

The U.K. Ministry of Defense on Monday announced a $2.3 billion deal to buy 50 AH-64E Apache helicopters from Boeing for the army. The new Apaches, already in service with the U.S. Army, are being purchased through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, the MOD said in a statement. The helicopter increases the force’s weapons capacity while being more fuel efficient, allowing for longer operations in demanding conditions. The first U.K. helicopters are due off the U.S. production line in early 2020, and will enter service in 2022. While the Apaches will be built in the United States, the MOD said subcontracts representing about 5 percent of the Apache supply chain are being awarded to several U.K. companies”.

Orthodox Council ends, Russia boycotts

19/07/2016

A report notes the closing of the Orthodox Council, “The leaders of the world’s Orthodox Christian churches ended a historic gathering on the Greek island of Crete on Sunday hoping to repeat the meeting within a decade, despite a boycott by the Russian church – the most populous in a religion of some 300 million people – and three other churches. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I led prayers attended by the 10 Orthodox church leaders who attended to mark the end of the week-long Holy and Great Council – the first of its kind in more than 1,200 years. Despite decades of preparation, Orthodox leaders failed ahead of the meeting to overcome differences on efforts to reconcile with the Vatican and some doctrinal issues”.

He adds “Patriarch Kirill of Moscow did not attend, arguing that preparation had been inadequate. The Georgian, Bulgarian and Syria-based Antioch patriarchates also did not take part. “The proposal was made for the Holy and Great Council to become a regular Institution to be convened every seven or ten years,” the 10 church leaders said in a joint message. Kirill described the Crete meeting as a preparatory one and called for a new full meeting at a later date. It is unlikely he will accept a decision to make such meetings a permanent acting body. It is also highly unlikely the churches that did not attend will comply with any decisions taken at the meeting”.

The piece goes on to mention that “The issues discussed at the meeting included the mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world, the Orthodox diaspora, the importance of fasting, marriage, and the relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world. Unlike the centralised authority of the Vatican over Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches are independent, with Bartholomew considered the first among equals. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, based in Istanbul in predominantly Muslim Turkey, is frequently at odds with the Russian Church, which represents more than 100 million faithful. Issues discussed in the council covered topics such as the mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world, the Orthodox diaspora and how to organize responsibility for its pastoral care, the autonomy of different Orthodox bodies, the importance of fasting, the sacrament of marriage, and the relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world”.

The article goes on to make the point that “Pope Francis, who has a close relationship with Patriarch Bartholomew and who dispatched a senior delegation of observers to the council, praised it on Sunday as a “step forward.” “I see it as positive,” the pontiff said during a news conference on the papal plane returning to Rome after a three-day visit to the largely Orthodox nation of Armenia. “It wasn’t 100 percent,” Francis said, referring to the missing churches, “but it was a step forward.” “It’s like with kids … the first steps are always hard,” he said. “But I’m happy, and I think the results will be positive. They were able to look one another in the face, to pray together and to talk, and maybe there will be some results … that’s positive.”

“Iranians are disappointed by lacklustre economic progress”

19/07/2016

A year after their government signed a landmark nuclear agreement, many Iranians are disappointed by lackluster economic progress, doubt that the United States will fulfill its part of the bargain and are more favourably disposed toward a controversial former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a new poll shows. The survey of 1,007 Iranians — conducted by telephone from June 17-27 by IranPoll.com, an independent Toronto-based firm, for the University of Maryland — confirms anecdotal information that Iranians had overly high expectations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and failed to appreciate the obstacles Iran would still face in attracting foreign investment, reconnecting with foreign banks and increasing employment.

USAID, department for state building?

19/07/2016

An article by Max Boot argues that USAID should become a department for state building, “Nation-building abroad has become a neuralgic term in American politics ever since it became associated with the lengthy and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Opposition to it is one of the few things that Barack Obama and Donald Trump can agree on. Both believe that “nation-building begins at home,” as the president so often says. And yet, at the same time that U.S. leaders proclaim their opposition to nation-building, they acknowledge that failing states pose a serious threat to American interests. As Obama said in his 2016 State of the Union address, “Even without [the Islamic State] … instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia. Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks. Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees. The world will look to us to help solve these problems.” But the United States cannot adequately respond to global instability with military force alone”.

Boot goes on to write “The U.S. public will not support more large-scale interventions like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, absent a compelling casus belli, while lesser military measures — such as drone strikes and Special Operations raids — are unlikely to prove adequate to safeguard American security. Although “kinetic” strikes can kill terrorist leaders, such as the Taliban’s Mullah Mansour or al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, they can seldom eliminate entrenched terrorist organisations — and they can never create indigenous institutions capable of maintaining law and order on their own. The United States needs a civilian capacity to foster better-functioning institutions in chaotic countries — what is popularly known as nation-building. Various federal agencies, from the Department of State to the Department of Agriculture, currently have aspects of nation-building in their portfolio but none sees it as a main mission. The failure to prepare for nation-building was brutally exposed in Iraq in 2003 when the Bush administration had to assemble the ramshackle Coalition Provisional Authority at the last minute to take over from Saddam Hussein’s government — with predictably catastrophic consequences”.

Boot argues that “The United States needs a dedicated nation-building agency — not to undertake military occupations but to avoid them by helping allied governments to secure their own territory without need for large numbers of American troops. Fortunately, there’s a natural candidate for that mission: the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). To embrace a state-building mission, however, USAID will have to be transformed. The agency will need to do less but do it better. Instead of trying to promote development for its own sake in every poor country in the world, it should limit its efforts to enhancing core state functions in strategically important countries. The proposed 2016 budget for USAID is $22.3 billion, of which $10.7 billion is in core accounts directly managed by USAID. Of this, only $2.4 billion is to be spent on what might be considered state-building. The rest is dedicated to poverty alleviation, global health, biodiversity, women’s empowerment, education, sanitation, and economic and agriculture development. These are admirable goals, but USAID has demonstrated no particular advantage in any of these fields compared to international organizations (such as the United Nations and the World Bank) and nongovernmental organizations (such as Oxfam and Africare). Accordingly, USAID should leave these areas either to multinational or private-sector organizations, cutting back its own support to NGOs working in these areas”.

Boot goes on to argue “USAID and its defenders will argue that everything it does contributes to nation-building, because the public goods it supports — such as health care, electricity, and environmental protections — are commonly found in successful states. The USAID website argues: “Progress is only sustainable when supported by capable governments and institutions that can ensure the health, safety and well-being of their people.” That is true, but successful states are not successful because they provide public goods; they provide public goods because they are successful. USAID should focus less on temporarily increasing outputs in public health, education, and other sectors, and more on building durable state capacity so that host nations can manage their own affairs — even if their clinics or schools may never attain USAID’s ideals. Even democracy can be a luxury good in the developing world”.

He continues “Yet the USAID program for nation-building is billed as Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance. The most important issue — governance — is put in last place, with most of USAID’s emphasis on supporting elections, political parties, and civil society organizations, rather than nuts-and-bolts governmental functions. Yet the United States can live with undemocratic states as long as they behave responsibly; indeed, states such as Jordan and Singapore are close American allies. Many become democracies in time, as did South Korea, Chile, and Indonesia. And, while perhaps distasteful to some, the United States has a long tendency to look the other way at human-rights violations committed by strategically important countries such as Egypt and Vietnam. The United States cannot live with ungoverned spaces, however, which inevitably become a breeding ground for and exporter of terrorism, criminal networks, disease, refugees, and other problems. Nurturing representative institutions is a legitimate job for the National Endowment for Democracy. But USAID should prioritize effective governance over democratic governance”.

He reiterates his point “Instead of trying to promote welcome but inessential services — from electricity to free elections — USAID should focus on the bare necessities of stable states. These include training security forces that can exercise a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, supporting courts that can dispense a semblance of justice, staffing a professional civil service that is not compromised by rampant corruption, and constructing financial mechanisms that can allow the state to raise and spend revenue with some degree of transparency. USAID does not, at the moment, have the necessary competency in any of these fields; none of these areas are adequately addressed by any existing U.S. government program. The U.S. Armed Forces, for example, assist foreign militaries, but the crucial job of assisting foreign police forces and courts falls to the Departments of State and Justice which outsource them to contractors of dubious value”.

He says that the new USAID should “focus its state-building initiative on supporting a few other strategically important countries at risk of subversion: Ukraine and Georgia, which are vulnerable to Russian encroachment; Mongolia and Myanmar, which are vulnerable to Chinese encroachment; and nations in Latin America — particularly Columbia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico — that are vulnerable to a significant narcotrafficking threat. USAID is, of course, already present in all these places but because of its amorphous development mission and its tendency to get stretched too thin, it does not devote the critical resources and attention that these high-risk countries require to enhance basic governmental capacity. This is still a substantial undertaking, but it would exclude more than half of the countries where USAID currently operates. USAID should not be committing scarce resources in strategically irrelevant countries such as Lesotho and Madagascar, in unfriendly countries such as China, or in rapidly developing countries such as India. Money and personnel can better be focused elsewhere for maximum geopolitical return”.

Interestingly he mentions that “In order to reduce its reliance on contractors, USAID needs to transform its workforce. USAID’s staff, while talented, are often not the specialists needed for state-building. USAID employs few experienced civil engineers, urban managers, civil service development specialists, security and policing experts, or development economists. Many permanent staff are recent graduates of master’s degree programs in international relations with little direct experience managing government agencies or businesses. USAID needs to hire more mid-career professionals with substantial experience in managing large organizations and working in foreign cultures. One fertile source of recruits should be the U.S. Army, which is in the process of laying off thousands of officers and noncommissioned officers with extensive state-building experience. Any of these changes suggested above, indeed any change at all, will be fiercely resisted by vested interests. Countries that face losing their USAID programs will complain. So will USAID employees and contractors who will lose their jobs and grants. Such a transformation can only be accomplished if the next administration makes it a priority”.

Pointedly he ends “Of course there is no guarantee that even a restructured USAID will succeed at nation-building in every instance or even in most instances. This is a notoriously difficult undertaking. The United States, however, has had success in contributing to state-building in such disparate countries as Colombia, East Timor, El Salvador, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, the Philippines, and South Korea, with USAID having played a role in some of those instances. Although there is no way to predict how often USAID will succeed, even a few successes are worth the relatively modest (by government standards) investment. There is simply no good alternative to nation-building if the United States wants to address the problem of failed states while avoiding endless military interventions. And if the U.S. government is to get better at nation-building, a transformed USAID needs to take the lead role.

 

Rouhani threatens restarting nuclear programme

19/07/2016

Iran’s president says the Islamic Republic could restore elements of its nuclear program that were halted under its landmark deal if world powers that backed the agreement don’t live up to their end of the bargain. President Hassan Rouhani made the remarks televised on state TV on Wednesday, a day ahead of the one-year anniversary of the deal between Tehran and the United States and other world powers. The agreement called for caps on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Rouhani hailed the nuclear deal as widely beneficial, saying it promotes peace and stability and that violating it “will harm everyone.” But he also assured Iranians that Iran is “completely ready” and able to restore its nuclear program quickly if other parties violate the deal.

Israel, selling gas to Turkey?

17/07/2016

A report notes the possibility of Israel-Turkey energy deals, “and Turkey agreed to normalize diplomatic relations Monday, six years after an Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship sent to Gaza opened a bitter divide between two Mediterranean countries that had long been friendly. And while shared security concerns were apparently the biggest driver of the rapprochement, the deal could potentially pave the way for Israel to use its abundant reserves of natural gas to become a major energy supplier to Turkey in the years to come. The reconciliation announced by Israeli and Turkish officials, in separate press conferences, marked the culmination of years of informal talks ushered along by the European Union and by U.S. officials including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry”.

The writer goes on to make the point “Speaking to reporters in Rome, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the “strategic importance” of the deal, especially at a time of deepening insecurity across the eastern Mediterranean. The five-year old civil war in Syria continues apace, while terrorist attacks have hammered both Turkey, and to a lesser extent, Israel in recent months. “Energy diplomacy has been crucial in lubricating the relationship and giving them a non-controversial platform for contacts in recent years, but I think the reconciliation is definitely about security,” said Brenda Shaffer, a Georgetown University expert on the region. Under the terms of the deal, Israel will pay Turkey $20 million in compensation for the victims of the 2010 raid, but it won’t lift the naval blockade on Gaza. Turkey, for its part, will ship aid to Gaza through Israel, rather than unilaterally, and promised to ensure that Hamas only carries out political activities on Turkish soil, rather than plotting attacks against Israel”.

Johnson adds that “After the governments in Israel and Turkey ratify the final agreement, the two sides will exchange ambassadors and unwind some economic sanctions. That will pave the way for greater security and intelligence cooperation. For Turkey, reconciliation with Israel comes not just as the region is unraveling, but while Ankara’s ties to other once-close friends have frayed. Turkish relations with Russia went into a nosedive last year after Turkish jets shot down a Russian bomber that briefly crossed into its airspace. That chilled ties between the two, hammered Turkish tourism and trade, and put Turkish-Russian energy projects on ice. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized to Russian President Vladimir Putin for shooting down the jet, and indicated that Ankara is ready to normalize relations with Russia. For Israel, and especially for Netanyahu, healing the breach with Turkey has been a primary objective for years, but has gained urgency as the Syrian crisis continues to worsen. The prime minister spoke of Monday’s reconciliation as creating “islands of stability” around Israel; since Turkey shares a border with Syria, closer cooperation between Israel and Turkey could help minimise the fallout from the civil war and the terrorist petri dish it has created. But for Netanyahu, restoring normal ties with Turkey could also bring an economic benefit: a potential new market for Israeli energy exports. Late last year, the Israeli prime minister pressed the case for exporting Israeli gas — rather than keeping it all for the domestic market — by touting the geopolitical benefits of energy exports. One of the prizes he flagged? Closer ties with Turkey”.

It adds later that “Netanyahu again emphasized Israel’s hoped-for role as a supplier of natural gas to neighbours around the region, including Turkey, as well as to countries in Europe. The reconciliation, Netanyahu said in joint remarks with Kerry, “has also immense implications for the Israeli economy – and I use that word advisedly – immense implications for the Israeli economy, and I mean positive immense implications.” The prime minister said that Israeli gas, especially at the large Leviathan field off the Israeli coast, could supply enough energy for domestic use as well as exports to Egypt, Turkey, and European countries desperate to find suppliers other than Russia. Israel has already explored some deals to sell gas to neighbours like Egypt and Jordan. But there are technical and commercial obstacles to big gas deals with Turkey. Building a pipeline in the deep waters of the Mediterranean would likely be very expensive, as would building a terminal to ship gas by tanker. At the same time, the world is awash in natural gas right now, and Turkey has increasing options to meet its future energy needs, including piped gas from countries like Iran and Azerbaijan, as well as gas from the Middle East or the United States shipped by tanker”.

“Carrying out air strikes on the center of Sirte city in a siege of Islamic State militants”

17/07/2016

Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government have been shelling and carrying out air strikes on the center of Sirte city in a siege of Islamic State militants there, an official said. Militants defending Islamic State’s last stronghold in Libya have been keeping Libyan forces back with sniper fire and mortars in Sirte where they are now surrounded after a two month campaign to take the city. The fall of Sirte would be a major blow to Islamic State, which took over the city a year ago in the chaos of a civil war between rival factions who once battled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. “Our forces have…targeted militants with artillery and air force around Ouagadougou complex, Ghiza Asskariya district, and in the city center,” said Rida Issa, spokesman for Misrata forces fighting in Sirte.

The problems of peace

17/07/2016

Stephen Walt argues the benefits of war, “A striking trend in contemporary world politics is the apparent erosion of political unity in so many different places. In the Middle East, we’ve seen the upheavals of the Arab Spring and the continuing bloodbaths in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere. In Europe, support for the European Union continues to drop, Great Britain may vote to leave it, and Scotland might still decide to exit the United Kingdom. Here in the United States, we have a level of bitter partisanship not seen for many decades, the two main political parties are themselves deeply divided, and the presumptive GOP presidential candidate is a rank amateur (in several senses of that term). To say “the center cannot hold” seems like an understatement these days. What’s going on here? Some people believe today’s fractious politics is a consequence of globalization, which has accelerated the pace of change, threatened traditional cultural norms, and left millions of people feeling marginalized. Other observers blame economic policies that have enriched the One Percent and insulated them from their own misdeeds, leaving the rest of us to forage for the crumbs from their table. Or perhaps the digital revolution and new media are the real culprits, with the combination of cable TV, Twitter, and other modern means of communication lowering barriers to entry, coarsening the national dialogue, spreading extremism, and making the nastiest forms of political innuendo seem legitimate”.

Interestingly he makes the point “There may be some truth in each of these claims, but they all overlook an even more important explanation for the fractious state of contemporary politics: peace. Don’t get me wrong: I think peace is wonderful, and I wish more politicians talked about it openly and did more to further it. But prolonged periods of peace may also have a downside: They allow divisions within different societies to grow and deepen. Even worse, they may eventually drive the world back toward war”.

Walt adds “I wish I could claim this was my original idea, but this explanation for our present divisions has been around for quite a while. Indeed, 20 years ago, political scientist Michael Desch published a fascinating article in the academic journal International Organization, titled “War and Strong States, Peace and Weak States?” Drawing on the earlier work of Max Weber, Otto Hintze, George Simmel, Charles Tilly, Lewis Coser, and others, Desch argued that war (and external threats more generally) were perhaps the single-most important factor explaining the emergence of strong, centralized states and cohesive national polities. In particular, the pressures of international competition forced rival states to develop effective bureaucracies, efficient systems of taxation, and formidable armies, and it also encouraged the promotion of patriotism and a dampening of internal divisions. When the wolf is at the door, domestic quarrels are put aside in order to deal with the more immediate danger. Unfortunately, this argument also implies that the arrival of peace can have a negative effect on national unity”.

Walt rightly questions this proposition, “Does the historical record support this view? Desch thought so. In his words: “Variation in the intensity of the international security competition also affected the cohesion of many states. From the end of the Napoleonic wars and the Treaty of Versailles in 1815 until the Crimean War of 1853-1856, the external threat environment facing European states became relatively benign. The period between 1815 and 1853 witnessed an unprecedented breakdown in state cohesion manifested in a series of internal upheavals in various European states.” He also saw a similar pattern in U.S. history.”

Walt summarises the article noting, “The two world wars, by contrast, helped create the modern American federal state and were a powerful source of national unity, a trend reinforced even more by the subsequent Cold War. In Desch’s view, “The cold war was the ‘perfect’ type of threat. It never escalated to a major war … although it was serious enough to be a unifying factor.” The end of the Cold War removed this source of unity, however, and as Nils Petter Gleditsch, John Mueller, Steven Pinker, and Joshua Goldstein have all argued, the level of conflict (and external threat) in the world has been declining (until a recent modest uptick). The result, as Desch foresaw two decades ago, has been growing internal disunity and a weakening of state effectiveness, although the strength of these tendencies varies widely around the world. States that mobilise power through market mechanisms appear to be more robust than those that do so through coercive extraction, and there is also a “ratchet effect” when states go stronger. Because bureaucracies and institutions created at one point in time rarely go out of business as soon as their original rationale disappears, and because modern states do more than just prepare for war, a decline in external threats does not necessarily cause modern states to shrink all the way back to their pre-threat proportions. But as we are now seeing, it can make their internal politics far more divisive”.

Walt notes that “Desch to some striking predictions, including:“First, the viability of multiethnic states facing a less challenging external security environment will certainly decrease … [T]hose that survive will have to cope with a much higher level of ethnic separatism and demands for autonomy. “States with deep ethnic, social, or linguistic cleavages facing a more benign threat environment should find it harder to maintain cohesion. Key cases to watch here are Israel (secular versus religious Jews and the Jewish majority versus the Arab minority), multiethnic Arab states such as Syria (Alawites) and Jordan (Palestinians), Afghanistan (various political factions), much of black Africa (tribal), and especially South Africa (Zulus and whites). “[T]he longer the period of reduced international security competition, the more likely are developed states to be plagued by the rise of narrow sectoral, rather than broad encompassing, interest groups. [The United States is] now witnessing significant challenges to federal authority, a growing consensus on the need to cut spending to balance the federal budget, serious efforts to eliminate cabinet departments and other federal agencies, skepticism about a state-dominated industrial policy, and a Republican-controlled Congress committed to, and so far successful, in its efforts to limit the growth of the American state.” Sounds about right to me”.

Walt rightly points out that “Although some of Desch’s predictions were not fully borne out, his article anticipated many of the fissiparous tendencies that characterise political life in the United States, Europe, and parts of the developing world. At a minimum, his crystal ball has performed much better than Frank Fukuyama’s belief that we had reached the “end of history,” or the late Samuel P. Huntington’s forecast of a looming “clash of civilizations.” “Not so fast,” I hear you say. What about al Qaeda and the threat that states face from violent extremism of all sorts? Didn’t 9/11 actually produce an upsurge of national unity in the United States along with the creation of state structures like the Department of Homeland Security? And doesn’t the growing political rancor in the face of the dangers posed by al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or even Putin’s Russia cast serious doubt on Desch’s argument? Don’t shocking events like the recent attacks in Orlando, Florida, give us reason to put aside our differences and pull together once again? It would be nice to think so, but I have my doubts. The threat from al Qaeda and its ilk is just not serious enough to galvanise the national unity that a genuine international rivalry produces”.

Walt mentions that “international terrorism is also the shadowy, hard-to-measure danger that can turn a nation’s fears inward and magnify domestic divisions. When a hostile group uses terrorism, and is able to attract a handful of supporters abroad, it inevitably triggers fears of “fifth columns” or “lone wolves” or even some vast and well-orchestrated plot to attack us here at home. Contemporary Islamophobia is a perfect illustration of this sort of concern, and it is precisely this thinking Donald Trump has exploited in his unexpected march to the Republican presidential nomination. In short, if the U.S.-Soviet Cold War was the “perfect” threat for generating national unity, terrorism is perhaps the worst type of danger for holding the United States together. It’s not fearsome enough to bring a new “Greatest Generation” to the fore, and politicians eager to play on our worst fears can easily exploit it in ways that are more likely to divide than to unite the country. If Desch is right — and I think he is — the implications are both ironic and disheartening. Reducing external dangers turns out to have a downside: The less threatened we are by the outside world, the more prone we are to ugly quarrels at home. Even worse, peace may even contain the seeds of its own destruction. As we are now seeing in the Middle East, the collapse of unity and state authority can easily trigger violent internal conflicts that eventually drag outside powers back in”.

 

“Obama will send 560 more troops to Iraq”

17/07/2016

President Obama will send 560 more troops to Iraq to help retake Mosul, the largest city still controlled by the Islamic State, a deployment intended to capitalize on recent battlefield gains that also illustrates the obstacles that Mr. Obama has faced in trying to wind down America’s wars.  The additional troops, announced here on Monday by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, are the latest escalation of the American military role in Iraq by Mr. Obama, who withdrew the last American soldiers from Iraq at the end of 2011. He began sending them back three years later after Islamic State fighters swept into the country from Syria. Many of the newly deployed troops will be based at an airfield 40 miles south of Mosul that was reclaimed by Iraqi soldiers on Saturday. Administration officials said the airfield would be critical to a successful military operation because the United States could use it as a staging area to provide logistical support to Iraqi forces as they try to retake Mosul”.

South China Sea: An undecided China

17/07/2016

A Foreign Policy article writes that the Chinese do not know what they want in the South China Sea, “With a decision from an international ad hoc tribunal tasked with reviewing China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea looming, regional tensions are running high. A key problem is that no nation involved in the current round of tension — not even China itself — has a crystal-clear view of what exactly Beijing is trying to achieve in the South China Sea. That’s because three different schools of thought are each struggling for dominance in Chinese analytical and policy-making circles. A look at the debate within China helps explain the lack of effective communication and the rise of strategic distrust between China, Southeast Asian nations with competing claims, and the United States”.

It reports “China’s leaders — from President Xi Jinping to Foreign Minister Wang Yi to military leaders like Admiral Sun Jianguo — repeat the well-worn lines that the South China Sea islands have always been Chinese territory, China’s actions are legitimate measures to safeguard its own sovereignty, China will not pursue expansive policies beyond legitimate territorial claims, and limited military installations on newly built islands are for defensive purposes. Some countries in ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), however, find these explanations unconvincing, feel threatened by China’s island-building, and therefore want the United States to check Chinese power. Some U.S. officials have claimed that China is seeking “militarization” in the region, or even “hegemony.” But in reality, it’s not at all clear that China itself really knows what it wants to achieve in the South China Sea”.

Cruially he writes that “there are three schools of thought among Chinese analysts about optimal policies toward the region: let’s call them realists, hardliners, and moderates. Chinese academic publications, media reports, and online opinions offer a glimpse into these different views”.

The first camp he discusses is the realists, “China’s realists believe that the fundamentals of China’s current South China Sea policy are sound, with no adjustment needed. They recognise the diplomatic and reputational costs incurred, but tend to slight them because they value China’s physical presence and material capability much more highly than its image abroad. Their belief is underpinned by a crude realist understanding of international politics: material power — and not ephemeral (and in any case un-measurable) factors such as reputation, image, or international law — is the decisive factor in international politics. They thus think time is on China’s side, as long as China can manage its rise”.

Worryingly he writes “This kind of realpolitik thinking now dominates China’s South China Sea decision-making. Realists think they are safeguarding China’s national interests by enhancing its material presence in the South China Sea. But they are uncertain about what to do with the newly constructed islands. Should Beijing push for a new round of military installations including placing offensive weapons systems, or are defensive equipments really sufficient for the status quo? Realists want power in the South China Sea, yet are unsure how much power is enough.”

It posits that “A second school of thought — the hardliners — provides alarming answers to the questions realists haven’t yet answered. Not only do they think China should present the seven new islandsconstructed out of existing features, including Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef — as faits accompli to the outside world, but China should further expand its territorial and military reach in the South China Sea. Such expansion could include: building the islands into mini-bases, conquering some if not all of the features currently under other countries’ control, or turning the Nine-Dash Line map, first published in 1947 and which now serves as Beijing’s legal basis for its claims in the South China Sea, into a territorial demarcation line, thus claiming most of the South China Sea’s territorial waters for China. Hardliners have no regard for the concerns and anxieties of the outside world; they wish only to maximize China’s self-interest”.

He points out that “It is clear that some international media reports about China claiming 90 percent of the South China Sea are actually describing this, and only this, school of thought inside China. The good news is that this view does not yet dominate high-level decision-making. Hardliners within government are usually found in the military and law enforcement agencies. A maximalist policy toward the South China Sea would certainly serve their parochial bureaucratic interests. But hardliners also reside in the Chinese general public, the vast majority of which only has a superficial and impressionistic view of the South China Sea situation. Grassroots hardliner calls for assertiveness are based on emotional nationalism, not a studied consideration of China’s interests. The difference between the hardliners and the realists is that, while the hardliners’ views are also based on realpolitik, there is an additional underpinning of hyper-nationalism, making accommodation with other countries especially difficult. Although the hardliners are not dominating current policy, the leadership cannot easily ignore or dismiss them for fear of stoking popular nationalism, a grassroots force which can easily spin out of control”.

The most “sensible” group, is the final, “The third group, the moderates, believe it’s time for China to adjust its policy to clarify, if only gradually, its goals in the South China Sea. Moderates recognise that Beijing’s current ambiguity about its territorial claims and strategic design is feeding the outside world’s fear and distrust. They fault the government for failing to provide a compelling strategic narrative and promote effective communication with the outside world. China’s habitual just-do-it approach when it comes to major strategic decisions such as island building is actually harmful to its own self-interest. By forgoing any attempt to legitimise island-building, it ensures international suspicion of rather than sympathy for China’s actions. Moderates argue that China needs to gradually clarify the Nine-Dash Line. Maintaining deliberate ambiguity would simply make the map a historical burden and an unnecessary obstacle to reaching diplomatic compromise. In their view, it is counterproductive to interpret the map as a territorial demarcation line, because doing so would make China an adversary of most Southeast Asian states as well as the United States. Were China to go down this path, they argue, it would eventually face the ominous danger of strategic over-stretch. The biggest problem for China, the moderates observe, is that it lacks a clear and effective strategy for the South China Sea”.

He clarifies the position further noting “The moderates differ much from the realists and the hardliners. But the three share an extremely important area of agreement: the necessity of island-building. During my extensive conversations with leading Chinese scholars and government officials since last year, I have not come across a single person who would say island building is a mistake. They may give different reasons for construction and offer different assessments of the consequences, but they all believe that this is something China must do, sooner or later. These reasons range from the more strategic to the more mundane; from establishing a strategic foothold in the South China Sea to providing better living conditions for Chinese personnel stationed there”.

Turning to the non-Chinese aspect of it he argues “Members of the international community have repeatedly criticized China’s island-building. But given the apparent national consensus inside China, and also given the fact that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea does not strictly proscribe building on existing maritime features, is it a good policy to keep targeting island building activities themselves? Wouldn’t it be in every nation’s interest to move on to the more strategic question of creating a new but stable regional status quo? A new status quo demands China clarify its strategic intentions. Right now, not even the Chinese leadership has a clear answer to that question. Among the three schools analyzed above, only the extreme hardliners have a quick, but highly destabilizing, answer. The rest of China is debating what China’s strategy toward the South China Sea should be. This is an important fact. It suggests that China’s South China Sea policy has not hardened yet, and is thus malleable”.

He ends “The international community — especially the United States and ASEAN — should create favourable conditions for shaping China’s policy toward a more conciliatory and cooperative direction. In particular, they should help raise the importance of the moderates in Chinese decision-making, turning them from a minority view to a majority consensus. The unfortunate effect of some of the rhetoric from U.S. officials about Chinese “hegemony” in East Asia is to confirm the hardliners’ view that the United States wants to contain China, thus undermining the moderates’ position within China’s domestic debate. Among the three schools discussed above, only hardliners unequivocally seek some sort of military hegemony. If American officials take this view as China’s national policy, they will simply talk past their more moderate Chinese interlocutors, creating a potentially dangerous communication gap between the two sides”.

 

“Suspected US drone strike”

15/07/2016

A suspected US drone strike wounded four Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen’s central Marib province on Sunday, local tribesmen and media said, hours after the exiled Yemeni president flew in to meet Arab military leaders in his war against the Houthi rebels. Sunday’s drone strike happened on the same day as President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi arrived in Marib city, about 120 km (75 miles) east of the capital Sanaa. In a six-hour visit, he met commanders of a Saudi-led coalition backing him in a civil conflict in which thousands have died. The war has allowed Islamist militants to flourish, even though the United States has for years launched drone strikes against groups in Yemen.

May’s Cabinet: blood and Brexit

15/07/2016

A report notes the recent reshuffle that took place earlier this week in the UK after the new PM was formally appointed, “Theresa May has drawn a decisive line under the David Cameron era with a sweeping reshuffle that saw several of his key ministers, including justice secretary, Michael Gove, sacked, and her own handpicked team rewarded with cabinet posts. Conservative MPs, some of whom had seen the former home secretary as a continuity candidate who would build incrementally on the record of the Cameron governments, were stunned by the radical reboot. May began the day in her Westminster office, holding a series of one-to-one meetings with ministers she had decided to replace, including Gove, the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and the culture secretary, John Whittingdale. She later moved to Downing Street, where senior Conservatives came and went throughout the day to be told their fate”.

The piece adds “In total, six of Cameron’s ministers, including the former chancellor George Osborne, have been shown the door since Wednesday night. Big winners included Justine Greening, who will run a new beefed-up Department for Education, and Liz Truss, who takes Gove’s role as justice secretary. May will travel to Scotland to meet first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Friday for her first official visit and stress her determination to uphold the union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom despite the decision to leave the EU – something Scottish voters rejected at the referendum. She will say: “I believe with all my heart in the United Kingdom – the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This visit to Scotland is my first as prime minister and I’m coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries.” There were several surprising appointments to May’s cabinet. She handed key roles to Brexiters demonstrating that she is determined to repair the rift in the party created by the hard-fought referendum campaign”.

It continues “Andrea Leadsom, who paved the way for May’s premiership when she dropped out of the leadership race earlier this week, will be the new secretary for environment, food and rural affairs. Leadsom made clear during the leadership campaign that she would like the ban on foxhunting to be repealed and once suggested the subsidies which are received by farmers from the European Union should be completely phased out. Priti Patel, the former employment minister, takes over as secretary of state for international development, despite a history of being sceptical about foreign aid. She has previously called for the department to be abolished. The new cabinet has a distinctly less privileged flavour, with Cameron’s party chairman, his close friend Lord Feldman, replaced with Patrick McLoughlin, who comes from a working-class background in Yorkshire. Greening went to a comprehensive school. Only about a fifth of the new team were privately educated, compared with almost half under Cameron. McLoughlin has been given the job of winning seats and gaining support in parts of the country that are not traditional Conservative strongholds in a clear signal that May hopes to exploit Labour’s disarray by reaching out to working-class voters”.

Interestingly the report notes “May’s allies insisted she was not motivated by a personal animus against the “chumocracy” of close friends and allies that surrounded Cameron and Osborne; but had ruthlessly favoured colleagues she believed could deliver. The new prime minister also announced the most radical shakeup in the shape of Whitehall for years, with the Department for Energy and Climate Change being abolished and its responsibilities absorbed into a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Sajid Javid, who has been far more reluctant to use the phrase “industrial strategy” than his coalition predecessor, the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, will move across to be communities secretary, while Greg Clark takes over at business”.

Sensibly it mentions that “Education will be beefed up under Greening, taking over responsibility for apprenticeships and higher education, currently overseen by the business department. Downing Street said that was so that children’s full journey, from the early years to their first steps into the workplace, would be overseen by a single Whitehall department. Despite Truss and Greening’s success, however, expectations that Britain’s second female prime minister would bring a decisive boost to the number of women in government were disappointed, with most roles still held by men. Senior Conservatives came and went in Downing Street all day to find out what job their new leader was prepared to offer them. There were rumours – which were believed to be true by senior officials at the Department of Health – that Jeremy Hunt would be sacked, but he was later confirmed in his post, tweeting, ‘“rumours of my death have been exaggerated” and that he wasthrilled to be back “in the best job in government”. One well-placed NHS official said: “We were told this morning [Thursday] that he was going. Everybody was hoping that he would move on and everyone was expecting that he would move on. But then we were stumped that he was being retained. People were genuinely surprised. Hunt staying was clearly not the plan”. May’s office denied reports that Stephen Crabb was offered the health brief, before turning it down”.

The article mentions that “May’s spokeswoman later said her appointments demonstrated that she would run a “bold” cabinet. “What we’re seeing is the commitment of the prime minister to putting social reform at the heart of her government,” she said. Truss’s appointment in particular was a signal that criminal justice reform is a key priority for May, who had previously been regarded as a relatively hardline home secretary, but has made a pitch for the centreground by stressing her commitment to reform, since standing for the leadership. In her first handful of announcements, on Wednesday night, May placed the responsibility for negotiating Britain’s way out of the European Union squarely on the shoulders of the men who fought for it in the referendum campaign – David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson, who will be Brexit secretary, overseas trade secretary and foreign secretary respectively”.

As expected it mentions “Between the hiring and firing on Thursday, May found 15 minutes to receive a congratulatory call from the US president, Barack Obama. The pair discussed the need to safeguard the “special relationship” between the two countries and May stressed to him that she would honour the electorate’s decision at last month’s referendum to leave the EU. Jon Ashworth MP, the shadow minister without portfolio, responding to the cabinet announcements, said: “We had warm words from the prime minister yesterday on the need for her government to stand up for more than just a privileged few, but Theresa May’s appointments are completely out of kilter with her words on the steps of Downing Street yesterday. It’s difficult to see this new-look cabinet as anything other than a sharp shift to the right by the Tories.”

“The Islamic State group’s Twitter traffic has plunged”

15/07/2016

The Islamic State group’s Twitter traffic has plunged 45 percent in the past two years, the Obama administration says, as the U.S. and its allies have countered messages of jihadi glorification with a flood of online images and statements about suffering and enslavement at the hands of the extremist organization. Among the images: A teddy bear with Arabic writing and messages saying IS “slaughters childhood,” ”kills innocence,” ”lashes purity” or “humiliates children.” A male hand covering a female’s mouth, saying IS “deprives woman her voice.” A woman in a black niqab (veil), bloody tears coming from a bruised eye, and the caption: “Women under ISIS. Enslaved. Battered. Beaten. Humiliated. Flogged.” U.S. officials cite the drop in Twitter traffic as a sign of progress toward eliminating propaganda they blame for inspiring attacks around the world”.

“She has always been driven less by ideology than by morality”

15/07/2016

A piece from the Guardian profiles the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, “For a woman on the verge of running the country, Theresa May has seemed almost preternaturally calm over the past few days. “She’s basically the same as ever; quite relaxed and cheerful. There’s no sense of the prison shades falling,” says a longstanding friend who has observed her closely during the campaign. But then, unlike Andrea Leadsom, seemingly badly shaken by a single weekend of hostile media coverage, May knew better than anyone what to expect. Over the past six years, May has weathered riots, sat in on a decision to go to war, and chaired an emergency Cobra meeting in the prime minister’s absence following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby”.

The writer goes on to remark that “She has been diligently doing her homework for years and, while even she did not foresee David Cameron resigning in these circumstances (let alone the collapse of all other contenders), she is as ready as she will ever be. The question is whether that is anywhere near ready enough for the turbulent times ahead. Tory grandee Ken Clarke’s unguarded remarks about her being a “bloody difficult woman”probably did May nothing but good with female voters – and she turned them to her own advantage at the last parliamentary hustings, promising that European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker would soon find out how “bloody difficult” she could be. But even her friends concede Clarke has a point. “She can be a bugger,” says one otherwise admiring colleague succinctly. “Not easy to work with.” May fights her corner tigerishly and, unusually for a politician, she does not seem bothered about being liked”.

Interestingly it mentions that “It is typical of her take-me-or-leave-me approach that she managed to win the support of almost two-thirds of her parliamentary colleagues despite refusing to bribe waverers with job offers. “You can’t go in and say, ‘Make me under-secretary of state for sproggets and badges and you’ve got my support’,” says Eric Pickles, the ex-cabinet minister and longstanding ally. “That’s not how she operates. You’ve got to take her unconditionally.” Indeed, the most intriguing political comparison is arguably not with Thatcher, but with Gordon Brown, the last political figure dominant enough to become prime minister basically by acclamation. Two serious-minded children of religious ministers, steeped in moral purpose, both possessed of an iron need to control. May is a famously reluctant delegator, needing to know exactly what her juniors are doing and to chew over every detail of decisions – a micromanagement style she cannot hope to apply to an entire government – and like Brown, she demands unswerving loyalty. (Although unlike him, she generally won’t say behind your back what she wouldn’t say to your face)”.

It goes on to make the point “Yet for all her apparent stubbornness, in private May is surprisingly open to a well-sourced argument. A former junior minister who observed her playing hardball in negotiations says she will usually do a deal in the end: “It’s not just ‘because I say so’ – if you make a good argument to Theresa, she can be willing to change her position.” She may not be adored, but she commands admiration, a wary respect, and deep gratitude from many Tory women for what the business minister Anna Soubry calls the “proper sisterhood” that she has built inside the party. There is something fitting about the fact that over a decade after May overhauled the candidate selection system to bring more women and minority ethnic MPs up the ladder behind her, her party briefly volunteered an all-female shortlist for the top job”.

The writer goes on to mention that “What makes a May premiership interestingly unpredictable is that she has always been driven less by ideology than by morality, a very personal sense of right or wrong. Her more radical moments – attacking police corruption, fighting Downing Street for an inquiry into institutional child abuse, overruling civil service advice – have often come from a feeling that common decency has been offended. She loathes any sense of impropriety in public service, of sloppy and self-serving behaviour leading to injustice. On Monday, she hinted at an equally moralistic approach to economic policy, outlining plans to curb executive pay and put consumers and workers on corporate boards. In a rather audacious parking of the tanks on Labour’s lawn, she plans to pitch herself as a champion of the “left behind”, people struggling financially who voted to leave the EU because they didn’t see how things could get worse. Robert Halfon, the minister without portfolio and champion of blue-collar conservatism, recognises that description well from his Harlow constituency. He backed May partly because he hopes she will advocate a more socially responsible capitalism. “I don’t think she’s a slasher-and-burner. I think she’ll take on crony capitalism – I’ve said we should be a party of the NHS, not BHS, not these awful people screwing the workers,” he says. It’s not hard to see where she got this rather old-fashioned sense of duty. The only daughter of the Rev Hubert Brasier and his wife Zaidee grew up in rural Oxfordshire, in a family that revolved around the demands of her father’s parishioners. It was dinned into her very young that, as the vicar’s daughter, she was always “on show”, and to this day she retains a puritanical streak; the juiciest surprise in her published tax return is that she gives quite heavily to charity”.

Crucially it notes that “Hers was a comfortable middle-class upbringing – two years of private school, then a local grammar and Oxford – and she enjoys a famously strong marriage to Philip, a banker she met at a Tory student disco. But life hasn’t always been easy. Her father was killed in a car crash shortly after she graduated, and her mother, who had multiple sclerosis, died the year after. Then came the bitter discovery that the Mays could not have children. She watched as, one by one, her male Oxford contemporaries bagged seats before her and, despite being promoted dizzyingly fast when she finally reached Westminster in 1997, was never quite part of any leader’s inner circle. Perhaps it took a certain sense of detachment to deliver that broadside after the 2001 defeat, in which she warned that the Conservatives would not regain power while they were seen as a “nasty party”. It remains a pivotal moment in Tory history, presaging Cameron’s modernising revolution four years later. Surviving the ferocious subsequent backlash, meanwhile, taught her that she was tougher than she thought”.

The author adds “Such feats of daring remain, however, rare. “She likes to go through the usual structures,” says a fellow senior minister, who praises her as careful rather than wildly creative. She is in many ways the continuity candidate, with Tories speculating that trusted colleagues might well stay in their old jobs to smooth the transition. Even the chancellor, George Osborne, has gone out of his way to be helpful, holding private talks with her in recent days. At a time of national crisis, caution has its appeal. Halfon says that when he asked constituents for their views on a new leader, the word he kept hearing was “security”. She may lack a grand political vision, but if the sky fell in you sense she’d know what to do. Yet awkward questions remain. If she is such a strong leader, why did she disappear during the EU referendum? Surely she was not cynically hedging her bets? And can a remainer ever really deliver a form of Brexit that satisfies the Tory right, without outraging her more centrist supporters? The collapse of the leadership contest means May has not been forced to clarify her views on several controversial issues related to Brexit, chief among them immigration. As home secretary, she managed to be both passionately liberal on race issues – challenging stop-and-search because it routinely discriminates against young black men, for example – and hardline on immigration, baldly stating in a speech to last year’s party conference that current levels were not in the national interest. Many MPs do wonder how she can honestly reconcile such apparently conflicting beliefs”.

It ends “But Pickles, who worked with her for years on community cohesion, argues that she has merely been quicker than most to recognise what a toxic issue immigration has become. “I’ve always been of the view that if you let the genie out of the bottle, it’s very difficult, but I think she got the early warning signs,” he says. “I think [that speech] was a genuine attempt to try and pull us back before the great chasm we descended into.” Whatever the truth, the Conservatives are in that chasm now. It now falls to Theresa May to drag them out”.

 

“To help locals organize a push on Mosul”

15/07/2016

“U.S. forces will move advisers and other staff to an Iraqi airfield recaptured from Islamic State to help locals organize a push on Mosul, the militants’ largest stronghold, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said before arriving in Baghdad on Monday. Iraqi government forces said on Saturday they took back control of Qayara airbase, about 60 km (40 miles) from the northern city, backed by air cover from a U.S.-led military coalition. “The seizure of the Qayara West airfield … will be followed. Its purpose is to create a logistics hub there, so there will be U.S. logistics support,” Carter told reporters. The airfield is “one of the hubs from which … Iraqi security forces, accompanied and advised by us as needed, will complete the southern-most envelopment of Mosul,” he added. The recapture of Mosul, on major supply roads running further north to the borders of Syria and Turkey, would be a major boost for the Iraqi government and U.S. plans to weaken the group which has launched and inspired attacks in the West.

“Little risk of losing their seat on the U.N. Security Council”

15/07/2016

A report from Foreign Policy notes the consequences of Brexit for the UK on the Security Council, “Post-Brexit Britain may lose Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose voters overwhelmingly favour remaining in the European Union. But they run little risk of losing their seat on the U.N. Security Council, a key source of London’s claim to be a true world power”.

It adds “That doesn’t mean it will be business as usual for British diplomats at the United Nations. Emotions remain raw over Britain’s Brexit vote, which has sent stock markets plummeting to historic lows, and injected an unwelcome degree of uncertainty into world affairs. Over time, European governments are expected to grow less willing to submit to London’s leadership role at the United Nations in crises from Libya to Somalia, where British diplomacy is backed up by European muscle and euros. That will greatly enhance the influence and prestige of France, which will become the sole remaining representative of the European Union, among the council’s big power caucus. Great Britain, meanwhile, may suddenly find itself as “the runt of the Security Council,” quipped Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations”.

The report notes that “Britain’s departure from the EU is also virtually certain to give new momentum to efforts to change the makeup of the U.N. Security Council, whose five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain — still reflect the balance of global power at the end of World War II. For two decades, rising powers like Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan have pushed to receive permanent seats of their own. Those efforts have been blocked by regional rivals like Algeria, Argentina, Pakistan, and Italy, which fear for their own standing at the U.N. if their more powerful neighbours make their way onto the world body’s most powerful arm”.

It makes the point that “For the moment, British diplomats are trying to walk the narrow line between stressing that they will abide by the will of their voters while insisting they’ll still find ways of cooperating with allies — and EU members — like France and Germany. During a closed-door meeting of European Union diplomats Tuesday morning in New York, Britain’s U.N. envoy, Matthew Rycroft, told his European colleagues there was no turning back from the decision to leave the EU. But he sought to assure them that his government would remain engaged on key international matters, and that it would actually intensify its activities on the Security Council, according to several European diplomats. “They say they will stay the course, not diminish their efforts,” said one diplomat. French, German, Spanish, and other European diplomats told Rycroft that they were shocked by the British decision to withdraw from the EU and that relations would never be the same. At the same time, however, they assured him that they would strive to find ways of collaborating”.

It mentions that “A senior French official at the meeting told Rycroft that Paris, which holds the other European seat on the Security Council, would continue to closely coordinate its diplomatic activities with Britain, citing a history of “friendship and solidarity.” Though diplomats said that France would probably take on a greater share of responsibilities once Britain leaves the EU. Rycroft, for his part, told the gathering that Britain would remain a full-fledged member of the European community — with a seat at the table in NATO, the G-7, and the G-20, and a robust military — until its departure is finalised. Ironically, Rycroft’s assurances that Brexit would have limited impact on Britain’s diplomacy echo claims by proponents of the “Leave” campaign, which issued a statement earlier this year”.

The report ends “For decades, Britain’s influence was derived from its ability to leverage other people’s power — the United States and the European Union — in pursuit of its interests. In Somalia, for example, Britain typically takes the lead in drafting the U.N. resolutions that define international policy. But it’s the wider European Union that foots the bill for African peacekeepers there. In Libya, British diplomats have overseen negotiations on a resolution authorizing the seizure of people smugglers and arms traffickers. While the EU may decide to maintain support for such operations, it is far less likely to want to take its lead from the United Kingdom. London is the lead policymaker — or penholder — on the council on about a dozen international crises, from Darfur to Libya to Yemen. In recent months, it has returned for the first time in 20 years to U.N. peacekeeping missions, pledging to send more than 250 blue helmets to South Sudan and an additional 70 or so to Somalia. U.N. supporters said they hoped this was the first step in a broader re-engagement in U.N. peacekeeping. But Samarasinghe said Brexit might stall any expansion of a British peacekeeping role. “I don’t think they will pull back” from their commitment, she said. “But I don’t think this is the start of something new, which is what we had previously expected.”

“The UK’s new prime minister Theresa May”

13/07/2016

The UK’s new prime minister Theresa May has vowed to lead a “one nation” government that works for all not just the “privileged few”. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street after being appointed by the Queen, she said it would be her mission to “build a better Britain”. She promised to give people who were “just managing” and “working around the clock” more control over their lives. Mrs May is the UK’s second female prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher. Mrs May later began appointing Cabinet members, with Philip Hammond – foreign secretary under Mr Cameron – becoming chancellor and Boris Johnson becoming the new foreign secretary”.

“Backstage, he was sufficiently insecure and calculating”

13/07/2016

An opinion piece from the Guardian notes that Boris Johnson refuses to tidy up the mess he made after the UK vote to leave the EU, “Standing at a podium bearing not a soaring campaign slogan, but the rather more prosaic “ST ERMIN’S HOTEL”, the leading political bounder of the age announced that he had thought about the individual needed to take the country out of the mess he’s dumped it in (I paraphrase), and “concluded that person cannot be me”. Where did it all go right? Normally Johnson is so smart he doesn’t even fly by the seat of his own pants. Unfortunately for him, his wingman recently decided he isn’t willing to offer up his undergarments any longer. Michael Gove, fresh from destroying his friend David Cameron, is going for the accumulator by announcing his surprise Tory leadership bid. As Gove put it this morning: “I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.” It sounds like a tragic conflict of disloyalties, with which Gove has wrestled for perhaps 24 hours. Even before Johnson took to his hotel podium, you could hear the offstage crash of defections to Gove. Dominic Raab was now off, having literally written a piece for this morning’s Sun headlined: Why Boris Has the Heineken Effect. To which the only rejoinder can be: If Carlsberg Did Political U-turns … Even so, and however inevitable it might feel after some reflection, this was a shock”.

She goes on to opine “We did know a schism might be on the House of Cards, as it were, thanks to yesterday’s accidentally leaked email from Gove’s wife Sarah Vine. Think of her as Claire Blunderwood. The pisser for Boris is that he now can’t even contemplate having Michael beaten up, like he did that troublesome little journalist back in the day, because many people have one eye on the news at the mo and would probably notice. Perhaps there were other signs of uncertainty. Friends of Johnson have spent much of the week briefing that his “private polling” shows he is “the only Tory leadership candidate with enough public support to ensure the Conservatives win the next general election”. Herein, perhaps, lies the paradox of Boris”.

Perceptively she writes that “Front of house, his brand has him as the era’s most off-the-cuff and confidently charismatic politician. Backstage, he was sufficiently insecure and calculating to be running up private polling bills. Alan Clark once remarked snobbishly that the trouble with one colleague “is that he had to buy all his furniture”. I can’t help feeling there is something rather nouveau frit about Johnson having to buy his own polling”.

She makes the point that “So we will now not discover how much of a #massivelegend Johnson is outside his London and Home Counties heartlands. Quite how he’d go over in Sunderland in the event of Hitachi pulling out of the area, for example, must remain a known unknown. His surprise non-running speech played much on the need for unity, for uniting those who came from opposing sides. I don’t know if you’ve read Team of Rivals, but try and picture it with Johnson in the chair instead of Abraham Lincoln. Gove’s statement could scarcely have been more pointed about Johnson’s weakness in this area: “I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership. In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But …” Cos you know Michael loves the players. And Boris loves the game. Reading the writing on the wall, perhaps the former London mayor decided he was damned if he was going to play Monopoly to settle for the Community Chest reading: “You have won second prize in a beauty contest.” It remains to be seen how his public – all those wonderful people out there in the dark as to his real nature – will take Johnson’s decision”.

She ends “Where does this leave them? On spying Baldrick, Lord Flashheart declares: “You look like a decent British bloke. I’ll park the old booties on you if that’s OK.” “It would be an honour, my Lord,” replies Baldrick. Hard lines for Britain, then, which will now not be offered the golden opportunity to be Johnson’s bootrest”.

“Russian pilots have been killed in Syria”

13/07/2016

Two Russian pilots have been killed in Syria after fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) shot down their helicopter near Palmyra, Russia’s defence ministry has said according to local media. The two men had been attacking a group of ISIL fighters in the Homs region on Friday, when the military chopper they were in ran out of ammunition, the Interfax news agency said, quoting the defence ministry. “The turning helicopter was hit by militants’ gunfire from the ground and crashed in the area controlled by the Syrian government army. The crew died,” Interfax said. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, according to SITE monitoring group”.

Boris absents himself

13/07/2016

In a dramatic move a report notes that Boris Johnson removed himself from the race to become the future Tory leader and next prime minister, “Boris Johnson has unexpectedly ruled himself out as a candidate for Britain’s next prime minister, after the justice secretary, Michael Gove, sent shockwaves through Westminster with a last-minute bid for the Conservative leadership. Gove had been chairing Johnson’s leadership campaign, after the two men worked shoulder to shoulder in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU. But with just hours to go before formal nominations closed at noon on Thursday, Gove announced that he no longer believed Johnson was the right man for the job, and that he would launch his own bid to be the next prime minister. Despite having been the leading public face in the victorious Vote Leave campaign, Johnson quickly concluded he could not command enough support from his party, after a series of key lieutenants, including the business minister Nick Boles and the pro-Brexit MP Dominic Raab, defected to the Gove camp”.

The report notes that “He stuck to plans to hold a mid-morning press conference at a London hotel, and delivered a defiant speech saying Britain should take last week’s Brexit vote as an opportunity to “think globally”, and “lift our eyes to the horizon”. But he concluded by saying he would no longer put his name forward. “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me,” he said, stunning MPs who had assembled to show their support. Johnson’s backers, who had gathered in the hotel to lend their support to the former mayor, appeared shocked by his announcement, after he spent much of his speech setting out a pitch to be a one-nation Tory.“This is not a time to quail, it is not a crisis, nor should we see it as an excuse for wobbling or self-doubt,” Johnson said of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, before he announced he was not planning to stand”.

The report goes on to mention “Gove is now widely regarded as the main rival to Theresa May, the home secretary, who had launched her own campaign earlier on Thursday with a pledge that “Brexit means Brexit”, and that there would be no general election until 2020. The other contenders are the work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, the former defence secretary Liam Fox, and the pro-Brexit energy minister Andrea Leadsom. The first round of voting will take place on 5 July, with the weakest candidate eliminated in successive rounds, until the field is whittled down to two candidates, who will be presented to the Conservatives’ grassroots members. The result will be announced on 9 September. A source close to Johnson said: “He’s proud to have been one of those who led the campaign for Brexit, and he’s absolutely proud that it’s given voice to millions of Britons who have previously felt ignored”.

It adds later that “Gove’s allies said he had had growing doubts about Johnson’s ability to build a future government in recent days, and over how he would manage the complex negotiations that will be required to extricate Britain from the EU. They suggested he lacked the “focus and grip”, to succeed in No 10. Johnson’s backers in parliament suggested the late timing of Gove’s intervention was a long-planned act of treachery. “Anyone can see who has wielded the knife, and how it has been wielded,” a source said. Gove’s statement said: “I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be prime minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me.” He added: “I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future.” Ed Vaizey, one of the MPs who attended a meeting with Gove on Thursday morning, said: “He was ready to back Boris; but the closer it got, the harder he thought about it, he thought, it’s not the right person. Follow that through to its conclusion: the logic is, if he doesn’t think Boris can do it, he has to step up to the plate and do it.”

“Saif al-Islam remains behind bars”

13/07/2016

Ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam remains behind bars, despite reports he had benefited from a general amnesty, authorities in the town where he is detained said Friday. Saif al-Islam “is still in prison and will not be released despite contradictory remarks” in the media about his whereabouts, the authorities in Zintan, a town southwest of Tripoli that opposes the unity government based in the capital, said”.

ISIS, stronger as it gets weaker?

11/07/2016

Hassan Hassan has written an article that argues that ISIS is getting stronger even as it loses territory, “The Islamic State’s international appeal has become untethered from its military performance on the ground. Sunday’s terror attack at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 people dead, could be an example of this growing disconnect. The rampage, committed by a man who pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before opening fire, came amid near-consensus that the Islamic State is in sharp decline. For the first time since U.S.-led coalition operations began two years ago, almost all of the group’s vital strongholds in Syria, Iraq, and Libya have come under serious pressure. In a recent statement, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the group’s spokesman, even alluded to the fact that followers should be prepared for losses, from Sirte to Mosul. But while the group’s performance has hit an all-time low, its appeal does not seem to have diminished. CIA Director John Brennan recognizes this fact: “Despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield … our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 16, using another term for the Islamic State. “[A]s the pressure mounts on ISIL, we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda.” Brennan also confirmed that the CIA had found no “direct link” between Omar Mateen, the gunman in Orlando, and the Islamic State. This is no surprise, as Mateen does not seem to fit familiar patterns of dogmatic support for the group. In the space of three years, he had supported Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State. His profile suggests that he belongs in the category of sympathizers who are only superficially influenced by the organisation’s ideology, but who nonetheless can be inspired to carry out attacks in its name”.

The author goes on to write that “Such sympathizers are not driven by the Islamic State’s military successes, such as the takeover of Mosul in the summer of 2014. The group built its narrative around Sunni victimisation, an idea that both predates its establishment of a caliphate and continues to exert a strong pull on many in the Middle East. The Islamic State has also tapped into the rampant political stagnation and popular grievances to gain popular support beyond the number of people who actually joined its ranks. Consider, for example, the ongoing offensives against the Islamic State in Fallujah, Raqqa, and Manbij. While Washington insists the onslaughts include forces that represent the Sunni Arab communities that dominate the three cities, the prominence of Iranian-backed sectarian militias and Kurdish groups has triggered outrage in groups that are otherwise hostile to the Islamic State”.

Interestingly he argues “Many observers throughout the region see Washington turning its back on Sunni civilians in order to cozy up to Tehran and Moscow. Reports in Arabic media have accused the United States of deliberately backing a sectarian war against Sunnis. This narrative invokes old patterns that could again help the Islamic State convert territorial losses into legitimacy among certain segments of the Sunni world. Even ideologically confused people like Mateen, who supported the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in 2013, might be led to support the Islamic State even as they do not follow its strict religious ideology. U.S. officials, however, are publicly making the case that the war against the Islamic State is an unqualified success. In a news briefing two days before the attack in Orlando, Brett McGurk, the presidential special envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, pointed to eight indicators to argue that the group was suffering on almost every front, from its fighters’ morale to its sharply reduced finances. He credited the Iraqi government with making impressive strides in dealing with the humanitarian situation in the country, and asserted that the forces leading the attacks in Fallujah and northern Syria are Sunni locals and the Iraqi Army”.

Hassan argues however that this “understates the political and social issues that led to the rise of the Islamic State in the first place and overstates factors that played little role in that rise. The Iraqi government today appears even more dominated by sectarian forces than the period before the Islamic State’s capture of Mosul in 2014. The narrative prevalent throughout the region that the continuing battle in Fallujah is a nakedly sectarian war belies McGurk’s hopeful — if not misleading — assessment. Political grievances are the beating heart of the Islamic State. The way the Fallujah battle has been conducted, regardless of how American officials present it, has caused some Sunnis who would otherwise oppose the Islamic State to see it as the enemy of their enemies. More people, not fewer, might start to see the group as their champion if it is defeated by the wrong forces. Such grievances could not only fuel insurgencies in Syria and Iraq, but also inspire future lone wolves in the United States”.

He concludes “The appeal of the caliphate might similarly survive territorial losses. In his briefing, McGurk pointed to the idea of a caliphate as the key driver of foreign fighter recruitment. “I’ve traveled now all around the world, and the common denominator when I asked leaders in various capitals what is it that’s driving your young people to this movement — the common denominator is this notion of a historic caliphate,” he said. “So we have to shrink the core, and we’re doing that.” But “shrinking the core” works only if the war effort simultaneously addresses the underlying grievances of communities from which the Islamic State draws support. It is imperative to enable Sunni forces to fight and defeat the Islamic State, and thus portray the fight to Muslims across the world as an extremist group slaughtering its fellow Sunnis, and not a sectarian war. However, the bulk of the effort against the Islamic State so far seems to be focused on defeating the organisation militarily, while the political, sectarian, and social mess created in the process is left for another day — a classic example of putting the cart before the horse”.

He ends “The war against the Islamic State is heading in two directions. The group is clearly weakened on the ground, but the nature of the losses it is suffering has strengthened its legitimacy among certain segments of the Sunni world. This is a trend that should be of grave concern to U.S. officials, as the group’s continuing support could lay the groundwork for its eventual resurgence — and more lone wolf attacks like the one in Orlando. More focus should be given to allowing the political track to catch up to military advances. But as the situation stands today, the military campaign might be creating the circumstances that will enable the group’s appeal to survive its territorial demise”.

Leadsom pulls out

11/07/2016

Andrea Leadsom has pulled out of the contest to become the next Conservative Party leader and UK PM – with Theresa May now set to succeed David Cameron. Mrs Leadsom said she did not believe she had sufficient support to lead a “strong and stable government”. She also said a nine-week leadership campaign at such a “critical time” for the UK would be “highly undesirable”. The energy minister said Mrs May was “ideally placed” to implement Brexit, and wished her the “greatest success”. A source close to the energy minister told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg “the abuse has been too great” for Mrs Leadsom during the contest”.

“Ukraine’s oligarchs are its biggest problem”

11/07/2016

A piece notes how to deal with “Ukraine’s oligarchs are its biggest problem. If there is a single obstacle to establishing a functioning state, a sound economy, and true democratic accountability, it is the tycoons who control the country. The oligarchs first emerged in the years following Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. They grew rich by gaining privileged access to the gas market, expropriating companies from private owners, trading with state enterprises on advantageous terms, and privatizing those same firms at pennies on the dollar. The crooked dealings that lie at the root of their fortunes give them a vital interest in keeping state officials corruptible, the economy rigged, and the rule of law weak. A world in which regulators abide by the rules, prosecutors and judges behave scrupulously, democratic procedures hold leaders accountable, and market competition works as intended is one in which the oligarchs cannot live and work. Calls to finally stamp out their influence are growing ever louder and more numerous. But few observers have offered workable plans for doing so. With that in mind, we present a roadmap for how it can be done”.

The piece goes on to note “The key to the plutocrats’ power is, unsurprisingly, their money. Claims that they control upwards of 70 to 85 percent of the economy are probably exaggerated. But the oligarchs are extremely rich, and their wealth affords them a degree of influence unfathomable by the standards of most democracies. А mere six individuals own the bulk of the country’s television, radio, and print media. Parliament is little more than an arena for competing moguls. A corrupt judiciary allows them to pilfer the state and rig elections with impunity. The executive branch is headed by President Petro Poroshenko, himself an oligarch with a dubious past. Real reform does not stand a chance unless the tycoons suffer a severe blow to their wealth and influence. For that to happen, the following four steps must occur”.

The first of these, he writes is that “the political class that has ruled Ukraine since independence must fall. Its members have maintained their grip over the country even in the face of successful popular uprisings in 2004 and 2014 against electoral falsification and massive executive corruption. Any government that hails from this class, including the current one, will be too compromised by ties to the oligarchs to transform the country. Replacing the ruling class requires popular action at the polls. Ukrainians must elect a parliamentary majority and a president from outside the post-communist political establishment. Once elected, this coalition must appoint a government dominated by reputable technocrats instead of the usual insiders. Such a feat, virtually inconceivable for most of Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, now appears increasingly possible. Since the Euromaidan revolt of 2014, civil society has flourished and even placed a new “Euro-optimist” contingent into parliament. If this trend continues, it could produce a political opposition that is both credible and independent from establishment elites”.

He rightly notes that “Ironically — and quite unintentionally — Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has added further life to this possibility. His war has united the country around the goal of Europeanisation and effectively amputated the most heavily russophilic parts of the electorate that might oppose such a project”.

He then moves to the second stage with entails “replacing corrupt officials in the state administration with motivated activists and outsiders — can begin. Expelling the magnates’ stooges from the government is crucial to depriving the oligarchs of their political protection and access to state largesse. The judicial system must be the first target of this campaign. This process will take time. 20,000 prosecutors and 10,000 judges are not going to be replaced overnight. But that reality must not serve as yet another excuse for inaction. A new government could readily establish a special prosecutor’s office and special courts staffed by reputable professionals and tasked with pursuing high-level corruption cases”.

He continues “With the first two steps having loosened the oligarchs’ grip on the state, the third and fourth aim to break their hold on the economy. The third step is to eliminate the subsidies on which most of the oligarchs depend. This first requires privatising state enterprises that the moguls use to enrich themselves. The notorious regional power companies would be a good place to start. These privatisations must break with tradition by being fair, honest, and open to both foreign and domestic participants. This would weed out oligarchic suitors in favor of capable new owners”.

He concludes “The fourth and final step aims to do just that. The newly-established special prosecutors should carry out arrests on corruption-related charges of as many oligarchs as possible. It should then offer them a plea bargain: Either pay a giant, one-time tax on the assets they’ve stolen or face prosecution for past misdeeds. Such an approach worked in Georgia after the Rose Revolution of 2003. It could work in Ukraine, too. The main goal is not to punish the oligarchs; it is to use the credible threat of prosecution to force them to cough up a significant chunk of their wealth. This would undercut their ability to buy virtually everything and everyone and thereby diminish their fabled aptitude for stymying reforms”.

It ends “Ukrainian prosecutors must gain access to information about the oligarchs’ offshore holdings. Western law enforcement agencies can assist their Ukrainian counterparts in this task. But the first step is for the people of Ukraine to eject their political masters and replace them with competent outsiders and professional technocrats. Without this, none of the other measures we propose can succeed. It won’t happen this year. But Ukrainians are seeing as never before the necessity of replacing rather than just reshuffling their rulers. With the right leaders, a few good policies, and a little help from the West, Ukraine’s interminable reign of rot may yet come to an end”.

 

“Blair defended his case for going to war in Iraq”

11/07/2016

Former British prime minister Tony Blair defended his case for going to war in Iraq, after a long-awaited report found the 2003 invasion was based on flawed evidence and woefully executed. The hugely anticipated Chilcot report offered a damning verdict on Britain’s role in the US-led war, detailing the flawed intelligence, questionable legal basis and inadequate preparation for the occupation. Britain deployed troops before diplomatic options had been exhausted and at a time when “there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein”, the Iraqi leader, the report found. It also highlighted how Blair wrote to US president George W. Bush in July 2002, the year before the invasion, saying: “I will be with you, whatever.”

State attacks Obama’s Syria policy

09/07/2016

An article notes the post-Obama planning at State has already begun, “The decision of 51 State Department officials to sign a document dissenting from President Barack Obama’s Syria policy elevates perspective over distortion. These officials resuscitated the artificially depressed reputation of the United States in the eyes of despairing and disgusted Syrians, their neighbours, and American allies in Europe. They killed the White House pretense that critics of the administration’s Syria policy are partisan politicians, war-mongering neoconservatives, and clueless think tankers. Although their dissent will not likely alter the Obama administration’s failed policy over its final six months, it’s a meaningful gesture that might help to restore U.S. honour. Those who signed the document exhibited courage and character. Secretary of State John Kerry and his media spokesman have forthrightly defended those who dissented in the right way in the proper channel. Still, by speaking out, these diplomats knowingly put their careers on the line. When the document and the names of its authors become public — as they inevitably will — those who felt morally compelled to dissent will be subjected to all manner of abuse and harassment by back-shooters lurking anonymously in the digital world and, more quietly, in the corridors of the government. One can only hope the White House will not count among those questioning their motives and qualifications”.

Crucially the author argues that “the dissenters have offered their president a much-needed opportunity to rethink his approach to a problem from hell. The essence of the administration strategy to date has been to divide, artificially and ineffectively, the problem of Syria in two: an Islamic State half, and a Bashar al-Assad half. The former has been harassed with coalition air attacks and ground operations by a Kurdish militia. The latter has been left free to conduct an unlimited campaign of civilian eradication, one that has benefited the Islamic State incalculably in terms of local and worldwide recruitment while creating a humanitarian catastrophe and a migrant crisis. Assad and the Islamic State are inescapably two sides of the same coin, one purchasing the destruction of Syria and the dispersal of its people”.

It goes on to mention how “Obama has vowed to degrade and destroy the Islamic State. His director of central intelligence, John Brennan, just told Congress that this is not going so well. How can it — at least in Syria — with Assad piling onto his own citizenry endless war crimes and crimes against humanity? Since late September 2015, Russia has joined the regime and Iran in both facilitating and committing crimes against civilians. Moscow, incidentally, loses no sleep over Syrians emptying into Turkey and Western Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin enjoys and promotes the resulting nativist, populist drift of European (and American) politics. None of the foregoing is disputed by the administration. Barely a day goes by without some senior American official or spokesperson condemning a civilian-centric military campaign by the Assad regime supported by Russia and Iran, one that guts the Geneva peace process on which Obama has bet everything. But the likelihood of peaceful political transition for Syria and the protection of its civilians (two issues that are inextricably linked) have been left entirely at the disposal and discretion of three parties: Assad, Iran, and Russia. Kerry earnestly implores these parties to show mercy. He may as well speak to a mirror. His boss has given him nothing beyond a smile and a shoeshine with which to work”.

Pointedly the author notes “It would be reasonable to conclude that Obama has reluctantly accepted mass murder in Syria as a cost of doing nuclear business with Iran. No doubt he hates it. No doubt he wants it to stop. But to push back against Assad — to take limited military steps to make his attempts at mass murder slightly more difficult — risks angering Tehran and perhaps causing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to abandon the nuclear agreement. Indeed, while the agreement was being negotiated the president assured his Iranian counterpart in writing that Tehran’s murderous client — a person who has put Syria at the service of Iran’s Hezbollah militia in Lebanon while breathing oxygen into the lungs of the Islamic State — would not be attacked as the United States chased the Islamic State in eastern Syria. No doubt resisting mass murder in Syria would offend Iran. Would it be enough to cause Tehran to renounce the nuclear agreement and the economic benefits connected thereto? My assessment is probably not, although the risk is not zero. Preserving the ability of Hezbollah to menace Israel and imprison Lebanon is of paramount importance to Tehran. Iran knows that Assad is essential to its grand strategy: Even Syrian army officers reportedly cringe at their country’s subordination to foreigners, and surely Syria’s humiliation would not last long in a post-Assad era. Khamenei has had no problem pursuing policies and practices in Syria that undermine the fight against the Islamic State and threaten America’s regional partners, even as he authorised closure on the nuclear agreement. It is Washington that has been unable to walk and chew gum simultaneously, with millions of people paying the price”.

Correctly he argues “All of this requires urgent review by the U.S. government. The State Department dissenters have proposed a specific military methodology with cruise missiles to make it hard for the Assad regime to kill on an industrial scale where and when it wants. Although such action might well complicate and frustrate some aspects of civilian slaughter, the real center of gravity in this matter lies with the intent and leadership of the American commander in chief. If he decides that U.S. passivity in the face of a monumental massacre causing lethal political fallout is no longer sustainable, he must make clear his desires to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and demand from the Pentagon a range of options aimed at making it hard for Assad to do his worst. It might be that cruise missiles aimed at Syrian military aircraft bases would top the list. But this is a matter for military professionals to sort out and for the president to decide. There are, to be sure, risks associated with changing course and protecting civilians — at least some of them — from mass homicide. These risks cannot be swept under the carpet. Yet neither can the risks associated with leaving 100 percent of leverage in the hands of mass murderers — Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime — be ignored. The progressive emptying of Syria caused by the symbiotic Assad-Islamic State relationship cannot be permanently contained by Turkey and other neighbours of Syria. And as long as civilians are on the bull’s-eye the prospects for diplomacy and political compromise are zero”.

He ends “Fifty-one State Department officials who have loyally helped to implement a dysfunctional White House policy have finally said, “Enough.” Even if Obama is content to bequeath to his successor a humanitarian abomination and geopolitical catastrophe, these officials have placed before the world the proposition that the United States can and ultimately will do its duty. They have rendered a powerful service. They deserve the thanks of the nation.

 

“Quietly stalking some of China’s man-made islands”

09/07/2016

U.S. Navy destroyers have been quietly stalking some of China’s man-made islands and claims in recent weeks ahead of a ruling on contested claims in the South China Sea. Over the past two weeks, the destroyers Stethem, Spruance and Momsen have all patrolled near Chinese-claimed features at Scarborough Shoal and in the Spratly Islands, according to two defense officials. “We have been regularly patrolling within the 14 to 20 nautical mile range of these features,” one official said, who asked for anonymity to discuss diplomatically-sensitive operations. The distance is important because if the ships patrolled within 12 miles, the Navy would handle it as a freedom of navigation operation that asserts U.S. rights to freely operate in waters claimed by other countries.

Democratic Burma?

09/07/2016

A piece argues that Burma is not as democratic as it seems, “In the November 2015 election, Burma’s long-standing opposition, the National League for Democracy (NLD), swept into office, promising change and new freedoms for the masses after a half-century of military rule. That the party is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, a widely revered Nobel Prize winner and long-time dissident, only added to expectations of dramatic change. So far, though, things don’t appear to be turning out that way. Upon taking power, the NLD promptly proposed legislation that would reinstall some of the junta’s draconian restrictions on peaceful protest. And while many political prisoners have been released, the new government continues to pursue charges against some of the country’s most dedicated activists — such as Harn Win Aung, who has led resistance to a notorious copper mine built on land grabbed from displaced farmers. The NLD even censored a film at a human rights festival for portraying the military in a critical light”.

The article goes on to mention “The party has given no explanation for its actions. Indeed, on several crucial issues it has explicitly chosen to avoid taking a stand. One of the promises party activists made during the fall election campaign was to establish a legal definition of what constitutes a “political prisoner.” Yet recently, when a lawmaker from one of the ethnic minority parties raised the issue in parliament, the NLD declined to address it. Over the last two months, while the party has ruled, peace activists, workers, and right-wing nationalistsalike have been charged with breaking protest laws. The democratically elected government appears singularly reluctant to dismantle the junta’s machinery of repression”.

It notes “Aung San Suu Kyi’s defenders will likely object to such a characterisation. They will point out that the NLD’s supermajority is not robust enough to mitigate the military’s constitutionally reserved bloc of 25 percent of the parliamentary seats. This pro-military contingent prevents the elected government from changing a constitution under which the armed forces retain control of key ministries responsible for defence and internal affairs (including the police). Some have argued that — at least for now — Burma is still the same militarised state it has been for a half-century. It’s not that the NLD wants to keep the military’s restrictions, say the new government’s supporters, it’s just that it hasn’t quite been able to force the changes through yet. Perhaps. And yet”.

Interestingly it argues that “Suu Kyi’s party has made no convincing case that it desires a more progressive approach. It has blithely dismissed the concerns of human rights watchdogs Amnesty International andHuman Rights Watch, who say that the protest law lags behind international standards. Moreover, the NLD has already shown that it can find ways to bypass seemingly intractable limitations when it wants to. When the military barred Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency, her party simply created a new position for her above the presidency. Her party must deal with the reality of the military’s continued political power, but it appears to have the ability to advance a legislative agenda that could begin to alter Burma’s entrenched authoritarianism. Yet it is choosing not to. The NLD’s inaction appears in a less benign light when one considers how the party is systematically ignoring the non-governmental sector. When I recently interviewed more than two dozen activists — from large national civil society organisations to grassroots campaigners — all lamented Aung San Suu Kyi’s unwillingness to include them in developing plans to address the country’s problems. Many of those I spoke with reported that she conveyed disdain for their work, raised doubts about their ethics, and questioned their relevance in the new “democratic” Burma. This seems a particularly disturbing irony in light of the important role the country’s civil society played in challenging the military regime”.

It adds “In truth, Burma’s version of democracy seems to mean a reduction in the country’s degree of authoritarianism, not a qualitative change to its political system. In many aspects, the NLD seems to be more interested in making cosmetic changes than in addressing the country’s fundamental problems. For instance, Aung San Suu Kyi’s first action as head of the new government was not to address land grabs or labour abuses but to lead a massive anti-litter campaign — a symbolic gesture that is meant to evoke order through cleanliness. Another noteworthy campaign is the recently-proposed ban of the betel nut, a mildly addictive carcinogenic substance the chewing of which produces the distinctive red spit stains that decorate the country’s corners and corridors. While the unilateral ban threatens the livelihoods of thousands of poor people, the NLD appears care more about the aesthetics of betel than such social dislocations. The party has also announced an ambitious and potentially disastrous plan to relocate urban squatters. A union organizer working in an industrial zone lamented this approach, pointing out that aesthetic concerns have trumped pro-poor policy. “Rather than address high costs of living, they simply think it is shameful for a good city to have squatters,” he said. “There is no land anyway because it was all sold off to the cronies. We don’t know if [the NLD] dares to have a face-off with the cronies or the military.” Rather than tackling these structural political and economic issues, the NLD prefers to try to sweep them under the rug. The party does have its democratic trappings — after all, it was elected overwhelmingly in a fair election. But its version of democracy has more than an edge of the old, authoritarian Burma. Its disdain for non-governmental activists, its obsession with the appearance rather than the substance of good governance, and its continued harassment of dissidents all suggest that the party views the people’s role in democracy as being limited to voting for those who will then make the decisions”.

It ends “For now, the NLD’s mandate and popular support remain strong. Farmers and workers across the country around told me that they trust this “people’s government” to resolve their problems. But those problems are not being resolved. Instead they are being displaced by the NLD’s politics of tidiness and citizen silence. As a result, the calm is unlikely to last forever. “We trust that the new government will not ignore our losses and our suffering. But if they do, we will fight back to the end,” farmers in Mattaya told me. For generations, Burmese expected to be regarded with contempt by their military rulers. Facing much the same treatment at the hands of the long-adored NLD is jarring. The party needs to start listening — or it runs the risk of alienating the very people who helped bring it to power”.

Insurgents seize Latakia

09/07/2016

Insurgents seized a strategic town from Syrian government forces and their allies in the western coastal province of Latakia on Friday, a monitoring group and the rebels said, in a rare advance for them in the area. The Syrian government forces had captured Kansaba in February, part of a wider advance in Latakia’s northern countryside at the time, backed by Russian air power. Fighting picked up again in the area after a ceasefire deal later that month brought a temporary lull. The truce has mostly unraveled throughout areas where it took effect in the west of the country. The al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front was among the groups that retook Kansaba, which had previously been an important base for the insurgents. The town overlooks much of the mountainous Jabal Akrad area close to the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The British-based monitoring group said it was part of a wider offensive launched earlier in the week”.