Max Hastings

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Phew. Even the most ardent European feels tempted to quote Maurice Chevalier on old age, “which isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative”. The alternatives before us were no longer In or Out but instead between a Sellotaped post-new year order and chaos. The government has displayed the pragmatism to reach a belated agreement with Brussels.

Downing Street’s triumphalism was inevitable: the deal bolsters a tottering premiership. The risk of public disorder, had the food supply chain with the Continent broken down, has been averted. Boris Johnson trumpets perhaps the first promise of his life that he has half-kept, saying that “we have taken back control”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Speculation about whether Brexit will or will not happen has entered the realms of tea-leaf fortune-telling, which I shall not venture upon. Instead, I have been musing upon how, as a nation, we have come so close to committing what some of us regard as the gravest national folly of our lifetimes.

The most obvious reason is that the Devil has the best tunes. The obsessives seeking to quit Europe have sung their siren songs with a close harmony wholly absent from our side. This is partly because they forswear the smallest responsibility for making the unworkable work: several quit government rather than be caught by cameras at the wheel in a head-on collision with reality.…  Seguir leyendo »

A few weeks ago a prominent hedge fund boss, whom I know slightly, invited me to a glitzy weekend. After declining, I mused on his gambit. He is an avowed Brexiteer who has committed millions to the cause, and asserts that Boris Johnson should rightfully be prime minister. He anticipates increasing his fortune by shorting Britain.

My hunch is that he offered the invitation in hopes of precipitating a collapse of my principled resistance to everything he represents. This was unflattering, but made his proposal easy to reject.

Yet many of us face more difficult social dilemmas. The political crisis has created tensions between old friends, and within families, such as few of us have ever experienced.…  Seguir leyendo »

Among the headlines here last weekend was one that trumpeted: “Cameron to Defy EU on Migrants.” This suggested that the prime minister intends to make it much harder for Romanians and Bulgarians to claim British welfare benefits. Such an initiative would run contrary to E.U. law and assuredly meet a challenge in the European Court, which would probably rule against the British government.

But a political imperative presses upon Prime Minister David Cameron. With just 18 months before a general election, he faces a threat of mass defections from his own Conservatives to the fringe U.K. Independence Party, committed to contrive Britain’s departure from the European Union.…  Seguir leyendo »

It is hard to be optimistic about the outcome of President Obama’s troop “surge” in Afghanistan. The additional forces sound large in headlines, but shrink small in the mountains. The commitment is intended as an earnest indication of America’s will. But neither the number of troops nor the timeline that mandates a drawdown in less than two years is likely to impress the Taliban, who think in decades, or for that matter the Afghan people.

Most decision-makers on both sides of the Atlantic now privately believe we are in the business of managing failure, and that is how the surge looks.…  Seguir leyendo »

It is an embarrassment to discover that you are fighting the wrong war. President Obama's strategy review of Afghanistan, unveiled on Friday, makes almost explicit what American and British soldiers and diplomats have understood for many months: that al-Qaida is now rooted in Pakistan, whose tottering polity represents a far graver threat to international order than anything happening next door.

Washington is appalled by the danger posed by a "greater Pashtunistan", straddling Pakistan and southern and eastern Afghanistan, dominated by Islamic militants who might eventually become capable of giving al-Qaida access to nuclear weapons. Western alarm about such a contingency seems entirely justified, especially now the Islamabad government has conceded control of the Swat valley to the Taliban, with the imposition of sharia law.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Guardian last week vividly described the shambles of Afghanistan. Simon Jenkins argued on these pages for recognition of failure. I share his analysis of the west's predicament. But I find it impossible to believe the British government will precipitate a crisis in Anglo-American relations by pulling out of the war.

In the new year, President Barack Obama will arrive in Europe on a wave of public euphoria. One almost inevitable consequence is that the British government will commit more troops to a campaign that is going nowhere, because we are too deeply committed to do anything else.

The incoming Democratic administration is convinced Afghanistan is a "good war", in a way that Iraq is not.…  Seguir leyendo »

While most of the world spent the weekend trembling for its wealth, in Afghanistan the Taliban busied themselves dying in quite large numbers, during an ill-advised assault on Helmand's provincial capital, Lashkar Gar. Around 50 insurgents were killed, for no loss to Nato and Afghan security forces.

This fits the war's pattern. Almost every time the Taliban fights a battle, it loses to overwhelming firepower. Unfortunately, such western successes are strategically meaningless. Nato is absent from vast areas of this intractable country, where the insurgents prosper. There is greater gloom about the conflict than at any time since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.…  Seguir leyendo »

Los seres humanos siempre nos equivocamos en la valoración de las amenazas. Los políticos y los expertos se preocupan por nuestra debilidad ante una determinada cuestión (el peligro rojo, el peligro amarillo, el holocausto nuclear, al-Qaida) y resulta que luego se encuentran con que han de hacer frente a problemas de naturaleza diferente.

La consecuencia más evidente de la crisis financiera en Occidente es que ha hecho que la «guerra contra el terrorismo» del presidente Bush parezca una tontería. El terrorismo es una cosa seria, por supuesto, pero no amenaza con hundir el sistema de las sociedades occidentales.

Por el contrario, lo que genera tanto miedo de esta catástrofe financiera es que no aparece nadie que sepa cuánto de mal se pueden llegar a poner las cosas.…  Seguir leyendo »

Seldom since the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia has the west found itself in such a muddle as it is today about events in Georgia and South Ossetia. Among rightwingers, hawks are suddenly back in fashion, and not only in Washington. David Cameron wants Georgia admitted to Nato in quick time. Russian threats to Poland are compared to the Cuban missile confrontation.

In truth, of course, this remains a small crisis by comparison with those of the cold war, even if some of the principals, in Moscow as well as Washington, talk as if Stanley Kubrick was writing their lines. It is nonetheless a real one, because Moscow has shown its readiness to use force in its proclaimed sphere of influence.…  Seguir leyendo »

The favoured season for launching wars used to come when the harvest had been gathered. This year, there is talk of an Israeli strike against Iran in November or December, when it would no longer embarrass the US election process but George Bush will still be in the White House during the presidential transition.

Last year, following a US intelligence submission which stated that Iran was not actively pursuing the creation of atomic weapons, a direct American attack on the country's nuclear facilities became implausible - and remains so. But Jerusalem and Washington are talking seriously about a possible Israeli strike, for which American collusion would be indispensable.…  Seguir leyendo »

Oil companies enjoy approximately the same public approval rating as drug dealers and arms traders. Thus it is doubtful whether many people other than shareholders have been lying awake at night worrying about the outcome of BP's current Moscow difficulties.

BP operates in Russia through TNK, a business half-owned by four oligarchs, who have embarked upon an orgy of harassment and litigation because they claim to dislike the manner in which BP's appointed executives have been running the company. It is widely assumed the Russian tycoons are acting with Kremlin support or at least acquiescence, aiming to make life so tough for BP that it sells up and quits the country.…  Seguir leyendo »

The G8 summit, which opens today on Hokkaido, in Japan, conjures images of a political A&E ward on a Saturday night. President Bush, leader of the greatest nation on earth, is discredited and almost time-expired. Gordon Brown leads a government most of whose own members want him to disappear into a hole.

Silvio Berlusconi presides over a gangster culture that renders it impossible for Italy to present a serious face to the world. Nicolas Sarkozy should enjoy the prestige of a French president secure in office until 2012, but he has grievously injured his own power base by his first-year antics.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Ministry of Defence is plunged into a grim process described as a "mini defence review". Teams of service officers and civil servants are exploring every aspect of spending and procurement plans in a desperate effort to save money. Current year sums have been made to add up only by creative accountancy, pushing back some big bills to 2010. Whoever becomes defence secretary after an election that year will face a pile of yellowing, unpaid invoices.

Everybody knows that a major defence programme must be cancelled. The navy's cherished aircraft carriers? These would be the first choices of most soldiers, but because the ships mean jobs in Labour constituencies, they are almost certainly safe.…  Seguir leyendo »

I like the Chinese. Maybe I need to qualify the remark by acknowledging that I have never met China's rulers or secret policemen. What is happening in Tibet is repugnant. China is a tyranny, in which personal rights and freedoms are non-existent. Yet, having visited the country several times lately, most recently in January, I feel a goodwill towards its people that makes me unwilling to join the chorus that wants this summer's Olympics to prove a fiasco. China has suffered so much for so long - from nature, western barbarians, the Japanese, Mao Zedong - that it seems overdue for some good fortune.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last fall, when Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified before Congress, the Op-Ed editors asked military and diplomatic experts to suggest questions they would like to ask America’s two top men in Iraq. Now, with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to appear again before the Senate today and the House tomorrow, the editors asked three of last year’s contributors to reflect on the changes of the last seven months — and to suggest new questions they would pose were they members of Congress.

a) Legislation's Limits

By Douglas J. Feith, a former under secretary of defense for policy and the author of War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism.…  Seguir leyendo »

Some of us speculate occasionally, albeit without real cupidity, about what we would do if we suddenly found ourselves in possession of a billion pounds. Even after funding a big house with lots of staff, car with chauffeur, yacht, helicopter and suchlike, there would be enough left to live on the interest, with a few hundred million to spare.I suppose one could entrust the money to Polly Toynbee and George Monbiot to give to deserving causes, but not many billionaires are enlightened enough to do that. Instead, there are today so many doggedly materialistic possessors of surplus wealth that a huge luxury goods industry exists to succour their plight.…  Seguir leyendo »

A few months ago, I suggested here that all of us who are sceptics about Iraq should subject ourselves to regular brain scans, just in case we were wrong. That is to say, enthusiasm to see George Bush's nose rubbed in his follies must never tip over into eagerness for US failure in Iraq. Its consequences for the world, and above all for the Iraqi people, are far too grave to indulge schadenfreude. There are three reasons today to revisit our thinking about Iraq even if, at the end of the process, we end up back where we started.

James Forysth rightly remarked in the Guardian's media pages yesterday that the British press has under-reported the success of the US troop surge.…  Seguir leyendo »

Today and tomorrow, the United States ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and the top American general there, David Petraeus, will appear before Congress to offer a progress report on the war. The Op-Ed page asked six experts on the Iraq conflict to come up with three questions they would pose to the two men.

Beyond the Surge

1. General Petraeus, has the surge bought us anything more enduring than fleeting tactical victories?

2. You and Adm. Michael Mullen, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both said the surge will end in April 2008. What options do we have then?…  Seguir leyendo »

Yesterday, just in case everybody else knew something that I did not, I rang an editor friend and asked for the word on the street about Madeleine McCann. He answered that no one has the slightest idea where the truth lies - despite the Portuguese police naming Kate and Gerry McCann as formal suspects in the investigation of her death. The case possesses everything headline writers could dream of: a pretty child victim; photogenic middle-class parents who are also doctors; apparently bungling foreigners. Amid a miasma of allegation and sensation, coverage is remorseless, speculation infinite.

The story provokes in some of us the sort of guilt that our ancestors must have felt on finding themselves unable to avert their eyes from a public execution.…  Seguir leyendo »