An uncomfortable phenomenon underlies the numerous existential dilemmas facing world leaders gathered at this weekend’s Munich security conference: it is the scary sight of three superpowers – the US, Russia and China – all behaving badly, all at once.
In the past, presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers attending the annual meeting could focus on a single, common threat. During the cold war, the Soviet Union was the obvious worry. Post-Soviet Russia continues to present big security concerns. So does an expansionist China. Its rapid rise, economic and military, is throwing up a range of challenges to the global order.
What has changed is that the US is becoming a problem too.… Seguir leyendo »
Barack Obama’s visit to London this week may be his final curtain call as U.S. President. It’s likely to be the last time he dines with the Queen at Windsor Castle.
But Obama’s brief drop-by, on his way to Germany from Saudi Arabia, will be remembered not for its pomp or pageantry, but for his extraordinary appeal to British voters not to leave the European Union in June’s national referendum.
The nerve of the man! Many Euroskeptic Britons have already expressed dismay, and not a little anger, at Obama’s anticipated intervention in what they say is a domestic issue.
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and a possible successor to prime minister David Cameron, called Obama a “hypocrite.” No American politician would allow an unelected, external authority like the EU Commission to override U.S.… Seguir leyendo »
Has the post-war dream of a grand union of democratic states been shattered beyond repair? North American observers might be forgiven for thinking so, given the unprecedented tidal wave of public recriminations, personal insults, and dire predictions spewing forth from the European Union’s panicky and divided leaders.
The principal cause is the imminent climax to the crisis over Greece’s undeclared, de facto bankruptcy. The country is €323 billion ($352.7 billion) in debt — more than 175% of its GDP. It cannot pay what it owes to other European countries and the European Central Bank. Its next big loan repayment, of €1.6bn to the International Monetary Fund, falls due at the end of this month, and may be missed.… Seguir leyendo »
Presumably out of courtesy and as a matter of diplomatic protocol, Barack Obama called Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday night to tell him the nuclear pact with Iran that Israel’s prime minister had so bitterly resisted was a done deal. It must have been a difficult conversation.
Not only was the US president informing Netanyahu of something he already knew – that he had lost the battle, though not the war, to maintain the isolation and demonisation of Iran. Obama was also making a political point: Netanyahu’s brazen attempt to undermine presidential authority by conspiring with his Republican opponents had failed miserably.… Seguir leyendo »
Why stop now? This must be the question Vladimir Putin is asking himself as he considers the latest European pleas for peace in Ukraine, to be discussed at a crisis summit in Minsk on Wednesday.
Since invading and annexing Crimea almost one year ago, the Russian president has been running rings around the European Union, NATO and the Obama administration.
It is not that Putin is particularly clever — on the contrary, his behavior suggests he is paranoid, impulsive and insecure. But he has benefited from the greater weaknesses of his opponents.
So as he considers his response to Europe’s ideas for a new cease-fire and a “comprehensive settlement” in eastern Ukraine, what will Putin be thinking?… Seguir leyendo »
Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and what many fear is its apparent threat to invade Ukraine, has riveted international attention since the crisis erupted with February’s revolution in Kiev. Excitable talk has proliferated as fast as North Korean missiles.
Pundits obsess about a new Cold War, a showdown with “mad bad Vlad” Putin, and the resulting need to boost military spending (always a Pentagon favorite). The talk is all Ukraine, Ukraine. Politicians and diplomats have put everything else on hold.
Including Syria, which is a big mistake. Far more than an argument over an obscure shard of territory on the edge of Nowhere-on-Don, the catastrophe now taking place in and around Syria ranks as a fundamental challenge and threat to the current world order.… Seguir leyendo »
Whatever U.S. and European leaders may say, it seems clear a majority of the residents of Crimea were only too happy to abandon Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The referendum held there on Sunday was illegal according to Ukrainian constitutional law and took place under duress, following the large-scale incursion of “pro-Russian forces” — and voters did not have the choice to say “no” to severing ties with Kiev.
But these failings aside, it appears plain that most of Crimea’s population, with the exception of the Tatar minority and some ethnic Ukrainians, was content to return to what it regards as its ancestral home.… Seguir leyendo »
All the self-righteous huffing and puffing in Washington over Ukraine jars on European and especially Russian ears after the multiple U.S.-led invasions and interventions in other people’s countries of recent years. It’s difficult to say what is more astonishing: the double standards exhibited by the White House, or the apparent total lack of self-awareness of U.S. officials.
Secretary of State John Kerry risked utter ridicule when he declared it unacceptable to invade another country on a “completely trumped-up pretext,” or just because you don’t like its current leadership. Iraq in 2003 springs instantly to mind. This is exactly what George W.… Seguir leyendo »
The horrifying video of a Syrian rebel leader apparently eating the heart of a dead government soldier, which has been circulating this week on the internet, has caused a storm of instantaneous outrage and disgust on social media such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
But the video, which human rights monitors say appears to be genuine and not a regime propaganda “plant,” may also inflict long-term political damage on the already challenged reputation and credibility of the Syrian opposition, despite earnest condemnation of the alleged atrocity by the umbrella rebel organization, the Syrian National Coalition.
Human Rights Watch said this week the video “appears to show” a commander of a rebel Syrian brigade called the Independent Omar al-Farouq brigade mutilating the corpse of a regime opponent.… Seguir leyendo »
Reacting angrily to President Bashar al-Assad’s speech on Sunday calling for an end to the rebellion, the US state department said the Syrian leader was “detached from reality”. But much the same might be said of the US and of Assad’s other western and Arab foes, and with greater justification. After two years of bloody attrition, the unpalatable truth is Assad is still in power, shows no sign of heeding demands to quit and is far from beaten. The evolving reality is that Assad may yet see off his many enemies and claim victory in Syria’s civil war.
Explanations for this remarkable feat of survival lie not with Assad’s personal abilities, which are limited, nor with the durability of his domestic supporters, who are in the minority, nor with the president’s ruthlessness in prosecuting the military campaign.… Seguir leyendo »
The assassination in Benghazi of the American ambassador to Libya is an appalling act – and one foreseen by his employers. On 27 August,the state department warned US citizens against all but essential travel to Libya, painting a picture of a country beset by increasing instability and fraught with danger.
“The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem… Political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased. Inter-militia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country,” the state department said.… Seguir leyendo »
The return to Libya of the Lockerbie bomber would mark another stage in the remarkable rehabilitation of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and a regime formerly shunned by Britain and other western countries as a dangerous pariah. But relations with Tripoli remain tentative in other respects, with issues such as the 1984 murder outside the Libyan embassy in London of PC Yvonne Fletcher still unresolved.
Gaddafi can be expected to make political capital out of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi‘s release. September will see celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the army coup – Gaddafi calls it a revolution – that overthrew King Idris. The Libyan leader will also chair an African Union summit and address the UN general assembly next month.… Seguir leyendo »
A year after their brief but vicious summer war over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, tensions remain painfully high between Russia and Georgia. Moscow this week accused President Mikhail Saakashvili‘s government of “aggressively rearming” in preparation for a new conflict to regain the territories. Georgia dismissed the claim as a “myth”, part of what it calls ongoing Russian intimidation.
After the collapse earlier this year of European mediation, the impasse appears to be deepening. Eduard Kokoity, South Ossetia’s leader, said the enclave’s declaration of independence, recognised only by Nicaragua and Moscow, was irreversible – then added that it might one day merge with Russia.… Seguir leyendo »
Barack Obama’s decision to send Bill Clinton to North Korea will be seen as a gamble by both fans and critics of the US administration’s policy of engagement with “states of concern”. While Clinton’s primary aim is to secure the release of two American journalists arrested last March, this unexpectedly bold demarche will inevitably be viewed strategically as yet another attempt by Washington to bring the enigmatic panjandrums of Pyongyang in from the cold.
US policy towards North Korea is more circular than linear, resembling a not so jolly merry-go-round that sooner or later carries the diplomatic traveller back to the place he started.… Seguir leyendo »
Diplomats say Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s neophyte president, is gradually emerging from the dark shadow cast by his predecessor and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, and becoming his own man. His international reputation was reinforced at this month’s Moscow summit when Barack Obama described him as a “professional” and promised a new start in bilateral relations. “President Medvedev and I are committed to leaving behind the suspicion and rivalry of the past,” Obama said, the presidential charm machine set to rapid fire.
Medvedev’s domestic stock is rising, too. His poll ratings soared last autumn after Russia’s war with Georgia and his condemnation of Stalin’s labour camp gulag as a “tragic page in our country’s history” – and have remained consistently high despite the economic downturn.… Seguir leyendo »
By Simon Tisdall (THE GUARDIAN, 23/09/08):
George Bush and Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, have more in common than one might think. As younger men, both had reputations as playboy hell-raisers. As the current, more sober leaders of their respective countries, both are deeply unpopular with large numbers of fellow citizens. For his part, Bush is on his way out. And if the Islamists who bombed the Islamabad Marriott at the weekend have their way, Zardari, husband of the murdered Benazir Bhutto, will surely follow him – one way or another.
The stakes for this odd couple are high. Zardari is engaged in an increasingly fraught political and military campaign not only to retain power but, more importantly, hold the country together in the teeth of an existential threat to democratic, secular governance.… Seguir leyendo »
By Simon Tisdall (THE GUARDIAN, 12/09/08):
A secret order issued by George Bush giving US special forces carte blanche to mount counter-terrorist operations inside Pakistani territory raised fears last night that escalating conflict was spreading from Afghanistan to Pakistan and could ignite a region-wide war.
The unprecedented executive order, signed by Bush in July after an intense internal administration debate, comes amid western concern that the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and its al-Qaida backers based in “safe havens” in western Pakistan’s tribal belt is being lost.
Following Bush’s decision, US navy Seals commandos, backed by attack helicopters, launched a ground raid into Pakistan last week which the US claimed killed about two dozen insurgents.… Seguir leyendo »
By Simon Tisdall (THE GUARDIAN, 11/09/08):
Seven years after al-Qaida terrorists destroyed the twin towers in New York, the US is stepping up its hunt for the group’s leader, Osama bin Laden, and his followers. But the new strategy, involving special forces ground operations and increased aerial attacks inside Pakistan, risks turning the Afghan war into a regional conflict and destroying America’s “war on terror” alliance with Pakistan’s weak new civilian government.
Reports in Washington today, not challenged by the White House, said President George Bush had secretly issued orders in July authorising US commanders to send forces into Pakistan to attack al-Qaida and Taliban bases there.… Seguir leyendo »
By Simon Tisdall and Saeed Shah (THE GUARDIAN, 03/09/08):
The war in Afghanistan spilled over into Pakistani territory for the first time today when heavily armed commandoes, believed to be US special forces, landed by helicopter and attacked three houses in a village close to a known Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold.
The early morning attack on Jala Khel killed between seven and 20 people, according to a range of reports from the remote Angoor Adda region of South Waziristan. The village is situated less than a mile from the Afghanistan border.
Local residents were quoted as saying most of the dead were civilians and included women and children.… Seguir leyendo »
By Simon Tisdall (THE GUARDIAN, 04/08/08):
The turbulent prospect of direct US intervention against al-Qaida and Taliban jihadi bases in Pakistani territory adjoining Afghanistan appears to have moved closer following last week’s visit to Washington by Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousef Raza Gilani.
Far from reassuring his hosts that Islamabad is on top of the situation in the so-called tribal areas, Gilani’s uncertain performance seems to have convinced US officials of the need to move quickly. A sub-text to this dangerously fast-moving drama is George Bush’s desire to catch or kill his 9/11 nemesis, Osama bin Laden, before he leaves office in January.… Seguir leyendo »