Monthly Archives: January 2008

Gideon Rachman

A colleague has just forwarded me an AFP story headlined – "Nepal bombing bad news for peace process: analysts". I applaud the urge to maintain a rigid division between fact and commentary. But sometimes I think journalists should be allowed to state the blindingly obvious – without resorting to "analysts".

The headline reminds me of a conversation I once witnessed at the BBC World Service. A worried editor was fretting that the presenter of a current-affairs programme had described some people who had let off a bomb as "militants". The presenter – Hugh Prysor Jones – replied, reasonably enough – "Well, they are unlikely to be moderates." Read more

Gideon Rachman

Thank you to Pacifist et al, for drawing my attention to the White House’s displeasure at Zalmay Khalilzad’s decision to appear alongside the Iranian foreign minister at Davos. I was at that session and – I must say – I don’t think the Bush administration has much to fear. There were no surprises. The Iranians ranted about their right to nuclear energy and about injustice in the world. Khalilzad said nothing that was out of line with American policy.

But his general demeanour was cool and unconfrontational – and maybe that was the problem. As it happens, Khalilzad has impeccable neocon credentials. He studied under Albert Wohlstetter, a fiercely conservative strategist, and was a founder member of the Project for a New American Century. But, in other ways, he does not fit the stereotype. He is not a headbanger and has gone down very well as American ambassador to the UN. Unlike his predecessor, John Bolton, he does not go out of his way to offend people. And he also has a deep knowledge of the countries he is dealing with. He was born in Afghanistan and – at Davos – he listened to the Iranians without using the headphones.

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Gideon Rachman

column illustration

Soccer crowds in England like to abuse match referees by chanting: “You don’t know what you’re doing.” If protesters had been able to get near the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, they could justifiably have aimed the same chant at the world leaders who assembled in the Alps. Read more

Gideon Rachman

I realise that is hard to argue that a big victory in the South Carolina primary was bad news for Barack Obama. But once you examine the details of the vote, that’s the way it looks to me.

From the very beginning, the Obama campaign has been at pains not to play the race card. The idea is that he is a candidate who is black, not a black candidate. But in South Carolina, the Democratic electorate split clearly on racial lines. As Ed Luce points out in today’s Financial Times – "Only one in four whites who voted opted for Mr Obama, against eight out of 10 blacks." A racially polarised electorate can sweep Obama to victory in South Carolina. It would mean certain defeat on national level. Read more

Gideon Rachman

I notice that the comments posted about Bill Gates so far have all been pretty hostile. Having just met him for the first time, I have to say I’m a fan.

I have no firm views on the merits of the anti-trust cases against Microsoft. And I am not a teccie person, so I’m not joining in the debate about the merits of Microsoft products. Read more

Gideon Rachman

They say money can’t buy you love. I have always been a bit sceptical about that. But it certainly can’t buy you a sense of rhythm. That much was clear from the McKinsey party in the Hotel Belvedere last night.

McKinsey always have a good bash, largely because they bring back the same New York soul band year after year. I’ve forgotten their name, but they were so good they played at Paul McCartney’s wedding to Heather Mills. You can almost see the Bad Karma hovering over them as they perform. By midnight the dance floor is packed with CEOs and bankers strutting their stuff. It is not a pretty sight. Every now and then, one of the backing singers leaps into the crowd and dances with whichever sweaty hedge-fund manager is closest to hand. I hope they are well paid. (The dancers, not the hedge fund managers.)

Tonight’s hot ticket is the Google party – also at the Belvedere. Before that I am having dinner with Bill Gates, along with some colleagues from the FT. Impressive, I know. But Gates seems to have a thing about British journalists. Earlier in the week I bumped into some friends from The Economist who said casually, "We’re having dinner with Bill Gates, tonight." It gave me great satisfaction to be able to say, "Yeah, we’re having dinner with him on Friday." They were pleasingly crestfallen.

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Gideon Rachman

Why are you in Davos? It is a question we all struggle with in our different ways. But when our three-man FT delegation posed it to Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday afternoon, the Pakistani president seemed incredulous. Were we implying, he asked, that Pakistan was an unstable country that could not be left to its own devices for a few days? "There is no danger in Pakistan," he assured us, "business is bustling."

Does this reaction suggest that the president is cool, calm and in command? Or completely detached from reality? Or just presenting a cynical front to the world, while he battles to contain the forces that threaten to engulf him? During the course of our audience with him – which was written up in Thursday’s paper – I got flavours of all three ideas. (Sorry if this is beginning to sound like the wine-tasting, of which more later.)

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Gideon Rachman

The theme of this Davos is meant to be “collaborative innovation” – otherwise known as “collovation”. But my personal theme seems to be spitting.

Yesterday morning I gobbed into a glass tube, so that a new company called 23andMe could analyse my DNA. In the evening I went to a wine-tasting, which also involved a bit of spitting. But there are some activities that shouldn’t involve spitting, unless things go badly wrong – like interviewing President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and moderating a session on global political risk this morning. Read more

Gideon Rachman

My recent article Illiberal capitalism: Russia and China charter their own course has prompted some interesting debate. Robert Kagan, foreign-policy analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for InternationalPeace, and I answered some of readers’ questions in a Q&A on FT.com on Tuesday. All the questions and answers can been seen here.

Gideon Rachman

My recent article Illiberal capitalism: Russia and China charter their own course has prompted some interesting debate. Robert Kagan, foreign-policy analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for InternationalPeace, and I answered some of readers’ questions in a Q&A on FT.com on Tuesday. All the questions and answers can been seen here.