Monthly Archives: May 2008

Gideon Rachman

I’m afraid that newspaper columnists are incorrigible show-offs. As a species, we are constantly trying to draw attention to ourselves. So I have to hand it to my colleague, George Monbiot, of The Guardian. I thought I might attract a little attention by writing a scathing review of John Bolton’s book. It never occurred to me to actually try and arrest the guy. (Yes, I know that’s a split infinitive – I feel reckless today.)

But this is what George has done at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival. Admittedly, it was a fairly ineffectual attempt at a citizens’s arrest. But the underlying issue is interesting. Monbiot claims to be in possession of a fat dossier on Bolton – and argues that the former UN ambassador is a war criminal. But I’m with Foreign Policy magazine when it argues that the grounds for arresting Bolton under international law are flimsy, at best. I don’t think that being in a possession of an offensive moustache is enough to take you to the Hague.

I find both Bolton and Monbiot puzzling in different ways. Why – for example – does Bolton spend so much time in Britain, when he professes to despise the place? It can’t be the money – the speaker fees are much fatter on the other side of the Atlantic.

As for Monbiot – the question that interests me is, is he a stunt man and publicity-seeking shyster or a sincere person, who is genuinely trying to improve the world? I fear that the answer is the latter. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Pimm, Rachman, 27 May 2008

“Thrown under the bus” is becoming the phrase of the American presidential election. It describes the moment when a candidate disowns an embarrassing supporter or adviser. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Russia won the Eurovision song contest over the weekend. I believe that this result has ominous implications for the future of the European Union – particularly with Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty coming up on June 12th.

I’m not joking. Or at least, not entirely. Read more

Gideon Rachman

I am just coming to the end of a week in Washington. Now that it seems pretty certain that the presidential race will be McCain v Obama, political gossip is turning to the second-order questions – who will be the vice-presidential candidates? Who will get the big cabinet jobs?

Barack Obama will be even less inclined to want Hillary Clinton on his ticket, after her tasteful suggestion that he might be assassinated – like Bobby Kennedy. The thought of having Bill hanging around the Obama White House is also not obviously attractive. Still, Hillary seems to want the job – and could yet force Obama’s hand. The Obama camp are desperate to unify the party and get on with battling McCain. What if Hillary threatened to take the fight all the way to the Democratic convention at the end of August – and even to make a speech there, arguing that Obama is unelectable and appealing to delegates to switch over to her camp?

And her price, for avoiding this nasty scenario? Why, the second spot on the ticket. Read more

Gideon Rachman

For a while this felt like it was going to be a bad night for Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton won a huge victory in Kentucky – and the television pundits had hours to dwell gloomily on Obama’s failure there. But Kentucky was then offset by a big win for Obama in Oregon.

The fact that Obama chose to give his evening speech in Iowa – the site of his first crucial victory – had excited speculation that he was going to claim that the Democratic race was over. Instead he contented himself with the claim that he is”within reach of the Democratic nomination” – which is undeniable. Instead Obama chose to signal his inevitable victory by a change in tone and focus. He was magnanimous towards Hillary, in the manner of a victor. And he focused the most effective part of his speech on an attack on John McCain. Read more

Gideon Rachman

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Read more

Gideon Rachman

I chaired a debate at the US embassy in London last night on the impact of the internet on the presidential election. It was surprisingly interesting. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can watch it here.

One of the reasons I found the discussion interesting is that it convinced me that there is more to the subject than I had realised. I started fairly sceptical. I don’t think it’s very obvious that the internet has made this election qualitatively different from all other campaigns. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Tensions between Russia and Georgia are heightening. In the latest development, the Russians have accused Georgian special forces of aiding anti-Russian insurgents. The Georgians meanwhile are outraged by the build-up of Russian forces in the separatist Georgian province of Abkhazia. They are now talking about a military response. And that would mean a shooting war with Russia – albeit, probably, quite a short one.

Specifically, the Georgians point to the downing of Georgian drones flying over Abkhazia, which is (after all) part of their country. They say that one of their drones was definitely shot down by a Russian Mig. They are threatening to shoot down the next Russian Mig to over-fly Georgian territory. And they say that they have tacitly been given the go-ahead by the Americans to do this. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Robert Kagan fires back at me over the League of Democracies in today’s FT.

He purports to be baffled that I should waste my time writing about the league when there are other more urgent issues to discuss – Georgia, Burma etc…Actually, I’ve written about both of these subjects in the past – and I’m sure I will again. But I think Kagan is too modest. His idea of a League of Democracies is being pushed hard by John McCain, who has a strong chance of being the next US president. So it is surely worth discussing?

Reading Kagan’s commentary today, I’m struck by how much we agree on. (There are also disagreements, which I’ll get onto in a moment.)

Both our columns ended on the same point. This is obviously not an idea that the US can impose. If European and Asian democracies are not attracted to the League of Democracies, then nothing is going to happen. Kagan also makes much of the fact that the idea of an alliance of democracies has got a lot of support among American liberals. Again, this is a point I made – in fact we cite some of the same names.

So let’s get onto the more interesting stuff: the disagreements. I think the most obvious dispute is over whether this is a potentially “dangerous” idea. Read more

Gideon Rachman

With the oil price heading upwards and President George W. Bush heading for Saudi Arabia, as part of a Middle Eastern tour, it is time to accept the truth. The pursuit of oil is fundamental to US foreign policy. Read more