Monthly Archives: January 2009

Gideon Rachman

When he leaves the White House, George W. Bush might be tempted to try out his own version of Richard Nixon’s famous line to the press that – “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more.” Except that Bush junior doesn’t do self-pity. We learnt that in his rather strange closing press conference, when he adopted a whiny voice to say – “why did the financial crisis have to happen on my watch?” – before denouncing such sentiments as “pathetic” self-pity. From this I deduced that this thought is bothering him a lot.

Indeed, former leaders often spend a huge amount of time worrying about their images. I was once told that Lady Thatcher meant a special point of cultivating historians, in the hope that they might write something nice about her. They certainly don’t have much that is nice to say about George W.Bush. One recent poll of American historians found that 61% thought he was the worst American president ever and 98% rated him a failure.

Any verdict that unanimous makes me a bit suspicious. Is there really nothing good to say about President Bush? Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard has a try.  

Gideon Rachman

These are troubled times at Bank of America – what with today’s announcement of an emergency government bail-out.

Still, if employees are feeling depressed may I suggest that they take a fond look-back at this inspirational video, made by Bank of America employees in happier times. It features an ecstatic middle-manager singing a song, set to a tune by U2, about a recent merger that the bank had negotiated. The song contains immortal lines like – “Two great companies come together/ MBNA and BOA/ One bank, one card, one name that’s known all over the world”. Bono himself couldn’t have put it any better. 

Gideon Rachman

Pop sociologists like to divide people born since 1945 into different groups. There are the baby boomers, there is Generation X, we may even be on to Generation Y by now. But, as far as I am concerned, we are all members of Generation L – that is, L as in lucky. 

Gideon Rachman

I have always been sceptical about the idea that Tony Blair is a plausible candidate for the presidency of the EU. Apart from the small snag that the job does not yet exist, it seems to me that the combination of bitterness over Iraq and Britain’s refusal to join the euro,  means that there will be too much opposition.

Still, Tony Barber reports in today’s paper that the idea has got a new lease of life. If Blair is eventually dragged reluctantly to the throne, he will have a lot to thank Nicolas Sarkozy for. As the FT notes today, Sarko’s hyper-active and effective presidency of the EU in the second half of 2008 has made the case for a “big-hitter” as president of Europe. Or, at least, somebody people have heard of.  

Gideon Rachman

Neither Israel nor Hamas seem particularly inclined to heed the UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The Israelis, in particular, tend to shrug off condemnation by the UN, which they regard as an incorrigibly anti-Israeli body. You can understand why. The UN Human Rights Council, for example, has adopted far more resolutions condemning Israel than any other country. Both Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon have criticised the council for singling out Israel.

That said, I think Israel will still view Thursday night’s Security Council resolution with some concern for a couple of reasons. The Security Council is the serious bit of the UN. And it is hard for Israel to dismiss the UN altogether – after all, its owes its very existence as a state to UN resolutions. 

Gideon Rachman

At times like this, a bit of escapism is in order. What could be better than going to the football?

The trouble is that you can’t escape the credit crunch, even in a football stadium. The corporate names of the major English teams look like a roll-call of disaster. Manchester United, the champions, are sponsored by AIG. Newcastle United are sponsored by Northern Rock, the first British bank that had to be nationalised.

West Ham United don’t even have names on their shirts because their sponsors, XL, a travel company have gone bankrupt. In fact, the whole club is up for sale because its Icleandic owner, Björgólfur Gudmundsson, lost hundreds of millions of pounds after the collapse of Landsbanki, which he chaired. How appropriate that West Ham’s team song is “I’m forever blowing bubbles/Pretty bubbles in the air/They fly so high/They reach the sky/But like my dreams, they fade and die.” 

Gideon Rachman

The newspaper headlines in London proclaim that the temperature will drop to -10, and that Russia has just cut the gas supply to western Europe – again. And yet the reaction here, seems rather less alarmed than the first time this happened back in 2006.

Why? For three reasons, I think. First, bad news is always slightly less shocking, the second time around. Second, there is now more of a sense that this is a genuine economic dispute, as much as a Russian power-play. There are real arguments to be had about Ukrainian debts to Gazprom, and the price Ukraine pays for its gas.

But the most important reason is that Europe is actually rather less in thrall to Russian gas than we first thought. In Britain, just 3% of our energy needs are met by Russian gas. Pierre Noel of Cambridge University summarised the situation rather neatly in a recent paper  for the European Council on Foreign Relations called “Beyond Dependence: How to Deal with Russian Gas”. 

Gideon Rachman

By sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip, Israel has crossed a line that brings it perilously close to strategic failure. 

Gideon Rachman

My earliest political memories are of Helen Suzman, the veteran anti-apartheid MP, who died yesterday.

I was born in London, but I lived in South Africa for three years from 1968-70 – between the ages of five and eight. I think it was probably possible to grow up in London completely oblivious to politics, but that wasn’t really an option in South Africa. My first political memory is of a general election in apartheid South Africa – seeing posters for Suzman being nailed to trees in the rich, liberal Johannesburg constituency of Houghton that she represented.