Monthly Archives: June 2009

Gideon Rachman

The news of the military coup in Honduras provides an unplesant flash-back to the period when Central America was one of the world’s most unstable and war-torn regions. Not so long ago, really – the 1980s.

But in one respect things are very different from the Cold War era. Back then the dividing lines were clear. The Reagan administration was supporting rightist forces, like Nicaragua’s Contras, against the radical left – right across the region. This time things are, mercifully, much less clear-cut. Yesterday Hugo Chavez fiercely condemned rhe coup – and Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president of Honduras, appeared alongside Chavez and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua at an emergency summit in Managua. In the old days, appearing as part of a line-up like that would have been enough to condemn Zelaya out of hand in Washington, DC. But not now. President Obama has also condemned the coup as illegal and as setting a “terrible precedent”. And Zelaya even credited the US with discouraging the coup plotters. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Pinn illustration

Most days I get an e-mail informing me that somebody or other is “now following you on Twitter!” I find this slightly baffling, since I hardly ever tweet – that is, broadcast my every thought and deed to the world, using 140 characters or fewer. I tried Twitter out on the night of the US presidential election in November and did not like it much. One of my very last tweets was: “This is possibly the most moronic form of journalism I have ever done.” Since then, I have fallen largely silent. Read more

Gideon Rachman

There is much head-scratching in Britain today, about why the Iranian government has chosen to focus its anger about “foreign meddling” more on the UK than the US. Why is it Iranians working for the British embassy who have been arrested? Why did the supreme leader single Britain out for special condemnation in his speech at Friday prayers, ten days ago?

Two popular theories are doing the rounds here. First, its all to do with history – and Iranian memories of decades of British meddling. Second, the Iranians want to keep open the possiblity of accepting Obama’s famously outstretched hand. Both theories have their merits. But I think there is a simpler explanation. I’m sure the Iranians are furious with the Americans and see the CIA’s hand everywhere. But arresting Americans or bating Obama is risky. The US is the sole superpower and has troops and planes sitting in the Gulf and in Iraq. It is much easier and less risky to pick a fight with Britain.

You could see the same logic at work in the recent spats between Britain and Russia. The Russians, like the Iranians, claim to be convinced that western intelligence agencies are plotting against them and fomenting revolution. But it was the British Council that was singled out for harassment - not some branch of the American government. Again, its easier to pick on the less intimidating “little Satan”. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Reports that the Americans have agreed to send emergency military aid to the Somali government are confirmation that the military situation there is deteriorating fast. In fact, without the world paying much attention, Somalia is in danger of being effectively taken over by Islamists supported by foreign jihadists. It would then look rather like Afghanistan in the years before 9/11.

The FT reported a few days ago that “several hundred foreign jihadists linked to al-Qaeda are reported to have joined al-Shabaab’s efforts to topple the government”. According to our report, the national government now controls just a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Alas poor Michael Jackson, I didn’t know him particularly well. In fact, I didn’t know him at all. I did, however, play a walk-on part in the media frenzy that surrounded him as his life became increasingly bizarre.

Jackson was in Bangkok in 1993 when the first allegations that he had an unhealthy interest in children were made. I was living there and together with my wife, who was working as a freelancer for the BBC, made my way down to the Oriental Hotel to see if we could put the allegations to Jacko directly. The whole place was, of course, a circus – the Oriental was surrounded by singing fans and the lobby was stuffed with security men. Jackson was on the top floor – but the lifts weren’t stopping there. But somehow we found out the room number of a member of his management team, who was on the tenth floor. Read more

Gideon Rachman

It is always interesting – and sometimes chastening – to have journalistic musings subjected to academic examination. Sean Safford has performed this service, by taking a look at the Miller-Rachman list of revolutionary pointers. He thinks we are both too optimistic about the potential for change in Iran.

Gideon Rachman

There is much anticipation in Washington as important legislation on a cap and trade scheme to deal with global warming comes up for a vote in Congress later this week. But don’t get your hopes up too high about the legislation’s long-term chances. News from Australia shows how difficult it is to get this sort of legislation through. When politicians really focus on the economic costs involved, they tend to quail.

There is also the “after you, Claude” problem. The Australian opposition are arguing that there is no point in their country acting until they know what the US will do, and what will happen at the Copenhagen climate change talks. American politicians, meanwhile, are quite certain to argue that the US should not act until it has a guarantee that China will make similar sacrifices. Read more

Gideon Rachman

A few weeks ago, Silvio Berlusconi was being accused of consorting with minors. Now the allegation in the Italian papers is that he consorted with prostitutes.

Whatever the truth about these strongly-denied stories, Berlusconi – now in his seventies – has never made a secret of his liking for young women. I once went to a dinner he gave in Rome for European journalists. He ensured that all the prettiest women were seated at his table. One young woman, who had evidently missed the journalism-school lecture about “not getting too close to your sources”, ended up sitting on Berlusconi’s lap. Read more

Gideon Rachman

James Ferguson illustration

What does it take to make a successful revolution? That question is clearly weighing on the mind of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In his long rant at last Friday’s prayers at Tehran university, Iran’s supreme leader accused foreign governments of trying to foment a revolt in his country. He claims that foreigners are using the uprisings in the former Soviet Union as a model. “They are comparing the Islamic Republic with Georgia,” he complained. Read more

Gideon Rachman

The other night I saw Henry Kissinger on television arguing that the likeliest outcome in Iran is that the regime ultimately prevails. I’m afraid it’s beginning to look that way to me as well.

Khamenei’s hardline speech today underlined that the pro ADJ forces have no intention of backing down. The demonstrations in Tehran continue and more are scheduled for the weekend. But, if the demonstrators are getting nowhere, they might gradually lose their enthusiasm. And if the size of the crowds dwindle, so will the sense of momentum behind the protests. If the regime is “sensible”, they will just try and wait the opposition out now. Read more