Monthly Archives: October 2009

Gideon Rachman

I thought the FT leader on the Goldstone report got it about right. The report on Israel’s assault on Gaza is a serious bit of work and it’s fairly desperate to try to discredit it by calling its author a “self-hating Jew”.

The bigger problem lies with the UN Human Rights Council – which is clearly unreasonably obsessed by Israel, given all the other worthy targets it could select.

And lying behind that, is a still bigger problem with the very idea of impartial international law. 

Gideon Rachman

Ingram Pinn illustration

Almost two years ago, I wrote a column hailing “the age of the small state”. I pointed out that the number of independent nations had grown sharply over the past 40 years and that small countries topped many of the international league tables, on everything from gross domestic product-per-capita to peacefulness and “human development”. 

Gideon Rachman

The most important thing happening in the world at the moment is the Pakistani army’s assault on Waziristan. Here is a good account by Anatole Lieven of what is at stake, and what is likely to happen. He is very cautiously optimistic about the fight against the Pakistani Taleban, but believes the Pakistani army will not take on the Afghan Taleban. My only quibble with Lieven’s piece is that his summary of Pakistani attitudes to Afghanistan is based on a single quote from an “old shopkeeper in Peshawar”. This is the kind of thing I do, but aren’t professors at King’s College meant to be a bit more rigorous?

Another really interesting read this morning was Boris Johnson’s savage attack on bankers’ bonuses. I have also been wandering around – contemplating the prospect of higher taxes for the next decade or so – and feeling vaguely outraged that the people responsible for doubling the national debt, are currently rewarding themselves with vast bonuses. Boris Johnson (Mayor of London, lest you forget), has been one of the last defenders of the City – calculating presumably that they remain a useful source of income and employment in the capital. But even Boris has had enough now. When people like the boss of Barclays threaten in this morning’s FT that they will leave London, if we deprive them of their bonuses, I hope they will now find a rush of people holding the exit door open for them. 

Gideon Rachman

Back when the Obama administration took power, we were told that they had made a great intellectual breakthrough. They had realised that the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan had to be treated as single issue – hence the ugly acronym, AfPak. And, of course, this is right. The Americans and their allies are not going to win the war in Afghanistan, while the Taliban enjoy safe havens in Pakistan. And it may not be worth “winning” in Afghanistan, if in the process you gravely destabilise Pakistan – a much bigger and more important country.

So much for the theory. But, in practice, we seem to have gone back to thinking about Afghanistan and Pakistan as two separate issues. So, on the one hand, there are the constant reports of the White House’s agonising over whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. And on the other, news of an upsurge in terrorism and fighting in Pakistan. But nobody seems to be connecting the dots. 

By James Lamont, South Asia bureau chief

Today’s attacks on Lahore show that the battlefront in Pakistan’s struggle against Taliban militants has shifted south.

The militants are taking the fight to Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. This region, which borders India, is the political and economic heart of the country. It is also from where the officer corps of Pakistan’s army is largely drawn. Lahore, its capital, is regarded as Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan, tolerant and historic city. 

Gideon Rachman

An interesting little item here, on the banning of the works of Noam Chomsky from the prison library at Guantanamo Bay. One has to wonder about the mentality of the Pentagon lawyer, who was trying to obtain a copy of Chomsky for one of the detainees he is representing. Maybe his job at Guantanamo has led him to entertain all sorts of subversive thoughts?

Chomsky predictably interpets the ban on his work as further evidence that the US is slipping towards totalitarianism. But I see it another way. Obama has said that he is banning the use of torture on prisoners at Guantanamo. Subjecting them to the works of Noam Chomsky is clearly incompatible with the torture ban.

Gideon Rachman

President Sarkozy has taken the political lead in promoting “happiness” economics. He even appointed a Stiglitz-led commission to report on alternatives to GDP-per-capita as measures of national well-being. It reported last month and made some interesting points.

But there is a snag. France – the champion of “quality of life”, “the art of living”, the long lunch and sexual liberation (see Carla Bruni, Roman Polanski, Frederic Mitterand etc) – also seems to be a startlingly miserable place. I was shocked by this article in last week’s Economist about the rate of suicide in France. Only the Japanese seem to be killing themselves at a significantly faster rate. Champions of Anglo-Saxon capitalism might note, with grim satisfaction, that suicide rates in Britain and the US are significantly lower than in France. But then Italy has the lowest rate of all the countries on the Economist table. 

Gideon Rachman

This post by Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times looks at the reconstruction efforts of the US, UK and other leading members of Afghanistan’s international assistance force. 

Gideon Rachman

When the FT circulates the list of best-read articles on the internet around the building, the top one or two articles often have a tell-tale word in brackets, after them (Drudge). For, as any web-editor knows, the surest way to get a surge in internet hits is to have your article picked up by the Drudge Report – an idiosyncratic mix of high politics, economics, celebrity news and climate-change scepticism – which has a huge following in the US, particularly amongst “conservatives”.

For a journalist being Drudged is a mixed blessing. Initially, you feel terribly popular and successful as you soar up the “most read” table. And then the e-mails start coming in. Here are a few that arrived today, in response to my Tuesday column on Obama. I think they give a fairly alarming insight into the mental state of parts of Middle America.

Somebody called Bob Clymer writes: “From your writings you are clearly in the Marxist/Socialist camp. Keep your stinking European nose out of America.” And here are the musings of one Bill Smith: “when are you idiotic British Marxist ass-kissers ever going to see reality?  Obama is a dead man walking….he’s too stupid to realize it yet….The Mossad will cap his big brown head and make it look like some Muslim hot-head did it….This halfbreed idiot is a ruination not only to the USA but to free men everywhere….something you lazy bastards in Europe gave up like 65 years ago….” What kind of a mental state do you have to be in, that you want your own president to be assassinated by a foreign country? 

Gideon Rachman

Pinn illustration

Just five years ago, Barack Obama was still a local politician in Illinois, preparing for a run for the US Senate. His office wall in Chicago at the time was decorated with the famous picture of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston, after knocking him out in a heavyweight title fight. Ali famously boasted that he could “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” But now that Mr Obama is president, he seems to float like a butterfly – and sting like one as well.