I felt slightly guilty when I read one of the comments on my last post, accusing me of wasting time on trivialities like football, on a blog that is meant to be about world affairs. Well, the two subjects have just merged in a rather tragic fashion – with the attack on the the Togo team bus at the Africans Nations Cup in Angola, which left three people dead.
With astonishing insensitivity, the Angolan government put pressure on Togo to stay in the tournament, promised to “guarantee” their safety. They even put it about that it was partly the Togo team’s own fault for travelling by coach rather than air. Unsurprisingly, the Togolese team has nontheless withdrawn. And I wonder how the other teams that are based in oil-rich, rebellious Cabinda enclave will be feeling - they include the Ivory Coast side, who are the favourites for the tournament and are packed with Europe-based stars. I don’t suppose they will be feeling too happy, at the moment.
Another bunch of people who will be feeling uneasy are the organisers of the World Cup in South Africa, which will take place in June and July. Danny Jordaan, the man running the tournament, has already been all over the media – sounding simultaneously reassuring and exasperated. Angola and South Africa, he keeps emphasising, are different places. If Germany could have a World Cup, shortly after the Kosovo war, South Africa can host the tournament, whatever is happening elsewhere in southern Africa. Read more
A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune (sort of) to be seated a few yards away from Britain’s most famous football fan, who goes by the name of John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood. It was at the Chelsea-Portsmouth game just before Christmas and Westwood was in attendance, as he has been at every Portsmouth match for the last twenty-four years – ringing a bell and leading chants. Westwood’s appearance (see below) is all the more striking, given that he is, by profession, an antiquarian bookseller.
Would you buy a complete works of Shakespeare from this man?
The most popular chant among Pompey fans was – “We’re going bust/Who gives a f…/Super Pompey are staying up”. Unfortunately, only the first part of that statement seems likely to be true. Portsmouth are defnitely going bust. This month they failed to pay their players on time for the third time in a season and were issued with a winding-up order by HM Revenue and Customs. However, it seems unlikely that they will, in fact, ”stay up”. At the moment, they are marooned at the bottom of the Premier League and seem pretty certain to be relegated.
However, I for one hope that Portsmouth manage to turn their fortunes around. Devotion of the Westwood-variety deserves to be rewarded. But – even more important – Portsmouth are a rare example of co-operation between Arab and Jew. The club’s owner, Ali al-Faraj, is a Saudi. (Portsmouth supporters lament that they are owned by a Saudi sheikh who is not as flush as his status would suggest.) Two of the team’s best players – Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda – are Algerians. The team manager, Avram Grant, is an Israeli. And so is the man in the even more critical role of financial adviser – Daniel Azougy – who has been barred from practicing law in Israel itself, after a conviction for fraud. Read more
A nice, scathing piece by Lilia Shevstova in Foreign Policy on how western liberals are selling out their Russian counterparts. Its called the Kremlin Kowtow.
It sounds like that suicide bombing at the CIA base in Afghanistan did a lot of damage to the team tracking al-Qaeda, see this report in the New York Times. Read more
It is always instructive when one of my articles gets picked up in the American blogosphere. I can immediately tell that something has happened because the amount of e-mail traffic shoots up, and the tone gets considerably more vituperative.
Here are some of the choicer reactions to my column (see the previous post) on America and the “free world.” Read more
Ever since 1945, the US has regarded itself as the leader of the “free world”. But the Obama administration is facing an unexpected and unwelcome development in global politics. Four of the biggest and most strategically important democracies in the developing world – Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey – are increasingly at odds with American foreign policy. Rather than siding with the US on the big international issues, they are just as likely to line up with authoritarian powers such as China and Iran.
The US has been slow to pick up on this development, perhaps because it seems so surprising and unnatural. Most Americans assume that fellow democracies will share their values and opinions on international affairs. During the last presidential election campaign, John McCain, the Republican candidate, called for the formation of a global alliance of democracies to push back against authoritarian powers. Some of President Barack Obama’s senior advisers have also written enthusiastically about an international league of democracies. Read more
What will the events of the year be?
Of course, there is the usual round of elections. Britain will go to the polls, probably on May 6th – a day of huge significance, since it is also my birthday and Tony Blair’s birthday, as well. What a nice present for him, to see Gordon Brown go down in flames. Then, there are the American mid-terms in November – which I suspect will be really bad for Obama. Brazil is having a presidential election in October. A rather less certain prospect is the plan for Sudanese presidential and general elections in April. Other than that, the big diary events of the year are the World Cup in South Africa in June and July; the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty in May in New York; and the next effort to negotiate a global climate-change deal in Mexico in November. I suspect the World Cup might be marginally more entertaining than the other two events. Read more
Here are some interesting things I read during the holidays.
I must admit, I hesitated briefly before embarking on four pages on Waziristan in The Economist. But it is a brilliant piece of reporting, enlivened by some characters who seem to have walked straight in off the pages of a novel. I particularly liked the 92-year-old British major, Geoffrey Langlands, who is still the headmaster of a school in Waziristan. He was kidnapped about 20-years-ago and was kept captive in a freezing mountain hut, but describes his detention as “quite tolerable on the whole,” Read more