Monthly Archives: September 2010

It has long been apparent that presidents of the European Commission secretly aspire to being treated like presidents of the US. I remember being present in the Commission press room, when Romano Prodi – the Commission president who preceded José Manuel Barroso – came to speak to the journalists. Read more

FT column: Sweep economists off their throne

My latest column is on economists.

When Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, clashed with Niall Ferguson, a famous historian (and FT contributing editor), over how best to respond to the economic crisis, Prof Ferguson’s response was humorously humble. “A cat may look at a king,” he wrote, “and sometimes a historian can challenge an economist.”

By Daniel Dombey

The heat bore down in Kandahar province and in the relative safety of two military bases the Pentagon chief saw the state of the Afghan war for himself. Dressed in chinos and a baseball cap, Robert Gates was a day tripper with a difference.

His soft, careful speaking style and the way in which he posed for photos with almost every US soldier who crossed his path gave little clue of the defence secretary’s influence in Washington and his beliefs  about the conflict itself. But he most definitely matters. Read more

Both Belgium and the Netherlands seem to be trapped in political limbo – drifting along without governments and unable to form a new coalition.

The political problems of the two neighbours are strikingly similar. Both held elections in the middle of June, within four days of each other. Both ended up with results that were so fragmented that it is proving all but impossible to form a new coalition. In the past couple of days, both the Dutch and the Belgian efforts at forming a new government have collapsed – landing the problem back in the laps of the two countries bewildered monarchs: Albert II of Belgium and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Read more

By Daniel Dombey

A ride in a C17 cargo plane from Baghdad to Kabul, consultations with Gen David Petraeus, the commander the US is pinning its hopes on in Afghanistan, and talks with Hamid Karzai the Afghan president who often exasperates his western partners – that’s what made up Robert Gates’ Thursday.

We in the press shared a good part of it. The birds’ eye view from the C17 gave a sense of the inhospitability of Afghanistan, with stunning glimpses of  mountains set in desert wilderness.

At a press session at his headquarters Camp Eggers base we saw Petraeus. He sought refuge in generalities when asked specifics about, for example, his plans for the province of Kandahar. Read more

When the feel-good part of a trip is the visit to Iraq, you know you’re on an interesting journey.

After travelling to Baghdad yesterday to mark the formal end of the US’s military mission in that country, US defence secretary Robert Gates came today to Afghanistan, where Washington hopes to engineer a similar handover. Read more

The British press are currently feasting on two scandals. The first involves the foreign secretary, William Hague; the second involves Andy Coulson, the prime minister’s press secretary.

The Hague scandal is getting far more attention. He is a much more senior figure and the details are much more salacious, since they involve insinuations of a gay relationship with a young campaign aide. But I think the Coulson scandal may end up being more serious – since they involve allegations of connivance in criminal acts by the prime minister’s press secretary. Read more

In a few hours time, President Obama will be hosting a banquet at the White House, to kick off the latest round of Middle East peace talks. It does sound a bit like a boxing match: ding-ding, seconds out, round one – start negotiating.

Not many people are paying attention, other than those who make a good living from following the peace process. (If there ever actually is peace, these people will be as disorientated as Kremlin-watchers, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.) A degree of distraction and cynicism is understandable. The big Middle Eastern news that President Obama is keen to highlight at the moment is the “withdrawal” from Iraq. Others at the dinner will have their own pre-occupations. Tony Blair, for example, has a book to promote. Read more

Today, we are busy with another, much more controversial part of America’s military legacy – Iraq. Flying unannounced to the country as ever, we went by helicopter to Ramadi, once a seat of the insurgency, and travelled over a vast desert seemingly drained of all colour. Read more

By Daniel Dombey in al-Asad, Iraq

If you want to see what the US’s “responsible drawdown” in Iraq looks like, come to al-Asad Air Base. Here, in a desert of white sands, amid light canvas tents and under roaring planes, Robert Gates, US defence secretary, has begun a trip to mark the end of the US combat mission in the country.

The location is symbolic. The air base is in al-Anbar province, where some of the most violent episodes of the war took place and where the Anbar awakening that preceded the US surge took place.

When Gates arrives with a group of us journalists in tow, it is not yet seven in the morning and the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn is just a few hours old. While we were in the air, President Barack Obama hailed the “historic moment” in only his second address from the Oval Office.

From al-Asad, at first glance, things look less dramatic. Read more