Monthly Archives: May 2011

In this week’s podcast: the essential relationship between the US and the UK; Spain on the edge of a sovereign debt crisis; stalemate in Libya – what next for the Arab spring; and, we look to the future for Japan’s energy policy post Fukushima Read more

Technically, I’m on holiday until next Wednesday. So I may not blog for a while.

I am currently staying in a smart hotel in Switzerland. Earlier this morning, I was in the shower when I heard the door-bell ring. So I swathed myself in a couple of towels and opened the door. It was the chambermaid. We both leapt backwards, covered in confusion. I am sure it would all have been a lot less embarrassing had the thought of Dominique Strauss-Kahn not been hovering over the room.

I wonder whether the former IMF director has now permanently changed hotel etiquette? In future, will I have to put on a suit and tie before answering a knock on the door in my hotel room?

The theme that everybody seems to have picked up on from President Obama’s speech in Westminster yesterday was his insistence on the continuing power and relevance of the West. But the crucial sentence was interestingly ambiguous. Read more

The other day, I bumped into a friend from my days at The Economist. Why are your columns so depressing, he asked me? I began to deny the charge until it was pointed out that I had recently published a book with the doom-laden title Zero-Sum Future.

There has been quite a lot of cynical yapping about President Obama’s visit to Ireland today. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that there may be an element of electoral calculation in a trip to Europe that takes in both Ireland and Poland.

Whatever the real truth, there is no doubt that Irish-Americans have shot to prominence in recent months in the White House. Following the reshuffle of top positions, many of the key positions are now occupied by people with ancestral links to the Emerald Isle. Read more

The story in the FT this morning that China has been asked by Pakistan to build a naval base at its south-western port of Gwadar has raised a few eyebrows in foreign ministries in Asia, the US and Europe. If the Chinese were to accept the invitation and to go ahead, it would be a huge departure for Chinese foreign policy – their first overseas naval base. As one western official notes drily – “That’s not what you would call hiding your capabilities and biding your time.” (A reference to Deng Xiaoping’s famous advice to Chinese policymakers). Read more

In this week’s show, we look at the candidates to be head of the IMF; After president Obama’s speech calling for Israel to move out of territory it has occupied since 1967, where now for US-Israel relations? And our correspondent in Bangkok discusses the forthcoming elections in Thailand.  Read more

President Obama’s “big speech” on the Middle East yesterday kicks off a week in which Washington will spend a lot of time focussed on Israel. AIPAC, the main pro-Israel loobying group is having its annual conference this weekend. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister is in town for that, and for a speech to Congress. Netanyahu and Obama, who get on very badly, have already had a minor spat over Obama’s call yesterday for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders. And although he couldn’t say so publicly, I suspect the Israeli leader will also be exasperated by what the Israelis regard as a typically naive American embrace of the “Arab spring” in Obama’s speech. Read more

All the commentary on the downfall of DSK stresses how important it is that the IMF gets strong leadership, given the rolling crisis in Europe. But the Fund could soon face an even more tricky economic and political dilemma in Egypt. Read more

In the small towns of Peru’s Andean highlands, every spare surface has been commandeered for a poster or a mural proclaiming: “Keiko Presidente!” or “Ollanta”. The Peruvian presidential election, which will see either Keiko Fujimori or Ollanta Humala elected on June 5, will be the most closely watched poll in Latin America this year. It has become a test of whether the continent’s dramatic economic and political progress is irreversible; or whether the bad old days of authoritarianism, populism and economic chaos could still return to haunt Latin America.

The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of attempted rape strikes me as one of those pieces of news that is simultaneously astonishing – and not entirely surprising.

First, let’s be clear that nothing has been proven and that Strauss-Kahn is presumed innocent until a court decides otherwise. Second, let’s acknowledge that it has been an open secret for years that – even by the standards of French politicians – Strauss-Kahn has a reputation as a womaniser.  I remember speaking to a European colleague of his, who was laughing with astonishment at the open lechery that Strauss-Kahn had displayed at an official dinner. Strauss-Kahn was also reprimanded by the IMF board for a “serious error of judgment”, after an affair with a subordinate. Read more

Syria, Pakistan, Germany

In this podcast: the Syrian government escalates its use of force against protestors; Pakistan’s prime minister calls for investigation into the army’s intelligence of bin Laden’s hideout; Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel announces her backing for the next president of the European Central Bank. Read more

Far be it for me to intervene in the Peruvian presidential election. But if I were one of the candidates, I’d definitely promise to get rid of the nasty fishy smell that hovers over Lima. If a person smelled like that, they would go to the doctor. With the Peruvian capital city, the best option might be to close the city’s fish-meal factories – or, at least, prevent them from drying their produce in the open-air. I’m told by long-time residents of the city that the prevaling winds normally send the fish smell over the shanty towns that surround the city, rather than over the posh business district, as in recent days. Still, people living in informal settlements can also smell and vote. Read more

The Peruvian presidential race is one of the most peculiar elections I have come across. Respectable opinion here in Lima seems to despair of both candidates. Ollanta Humala is widely regarded as a left-wing lunatic; his opponent, Keiko Fujimori, is widely regarded as a right-wing lunatic. Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru’s Nobel Prize-winning novelist, has compared the run-off between the two (the final vote is on June 5th) as like choosing between “cancer and Aids.” Read more

I was so shocked by the rise of the Scottish National Party in last week’s elections that I have had to retreat to the Andes to get some perspective on the situation. I am writing this from an internet cafe in Cusco, once the Inca capital, in Peru. Perhaps, it is the high altitude or the benefit of distance, but I feel I am now seeing the situation in Scotland with new clarity. My view is that, even though the SNP now control the Scottish parliament and have promised a referendum on independence, Scotland will choose to remain part of the UK. Read more

If you spend time talking to western officials about the uprisings in the Arab world, you are likely to hear two contradictory views advanced – sometimes by the same person. The first view is that the “Arab spring” is, as one European diplomat puts it, “the best thing that has ever happened in my lifetime in the Arab world”. The second is that this is the most dangerous moment in the Arab world in decades.

As the world watched scenes of jubilation in Washington following the death of Osama bin Laden, we ask what does his killing mean for the war on terror. Read more

Salman Rushdie has had a few problems with Islamic extremists in the past. So it is rather bold of him to write an article for the “Daily Beast”, headlined on the site’s front page - “Time to declare Pakistan a terror state.” Before somebody issues another fatwa, I should point out that this appears to be a sub-editor’s headline. What Rushdie actually wrote was slightly less hardline – although still eye-catching. He finishes his piece, as follows: “As the world braces for the terrorists’ response to the death of their leader, it should also demand that Pakistan give satisfactory answers to the very tough questions it must now be asked. If it does not provide those answers, perhaps the time has come to declare it a terrorist state and expel it from the comity of nations.” Read more

Forget Osama bin Laden. In Britain, the real political drama is about the referendum that will be staged tomorrow on the Alternative Vote – which would be a new way of electing parliaments. It is the first referendum for the whole of Britain on anything for decades.The idea would be to abandon first-past-the-post – in which the winning candidate is the one that gets the most votes – in favour of AV, where you list candidates in order of preference. If your first-choice candidate is eliminated, your second preference vote is then assigned – the idea is that nobody can be elected without 50% of the vote.

I am voting against, which seems to place me in a minority of one on the FT columnists’ corridor. Martin Wolf is in favour of AV; so is Philip Stephens; so is the FT as a newspaper. So let me explain myself. Read more