Close observers of this blog may notice a few changes from tomorrow. For a start, the blog’s name is going to change. It will be called “The World” (or something a bit like that). This will reflect the fact that I will no longer be the sole contributor to the blog. Five of my FT colleagues will also become regular bloggers: Alan Beattie in Washington, Roula Khalaf (our Middle East editor), William Wallis (our Africa editor), John-Paul Rathbone (our Latin America editor) and a fifth mystery signing, whose arm is still being twisted by the World Desk. The foreign-affairs team also plan to post occasional “issue briefings” on the blog. I will continue to blog as frequently (or infrequently) as before – ie about three or four times a week. The others have promised that they will be good for at least one contribution a week. But the precise division of labour will doubtless evolve.
President Obama’s announcement of an accelerated US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is strategically brilliant. It has divided the enemy and significantly increased the chances of victory. Unfortunately, the enemy in this case are the Republicans and it is victory in the US presidential election, rather than Afghanistan, that the president has in mind.
Maybe China does respond to international pressure on human rights, after all? That’s certainly one way of reading the release of Ai Weiwei. There has been a major crackdown on dissidents going on in China for some months. But the case of the imprisoned artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, had attracted the most international attention and condemnation.
As the Greek crisis worsens, so voices are being raised demanding new and more radical approaches. Forget the sticking plaster bail-outs and slice-by-slice austerity packages. The ultimate solution to the eurozone debt crisis is “political union”.
When it comes to the trade off between America’s support for human-rights and its promotion of its security interests, Saudi Arabia is where the rubber hits the road – literally in the case of the Saudi women drivers. Earlier this afternoon, an email arrived in from a group campaigning for support for the brave Saudi women, who in a gesture of civil disobedience, have taken to driving cars around the kingdom. Saudi Arabia, of course, is the only country in the world, where this is actually illegal.
The e-mail was mainly addressed to Hillary Clinton, who has made a point of supporting women’s rights around the world. It asked plaintively – “Where are you?”, adding: “we write to express our deep concern over the US government’s public silence on the issue of Saudi women’s right to drive.”
Although I make my living as a newspaper commentator, I still find it depressing that The Guardian’s reaction to its current financial difficulties (that’s putting it mildly) is likely to be be reduce the amount of news in the paper – and to increase the amount of comment. The rationale is that their readers get their breaking news from other sources, and that they look to the newspaper for comment and context. But I wonder whether there isn’t another unspoken rationale. Producing news is expensive; producing comment is cheap.
Audio Nato, Greece, Vietnam
In this week’s podcast: scathing criticism of Nato from the US calls the alliance’s future into question; the political instability in Greece compounds the sovereign debt crisis and causes arguments within Germany; strains over contested islands in the South China Sea could see an unlikely alliance between old enemies, Vietnam and the US.
Presented by Gideon Rachman, with James Blitz, Quentin Peel and Ben Bland
Will the Sri Lankan government be able to shrug off the persistent allegations that war crimes were committed, in its successful assault on the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in 2009? I have always assumed that the answer to that question was – probably Yes. But now I’m beginning to wonder.
Despite the alleged “dumbing-down” of our culture, there is a startlingly large audience for public lectures and debates. The most striking example of this that I have come across was when I spoke at an Intelligence Squared debate in London, a few months ago, opposing the motion “Latin America will be the 21st century’s superpower”. Latin America is a minority interest at the best of times, and this was the week that the war in Libya had broken out. It was a rainy Tuesday night and the panel was largely made up of academics and journalists – all worthy people, but none of them Mick Jagger. And, to cap it all, there was a £25 entry fee. I expected about three people to show up. In fact, the Royal Geographical Society in London was packed. The audience ran into hundreds.
As Syrian tanks prepared to advance on Jisr al-Shughour late last week, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, launched an offensive of his own. In a speech in Brussels, he dismissed most of America’s European allies as a useless bunch of timewasters. I paraphrase – but not much.