Monthly Archives: January 2013

By Gideon Rachman

In their second terms, many American presidents decide to strut the global stage. Richard Nixon had his overture to China. Bill Clinton became obsessed by the Middle East peace process. George W. Bush was embroiled in the Middle East war process.

The best reads from today and the weekend to kick off your week…  Read more

Welcome to our rolling coverage of Barack Obama’s inauguration for another four years as US president, complete with agenda-setting speech. By Tom Burgis, Lina Saigol and Ben Fenton with contributions from FT correspondents. All times are EST.

11.00 For ease of reading, we’re going to switch into a new post. Like the transition between two presidential terms, this is meant to happen seamlessly. Just click here to go on reading the latest updates from our colleagues in DC.

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It’s too early to pass judgment, said William Hague, British foreign secretary, about Algeria’s handling of the worse hostage crisis in decades. And he might be right.

It is not easy for western governments to strike the right balance between criticism of the Algerian assault on the In Amenas gas plant and the ensuring bloodbath, and the need to appear tough and determined in combating terrorism.

But questions about whether Algeria’s military moved too rapidly on the offensive when jihadi militants took one of the country’s vital gas facilities will have to be asked by governments and by the families of those who died. Read more


We’ve wrapped up our live coverage of the unfolding crisis at the In Amenas gas complex, but you can follow the latest developments on FT.com. Read more

Getty images

They wanted an admission of cheating, an apology and some sense of remorse from Lance Armstrong.

They got that, within the first 90 seconds.

More memorably, they got a glimpse of a silver-tongued egomaniac as he justified his way through a one-and-a-half-hour sit-down with Oprah Winfrey.

The stories that the world’s most famous cyclist was a jerk (Oprah’s words, not mine) have circulated for years. This time, the world saw it first hand instead of reading about him threatening former teammates, cornering people in bars and publicly accusing them of being crazy and vindictive. Read more

The story of David Cameron’s much-delayed speech on Europe mixes farce with tragedy. The fact that the Algerian terrorist attack has once again delayed the prime minister’s landmark address, must make Cameron wonder whether the whole enterprise is cursed.

The great Europe speech was initially meant to be given before Xmas. It was put off, amidst reports that there were still deep arguments about its contents. Cameron himself attempted to defuse the controversy with a risque joke – likening the extended wait for his speech to Tantric sex. It would be all the better for the long build-up, he assured his listeners. Read more

Islamist militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. (AFP/Getty)

A breach of the security at gas and oil installations was the Algerian regime’s nightmare back in the 1990s, when the country was wracked by an Islamist insurgency.

Under intense financial pressure at the time, and desperate to attract foreign investment into its energy sector, installations in the southern part of the country were heavily guarded exclusion zones that seemed a world apart from the heavily populated north.

There are two Algerias, people would say at the time, one soaked in blood, the other peaceful and bursting with oil and gas. Read more

Algeria, Pakistan, pollution, and Vogue magazine – the world desk’s recommended reads  Read more

A French army officer stands guard on January 16, 2013 while Malian president welcomes service at the military airbase in Bamako (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

A French army officer stands guard on January 16, 2013 at the military airbase in Bamako (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

How justified was France’s decision to intervene in Mali and seek to thwart the advance of the Islamist militants inside the country?

Nearly one week after President François Hollande ordered military action, the question is one which is beginning to reverberate in media commentary. The French have been clear that they need to go into Mali to stop the spread of an al-Qaeda linked movement that has a significant foothold in the country and might ultimately threaten the west. But some figures in the US administration clearly have doubts about the wisdom of the move.

The biggest concerns have been raised in an article in Thursday’s New York Times. The NYT says US officials have only an “impressionistic understanding” of the militant groups that have established a safe haven in Mali. It suggests that some US officials wonder how much of an external threat they pose. The NYT quotes Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, who last June played down the terrorist threat to the United States from Mali. He said that the al-Qaeda affiliate operating there “has not demonstrated the capability to threaten U.S. interests outside of West or North Africa, and it has not threatened to attack the U.S. homeland.” Read more

The French intervention in Mali

Why has France intervened militarily in Mali and what is at stake? William Wallis, Africa editor; Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief, and Xan Rice, FT correspondent in west Africa, join Gideon Rachman.

Getty images

I just did a quick Google search to see if the French are already talking of Mali as a potential quagmire and – yes indeed – there are several pages worth of references to “le bourbier Malien” (bourbier being the evocative French word for quagmire.)

It is easy to see why they are worried. The early air strikes have already given way to military action on the ground. As Hugh Carnegy, our Paris bureau chief explained to me for my World Weekly podcast, the French have a three-stage strategy. First, stop the rebel advance. Second, re-take the north of the country. Third, leave behind a stable country. Read more

On Wednesday, Barack Obama outlined his plans to tighten controls on gun ownership after the Sandy Hook school shooting. Those in favour of greater gun control hope January 16 2013 could be a turning point; those who want further relaxation of gun regulation will do everything they can to make sure it’s just one more day in a long-running battle. Here are ten key moments that have shaped the debate thus far:

1) 1791: The Second Amendment (or, the birth of a very ambiguous string of words)
The Bill of Rights – which includes 10 amendments to the 1787 US Constitution – was adopted in 1791. The Second Amendment reads:

The Bill of Rights (image courtesy US National Archives)

The Bill of Rights (image courtesy US National Archives)

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

This would become a sacred text for the gun rights lobby.

2) 1871: The National Rifle Association is founded (or, promoting good marksmanship)

The NRA was created in 1871 by two men, Colonel William C. Church and General George Wingate, veterans of the Civil war who had fought for the North and who felt that soldiers should be trained to shoot more accurately. Contrary to what you might think, the original NRA wasn’t actually the American one: the British National Rifle Association was set up in 1859 “to provide a focus for marksmanship for the newly formed corps of volunteers which had been raised to meet the perceived threat of invasion by the French”. Read more

Today’s reading recommendations from around the world.  Read more

Today’s reading picks from the world news desk…  Read more

By Gideon Rachman

In a normal time, in a normal country, Benjamin Netanyahu would be a political giant. Read more

A suicide is always a tragedy, but that of 26-year-old Aaron Swartz on Friday has reverberated with particular force across the internet. That’s partly because of the enormous sense of waste – he was a tech prodigy, helping develop the code for RSS when he was just 14 – and partly because the internet was Swartz’s home, where he hung out and talked to people and built things that many of us use today. But it’s also because of a looming and controversial court case, which his family believe contributed to his decision to take his own life – and which put him at the frontline of an ongoing battle over how much of the world’s information should be free. Read more

Will France, Britain and the US come to regret their decision to topple Colonel Muammar Gaddafi? Nearly two years after these three states began their mission to remove the Libyan leader, the question is one which some commentators are starting to ponder.

Nobody would deny there was a strong humanitarian interest for the US and its allies to intervene in Libya in the spring of 2011, stopping what would otherwise have been Gaddafi’s massacre of his rebel opponents in Benghazi. But nearly two years on, some might be tempted to argue that his removal ran against the west’s strategic interest, given the course of subsequent events in north Africa and the Middle East. Read more

The world desk’s recommended reads from around the web.  Read more

This weekend marked the third anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.

We asked Orla Ryan to tell us about her trip to the Caribbean country in October last year, where she reported from the capital city Port au Prince, and the coastal town of Jacmel.

Why now? I went to Haiti for the first time in October as part of the FT’s Seasonal Appeal. I was asked to write a series of pieces highlighting the work of the Global Fund for Children, which backs grassroot charities that work with children. It was, in any case, an interesting time to go to Haiti. It was nearly three years since the earthquake had hit, killing more than 300,000 and displacing many more. Big aid organisations had promised a lot but there was a lot of scepticism about what they had actually delivered. It was a chance to see what local organisations did.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Lasting impressions? I was struck by what a beautiful city Port au Prince could be, or people told me, once had been. It is backed into green hills – I was there during the rainy season and am sure it is not always as lush or as muddy – and on a Caribbean island. But mostly, it looked as if it had turned its back on the sea, its residents focused inwards on making a living. Read more