Monthly Archives: August 2013

By James Blitz and Barney Thompson

On Friday, John Kerry, US secretary of state, published the American intelligence agencies’ assessment of why the regime of Bashar al-Assad was culpable for last week’s chemical attack in eastern Damascus. The document was considerably more detailed than the much shorter assessment published by the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

This difference is certain to lead to questions in Britain as to why David Cameron,UK prime minister, was unable to paint a more detailed picture of the Assad regime’s culpability. Some commentators are already arguing that if he had been able to do so, he may have been in a better position to persuade parliament of the merits of military action.

The UK frequently refers to the close collaboration on intelligence matters which it enjoys with the US. But the difference in detail between the two documents is striking.

Casualties

The UK document says that there was “little serious dispute” that the chemical attacks caused mass casualties on a large scale “including, we judge, at least 350 fatalities.”

The US document said a “preliminary US government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children.” Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia

Upon the humiliating loss of a vote in Parliament on military intervention, UK Prime Minister David Cameron lamented: “It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action.”

At first glance, it appears he is right. Public opinion polls show a stubborn opposition to military intervention in Syria, even as evidence mounts that hundreds of civilians were killed in chemical attacks by Bashar al-Assad’s regime Aug 21.

Those sorts of poll numbers are replicated in the US and France. But a closer look shows that public opinions appear to be more nuanced. Read more

German flag

Image by Bloomberg

Calling our readers in Germany.

What are the big issues in the German election?

The campaign is now in full swing ahead of the September 22 vote: TV ads have begun in earnest, politicians are out on the hustings and the eurozone crisis has now burst into the political debate. Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia

Below are some of the best background readings from the FT and elsewhere about Syria’s civil war and the brewing conflict with western forces. Read more

The debt dragon: China’s growing debt burden
China’s debt has ballooned over the past five years raising questions over the sustainability of such a burden amid slowing growth. Simon Rabinovitch, China correspondent, explains the country’s debt dynamics and answers some of the questions FT readers posted on our blog and sent via social media.

By Catherine Contiguglia

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Michael Steen

(Getty)

For campaign issues that Germany’s political elite had all but agreed to shy away from, the eurozone debt crisis in general and Greece in particular are proving remarkably capable of generating unscripted campaign trail surprises. Read more

Roula Khalaf

As western leaders prepare to strike Syria, many ordinary people and observers, inside and outside the Middle East, are inevitably drawing parallels between this attack and the US-led war on Iraq a decade ago. Whether in its complicated ethnic composition and its prospects for further violence, in the weapons of mass destruction as a trigger for military action, or in the questions of legality and the likely diplomatic bypassing of the UN security council, a growing perception is that we are about to witness a repeat of recent history.

The Middle East is such a complicated place that these perceptions are not unreasonable. It’s not easy to make sense of Sunni versus Shia, Alawite versus Sunni, regime versus jihadis. Also complex is the debate over legality versus legitimacy of intervention. Western shifts of policy can be confusing, from watching tens of thousands of Syrians slaughtered to declaring the death of hundreds in an alleged gas attack a moral obscenity that cannot go unpunished. Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia

  • In the first of a three-part series, the FT examines the Chinese Debt Dragon. Although the Chinese government denies the country has a debt problem, the picture on the ground shows failing public services and unpaid wages as debt dependency rises to dangerous levels, reports Simon Rabinovitch.
  • “Vote me out of jail or I will bring the country down with me,” is the message from Silvio Berlusconi following his conviction for tax fraud – but to bow to this threat would be “accepting the age-old intuition that [Italian] politics will always be corrupt” and that there are better things to worry about, writes Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books.

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Chris Cook

Should the west intervene in Syria? Whatever it does, it will do so in the shadow of the war in Iraq. Tony Blair, the prime minister who led the UK into that war, has come out in support of action. Read more