Monthly Archives: September 2013

By David Gallerano
♦ “Why would Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who gasses his people to break a stalemate in a war he and his clan regard as existential and almost certainly cannot win, voluntarily surrender an arsenal he has been holding largely in reserve?” This and other questions in today David Gardner’s analysis of the situation in Syria.
♦ In a New York Times’ op-ed Vladimir Putin directly addresses the American people and their political leaders on Syria: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States”.
♦ Russian expert Michael Metzger illustrates how Putin’s move to avert the US intervention in Syria was inspired by secret KGB chess tactics.
♦ Life in Egypt has “shrunk politically, geographically and socially, with the vast majority of the public high on fascistic nationalism”. Sarah Carr explores the effects of the clampdown on the daily life of the Egyptian peopleRead more

Why did the Russian government launch its sudden initiative on Monday asking Syria to bring its chemical weapons under international control? According to most commentators, the overwhelming motivation will have been to stop the Obama administration carrying out a missile strike on Syria. By making this move, Russia has stopped the march to war.

But some western diplomats say there may have been another factor weighing on the Kremlin’s mind ahead of this move. This is the expectation in some capitals that next week’s UN inspectors’ report into the chemical attack on eastern Damascus will be more embarrassing for the Assad regime than we have been led to believe. Read more

By David Gallerano
♦ “We cannot rebuild this economy on this same pile of sand”, President Obama said in April 2009. Robin Harding analyses the rebalancing process of the American economy and draws an alarming conclusion: the United States is building again on the same foundations of sand.
♦ The notorious gang rape of December 2012 in New Delhi is changing the way Indian women react to sexual abuses and violence.
♦ Triton Foundation gets $24m in insurance while a farcical trial goes on in Romania: the brand new episodes of the incredible saga of the paintings stolen from the Kunstahl Museum in Rotterdam.
♦ The New York Times illustrates in detail the long process that led Vladimir Putin to make his proposal on Assad’s chemical weapons.
♦ Meanwhile, satirical news site the Onion reports on how the US arms industry reacted to John Kerry’s declaration: “our Secretary of State had to run his big fat mouth about options for averting war, and now we’re out hundreds of billions of dollars”. But Lockheed’s CEO Marilyn Hewson is reassuring: “He will probably say something idiotic in the near future that would lead to another lucrative international conflict”. Read more

Sergei Lavrov (Getty)

Anybody offered a gift by Sergei Lavrov would do well to inspect it rather carefully before unwrapping it. The Russian foreign minister is a tough nationalist who is not in the habit of doing the US any favours. Nonetheless, the Lavrov proposal that Syria’s chemical weapons should be placed under international supervision should be grabbed by the Obama administration for several reasons. Read more

By David Gallerano and Catherine Contiguglia
♦ The tragic ending of prisoner Menes, the Hungarian stork unfairly painted as a spy (as well as a duck) by the Egyptian police and clapped into a prison in the Qena governorate.
♦ A self-organized group of armed citizens is battling – with unexpected success – a brutal drug cartel at Michoachan, in central Mexico.
♦ Japanese economist Takatoshi Ito analyses Japan’s fiscal situation and argues Mr. Abe must press ahead with tax increases.
♦ “We Syrians are human beings of this world, and the world must stop the Assad regime from killing us. Now,” writes Syrian activist Yassin al-Haj Saleh, in his plea for a strong intervention that does not just “discipline” the regime.
♦ A profile of Rwandan president Paul Kagame – who “may be the most complicated leader in Africa”Read more

By Gideon Rachman
The sheer triviality of the German election campaign is a tribute to the success of the country. Only a nation that is secure and prosperous could afford to have a political debate that is so focused on the little things of life. “It’s funny,” says one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s senior advisers, “foreigners want to know what the German election will mean for the Middle East or for the future of Europe. But we are debating ‘veggie day’ and road tolls.”

Alexei Navalny delivers a speech on August 25, 2013 during a campaign rally for the Moscow mayoral election (Getty)

While experts agree that the level of falsification in Moscow elections on Sunday was historically low, the narrow margin by which Sergei Sobyanin was elected the mayor of Moscow has given credibility to opposition claims that what fraud there was could have been decisive in the contest.

Mr Sobyanin, the incumbent, won 51.3 per cent of the vote, which put him within a whisker of the 50 per cent total that would have prompted a second-round runoff against Alexei Navalny.

While Mr Navalny got 27 per cent of the vote, analysts say that in a second-round contest between him and Mr Sobyanin some of the protest vote would have gone to Mr Navalny, even though it was unlikely to have been enough to beat the incumbent mayor. Read more

Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition yesterday won a commanding lower house majority, ending six years of Labor party rule. However, the makeup of the senate is yet to be decided. Senate votes take days, if not weeks, to tally, but early figures from the Australian Electoral commission suggest that several new minority parties might hold the balance of power.

In this case, the Australian senate could look decidedly more colourful in July 2014, when the newly elected senators would take their seats.

Clive Palmer (Getty)

Glenn Lazarus, a Palmer United senate candidate, was nicknamed “the brick with eyes” when he played rugby, and once posed naked with only a brick to promote a brick company.

Clive Palmer, who started the Palmer United party, has himself claimed a seat in the house of representatives. He is the multimillionaire owner of coal, iron ore and nickel assets, with plans to build a working replica of the Titanic and put mechanical dinosaurs on a luxury golf resortRead more

David McNew/Getty Images

Did President Bashar al-Assad personally order the chemical weapons attack that was carried out on eastern Damascus on August 21? Or was the decision to mount the attack taken by military commanders without Mr Assad’s knowledge, or that of the closest people to him? As the US presses ahead with its argument that there must be a response to the chemical attack, these questions are increasingly under discussion.

In their intelligence assessments of the August 21 attack, the US, Britain and France have stated with high confidence that the Assad regime was responsible for what happened.

But the question of whether Mr Assad personally knew about the attack in advance – or whether the assault happened without him being forewarned – is an intriguing one. It gained a sharper focus at the weekend after Germany’s Bild am Sonntag paper cited a unnamed German intelligence officials saying they believed he had not given the order. These officials based this assessment on intelligence suggesting Syrian brigade commanders had been asking Mr Assad to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four and a half months – but permission had always been denied. Read more

By David Gallerano
♦ The Kremlin-backed candidate Sergei Sobyanin beats anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and remains mayor of Moscow, although Navalny’s unexpected result looks like an alarm signal for Vladimir Putin.
♦ A school regional programme shows many families in Spain cannot provide their children with basic needs – namely, food and a balanced diet.
♦ Writer John le Carré discusses his life and recent events with Philippe Sands.
While jihadists and al-Qaeda affiliates prepare on the Syrian mountains for the US attack (with the lessons of Iraq in mind), Syrian refugees are leaving the country and experiencing a hard time in Egypt, where they are now associated with the discredited regime of Mohammed Morsi. In the New York Times Nicholas Kristof outlines two options for the US – intervention or paralysis – and chooses the latter.
The ancient practice of self-immolation – though relatively uncommon – is Chinese farmers’ ultimate protest. Chinese government will probably respond by increasing compensation for expropriated rural land.
♦ Iowa grants gun permits to people who are legally or completely blind. There is disagreement among advocates for the disabled and public officers on whether this endangers public safety.
♦ Brazilian TV network Globo reveals that the NSA spied on Brazilian Oil giant Petrobras, adding to the existing tensions between United States and Brazil. Read more

Ever since the chemical weapons attack in Syria, I have assumed that there would have to be a western military response – and that’s still my view. But I must admit that some US efforts to sell the idea have been so ham-fisted that they are having the opposite effect on me, increasing my doubts. I was particularly alarmed to hear John Kerry describe the Syrian crisis as “our Munich moment”. Munich is one of the most over-used and abused analogies in the making of foreign policy. Almost every western foreign-policy disaster since 1945 – from Suez to Vietnam to Iraq – has been preceded by some idiot saying that this is Munich. Read more

Zojoji-temple in Tokyo (Getty)

The most significant International Olympic Committee meeting in a generation takes place this weekend – the committee will choose a host city for 2020 at the weekend amid reservations about all three candidates. Shortly after, it will have to decide on a successor for Jacques Rogge, president of the movement.

Thomas Bach, a German lawyer, is the favourite in the presidential race. But the decision over the 2020 host will be more difficult. Here’s what’s happened in the campaign so far and why the decision will be an uncomfortable one: Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ The vote to determine who will lead the Fed will be “razor thin,” and there are a lot of questions about White House favourite Larry Summers’ record on regulation, which suggest that though he might embrace tough capital and liquidity requirements, he is likely to be less sympathetic towards structural proposals.
♦ The question of military intervention in Syria on the backdrop of deteriorating US-Russia relations is dominating the G20 meeting and bringing to light just how reluctant many western powers are to engage in global policing, which raises the question of who will enforce global rules.
♦ The reluctance to intervene is often blamed on the shadow of US intervention in Iraq, but some say the situation in Syria should rather be compared to the sectarian Bosnian civil war where a US-led bombing campaign was hailed as bringing peace. Regardless of the outcome of Obama’s vote on Syrian intervention in Congress, the US President will still lose – either his integrity, or his domestic authority and will alienate all his “friends and frenemies.”
Top secret documents revealed by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show that US and UK intelligence agencies successfully developed methods to crack encryption used to protect online privacy, compromising all internet security guarantees.

 Read more

Alexei Navalny (Getty)

After a decade in which most elections have been little more than puppet shows with the Kremlin holding the strings, real politics may just be starting a comeback in Russia. Sunday sees elections for mayor of Moscow and some other big cities, plus several regional governors and local legislatures. For the first time in years, at least some candidates from outside the Kremlin-controlled arena of politics are being allowed to take part.

It is significant that the governors’ elections are taking place at all. Russian president Vladimir Putin abolished regional governors’ elections (and those for Moscow and St Petersburg mayor) after the Beslan tragedy in 2004. They were reinstated in the face of public protests over alleged vote-rigging in the 2011 parliamentary elections – albeit with an effective Kremlin veto on candidates.

Gennady Gudkov (Getty)

But the authorities have allowed Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger and closest thing the protests have to a leader, to stand in Moscow. Navalny was even released from jail, hours after being sentenced to five years on dubious embezzlement charges, pending the result of an appeal, apparently to allow him to stand.Another prominent figure in the protests, Gennady Gudkov – who was expelled from the Russian parliament – is standing for governor of the Moscow region, the area around the capital. And Yevgeny Roizman, an opposition anti-drugs activist, is a candidate for mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-biggest city. Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ Though support for a vote in favour of military intervention in Syria appears to be strengthening in the US, the sceptics still have strong arguments and Obama still has a number of battles to win such as gaining partisan and public support.
♦ A back and forth between the Washington Post’s Max Fisher and writer Teju Cole provides an entertaining and thought provoking exchange on the tone in western coverage of the conflict in Syria, use of chemical weapons and potential western military intervention.
♦ The opening up of the debate on European issues to the wider population afforded by pre-election debates between Merkel and her opponent Peer Steinbrück is a necessary part of moving forward on deepening of the European Union and the healing of the eurozone, says the FT in an editorial.
♦When the Muslim Brotherhood moved to take over the ministry of culture under Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian intellectuals were gripped by a fear “sometimes well-founded, sometimes bordering on hysteria” about the threat of the brotherhood to Egypt’s identity, which helped drive them “back into the reassuring embrace of the military.”
♦ The UK Labour party’s rejection of David Cameron’s proposal for action in Syria is not based on its position, argues David Aaronovitch, but is rather a strategy of following behind the leader to “wait for slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes.” Read more

Obama’s political gamble on Syria
President Barack Obama’s decision to consult Congress before launching any military strikes on Syria came as a surprise to friend and foe alike. How is this political gamble likely to work out and what are the implications for the crisis in Syria and and for the use of American power around the world? Gideon Rachman is joined by James Blitz, diplomatic editor and Richard McGregor, Washington bureau chief, to discuss

This morning’s article in the FT by David Miliband has caused a stir in Britain. Just a week after Ed Miliband and the Labour Party came out against British military involvement in Syria, David Miliband – Ed’s older brother and defeated rival – has hinted strongly that he would have been in favour. In his piece, he argues that “while international engagement is decreasingly popular in the advanced democracies, a multipolar world makes it increasingly necessary.” David M’s intervention in the debate has been widely portrayed as the latest twist in the ongoing Miliband melodrama. “Brothers At War”, shrieked the Daily Mail headline today. Read more

Hollande embraces Joachim Gauck (France 2)

Two striking images of François Hollande , France’s president, were doing the rounds on Wednesday. Alas for him, the moving picture of him in a sombre embrace with German president Joachim Gauck at the scene of a terrible Nazi massacre is not the one most people may remember.

Instead, French internauts were in digital stitches over a shot published by the AFP news agency showing the amiable president pulling a silly face on a visit to a school at the start of the new academic year on Tuesday.

Making it all the more hilarious were the words neatly written in classic, schoolmistressy French handwriting on the blackboard above his head: “Today, it is the first day of school.” Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ “If Germany’s economic model is the future of Europe, we should all be quite troubled,” writes Adam Posen, as growth built on exports and low wages is stifling productivity and depriving Germany’s workers of what they have earned.
♦ People must get over their initial annoyance with how the US administration has handled intervention in Syria and look to history to see the consequences of inaction in other stricken cities, says Philip Zelikow.
♦ The Assads are keeping up appearances as their country becomes further embroiled in civil conflict, looking jovial in public and unfazed by the increasing threat of an attack from the West.
♦ Rather than boxing Barack Obama in, the Syria crisis has offered multiple opportunities for increasing presidential power, as a negative congressional vote will do little to restrain use of military force, while an approval could bestow new powers on future presidents.
♦ There are a lot of parallels between Obama’s current drive for military action in Syria and Eisenhower’s experience in the lead up to Vietnam, laid out by Jeffrey Frank in a comparison of the rhetoric and policy stances of both presidents. Read more

By Gordon Cramb

When a young David Frost came to prominence in Britain as front man of the BBC’s That Was The Week That Was, it was 1963 and suddenly nothing and no one were sacred.

Not the Queen, whom he depicted as “swimming for her life” in one surviving clip from the satirical television show. Certainly not the politicians of the day. Nor, too, the Fourth Estate of which he was to become a prominent member.

Fifteen years before he extracted a measure of Watergate contrition from Richard Nixon and half a century before his death, Frost co-edited a compilation of snippets derived from the Saturday night programme, whose title it also bears. Published by WH Allen, the 160-page volume offers among other gems “Ten Commandments for Journalists”. Read more