(Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Among all the many tributes to Nelson Mandela. the one I enjoyed most was the testimony of his daughter, Makaziwe, whose interview with the BBC was broadcast on Newsnight last night. That was because she spoke about Mandela as a man, rather than a mythical figure. Amidst her love and admiration, she was also able to acknowledge his flaws: the inevitable neglect of his family that came with devotion to the “struggle”; the emotional distance he maintained, even from his children, as an element of the personal strength that had allowed him to survive imprisonment.
That reminder that Nelson Mandela was a man, before he became a myth, was particularly interesting to me as the child of South African parents – who were students in Johannesburg in the 1950s, when Mandela was a vital figure in anti-apartheid politics. My father says he remembers seeing Mandela speak on campus at Wits University. Other key figures in the anti-apartheid struggle – Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo and Steve Biko – later became family friends. Read more
Marco Rubio in Washington DC (Getty)
Marco Rubio is running for president. Or, at least, that is the conclusion I drew from watching him give a speech on foreign policy at Chatham House in London, on Wednesday. The senator from Florida has not actually declared his candidacy yet. But giving “statesmanlike” speeches on world affairs in London is the kind of thing you do, if you want to burnish your credentials as a potential commander-in-chief.
So how did Rubio go down? Well, the audience was satisfyingly large – people were literally standing in the aisles. The senator himself gave a performance of two halves: a terrible speech, but a confident performance in the Q&A. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
No event has done more to spook the Kremlin, over the last decade, than the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. Now Vladimir Putin’s worst moment looks like turning into a recurring nightmare as demonstrators once again fill Kiev’s Independence Square, demanding that their country move closer to the EU and further away from Russia.
By Gideon Rachman
For Barack Obama, striking a nuclear deal with Iran may turn out to be the easy part. The president’s biggest struggle now is facing down Israel and its supporters in the US as they attempt to rally opposition to the deal. The administration knows this and it is quietly confident that it can take on the Israel lobby in Congress – and win.
I have just spent an interesting day in Washington, part of which was spent listening to European and US officials discussing Ukraine’s decision to halt talks on a bilateral pact with the EU. This decision by the Yanukovitch administration is a big blow to both the EU and the US, which had been hoping to draw Ukraine decisively into the Western orbit. It also a minor triumph for the Russians. One disappointed western analyst says that – “It is the first time that the West has lost a soft power contest with Russia.”
And yet the reaction from Western officials was calmer than I expected. Broadly speaking, the view seems to be that it’s a great shame – but that the biggest loss is to Ukraine itself. In the long-term, it is hoped that this will become apparent and that the Ukrainians will look West again. There is also a strong view that the Russians won this particular struggle through the use of inducements that were not available to the West. As one analyst put it – “In the end, this came down to money. And not money for Ukraine itself. Money for particular groups in Ukraine.” Read more
France's Benzema celebrates after scoring the second goal for the team during their World Cup qualifying playoff match against Ukraine at the Stade de France Reuters
If any country is in need of a morale booster, it is surely France. President Hollande’s popularity ratings are in the low 20s. The economy is shrinking. The country’s credit-rating has just been downgraded again. The far-right is on the rise. And a crazed gunman is on the loose in Paris. But amid all this gloom, something good has happened. And the positive news has come from an unlikely source, the national football team. Last night “les Bleus” overcame the odds and notched up the 3-0 victory they needed to defeat Ukraine and get to the World Cup in Brazil. Even the high-brow “Le Monde” had the footballing triumph as its banner headline, this morning. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Amid all the noise about the economic reforms launched last week by China, it was easy to overlook another important change. The Chinese government is setting up a National Security Council, co-ordinating its military, intelligence and domestic security structures. The model is said to be America’s NSC. But China’s move also parallels developments in Japan, where Shinzo Abe’s government is also setting up a National Security Council.
Most of the interest in the outcome of the Communist Party plenum in Beijing has focused on the economic decisions. But the Chinese government also announced that it plans to set up a National Security Council – which has obvious echoes of the White House decision-making apparatus.
The Chinese are not alone in making this move. Japan is also in the process of setting up a new National Security Council, which is meant to be operational by the end of the year. Some might find it a little ominous that at a time when Sino-Japanese tensions are so high, both countries are revamping their national security structures. But it could also be that the Chinese and Japanese are simply following foreign-policy fashion in the West. National Security Councils are all the rage. Britain set up an NSC in 2010, allowing the prime minister to chair regular meetings of all the senior ministers and officials dealing with security issues: foreign affairs, defence, intelligence and so on. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
By blocking a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, France has achieved the unusual feat of annoying the American and Iranian governments simultaneously. If the French had genuinely scuppered the chance of an agreement – making war much more likely – they would deserve all the anger directed at them. But by playing “bad cop” to the Obama administration’s good cop, the French have actually made it more likely that an eventual deal will achieve its goal of preventing an Iranian bomb.
“Why do the Brits accept surveillance” asks Jonathan Freedland in the New York Times? Freedland points out that, even after the Edward Snowden revelations, only 19% of British people think that the security services have too much power. By contrast, some 64% think they have the right amount of power or too little. Freedland’s explanation for this striking state of affairs is that the Brits have a more deferential attitude to the state than Americans, reflected in the fact that it is “Her Majesty’s government”. He points out that “Britons remain subjects not citizens.”
This is a clever explanation, but not one that I find particularly convincing. It is true that the British tend to be less hostile to the idea of government than Americans. But that is an attitude that is common in Europe, including in states that are highly suspicious of intelligence agencies, such as Germany.
My alternative theory is that British people basically accept the claim that was made by Britain’s intelligence chiefs when they testified before Parliament last week. The spooks argued that they are working to protect democracy. That claim, which would be met with derision in Germany or by much of liberal America, is broadly accepted in Britain, for reasons that are deeply rooted in British history.
The basic narrative of British history, as taught in schools and broadcast on television, is of a country that has had to ward off a succession of attempted foreign invasions. The role of the intelligence services in protecting the UK is both noted and celebrated. Most obviously, in the second world war, the code-breakers of Bletchley Park – who cracked the German Enigma signals – are regarded as national heroes. But it goes back a lot further than that. Elizabeth I’s spy-master, Francis Walsingham, ran an extensive network of spies that gathered vital intelligence on the Spanish Armada. Read more