Foreign affairs

By Gideon Rachman
The people who prepare President Barack Obama’s national security briefing must be wondering what to put at the top of the pile. Should it be the Russian assault on Ukraine, or the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) in Iraq and Syria? And what items should go just below that?

David Pilling

 

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The biggest development story of the last two decades has been the vast reduction in the number of the world’s extreme poor thanks to the rapid growth of China and other developing economies. But how does the US, the world’s richest economy, fit in when you apply the $2/day poverty line the World Bank and others normally use to grade much poorer countries?

In a fascinating new paper, researchers at the Brookings Institution look at exactly that question and come up with some potentially shocking findings, albeit ones that come with plenty of caveats attached. Read more

The UK decision to send ground attack aircraft to perform reconnaissance missions over Iraq has led to mounting speculation that it could soon join the US in conducting bombing missions against Islamist extremists terrorising the local population.

The British government has so far resisted calls from some politicians and former officers to join the US in launching air strikes against insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis). But the type of aircraft it has sent to the region – the Tornado GR4 – leaves the option open. Read more

David Gardner

Recep Tayyip Erdogan just won his ninth straight popular vote in just over a decade, to become the first directly elected president of Turkey, in what is supposed to be his apotheosis, raising him to the historic height of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey. As his opponents have recurring reason to know, Mr Erdogan has established an almost preternatural grip on the electorate that not even prima facie evidence of corruption, willful policy decisions, and creeping authoritarianism seem able to loosen. Now Turkey and the world will see if he is truly a statesman.

Nobody can gainsay Mr Erdogan his victory which, despite a comparatively low turnout, has given him a comfortable first round win. But after more than a decade as prime minister of a nation he has helped transform – not least by spreading wealth and giving a voice to those whom Ataturk’s secular republic kept at the margins of society – Mr Erdogan must now decide where to take a great and pivotal country he increasingly treats as his personal patrimony. Read more

(Getty)

By Christian Oliver and Richard Milne

Europe’s leaders are preparing for a trade war with Russia by mapping out the battlefields on which they see the highest risk of casualties.

In data released on Friday, the European Commission identified the agricultural exporters most vulnerable to Moscow’s trade embargo on EU produce. Spanish peaches, Dutch cheeses and Polish apples find themselves squarely on the front line.

Polish fruit exports to Russia were valued at €340m last year and win the dubious honour of being the most exposed crops. The Poles have launched an impassioned public campaign to try to switch to more domestic consumption with their “Eat an apple to spite Putin” slogan.

The Netherlands (with dairy exports to Russia of €257m in 2013) and Finland (€253m) are at most risk on the milk and cheese front. Spain and Greece are vulnerable in relation to citrus, with stoned fruit such as peaches and nectarines also being described by farmers as being at crisis point in terms of storage overload and no market to go to. Read more

David Gardner

A Yazidi family that fled Sinjar in Iraq takes shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk ( SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama’s decision to move back into the maelstrom of Iraq, from which he withdrew in 2011 after solemnly pledging to extricate US forces once and for all, would clearly not have been taken lightly.

Little under a year ago, after all, the president baulked at the last fence on Syria, declining to punish the Assad regime for nerve-gassing its own people – crossing a red line he had chosen to single out as inviolable. That was the wrong decision, and it is worth a moment to remember why. Read more

Gideon Rachman

The Gaza strip was not the only place where civilians were suffering and dying last week. There were (and are) several other lethal conflicts underway. Take the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The current edition of The Economist reports that: “Ukraine’s offensive already seems to have featured pretty indiscriminate use of artillery. By July 26th 1,129 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine, 799 of them civilians, the UN has reported … shells have already begun falling in the centre of Donetsk: the potential for things to go lethally wrong is great.”

Civilians are also dying in large numbers in Iraq. Just yesterday over 50 people were killed in car bombs in Baghdad, while 60 were killed in an Iraqi government air-strike aimed at a Sharia court, set up by Isis in Mosul. Read more

David Gardner

The call this weekend by bishops of the Church of England for the UK to grant asylum to the Christians driven out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by the jihadi fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, seems instinctively right. As the Right Reverend David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, observed: “this is, in part, our mess”.

“We have created the space in which Isis have moved in and have expelled Christians from northern Iraq and would like to expel them from the whole of that country,” he told the BBC. Read more

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge entered its 24th day on Thursday, and is now one of the longest-running conflicts for a country that typically fights short wars.

The Israeli military is moving deeper into Gaza, inflicting a level of civilian casualties during its war on Hamas that troubles the international community’s conscience, but which it has been unable to stop.

Behind the scenes, serious diplomatic manoeuvering to end the war is starting. As the stronger party by far in the conflict, Israel holds most of the cards in any ceasefire agreement.

But there are other players too: Egypt shares an interest with Israel in disarming Hamas, an ally of its suppressed Muslim Brotherhood, and restoring calm to a troublesome border region. Hamas, too, needs to calculate what it can get out of its third war with Israel, as talks on a post-war order involving the US, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar and other countries get underway.

As they do, a few end-game scenarios are emerging (the assessments of each one’s likelihood of coming to pass are my own): Read more