Foreign affairs

 

What are we to make of President Barack Obama’s on-the-record criticism of the role of UK Prime Minister David Cameron over Libya? I would make four points. First, Mr Obama is trying to protect himself from criticism. Second, broadly speaking, Mr Obama is right. Third, that said, it is not clear that there were good alternatives in Libya that Mr Cameron somehow failed to embrace. Fourth, the larger context is US exasperation and alarm at the decline of Europeans as effective security partners in the Middle East and elsewhere. Read more

I found myself mesmerised on Monday looking at the Italy page of a website called National Debt Clocks.org. A 13-digit figure, representing Italy’s outstanding national debt, goes up by a couple of thousand euros every second. Now the debt is just under €2.2tn, or about 133 per cent of Italy’s annual economic output.

Despite its astronomical debt burden, the Italian government succeeded last October in selling two-year bonds at a negative yield. In other words, investors paid Italy, one of the planet’s most indebted nations for the past quarter of a century, for the honour of buying its debt.

This is a topsy-turvy world that inspires me with something less than full confidence in financial markets. It leads me to the topical question of whether Italian banks own too much Italian government debt for their own good. On this issue Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, holds forthright viewsRead more

The Republican debate on Thursday ​elevated farce to new heights. ​​Donald Trump ​raised eyebrows when he hit back at earlier innuendo by Marco Rubio about his masculinity.

“He referred to my hands [suggesting that] if they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee,” he told the roughly 17m viewers who tuned in to the debate. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

There was a time when Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was widely tipped to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany. Good-looking, aristocratic, married to a descendant of Bismarck and beloved by the popular press, zu Guttenberg had cut a dash, first as a decisive economics minister, and then as Germany’s youngest defence minister — appointed at the age of 37 in 2009. And then, in two disastrous weeks in early 2011, his gilded career fell apart, after it was revealed that he had plagiarised large parts of his doctoral thesis. Within two weeks, zu Guttenberg had resigned from the German government. Shortly afterwards, he left for a career in business in the US.

The Donald Trump media feeding-frenzy is in full flow. But beyond all the fun stuff about the horse-race and the insults, have there been any really good articles explaining the Trump phenomenon? I have found two recent pieces particularly interesting. Thomas Edsall explains how – “The economic basis for voter anger has been building for over 40 years” – and has some interesting numbers on the stagnation of real wages, the shrinking of the middle-class, the disappearance of manufacturing jobs and the impact of Chinese accession to the WTO.

Another good analysis, this time on the Vox site, looks at the kinds of people who are attracted to Trump’s rhetoric – and in particular at political scientists’ work on the rise of authoritarian attitudes in America. Apparently, people’s attitudes to parenting are a good predictor of their attitudes to Trump. Those who value obedience in children, above all, are “authoritarian” types, who also like Trump. But there are also is a large group of people with “latent authoritarianism”, which is aroused when they feel under threat. Read more

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Maybe we should rename this newsletter “White House Meltdown” after the Republican debate in Texas which saw Marco Rubio launch waron Donald Trump. While the presidential contenders brawled in Texas, Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who last week told me that the GOP was facing its own Shia-Sunni conflict, said his party “has gone bats**t crazy”.Back in September, Jerry Springer, the host of the eponymous show, tweeted that “watching the Repubs debate…if they’re going to do my show, the least they could do is ask me!” What would Springer say about the debate last night, which resembled a Monty Python sketch? Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, described it as a “Texas demolition derby”.

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North Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, one of Europe's most desolate places

To understand why tensions are rising in Kosovo, it is not enough to know about poverty and high unemployment, organised crime and widespread official corruption, family memories of war and ethnic cleansing. You also need to know what it feels like to live as a second-class citizen – either of your own society, or of the world. Read more

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Donald Trump is winning more friends. While many mainstream Republicans pull their punches when asked about the tycoon and his inflammatory rhetoric, Vincente Fox, the former president of Mexico, today showed his cojones – to use a favourite expression of Madeline Albright, former secretary of state.

“I’m not going to pay for that f*****g wall,” Fox told Jorge Ramos, a prominent Mexican-American journalist who was once evicted from a Trump rally. “He should pay for it. He’s got the money.” Read more

The blocking of Evo Morales’ desire to run for a fourth consecutive presidential term in Bolivia is an encouraging result in Latin America’s “War on Checks and Balances”.

Mr Morales, who has already ruled for ten years, could have remained in power until 2025 if he had won Sunday’s referendum. (As of Monday evening, with 80 per cent of the vote in, the “No’s” stood at 55 per cent.) To the extent that a small, poor and landlocked country has global meaning, Bolivia’s example may even be an encouraging result for countries elsewhere. Yoweri Museveni, for example, has ruled Uganda for 30 years – and won another five year term last week. Read more

Poland's rightwing PiS government is engaged in a ruthless campaign against its critics. One such critic is Lech Walesa

Probably only Lech Walesa really knows what went on between him and Poland’s communist-era secret police. But for the health of modern Polish democracy, for the image that Poles have of themselves and for Poland’s international reputation, it would be best to establish the truth, or as much of it as possible. Sad to say, this is a forlorn hope in today’s febrile Polish political atmosphere.

Walesa, now a white-haired 72-year-old, is a former Polish president. He founded Solidarity, the independent trade union and mass patriotic movement that overthrew communism by peaceful means in the 1980s. He won the Nobel peace prize in 1983.

He made an indelible contribution to the cause of democracy and human rights in central and eastern Europe. He deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Vaclav Havel and Andrei Sakharov, the brave Czech and Russian campaigners for freedom.

Was he also, as alleged on Thursday, a paid informant for the security services in the 1970s? I shall address this below. What is important is to underline that a proper perspective on Walesa requires placing his career in its full historical context. Read more

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With the South Carolina Republican primary one week away, most of the GOP candidates, including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, were courting evangelicals in the Palmetto State. Mr Bush is also rolling out his brother, former president George W. Bush, on Monday for his first public appearance on the campaign trail. Read more

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John Kasich, the Ohio governor who came second in New Hampshire, is not expected to expend much energy in the state where there is less support for his moderate conservatism. He will focus on Michigan, which votes on March 8 and is seen as a must-win for him. That leaves Mr Bush and Mr Rubio dueling in South Carolina for the establishment mantle that they and Mr Kasich are all hoping to claim. Read more

There is a wonderful passage in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” about the war between Little-Endians in Lilliput and Big-Endians in Blefuscu over how to open a hard-boiled egg.

It would be extremely rude of me to suggest that the uproar in France about the proper use of the circumflex is in any way comparable to the goings-on in Swift’s satire. Read more

In the GOP race, Mr Trump remains ahead in the polls, but Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator, is closing the gap. The latest Boston Globe/Suffolk poll shows the New York property mogul with 29 per cent, compared to 19 per cent for Mr Rubio and seven per cent for Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who won the Iowa caucus. On the Democratic side, an average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics finds Mr Sanders with a 17-point lead over Mrs Clinton. But treat the polls with caution given their record in Iowa and the fact that New Hampshire voters are notorious for making up their minds at the last moment.

The Democratic debate in New Hampshire last night was a feisty affair with Bernie Sanders attacking Hillary Clinton over her connections to Wall Street and her willingness to collect more than $200,000 a pop for speeches to financial institutions. The Vermont senator suggested that his rival would be in hock to rich people while his “political revolution” was being funded by campaigns from average Americans. But when the debate veered to foreign policy, he was no match for the former secretary of state. My colleagueCourtney Weaver has this story on the final Democratic debate before New Hampshire holds its primaries on Tuesday. Read more

​Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are taking more shots at each other as the Democrats prepare to spar in New Hampshire tonight in their last debate (which you can watch for free) before the Granite State holds its primaries on Tuesday. The Vermont socialist senator accused the former New York senator of being close to Wall Street despite her vow to clamp down on financial institutions that are taking advantage of Americans.

“You’re looking at the guy who’s not just talking the talk when it comes to campaign finance – I am walking the walk,” Mr Sanders tweeted after reports about the amount of money his rival has raised from Wall StreetRead more

The UK is a generous issuer of residence permits to Americans, Chinese and Indians

It is time to stop the panic-mongering and put Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis into a sensible perspective.

Across the 28-nation EU, some rabble-rousing politicians and hysterical media outlets are stoking public alarm that uncontrollable tides of migrants from non-white, often Muslim countries are swamping Europe. These migrants are depicted as instigators and perpetrators of terrorism, sex crimes, random murder and robbery.

Let me cite some data from an official EU report that throw a different light on the topic of migration into Europe. The data concern EU residence permits granted to non-Europeans. I confess that, when I saw the data for the first time, I was pretty startled. Readers may be surprised, too. Read more

Welcome to Week 2 of White House countdown, our new daily newsletter which we hope will keep readers on top of one of the most fascinating American elections in years. You can sign up to receive it by email here. Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington Bureau Chief

Remember Iowa? Well, forget Iowa. Just hours after Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses with a 27-24 victory over Donald Trump, the presidential contenders were already flocking to New Hampshire for the February 9 primaries. Mr Trump was certainly trying to forget Iowa. After an uncharacteristically long silence (20 hours) on Twitter, the billionaire re-emerged to spin the resultRead more

Welcome to Week 2 of White House countdown, our new daily newsletter which we hope will keep readers on top of one of the most fascinating American elections in years. You can sign up to receive it by email here. Thanks for reading. Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington Bureau Chief

DES MOINES – Donald Trump hopes his daughter Ivanka will have her baby (due in 2 weeks) today in Iowa. Chris Christie, the witty New Jersey governor, is entertaining diners at the Machine Shed restaurant with impressions of the former star of The Apprentice. Ted Cruz, the Texas senator, is coming under fire for circulating misleading leaflets which suggest that Iowan residents are engaging in “voter violation” for not participating in elections. The drama adds up to one thing – the Iowa caucuses that kick off the 2016 presidential election are here. Read more

This is the latest edition of LatAm Viva, our weekly newsletter on the continent. To receive it every Friday by email, sign up here.

Officials from the financing bodies may have headed to the Caucasus late this week for a possible emergency bailout, but they are also deeply concerned about some Latin American oil-producing countries. The list includes Brazil, now mired in its worst recession in more than a century, Ecuador, which has been mending ties with the Fund as its economy shrinks, and even Venezuela, where the IMF last set foot about a decade ago. But it is Venezuela’s dire economic crisis that has spurred default fears as the government, and state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), are running out of money to pay debts as crude prices continue to crash. (The country even owes $3m in annual contributions to the United Nations.) Analysts believe Venezuela can make good on some $2.4bn due next month, which will take every cent of its oil sales for January and February, but according to Barclays a “credit event” is on the cardsunless oil prices miraculously recover. Things are not looking good. While embattled President Nicolás Maduro has been unable to lure fellow Opec members to convene an emergency meeting to ramp up prices, Venezuela’s oil basket, which trades at a discount to global benchmarks because of its higher content of heavy oil, is trading at around $20 per barrel. Experts believe a Venezuelan default may spark a nasty Argentina-style battle with holdout creditors. Read more

Francois Hollande with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on Republic Day in New Delhi

This week, François Hollande, the president of France became the latest world leader to visit Delhi and pay court to India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. He is following in the footsteps of Barack Obama, Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe – all of whom have paid official visits to India, over the past 18 months. Hollande’s visit was particularly productive because he managed to sign a deal to sell India 36 Rafale fighters. The desire to sell weapons to India – which is the world’s second largest arms importer, after Saudi Arabia – accounts for some of the international courtship of the Modi government. More important, however, is the sense that India will be one of the big global powers of the 21st century – and needs to be cultivated.

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