It is difficult not to feel sorry for Barack Obama. The whole Jeremiah Wright thing is a complete nightmare. I doubt that Obama’s late-in-the-day repudiation of his spiritual mentor of 20 years is going to do the trick. Wright will be an issue for the rest of the campaign.
And so he should be. Obama has responded to Hillary Clinton’s assertion that she is the candidate of “experience”, by talking about his superior judgement. But what does it say about his judgement that he chose Reverend Wright as his pastor? Read more
What is the cure for anti-Americanism in Europe? I have always thought that there is a one-word answer to that question – China.
And so it has come to pass. The FT-Harris poll released this week shows that a narrow majority of Europeans now regard China as the biggest threat to global stability – ahead of the United States. Of course, these kind of polls always reflect recent events. So the news out of Tibet – and, to a lesser extent, Darfur – will have hurt China’s image. Meanwhile the decline in coverage of the Iraq war – and the fact that the Bush administration is winding down – will help the US. Read more
Various people have been in touch with me – by e-mail and on the blog – to ask what I thought of Obama’s speech on race and the Wright controversy? Wasn’t it a great speech, and doesn’t it prove that I was wrong to dismiss Obama as a master of empty rhetoric?
Difficult. Yes, it was a great speech. And perhaps I should just leave it at that. Any attempt at further explanation threatens to leave me sounding like one of those politicians, saying – “I do not for a moment withdraw any of my previous statements on this matter. However, in the light of recent events, I would like to issue some further remarks, expanding upon my previous statements and adding some important context.”
Well, I do not for a moment…etc, etc. But Obama’s race speech was completely different from his standard stump/victory speech - because of the context in which it was delivered. In his regular campaign appearances, Obama’s goal is simply to pump up the crowd with vague and vacuous applause lines. He is a master at producing euphoria. At one campaign stop, he was even cheered to the rafters simply for blowing his nose. Read more
If the furore over the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran hadn’t intervened, the US delegation to the IISS security conference in Bahrain last weekend would have spent the time boasting about progress in Iraq. In 2006, the Americans sent a relatively low-level delegation to Bahrain. This time they were out in force. The delegation was led by Robert Gates, the defence secretary and included William Fallon, the admiral in charge of Centcom – which runs the US military presence in the Middle East. Also at the conference was Colonel HR McMaster – the American officer who pioneered the "clear and hold" tactics that became the model for the US "surge" in Iraq.
As it was, Gates did spend a fair amount of time talking about the progress that had been made in Iraq. But he was cautious about making sweeping claims that things have taken a decisive turn for the better. Everybody remembers the hubris of "mission accomplished". And the Americans are well aware of the fragility of security gains, without real political progress to back it up.
Thanks to everyone who took part in the impromptu Iraq discussion. I was pleased to see that the contributors span the ideological spectrum from "Bush is a war criminal" to "secure the oil and let the hopeless Iraqis slug it out" (I paraphrase obviously). Since much of the blogosphere seems to be chopped up into the ideological equivalent of gated communities, it’s good to see such a range of opinions.
As for myself, I think the discussion helped clarify my thinking a bit – although I don’t think I’ve yet found "the solution". Rather than comment on each and every posting, I thought it might be useful to react to groups of ideas that cropped up.
First – Belgium. I’m fond of the place myself, since I used to live there. And a couple of correspondents seem to regard it as a possible model for Iraq – as does Volker Perthes, whose article I linked to. I’m not convinced however. The temptations of federalism or even partition are obvious – and that may be where we end up eventually. But any attempt to force the situation might involve further mass movements of people and killings – which looked more like the partition of India and Pakistan than the creation of Belgium (which I seem to remember is the only revolution ever to have started in an opera house.) Also partition might invite outside intervention and therefore a wider war. Would Turkey tolerate an independent Kurdistan? How would the Saudis feel about an Iranian-linked Shiastan in the south?
I have written a lot about Iraq in the FT. But readers of my column might have noticed that – while not slow to dish out criticism – I have usually dodged the big question: so what would you do?
There is a simple reason for this evasiveness. I don’t know really know what I would do. Like most people, I am better at defining the question than providing the answer. So once again, I would like to turn to the readers of this blog for ideas and suggestions.
‘‘My fellow Americans, our troops in Iraq have performed heroically and have done everything that has been asked of them. Under my presidency I will seek to bring our brave men and women home. But there will be no precipitate withdrawal from Iraq. We will secure our vital national interests.
“Our nation faces awesome challenges in Iraq and in the struggle against global jihadism. But I take inspiration from the ‘greatest generation’, which won the second world war, and from the statesmen who led us to victory in the cold war – men like George C. Marshall and Harry Truman. Read more
I thought President Bush did a good job in his television address on Iraq last night (view video, transcript). He must have done. For a couple of minutes, I was almost convinced.
As expected, Bush made the case that the “surge” has worked. His speech was full of encouraging little anecdotes. He set out the moral and strategic case for persevering in Iraq with conviction. And he tried to build some sort of bipartisan consensus, by holding out the hope that the troop withdrawals he announced are just the beginning.
But – in the end – it doesn’t convince for two main reasons.
I am sitting in a hotel room in Washington. The television is on in the background, because I’m hoping to catch more Congressional testimony from General David Petraeus. But even the mainstream news channels seem to be losing interest. They keep cutting away to other stuff – commemoration services for 9/11, Osama’s new video. All the news channels carried Petraeus live yesterday, when he testified before the House Foreign Affairs committees. Today, he and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which should be even more interesting – since his inquisitors include Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But Petraeus fatigue has set in already.
It’s been a while since I watched hours of Congresssional testimony at a stretch. Yesterday was interesting, partly because it reminded me of the massive self-importance of Congress – neither Petraeus or Crocker got to say anything for almost an hour, while the committee members droned away. Their attitude seemed to be – "I’m really glad you’ve come all the way from Iraq, because there are a few things I’d like to get off my chest."
Petraeus says that the surge is working, which infuriates the anti-war crowd. But the people at Moveon.org scored an own goal, even before the general appeared before Congress, by publishing a full-page ad in the New York Times calling him "General Betray Us". This was so over-the-top that it was a gift to the Republicans.
Mind you, sotto voce, even some senior Republicans are not totally convinced by the general.
The symbolism of getting General David Petraeus to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the anniversary of 9/11 appealed to the White House. It should not have. It is crass. General Petraeus’s struggle to salvage the Iraq war merely underlines the fact that invading Iraq was a crazy way to respond to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Six years after 9/11, the US needs to re-think. It is now clear that Iraq was the biggest blunder of the Bush years. It is also becoming evident that counter-terrorism should no longer be the centrepiece of American foreign policy. As the official 9/11 commission demonstrated, Saddam Hussein played no role in the terrorist attacks. He also had no nuclear weapons and no significant relationship with al-Qaeda. Read more