US foreign policy

After watching their fortunes nosedive over the past year on the back of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and adventures in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s oligarchs caught a break on Friday night: a free meal on Vladimir Putin. Read more

Consequences of the US-Cuba rapprochement
Following president Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States will begin normalising relations with Cuba, John Paul Rathbone, Latin America editor, joins Gideon Rachman to examine how quickly the island state’s Soviet-style economy is likely to change and the implications for the wider region.

Gideon Rachman

When the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress last month, the conventional wisdom was that the final two years of Barack Obama’s time in the White House would be a sad affair. The president would be a “lame duck” – with no majority in Congress and waning authority, even over his own party. Some even suggested that Mr Obama was losing interest in his job.

Just a few weeks later, however, it seems that far from being crippled by the midterm elections, Mr Obama has been liberated. With no further elections to fight, he seems to have decided to use his last two years in office to advance some causes that he really believes in. By finding areas where he has executive authority to act without needing Congressional approval, the president has shown that he can get a lot done. His decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba is the latest dramatic example. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy signs the order of naval blockade of Cuba, on October 24, 1962 in White House. Getty.

It was on February 7 1962 that John F Kennedy signed the US policy now known as the Cuban embargo into law. The day before, the US president had ordered an aide to buy him 1,000 Petit Upmanns cigars. It was only after Kennedy got word that his request had been carried out that he authorised the new regulations that banned Cuban imports and would have made the purchase illegal.

Today, 52 years later, Barack Obama has partially reversed that law. The changes he has made do not amount to a full repeal of the embargo – that requires an act of Congress. Nonetheless, the changes are profound. They recognise that US policy towards the island has failed to achieve its objective of change – Mr Obama is, after all, the 11th US president to face a socialist Cuba. They recognise that the embargo has often poisoned US diplomacy in the broader region. And the changes recognise that, for over half a century, the US embargo has been emblematic of Washington’s bully-boy approach to the socialist island, which has won Cuba international sympathy that the dictatorship of the Castro brothers would otherwise not have enjoyed. Read more

  • Bahrain’s royal family has built up vast private wealth, including a $900m portfolio of UK real estate, after embarking on development projects on disputed reclaimed land in the Gulf kingdom, an FT investigation reveals
  • The prospect of Greece’s self-styled “radical left” Syriza party coming to power has sown panic among investors, but its leader has softened his rhetoric and is changing tactics to reassure the business community
  • Beneath the surface of gridlock and hyper-partisanship in US political life is a national security establishment whose influence endures administrations and constantly seems to evade constraints
  • Narendra Modi has not made many sweeping reforms since he stormed to India’s premiership in May. But he has made some reforms about sweeping – showing his feel for the issues that affect the masses outside the Delhi beltway
  • The extent of the UK’s military and political catastrophe in Afghanistan is hard to overstate. It was doomed to fail before it began, and fail it did, at a terrible cost in lives and money, writes James Meek in the London Review of Books

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  • The Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday released its long-awaited report into the CIA’s use of torture in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Here are five key findings
  • Retail businesses in Russia that built empires selling imported goods and foreign holidays to affluent Russians are now struggling to adjust amid a 40% drop in the rouble and a looming recession
  • The safety of Indian women is in the spotlight once again after a driver of the ride-hailing app Uber raped a 25-year-old in New Delhi, leading to calls for the service to be banned
  • The striking thing about Japan’s election is that nobody is able to articulate a different course to Abenomics, despite Mr Abe’s falling popularity and public opposition to his economic plan
  • Drunken and boorish behavior, cellphones, crying children and reclining seats have all led to episodes of flight rage. But a bag of macadamia nuts? (New York Times)

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David Gardner

All smiles: foreign ministers of the six world powers at the nuclear talks in Vienna. Getty

The failure to meet this week’s deadline for a definitive nuclear deal between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the US, UK, France, Russia and China, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) is ominous. True, the negotiations, already extended once after the interim agreement a year ago, have been given a new deadline of June next year. But musings of the glass half full, glass half empty variety under-represent just how difficult it will be now to close a deal, and how much is at stake if this chance to bring the Islamic Republic in from the cold slips away. Read more

US foreign policy after Chuck Hagel’s resignation
This week Chuck Hagel stepped down as US defence secretary at a time when doubts are growing about the administration’s ability to manage growing threats in the Middle East and Europe. Gideon Rachman discusses what the resignation means for American foreign policy with Geoff Dyer and Ed Luce.