US politics

By Richard McGregor in Washington

After sensitive details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden began leaking, an infuriated Robert Gates, then secretary of defence, stormed into the office of Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.

“Why doesn’t everybody just shut the f*** up?” said the incensed Pentagon chief.

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Gideon Rachman

President Barack Obama applauds Robert Gates at a ceremony to mark the latter's retirement as US defence secretary in 2011

Robert Gates, the former US defence secretary, is unusual in that he has a reputation both for being loyal – and for being outspoken. He has pulled off this feat by being a model of sober discretion in office, while throwing verbal bombs on his way out – or from retirement. In speeches given in 2011, shortly before stepping down from the Pentagon, Gates came up with two memorable zingers. He told European leaders that, unless they spent more on defence, Nato would become a “military irrelevance.” And he told West Point cadets that any future defence secretary who advised the president to send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined.”

Now Gates is at it again. Extracts just-released from his memoirs include some tough criticism of President Barack Obama - including the suggestion that the president did not believe in his own Afghanistan strategy, and as a result was constantly looking for the exit. He recalls, sitting in the White House, watching President Obama discussing Afghanistan, and thinking “For him it’s all about getting out.” Read more

Gideon Rachman

At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.

So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: Read more

By Gideon Rachman
I executed a personal pivot to Asia this year, with separate trips to South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and China (twice). There was certainly plenty to write about – new leadership in China, Abenomics in Japan, Sino-Japanese confrontation, nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula. Yet, on more than one occasion, I found myself sitting in a hotel room in East Asia – but writing about the Middle East.

By Gideon Rachman

What defines the west? American and European politicians like to talk about values and institutions. But for billions of people around the world, the crucial point is simpler and easier to grasp. The west is the part of the world where even ordinary people live comfortably. That is the dream that makes illegal immigrants risk their lives, trying to get into Europe or the US.

Gideon Rachman

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 Luisa Frey

Back-channel conversations between the US and Iran paved way for the historic nuclear agreement and broke 34 years of hostility, writes the FT’s Geoff Dyer. Read more

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.

President Barack Obama’s nominee for Federal Reserve chair appeared before the Senate banking committee on Thursday. She mounted a vigorous defence of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy as she faced lawmakers in her first big test of political and communications skills.

Gina Chon and Shannon Bond reported from New York with James Politi in Washington.

 

Spying scandal spotlight moves from US to UK
As the scandal around spying and surveillance continues, Gideon Rachman is joined by James Blitz in the studio and Geoff Dyer down the line from Washington, to discuss the latest developments. Much of the focus in recent weeks has been on the activities of the US National Security Agency, but this week it was the turn of the British intelligence chiefs to give evidence in an open session of a Parliamentary committee, the first time that has ever happened. Did they say anything interesting? And are the intelligence agencies being held to account in the US?