US politics

Obama’s zen-like State of the Union address
President Obama has just delivered his State of the Union speech to Congress. As usual, it was full of uplifting stories and calls for action, punctuated by standing ovations. But many believe that the sad reality is that this is a presidency that is running out of steam, and some of what Mr Obama had to say about the State of the Union was actually quite bleak. In this week’s podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Richard McGregor, Washington bureau chief and Edward Luce, chief US commentator, to assess the speech and the state of the presidency in general.

President Barack Obama went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening to make his fifth State of the Union address.

Mr Obama tried to get on the front foot earlier in the day with the news he will bypass Congress to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors.

The White House had lowered expectations for a speech that was short on big initiatives and long on “executive actions” – policies pushed by presidential decree, rather than going through lawmakers.

The test will be whether Mr Obama’s performance will achieve its objective of restoring his damaged popularity following the botched rollout of healthcare reform.

James Politi reported from Washington and Shannon Bond from New York

 

Lionel Barber

I arrived in VIP-full Davos with one prediction in mind: 2014 will be the year the world returns to normality or at least the semblance of normality with the tapered exit from quantitative easing.

After three days at high altitude, the prediction is intact and I have five other takeaways. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
The official theme for this year’s World Economic Forum is predictably bland – “Reshaping the World”. But the unofficial slogan will be “America is back”. Predictions that the US economy will grow by 3 per cent this year – added to worries about emerging markets – mean that Davos is likely to be bullish on America for the first time in years.

By Toby Luckhurst
Al-Qaeda: On the march Terror affiliates are active in more countries than ever, write Sam Jones, Borzou Daragahi and Simeon Kerr.
The rise of a new US federalism. Edward Luce says with federal government largely paralysed, the future is being shaped in the cities.
♦ The Economist looks at the effect a new era of automation will have on jobs. Previous technological innovation has delivered more long-term employment, not less. But, it notes, things can change.
♦ The New York Times reveals how Iraq’s government is paying and arming tribal militias to fight as its proxies in the battle against militants.
Rewriting the revolution. H.A. Hellyer in Al Arabiya News looks at the historical revisionism in play in Egypt.
♦ An infographic in the New York Times shows the cost per person of the US federal budget passed last week. Read more

Geoff Dyer

Getty Images

First things first. Everything that happened on Friday, from President Barack Obama’s long-awaited speech on the National Security Agency to the long list of reforms published by the White House, would not have taken place without Edward Snowden.

When he first started leaking documents, the former NSA contractor said that all he wanted to do was initiate a debate. “I’ve already won,” he said last month. “For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished.” Read more

Geoff Dyer

On Friday, seven months after Edward Snowden began leaking documents about the National Security Agency, President Barack Obama will give a speech in Washington outlining his plans to reform US electronic surveillance. Here are five issues to watch out for: Read more

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.

 Read more

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