By Gideon Rachman
The people who prepare President Barack Obama’s national security briefing must be wondering what to put at the top of the pile. Should it be the Russian assault on Ukraine, or the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) in Iraq and Syria? And what items should go just below that?
A Yazidi family that fled Sinjar in Iraq takes shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk ( SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Barack Obama’s decision to move back into the maelstrom of Iraq, from which he withdrew in 2011 after solemnly pledging to extricate US forces once and for all, would clearly not have been taken lightly.
Little under a year ago, after all, the president baulked at the last fence on Syria, declining to punish the Assad regime for nerve-gassing its own people – crossing a red line he had chosen to single out as inviolable. That was the wrong decision, and it is worth a moment to remember why. Read more
The call this weekend by bishops of the Church of England for the UK to grant asylum to the Christians driven out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by the jihadi fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, seems instinctively right. As the Right Reverend David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, observed: “this is, in part, our mess”.
“We have created the space in which Isis have moved in and have expelled Christians from northern Iraq and would like to expel them from the whole of that country,” he told the BBC. Read more
Palestinian employees of Gaza City City's al-Deira hotel carry a wounded boy following an Israeli military strike on the nearby beach in which four children were killed on July 16, 2014. AFP/Getty Images
While the current Gaza war between Israel and Hamas looks ominously as though it may intensify, exacting a yet greater toll in Palestinian civilian deaths, there is a pattern to these conflicts: they usually end after an episode of appalling carnage that shocks international actors into action. Read more
A fighter from the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (Isis) brandishes the Isis flag on the streets of Mosul (Getty)
At Baghdad airport, the creeping sense of dread is apparent. As harried passengers are ferried between multiple searches, drivers of the black SUVs chartered to take them into the ultra-secure facility from a boarding point outside the airport are nervous. Read more
Nigerian teachers at a rally in Lagos protesting against the abduction of 200 schoolgirls and the killing of 173 of their colleagues by the Islamist Boko Haram group. Getty
Osama Bin Laden must be chuckling from his grave on the ocean floor. In the wake of 9/11 he explicitly targeted Nigeria as a new front-line in his global jihad. When the UN Security Council on Thursday blacklisted Boko Haram alongside al-Qaeda and its other affiliates, Nigeria had formally arrived.
It is the latest in a series of international gestures intended to isolate the group, which provoked international outrage for a series of atrocities including abducting more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and threatening to sell them into slavery. But its value is little more than symbolic.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks on on the Middle East in London on April 23, 2014. (Getty)
There are plenty of people who will simply refuse to listen to anything that Tony Blair has to say about the Middle East – on the grounds that he is an idiot or a war criminal, or some combination of the two. I am not one of them. On the contrary, I think that the speech that Blair has just given on the Middle East is worth reading. He is intelligent, passionate and well-informed. But I still think he is wrong or, at the least, unconvincing, on a number of crucial points. Read more
The aftermath of a barrel bombing by Bashar al-Assad’s government in Aleppo on March 18 (Getty)
Earlier this week the famous-for-being-famous celebrity Kim Kardashian regurgitated Syrian regime disinformation about a rebel massacre of Armenians in the town of Kasab in the country’s northeast on her Twitter feed after it was captured by rebels.
The Tweet – Please let’s not let history repeat itself!!!!!! Let’s get this trending!!!!
#SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide – went viral, further damaging the reputation of Syria’s opposition, a ragtag rebellion struggling to make inroads against Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who continues to massacre hundreds of people daily in bombing raids and inside his dark dungeons. Unlike in Kasab, these murders have been meticulously documented by independent human rights groups and the UN. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
As US President Barack Obama and the leaders of the EU huddle together this week, they will strive to look united and resolved. The reality, as Vladimir Putin knows, is that they are divided and uncertain. The Russian president has moved with a speed and ruthlessness that has left western leaders floundering. Russia swallowed Crimea, in less than a week, with scarcely a shot fired. It has now massed troops on Ukraine’s eastern border – and all that the west has so far offered the Ukrainian military is a supply of US army ready-meals.
Here is an addendum to our post on Friday on what might come next for trade sanctions on Russia. I spent part of the weekend playing with the data on MIT’s brilliant Observatory of Economic Complexity. It is a fabulous place for visualisations of trade data. The underlying data are a few years out of date. But the overall trend still holds true and so these interactive charts on Russia seem worth sharing given the current debate. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
When political leaders start rewriting the past, you should fear for the future. In Russia, Hungary, Japan and China, recent politically sponsored efforts to change history textbooks were warning signs of rising nationalism.
How do we decide what matters in the world?
The question is prompted by the coincidence of the crisis in Ukraine and the third anniversary of the outbreak of war in Syria.
There is no doubt that it is Ukraine that is dominating the attention of world leaders and the media. John Kerry, US secretary of state, is meeting Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, in London today to discuss Ukraine, while Angela Merkel has been working the phones with Vladimir Putin to try to defuse the crisis.
The front-pages of newspapers blare about the build-up of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border. My own work has reflected these priorities, with my last three FT columns on the Ukrainian crisis.
But are we right to be so focused on Ukraine rather than Syria? Read more
By Gideon Rachman
When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Moscow stock market did not crash. That is because there was no Moscow stock market. By contrast, the news that Russian troops have taken effective control of Crimea was greeted, on Monday, by a 10 per cent collapse in shares on the Russian market.
Vladimir’s Putin’s decision to send Russian troops into Ukraine and seize control of Crimea has thrown the spotlight onto the peninsula.
Located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, Crimea has strong historical and cultural ties with Russia. It was Russian territory until 60 years ago, and one of the pretexts for Russia’s military invasion has been to defend its citizens and interests in Ukraine, especially in Crimea.
Yet Crimea’s strategic importance to Russia goes much further. The Crimean port of Sevastopol, home of the Black Sea fleet, is vital to Russia’s naval power in the Mediterranean and beyond. Read more
The Syrian armed forces that took control of the Homs province town of Deir Balbi in 2012 wanted to show the locals they meant business and avoid attacks by approaching rebel units. So they forced children out of their homes, and allegedly placed them as human shields between their tanks and soldiers to dissuade the rebels from attacking.
The incident is described in a harrowing report issued by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, chronicling the devastating effects of the Syrian civil war on the country’s children, and adds fresh urgency to efforts to end the war. At least 10,000 children have died as casualties or combatants of war or under torture in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, the report estimates. Read more
Prospects for peace in Syria
World powers are gathering in Switzerland in an attempt to find a diplomatic solution to Syria’s three-year civil war, which has cost more than 130,000 lives drawn in regional powers to fight a proxy sectarian war. The conference nearly fell apart before it began when the UN invited Iran to participate. But what chance of success remains? Roula Khalaf, foreign editor, and Borzou Daragahi, Middle East correspondent, join Ben Hall to discuss.
Anyone who thought references to the Assads’ “killing machine” in Syria’s civil war was hyperbolic metaphor should read a horrendously literal report that has just surfaced, detailing the “industrial scale” killing of about 11,000 detainees in the regime’s dungeons. It provides harrowing confirmation of what organisations from the UN to Human Rights Watch had partially documented: the systematic liquidation, usually by or after torture, of those who question or combat the Assad tyranny.
The report is based largely on evidence assembled and smuggled out on a memory stick by a Syrian military policeman, codenamed Caesar to protect him and his family from reprisals, whose job it was to photograph the dead bodies, often up to 50 a day. The evidence has been examined by lead prosecutors for the war crimes tribunals of Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia and top international forensics experts, commissioned by a London law firm on behalf of Qatar, which has been a leading supporter of Syria’s rebels. They found it to be credible evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes that would stand up in a court of law. Read more
(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
“A spectre is haunting the world: 1914.” So writes Harold James, a professor of history at Princeton in the latest edition of “International Affairs”. Professor James is certainly right that newspapers and learned journals are currently full of articles comparing international politics today with the world of 1914. I have written a few articles on that theme myself. Now, perhaps inevitably, there is a backlash. Joseph Nye, a professor at Harvard, has just published a piece on the 1914 analogy for Project Syndicate that notes: “Among the lessons to be learned from the events of 1914 is to be wary of analysts wielding historical analogies, particularly if they have a whiff of inevitability.”
So does the 1914 analogy actually make sense? Read more