(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
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.
By Gideon Rachman
Can thinking about the past improve the way you handle the present? If so, this year’s centenary of the outbreak of the first world war could do the world a great service by persuading modern politicians to spend more time thinking about Sarajevo, and less time worrying about Munich.
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
A suburb of Damascus after it was recaptured by regime forces (Getty)
On a recent trip to Damascus, an acquaintance surprised me by announcing his plans to leave the country. Concerned friends have been trying to get him to move to Lebanon for the past two years, but he always refused. Like many Syrians, he felt that even with a civil war raging, Damascus had a soulfulness and integrity that Beirut lacks. Now he’s had enough.
“Its not the shelling,” he explained. “It’s the greed.” Read more
Free Syrian Army soldiers on the Turkish side of the Oncupinar crossing into Syria (Getty)
What to do when the nightmare next door shows no sign of coming to an end? That is the dilemma facing Turkey, perhaps one of the countries most troubled by the brutal civil war raging in Syria, with which it shares a 900km long border.
Consider the issues Ankara has to address: 600,000 Syrian refugees on Turkish soil, for now and the foreseeable future, dozens of deaths on the border, the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria, diplomatic strains, domestic political controversy and economic fallout.
So what do you do if you are a 76m-strong Nato member with serious ambitions to play a big role in the Middle East and beyond? A number of answers are emerging from Ankara: Read more
Ever since the chemical weapons attack in Syria, I have assumed that there would have to be a western military response – and that’s still my view. But I must admit that some US efforts to sell the idea have been so ham-fisted that they are having the opposite effect on me, increasing my doubts. I was particularly alarmed to hear John Kerry describe the Syrian crisis as “our Munich moment”. Munich is one of the most over-used and abused analogies in the making of foreign policy. Almost every western foreign-policy disaster since 1945 – from Suez to Vietnam to Iraq – has been preceded by some idiot saying that this is Munich. Read more
Obama’s political gamble on Syria
President Barack Obama’s decision to consult Congress before launching any military strikes on Syria came as a surprise to friend and foe alike. How is this political gamble likely to work out and what are the implications for the crisis in Syria and and for the use of American power around the world? Gideon Rachman is joined by James Blitz, diplomatic editor and Richard McGregor, Washington bureau chief, to discuss
By James Blitz and Barney Thompson
On Friday, John Kerry, US secretary of state, published the American intelligence agencies’ assessment of why the regime of Bashar al-Assad was culpable for last week’s chemical attack in eastern Damascus. The document was considerably more detailed than the much shorter assessment published by the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
This difference is certain to lead to questions in Britain as to why David Cameron,UK prime minister, was unable to paint a more detailed picture of the Assad regime’s culpability. Some commentators are already arguing that if he had been able to do so, he may have been in a better position to persuade parliament of the merits of military action.
The UK frequently refers to the close collaboration on intelligence matters which it enjoys with the US. But the difference in detail between the two documents is striking.
The UK document says that there was “little serious dispute” that the chemical attacks caused mass casualties on a large scale “including, we judge, at least 350 fatalities.”
The US document said a “preliminary US government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children.” Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The pace of events in the Middle East has quickened once again. More than two years since the start of the Arab spring, the facts on the ground can still change so rapidly in the region that western governments struggle to keep pace. Last week Barack Obama had convened an emergency meeting to discuss the violent crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, only for the US president to find himself confronted with an even more dramatic challenge – a chemical weapon attack in Syria.