Barack Obama

• Syria’s young girls are facing assault, early marriage and being forced into prostitution as the refugee crisis spirals. The IRC, selected by the FT for its 2014 seasonal appeal, is seeking to protect and empower them

• A motley crew of ex businessmen, academics and pro-Russia activists has seized control in Ukraine’s rebel republics Read more

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

US-German relations strained over new spying allegations
Germany has summoned the US envoy following allegations that an agent working for Germany’s intelligence agency was spying for the US. Gideon Rachman is joined by James Blitz, former security correspondent, and Jeevan Vasagar, Berlin correspondent, to discuss what this means for already troubled relations between the Obama and Merkel governments, and how the two nations can resolve their differences in order to tackle the numerous shared geopolitical challenges they face.

  • The US president’s thicker skin and conviction that he can transact little business with Congress means he is using his executive authority to shape policy – and his legacy.
  • The next king of Spain will need to work hard to restore faith in the Bourbons, says the FT’s Tobias Buck.
  • Not one of the ECB’s new measures addresses the problem of low inflation directly, says Wolfgang Münchau.
  • This week’s Ofsted report that is expected to warn of hardline Islamist teaching creeping into a handful of British schools will revive the debate on whether a much broader push is needed to combat extremism in the UK.
  • Even before the bribery allegations concerning Qatar’s World Cup bid emerged last Sunday, the young emir of the gas-rich state had reason to believe the world was turning against his country.

Football interlude:

  • Young prodigy Cassiano de Jesus has captured the footballing world of Brazil where the sport is one of the few equalisers in one of the planet’s most unequal countries.
  • Four years after the last World Cup, residents of South Africa are still waiting to see its legacy.
  • Lionel Messi “rejected the advances of Spain’s national team to choose Argentina, the land of his birth, only to find that he could never really come home.”

 Read more

The differing responses to the Ukraine crisis
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, and Ukraine will top the agenda. Washington has led the way on sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russians and scores of companies, in an attempt to show Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that his interference in Ukraine will bring rising economic costs. The EU on the other hand, seems deeply resistant to tougher economic sanctions, given the much more important ties between Europe and Russia. In this week’s podcast, Ben Hall, world news editor, is joined by Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent, and Stefan Wagstyl, Berlin bureau chief, to discuss how the two leaders should handle the escalating situation

The differing responses to the Ukraine crisis
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, and Ukraine will top the agenda. Washington has led the way on sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russians and scores of companies, in an attempt to show Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that his interference in Ukraine will bring rising economic costs. The EU on the other hand, seems deeply resistant to tougher economic sanctions, given the much more important ties between Europe and Russia. In this week’s podcast, Ben Hall, world news editor, is joined by Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent, and Stefan Wagstyl, Berlin bureau chief, to discuss how the two leaders should handle the escalating situation

Obama’s state visit to Japan
This week, we look at Japan, where President Barack Obama is concluding a state visit. The US leader and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have vital business to discuss, from Japan’s delicate and rather dangerous relationship with China, to the state of the Japanese economy and hopes for a major new trade deal. David Pilling, Asia editor, and Lindsay Whipp, former Tokyo correspondent, join Gideon Rachman to discuss

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.

A few weeks ago, even Europeans were paying little attention to events in Ukraine. Now the whole world is watching. This is because the Russian incursion into Ukraine is widely seen as a direct challenge to the US-led world order. If President Vladimir Putin gets away with it then other governments, such as China and Iran, may decide defying America is getting less risky.

(OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Whenever any centre-left leader comes to power in Europe, there are always questions over who he or she will be compared to. Take François Hollande: only days after his election to the Elysée, commentators were already wondering whether he might be France’s Gerhard Schröder. The hope was that he could reform France’s labour market from the left, just as the former chancellor did in Germany in the early 2000s.

Matteo Renzi, who is set to become Italy’s youngest ever prime minister, is bound to draw such comparisons. When Time magazine chose to feature the then 34-year old mayor of Florence on its front page in February 2009, the US weekly asked whether he might be Italy’s Barack Obama. In an interview to the Italian daily Il Foglio, Mr Renzi compared himself to Tony Blair, saying he wanted to transform the Italian left just as Britain’s three-times prime minister did with the Labour party. The media-savvy Mr Blair certainly remembered Mr Renzi’s aspirations when he called on Europe’s leaders to “get fully behind” Italy’s new leader. Read more

Five lesser-known facts about the man likely to become Italy’s youngest ever prime minister:

  • He was once a boy scout. According to his online biography, he continued his scout duties while director of his family firm.
  • Some compared him with Barack Obama when he chose to run a grassroots primary campaign with the tagline “Adesso!” – “Now!” While Obama wrote books called The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father, Renzi has written a book called Fuori! (Out!) about the dreams, ideas and hopes for a new generation. It tells the reader what he has learnt from football and scout camps.
  • He has also written a book call Tra De Gaspari e gli U2Between De Gaspari and U2 — on young people and the symbols of politics.

 Read more

By Toby Luckhurst

  • Iran is facing a water crisis so severe that President Hassan Rouhani has identified the problem as a national security issue and contingency plans exist for water rationing in the greater Tehran area.
  • Parental pressure on Chinese women has led to the growth of a boyfriend rental industry to fool families into believing that their daughters are on the path to marriage.
  • Obama’s ambitious free trade agenda threatens to split the Democratic Party.
  • The Sochi Winter Olympics are under threat from “black widows” – wives of rebels killed by the Russian state in the volatile Caucasus region.
  • Radical protesters in Ukraine are in the minority, but play an increasingly prominent role, write Neil Buckley and Roman Olearchyk.

 Read more

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

 

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.

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

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

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

(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Thousands gathered in Soweto’s enormous stadium for a lively memorial service celebrating Nelson Mandela’s life yesterday but much of the news focused on the behaviour of the attendees rather than on Madiba’s legacy.

The memorial event was overshadowed by the crowd’s hostile reaction to South African president Jacob Zuma, a historic handshake between US and Cuban leaders and shameless selfies as western leaders hogged the limelight. In a surreal turn of events, it emerged that the man interpreting the proceedings live on television for deaf viewers was a hoax.

Here are some reports and analysis on the significance of the day and the high jinks in the audience. Read more