The Republican White House contenders took the stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for their fourth presidential debate. There were eight contenders on the stage after Fox Business News, which co-hosted the event with media empire stablemate The Wall Street Journal, determined that Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, did not qualify to participate under their criteria. Marco Rubio built on his momentum, while Jeb Bush did not do much to bolster a wilting campaign, and Donald Trump stood out less than in previous debates as the field narrowed. 

By Gideon Rachman
In the 1930s, the Spanish civil war sucked in outsiders, with Nazi Germany backing the nationalists, the Soviet Union backing the Republicans and foreign idealists flocking to the country to fight on either side of the conflict.

Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and one of the early frontrunners in a crowded field of possible Republican presidential candidates, was expected to discuss foreign policy in an appearance on Wednesday at London’s best known foreign policy think tank.

Instead he talked a lot about cheese.

Mr Walker declined to opine on a wide range of international affairs, from whether the UK should stay in the European Union, to the current turmoil engulfing Greece and Ukraine to how to combat terror groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant at a Chatham House event. Read more

US mid-term elections and their longer term repercussions

In next week’s US mid-terms, the Republicans are looking to win back control of the Senate and increase their majority in the House of Representatives, giving them control of the legislative agenda and the ability to further constrain President Barack Obama during his final two years in office. Ben Hall discusses the elections and their and longer term repercussions with Richard McGregor and Ed Luce.

  • In the US the Libyan city of Benghazi has gone from being shorthand for the furore over the 2012 attack on the US embassy to a political weapon for the Republican party, says the FT’s Geoff Dyer.
  • Jeffrey Frankel, professor of economics at the Harvard Kennedy School, argues that the US is still the worlds largest economy by some distance: “the fact that rice and clothes are cheap in rural China does not make the Chinese economy larger. What matters for size in the world economy is how much a yuan can buy on world markets.”
  • Egypt is begging tourists to visit despite politicial turmoil as livelihoods dwindle and nest eggs disappear.
  • Boko haram doesn’t literally mean “Western education is a sin”. A more subtle translation of the name reveals that the group actually has a rather domestic focus.
  • As monarchic dynamics shift in the Arab Gulf, the disputes of the Kuwaiti royal family are shifting into public view.

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By Toby Luckhurst

  • A BBC documentary will reveal former Libya dictator Colonel Gaddafi’s hidden rooms in which he sexually abused children as young as 14.
  • The New York Times explores South Korea’s taste for Spam.
  • Argentina’s economy minister Axel Kicillof is increasingly the public face and policy guru of the government’s efforts to tackle rising inflation and stagnant growth.
  • The exaggerated threat of terrorism and years of political violence have fomented a conformist backlash in Egypt on the third anniversary of the protests that toppled military dictator Hosni Mubarak.
  • Katrina Manson interviews Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, the most prominent African to reveal his homosexuality.
  • Rand Paul is tainted by the extreme views of a minority in the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, as well as by his father’s successes and failures.

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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

♦ The Volcker rule is contentious, but it is not the knockout blow some people had expected.
♦ The economically sensible wing of the US Republican party doesn’t exist, says Paul Krugman.
♦ Iran and Israel have paid tribute to Mandela, while choosing to remain a safe distance from the memorial.
♦ Marc Lynch explains why nobody in the Middle East deserves to be on the Foreign Policy Leading Global Thinker list this year.
♦ After cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s interior ministry has turned its attention to the activist community of journalists, non-Islamists and students.
♦ The Australian speaks to a mother in Iraq who is waiting for her son’s execution to be announced after a “hanging day”. Read more

♦ Edward Luce explains why it is stupid to insult the IQ of Tea Party members.
♦ The budget fight that led to the first government shutdown in 17 years set off a public escalation of the battle for control of the Republican Party – a confrontation between Tea Party conservatives and establishment Republicans.
♦ The National Geographic reports on how the presence of Boko Haram has affected public psyche in Nigeria: “Boko Haram has become a kind of national synonym for fear, a repository for Nigerians’ worst anxieties about their society and where it’s headed.”
♦ Susan Faludi, the author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, wonders which women the Lean In community is trying to reach.
Christina Lamb writes about her year with Malala Yousafzai.
♦ Dennis Rodman compares a visit to North Korea with a holiday in Ibiza. Read more

♦ The value of the drone market has soared to more than $5bn in just a few years, helped by Pentagon and CIA reliance. However, privacy worries are threatening the burgeoning domestic market.
♦ The fourth-largest auction house in the world is run by Wang Yannan, the daughter of former Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang and child of the cultural revolution. Its success has come from Chinese collectors and investors seeking art that might have destroyed lives during the cultural revolution.
♦ The “Death to America” slogan has been a feature of public life in Iran for more than three decades, but Hassan Rouhani’s push for moderation has prompted calls for the slogan to be dropped.
♦ Some Republicans are sceptical that a default would actually be a catastrophe for the US.
♦ David Gardner thinks Bashar al-Assad’s diplomatic luck could run out as the “killing machine grinds forward”.
♦ Islamists entering Syria are starting to prefer transit towns, with good food and video games, to the fighting front.
♦ Gulf states are going to test people to “detect” homosexuals entering their countries.
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Ted Cruz (Getty)

There is an old joke that the foreigners should be allowed to vote in US presidential elections because the result matters so profoundly to the rest of the world. Worried global investors might now extend that idea to Congressional elections as well – as the US government shutdown shakes global markets, with the promise of far worse to come if Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling in a couple of weeks time, and the American government defaults on its debts as a result.

For much of the rest of the world, America’s actions seem bafflingly illogical and self-harming. The reality, however, is that the Republican congressmen who have pushed this over the brink are not (by and large), crazy. It is just that their political incentives are now stacked towards confrontation with President Obama.  Read more

♦ Evan Osnos discusses how the Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has been embraced by US Republicans.
♦ The US Supreme Court rules this week on the constitutionality of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed at the height of the civil rights movement and requires jurisdictions where there has been a history of racial discrimination to submit any proposed voting changes to the Justice Department for approval.
♦ A five-year farm bill was defeated on the US House of Representatives last week. E.J. Dionne argues that it is a lesson in the real causes of Washington dysfunction: “Our ability to govern ourselves is being brought low by a witches’ brew of right-wing ideology, a shockingly cruel attitude toward the poor on the part of the Republican majority, and the speaker’s incoherence when it comes to his need for Democratic votes to pass bills.”
♦ The Atlantic looks at why Edward Snowden would look to Ecuador for asylum.
♦ Jon Stewart appears on the show of Bassem Youssef, his Egyptian counterpart.
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By Richard McGregor in Washington

It is remarkable that Barack Obama, only months after a convincing re-election, seems to keep falling back on his self-professed powerlessness when pressed about his second-term agenda.

Be it on closing down Guantanamo Bay, ending the across-the-board budget cuts (known as sequestration), restricting firearms sales or bringing Obamacare into life, Mr Obama talks more about what he can’t get done than the other way round.

The president suffered the indignity at a Tuesday press conference of being asked if his second-term administration still had any “juice” left, joking in response that maybe he should “just pack up and go home”. Read more

♦ Kenya’s new leader Uhuru Kenyatta is proving deft at politics even with a charge for crimes against humanity hanging over his head.

♦ Jonathan Soble looks at the dilemma that Haruhiko Kuroda faces over the next two years – “How do you convince markets and consumers that you are serious about raising prices, without being so dogmatic that you risk the central bank’s credibility – and your job – if you fail?”

♦ Margaret Thatcher’s death has prompted a wave of nostalgia among US conservatives.

♦ Sarah Neville, the FT’s public policy editor, thinks welfare reforms in the UK are likely to test the resolve of the middle class. (You can find out more about the reforms in today’s additions to the FT Austerity Audit.)

♦ Nicolás Maduro summons the ghost of Hugo Chávez in the final days of his campaign, a move he is counting on to propel him to victory at Sunday’s presidential elections.

♦ Hugo Chávez may have made himself enormously popular by subsidising fuel, but his policy has damaged long-term prospects for Venezuela’s economy.

♦ Jon Lee Anderson recalls his earliest memories of living in Seoul when his father was working in the Korean demilitarised zone.

♦ Jack Goldstone at Foreign Policy thinks there “is a real risk that the Korean Peninsula will follow Syria’s descent into war”. (Although you might not have to worry. The military’s planned missile test has been “put on hold because of “problems with Windows 8”, according to the Borowitz Report.)  Read more

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Rand Paul during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Getty)

Rand Paul (Getty Images)

Rand Paul’s marathon filibuster last week – aimed at holding up the confirmation of John Brennan as head of the CIA – was much more than a parliamentary stunt. It has opened up interesting new debates and divisions on the future direction of US foreign policy.

Senator Paul’s highlighting of the Obama administration’s use of drones for “targeted killings” of terrorist suspects, has established an unlikely alliance between the libertarian right and the liberal left. Until Paul took up the drones issue, it was mainly the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union, who were making the running in criticising the drone strikes. But, as Paul illustrated, there is a good libertarian case for suspicion of the over-mighty covert state. Even more interestingly, Paul’s stand placed him directly at odds with the neoconservative wing of his own Republican Party.

The Wall Street Journal has denounced Paul for appealing to “impressionable libertarian kids” – a condemnation quoted with approval by John McCain, one of the party’s leading foreign-policy hawks.

Conveniently for President Obama, this argument between the two wings of the Republican Party places the president somewhere in the middle. He will never be as hawkish as the Republican neocons, many of whom are pressing for intervention in Syria, an assault on Iran and denouncing cuts in the Pentagon budget. On the other hand, the president’s expansion of the drone war and his unwillingness to rein in the burgeoning national-security apparatus makes him very far from being a “libertarian kid”. Read more

  • The daughter of Uzbekistan’s autocratic president, Gulnara Karimova, has for some time been the western-friendly face of the regime. She has released a duet with Gérard Depardieu, launched a fashion line and even has her own perfume. However, attention is turning to her other persona: “that of the ruthless businesswoman, ready to use her family position to crush business rivals.”
  • Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s equivalent of US chat show host Jon Stewart, has been the target of death threats and law suits, but he shrugs them off: “It is a guarantee that freedom of speech will not be oppressed if we continue to speak.”
  • Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that the Egyptian opposition’s feckless approach to politics underscores the need to replace wedge issues and anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment with real policies.
  • Why the White House shmooze-fest? The “president’s only route to a so-called grand bargain for deficit reduction is to go around the leaders to build a bipartisan consensus.”
  • As it is International Women’s Day, we thought we’d share with you this cheering article on the media’s double standards for women at the top.

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Welcome to our rolling coverage of Barack Obama’s inauguration for another four years as US president, complete with agenda-setting speech. By Tom Burgis, Lina Saigol and Ben Fenton with contributions from FT correspondents. All times are EST.

11.00 For ease of reading, we’re going to switch into a new post. Like the transition between two presidential terms, this is meant to happen seamlessly. Just click here to go on reading the latest updates from our colleagues in DC.

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