US foreign policy

James Politi

Are Americans more on board with President Barack Obama’s efforts to clinch massive deals with the Pacific Rim and the European Union than most Democratic lawmakers give him credit for?

This week, the well-respected, bipartisan, NBC-WSJ poll found that 44 per cent of Americans were more likely to vote for a member of Congress who “favours new trade agreements with other countries”, compared to 20 per cent who said they were less likely to; 34 per cent said it made no difference, and 2 per cent were unsure. Read more >>

  • Ten years ago Christine Spolar, FT investigations editor, reported on the Iraq war. She returned last month to find old colleagues and friends living in fear.
  • China’s leaders love watching House of Cards because it confirms their perceptions of the workings of US government.
  • Japan’s yakuza have seen their numbers decline for the first time in years: is it because of a police crackdown, or are they going underground?
  • Francis Fukuyama looks at how effectively the US translates its economic power into foreign and security policies.
  • Tatar leaders war of jihadi-style violence against Russia over its Crimea occupation.
  • Lawrence Summers says the west should make modest promises to Ukraine and then strive to deliver more than it expects.

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James Blitz

For the last seven years, Iran and world powers have been engaged in seemingly endless negotiations over whether the Iranian nuclear programme could be curbed. After each failure, diplomats and journalists ended up wondering whether diplomacy would ever prevail – or whether Iran would end up either getting the nuclear bomb or being bombed.

But this autumn three factors came into play to make this the moment when a landmark deal needed to be agreed – and when the years of deadlock and obfuscation needed to come to an end. The agreement, hailed as a historic moment, has halted further progress on the nuclear programme in return for a modest lifting of international sanctions. Read more >>

By Luisa Frey
Will the Palestinian economy ever be able to break its isolation? The past two decades’ rounds of failed peace talks didn’t manage to build an independent Palestinian economy which can break free of Israel – the question is now if a new $4bn plan to revive the economy will be able to change that.
♦ Tests taken from Yasser Arafat’s corpse have shown high levels of radioactive polonium-210, suggesting the former Palestinian leader could have been poisoned. Arafat’s widow describes it as “the crime of the century”.
♦ External pressure is also threatening Georgia. The FT’s Neil Buckley reports about the “borderisation” of South Ossetia.
Greece may be the next Weimar Germany, says Greek professor Aristides Hatzis. The parliament contains neo-Nazis, Stalinists, Maoists, populists and defenders of conspiracy theories. Although there is a strong coalition government, failures in implementing reforms seem to be outweighing successes.
♦ Meanwhile, “power, prestige, and influence of the United States in the broader Middle East is in a death spiral”, writes Bob Dreyfuss. He argues in Le Monde Diplomatique that the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s economic crisis and the Arab Spring contributed to the decay of American influence.
♦ The future of the US-Egyptian relationship is also in focus. Washington’s establishment of relations with former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel al-Nasser “can serve as the most promising template for a stable and productive relationship between the two countries today”, says Robert Springborg in Foreign Affairs.
♦ Peter Baker, from Foreign Policy, writes about how the warm Russian-American relationship became icy. Through interviews and secret notes and memos, he reconstructs the story of former President George W. Bush’s pas de deux with Vladimir Putin, offering lessons for Obama as he struggles to define his own approach to Russia.

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ Though support for a vote in favour of military intervention in Syria appears to be strengthening in the US, the sceptics still have strong arguments and Obama still has a number of battles to win such as gaining partisan and public support.
♦ A back and forth between the Washington Post’s Max Fisher and writer Teju Cole provides an entertaining and thought provoking exchange on the tone in western coverage of the conflict in Syria, use of chemical weapons and potential western military intervention.
♦ The opening up of the debate on European issues to the wider population afforded by pre-election debates between Merkel and her opponent Peer Steinbrück is a necessary part of moving forward on deepening of the European Union and the healing of the eurozone, says the FT in an editorial.
♦When the Muslim Brotherhood moved to take over the ministry of culture under Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian intellectuals were gripped by a fear “sometimes well-founded, sometimes bordering on hysteria” about the threat of the brotherhood to Egypt’s identity, which helped drive them “back into the reassuring embrace of the military.”
♦ The UK Labour party’s rejection of David Cameron’s proposal for action in Syria is not based on its position, argues David Aaronovitch, but is rather a strategy of following behind the leader to “wait for slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes.” 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 Gideon Rachman
In 1899 Rudyard Kipling, the pre-eminent poet of British imperialism, addressed some stanzas to America. “Take up the white man’s burden,” he urged, “The savage wars of peace/ Fill full the mouth of famine/ And bid the sickness cease.” These days America has a black president and no public intellectual would dare to use the imperialist language of a Kipling. But the idea that the US bears a special burden in policing the world is very much alive. The notion was there in Barack Obama’s call for military action over Syria: “We are the United States,” declared the president – outlining his nation’s special role in creating and defending the post-1945 global order.

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.

David Gardner

Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on an anti-Islamist protester's placard. US president Obama is depicted as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. Getty

When the army and security forces ignored pleas for restraint from Egypt’s allies in the US and Europe, moving to crush the Muslim Brotherhood protest camps that spread across Cairo after the July 3 coup d’etat that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, they had reason to feel supremely confident.

What General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his colleagues have done is to restore the security state – an action that should not be confused with re-establishing security.

This restoration is edging towards the status quo ante the Tahrir revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in 2011. It started before the coup, with the constitution Morsi and the Brothers railroaded through last December. Most of the controversy excited by this Islamist-tinged charter was caused by the way it ignored liberal, Christian and women’s concerns over fundamental rights and freedoms. Alarmingly little attention was paid to the way the Brotherhood sought to co-opt the military by embedding the army’s privileges and prerogatives even beyond the powers it enjoyed under Mubarak. Read more >>

♦ Keeping Brussels on board in its counter-terrorism data-gathering operation has arguably been Washington’s most important diplomatic concern with the EU. However, this has been put at risk after the recent revelations from Edward Snowden. Indeed, the US and the EU might need couple-therapy.
♦ A Syrian hacktivist has set up an alert system to warn Syrians about incoming missiles – but Assad is already trying to take it down.
♦ A former member of Nirvana and Soundgarden has become a war hero.
♦ Legendary British war photographer Don McCullin recounts his life, capturing international conflicts.
♦David Gardner warns Egyptians cheering the armed forces to remember that “there is no such thing as a liberal coup d’etat”.
♦And as Egypt hurtles further into political crisis, Robert Springborg asks if the army can really control the forces it has unleashed.  Read more >>