US politics

By Gideon Rachman
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, two pictures sent a powerful message about how international politics are changing. One was of Barack Obama hunched in discussion in a hotel lobby with Vladimir Putin. The frosty body language of their previous meeting at the UN had given way to something more businesslike.

By Gideon Rachman
Donald Trump is so fond of the word “winner” that he even applies it to pieces of chicken. Having lunch with the FT a couple of years ago, the mogul-turned-politician pointed his interviewer towards a particularly succulent portion and declared: “That piece looks like a winner.”

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has been urging liberal firebrand Elizabeth Warren to run for president for months, in the hope of creating a challenger to presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton on the left.

With the Massachussetts senator repeatedly declining to heed their call, an influential group of activists has now shifted tack. Their new objective? Making Mrs Clinton more like Ms Warren.

More than 200 leading Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire, two critical early states in the US presidential primary calendar, have signed a petition urging Mrs Clinton (and any other potential candidate) to campaign on some of the “big, bold, economic-populist ideas” that Ms Warren has championed, from cracking down on Wall Street to reducing the burden of student debt and expanding entitlement programmes. 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.

♦ Thousands of young Muslims are being radicalised through social networks and propelled towards violence in Syria.

Latvia‘s ‘second class’ Russian residents are arguing for better rights, making many locals nervous amid the Crimea crisis.

Ukraine‘s ‘Kamikaze’ economy minister has one of the world’s toughest public administration jobs as he battles to deliver on unrealistic expectations.

♦ The rise of a US oligarchy amid widening inequality is threatening democracy, with both parties up for rent to wealthy lobbyists.

♦ ECB arch hawk Jens Weidmann often finds himself in a minority of one. But the appeal of being the person who is convinced everyone else is wrong seems to have waned. Read more

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

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


Courtesy of FastFT:

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is giving a high-profile keynote address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

America’s debt-ceiling crisis achieved something quite remarkable. It made the EU look well governed by comparison. Both the EU and the US systems are weighed down with checks and balances that make it hard to get things done. But Europe currently has one thing going for it that America lacks. All the most important decision makers in Brussels are committed to making the system work. There are no Tea Party types who regard compromise as a betrayal.

♦ The FT argues today that Apple’s decision to borrow money in order to fund a dividend, despite being one of America’s most liquid companies, indicates a need for reform to the US tax system.
♦ Despite impressive economic growth, improvements in living standards in Malaysia have lagged behind those of its neighbours, building pressure for change ahead of Sunday’s election.
♦ North African governments are trying to stem the flow of young Islamic militants, heading to Syria to fight the regime.
♦ President François Hollande is struggling to please everyone and, in fact, anyone – leading to concerns that France might become the next European problem child. After a draft paper by the president’s party described Angela Merkel as “selfish”, Mr Hollande has had to reassure her that he still believes in a Franco-German relationship.
♦ William Finnegan discusses his article on Mark Lyttle, a US citizen from North Carolina who was deported to Mexico despite ample evidence that he was an American, and the soaring number of deportations.
♦ Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told the FBI that he and his brother considered suicide attacks on July 4, but instead decided to strike on Patriots’ day.
♦ Politics and vetting processes mean that Barack Obama has yet to fill some long-empty posts in his cabinet.
♦ Evangelical Christians in California have struck up a debate over whether yoga is a religion or not – where is the line between the body and the soul?
♦ SAYA, a Jerusalem-based design studio, is trying to provide a architectural resolutions to territorial disputes: “you can’t stop terror with just a fence. We need to imagine structures that can build hope instead of fear and resentment.”
♦ When Alex Christodoulou tried to quit his job for life in the Greek public sector, he found the process harder (and more labyrinthine) than he ever thought it could be, especially when the government had committed to taking thousands of workers off the public payroll. “They wanted to rehire him so that they could fire him and include him in the number of public servants being laid off to appease Greece’s international creditors”.
♦ In a review of The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, Richard Lloyd Parry argues against the idea that North Korea is a “zombie nation”, but wonders if the idea that the country is in a state of “political undeath” doesn’t perhaps suit some other states.
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♦ 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

John Brennan – Barack Obama’s nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director – testifies before the Senate intelligence committee today. The hearing offers a rare moment of public scrutiny of the government’s expanded use of drones to kill suspected terrorists, which has returned to the news this week.

By Shannon Bond in New York with Geoff Dyer in Washington. All times are GMT.


In February, the weather in Almaty is usually well below freezing. So as some of the world’s top diplomats prepare to travel to the former capital of Kazakhstan this month for yet another meeting with Iran over its nuclear programme, most will be feeling somewhat gloomy. The concern is not just the weather, of course, The thing that will induce angst is the near-certain prediction that they will sit there for days in the freezing cold of the southern Kazakh mountains – only to make no progress yet again in talks with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. As one top diplomat tells me: “The best I’m hoping for is that we agree another date to meet. That’s it.”

Judging by the advanced briefing for this meeting – where Iran will negotiate with the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – it’s easy to see why Almaty is set to join Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow as the scene of another negotiating failure. Read more

The announcement that talks with Iran over the country’s nuclear programme will resume later this month sounds potentially exciting – but perhaps only for those with short memories. There have been plenty of six-party talks with Iran before, and they have generally left the negotiators frustrated and angry. Read more

Facing a grilling: Chuck Hagel (Getty)

Chuck Hagel’s keenly awaited confirmation hearing on Thursday to be the next US defence secretary is likely to be dominated by the hot-button issues that have already got him into trouble with some of his fellow Republicans (and a few Democrats) – his position on Israel, his opposition to Iran sanctions, his criticism of the Iraq war and his views on gays.

If so, that will be a shame, because it would be both interesting and important to hear him explain what his brand of “principled realism” actually means for US foreign policy. The hearing could provide a seminal debate on America’s global role. Here are ten questions he should be asked.

1) Defence budget. You said in September 2011 that the defence budget was “bloated”. That was before the Pentagon announced $485bn in cuts over the next decade. Is the budget still bloated? Are more cuts possible or necessary?

2) Pentagon cuts. To meet the cuts that have already been announced, will the Pentagon need to axe some important capabilities? Can the US still afford all of its aircraft carrier groups? Is the F-35 jet fighter too expensive to support? Does the US need such a large presence in Europe? Read more

The world desk’s reading picks from around the world… Read more

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As if concerns over whether Syria’s chemical weapons might fall into the wrong hands amid the increasingly violent civil war weren’t enough to worry about, behind the scenes nuclear experts are now expressing fresh fears over the security of what may be 50 tonnes of unenriched uranium in the country.

As the FT’s diplomatic editor James Blitz reported on Wednesday, concerns centre on the whereabouts of this as yet unconfirmed stash. It is believed by some to have been meant for Syria’s supposed al-Kibar nuclear facility – before Israel destroyed it in a secret mission back in September 2007, a mission that David Makovsky dissected in the New Yorker last September.

For its part, Syria has always denied ever having a nuclear programme. So, did it have one or not? Below are some interesting articles that wade into these extremely murky waters. Read more

Controversy has swirled around the candidacy of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defence, centred on past comments the Republican former senator made about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating congress, sanctions and military action against Iran, and the Pentagon budget.

Amid the his nomination, there have also been an increasing number of opinion pieces in the US press dissecting what James Fallows in The Atlantic describes as a “de-legitimizing campaign” against the decorated Vietnam veteran.

  • Fallows uses a headline from the US satirical news website The Onion to suggest that the imminent nomination could be a “this is bullshit” (‘this’ being the campaign against Hagel) moment for President Barack Obama.
  • Commentary fiercely critical of the nomination has been published, among others, in the neo-con Weekly Standard, citing a top Republican Senate aide emailing: “Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.” In the Wall Street Journal, Brett Stephens also aired his disapproval at Hagel’s perceived prejudices against the Jewish community.

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It is looking increasingly probable that President Obama is going to nominate Susan Rice as America’s next Secretary of State. But there are plenty of people who doubt both the political and diplomatic wisdom of that choice, says Gideon Rachman.  Read more