By Gideon Rachman
“American and Chinese presidents do not really know how to talk to each other. They are like computers running on different operating systems.” That was the verdict once offered to me by a US official, who has watched many US-China summits from close quarters.
While the US prepares to welcome Pope Francis, his new world origins, drive for Vatican reform, and calls for social justice and action against climate change have enthused – and shaken – Catholics around the world. The Argentine pontiff arrives for his first trip to America at a time of declining Catholic congregations and with a society that has become more liberal than the church on many social issues.
The Catholic share of the US population has been declining at a slow rate in recent decades, but a Pew study released this year raised fears that the pace of the drop has accelerated since 2007. According to the survey, it had fallen to 20.8 per cent in 2014, from 23.9 per cent seven years earlier underlining the challenge facing Pope Francis. Read more
Over the weekend, my colleague Richard McGregor, reported on the growing clamour in Washington to push back against China’s “island factory” in the South China sea. He pointed to the possibility of a “limited but risky challenge to Chinese actions by the US military”. That challenge now appears to be underway. Read more
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
When Benjamin Netanyahu rises to speak in Congress later on Tuesday he will become the first foreign leader since Winston Churchill to speak before Congress three times. John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, apparently intends to mark the occasion by presenting the Israeli prime minister, with a bust of Churchill.
Mr Netanyahu is probably vain enough to think that the comparison is appropriate. The Israeli prime minister believes that, like Churchill in the 1930s, he is a voice in the wilderness warning a complacent world against a “gathering storm” – in this case, an ambitious Iran that is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
But all politicians should be wary of comparing themselves with Churchill. George W Bush was also presented with a bust of Churchill, by the British government, which he kept in the Oval Office during the Iraq war. That didn’t work out too well. Beyond the threat of vainglorious self-delusion, the Netanyahu-Churchill comparison is dangerous for the Israeli leader himself, for a couple of reasons. Read more
American elections – even midterm elections – always offer great entertainment: eccentric candidates, whooping crowds, bizarre attack-ads, pontificating pundits, the changing colours on electoral maps. But there is often a sneaking suspicion that the actual results may not have much relevance to real life. The turn-out in Tuesday’s midterm elections looks like it was about 40%. The majority of ordinary Americans may have felt that the 2014 elections were unlikely to change much. It is hard to disagree. Here are four arguments for the irrelevance of the mid-term elections. 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.
There is a widening gap between Germany and its two principal English-speaking allies, the US and the UK, which ought to concern everyone who believes in the enduring need for a transatlantic alliance of democracies. Read more
• The peace deal struck in Geneva means little in Ukraine’s easternmost province where hard core activists are refusing to end their occupation of government buildings.
• Russia seeks economic self-reliance. Faced with the threat of more sanctions over Ukraine, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says the country must reduce its dependency on imports and strenghthen from within.
• Thousands of government opponents in Egypt have disappeared into secret jails, which critics warn are radicalising a new generation of jihadis.
• David Moyes’s sacking, after just 10 months as Manchester United’s manager, is above all a story of image.
• The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction. New York Times analysis shows that across lower-and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have won considerably larger salary increases over the last three decades. 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
Is America really prepared to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan at the end of the year? Even the European nations that also have troops in Afghanistan are none too sure. On the one hand, it is assumed in European capitals that the White House statement on Tuesday – saying that the US military had been instructed to prepare for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan – is partly bluff. It is well known that the Americans are getting on very badly with President Hamid Karzai, and want to put pressure on him. On the other, some of America’s Nato allies fear that the US might be using the argument with Karzai, as an excuse to scale back a post-2014 military commitment that they were already uncomfortable with. Read more
Will a slow down in Asian economies mean cancelled orders for Airbus and Boeing? Our Aerospace special report explores the possibilities and looks at how much western defence contractors such as Raytheon stand to gain from North Korean sabre-rattling and Asia’s territorial disputes. Read more