Foreign policy

The departure of General McChrystal from the top military job in Afghanistan will undoubtedly strengthen the arguments of those in Whitehall who have concluded that Britain is fighting alongside the US in an unwinnable war.

It will also likely stir further doubts in David Cameron’s mind about the conflict. The prime minister is said to believe that British troops should not stay a moment longer than is necessary to avoid a open rupture with the US; that means that as soon as the Americans start coming out – and Mr Cameron hopes that will be in mid-2011 – so too will be the British. Read more

William Hague just colourfully summed up what sounds like a pretty poor Israeli effort to offer consular access to detained activists.

Because of the Israeli “lack of preparation” and confusion over the status of some detainees, Hague said British diplomats were being forced to “go to the prison, hammer on doors and ask people if they are British”.  Read more

Formally, the shots have yet to be fired in the battle for Whitehall spending cuts, but the Treasury has already set the terms of its looming battle with the Ministry of Defence. A little-noticed but ominous sentence in the new coalition programme has put the armed forces on notice that the axe is about to cut even more deeply than they imagined into the defence budget.

Whitehall insiders are predicting a programme of retrenchment as significant as that marked by the withdrawal “East of Suez” announced by Harold Wilson’s government in 1968. Then, as now, the trigger was a crisis of international confidence in the nation’s finances. Read more

Cameron will be cursing the order of the debates. He’d much prefer to be attacking Nick Clegg on domestic issues than foreign affairs on Thursday. In terms of the structure of the debate, the advantage is with Clegg.

Cameron will be wary of exploiting some of the Clegg weaknesses on Europe for fear of looking like an old-school Tory. And Clegg has a few topics (Iraq and Afghanistan) where he can deliver a change message.

Running through the main debating points makes clear that this will be no walkover for Cameron.

1) Iraq — Upper hand to Clegg

Clegg plays the outsider with public opinion on his side. Neither Cameron or Brown have apologised for supporting the war. What response does Cameron have, apart from attacking Brown? Read more

General Sir Graeme Lamb was once described to me by a senior officer as the “closest thing the British army has to a pirate”. With his latest scathing and brutally frank speech on Britain’s armed forces, he has certainly lived up to his reputation.

In one long blast, he has taken on Gordon Brown, the Treasury, defence officials, and the top ranks of the armed forces over the past decade. The complaints on equipment are timely given Brown’s Iraq inquiry appearance today. But his criticisms of the defence chiefs paint a more complicated picture than ‘Brown is to blame’. Anyway, before turning to exactly what he said, it’s worth reviewing his career.

Fondly known as “Lambo” by the troops, the former head of the SAS had a reputation for desert rollerblading, colourful turns of phrase (in his world Taliban commanders tend to “bleed from the eyes”) and fighting in the shadows. Read more

David Miliband, British foreign secretary, speaks to the Financial Times about Afghanistan, Russia, the prospect of president Blair and the Tory party’s policy on Europe.  Read more

The perennial Obama snub story is back and it includes all the elements of farce that we have come to love. Did they really think the fifth call would make the difference? Was there anywhere for them to sit down in the kitchen? Or was the pow-wow too short to bother?

It is understandably being seen in the context of the Lockerbie furore and a prime minister who looks like his days are numbered. To be fair to Gordon Brown, most of the economic policymaking is probably settled, or can be finalised at the G20. And Obama isn’t seeing any European leaders. But there is one very good reason for a serious meeting to take place: Afghanistan. Read more

Jim Pickard

I was struck by Gordon Brown’s insistence today that: “Three-quarters of the terrorist plots that hit Britain derive from the mountain areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan and it is to make Britain safe and the rest of the world safe that we must make sure we honour our commitment to maintain a stable Afghanistan.” Read more

The Tories are still piling pressure on Gordon Brown to execute a “proper U-turn” on the Iraq war inquiry.

But if David Cameron is so keen to make the proceedings public, why doesn’t he commit to it himself? His word may have as much force as Brown’s. Read more

Ever wondered what the IMF would demand from Britain? Simon Johnson, the former IMF chief economist, offers a good guide to an organisation that “specializes in telling its clients what they don’t want to hear”. His piece in the Atlantic runs through a typical IMF solution for the US, but most of the points apply to the UK too. Here’s the nub of his argument, which would be painful reading for Gordon Brown and “oligarchs” in the City.

Looking just at the financial crisis (and leaving aside some problems of the larger economy), we face at least two major, interrelated problems. The first is a desperately ill banking sector that threatens to choke off any incipient recovery that the fiscal stimulus might generate. The second is a political balance of power that gives the financial sector a veto over public policy, even as that sector loses popular support. Read more

The Foreign Office finances are dire. Its small budget has been hit hard by the collapse in sterling. The consequences are slowly beginning to emerge. As we reported today, Britain is set to withdraw the vast majority of the police seconded to EU reconstruction missions around the world. That will put the UK’s contribution to civilian operations in hotspots like Afghanistan, Georgia, Palestine on a par with Slovakia’s. So much for being a big player in Europe.

These kind of reconstruction and conflict prevention missions were a top UK priority. Gordon Brown even pledged last year to muster a 1,000 strong standing force of civilian volunteers. That now seems like a pipedream: the UK can no longer even afford its existing deployment of 100 police. Read more

Jim Pickard

If there’s one thing less popular with C1/C2 voters than an open borders immigration policy it would be the idea of taking in foreign terror suspects. But what if it helps the UK win favour with the new American president?

It remains to be seen whether Gordon Brown will acquiesce to the US call to provide homes for some of the 50 or 60 detainees of Guantanamo Bay who are not considered a threat but cannot safely return to their native countries. Read more

The US National Intelligence Council has a distinctly unflattering forecast of Europe’s future in its Global Trends 2025 report.

The finest US intelligence analysts conclude that, according to current trends, the European Union is in danger of being left behind as “a hobbled giant distracted by internal bickering and competing national agendas”. The title of the section says it all: “Europe: Losing Clout in 2025″. Read more

It was a valiant diplomatic effort. But Barack Obama has decided against meeting Gordon Brown at the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Washington. In spite of days of frantic behind the scenes work by British officials, there will be no powwow between the president-elect and the “chancellor of the world”.

Downing Street had hoped such a meeting would be possible. The main consolation will be that Obama has turned down all invitesRead more

Jim Pickard

The American Embassy is set to move from glitzy to gritty as it relocates from Mayfair to, um, Vauxhall. Here is the original story.

 There is some logic for moving to a more secure, cheaper neighbourhood. Other inhabitants of Grosvenor Square will no doubt be delighted, especially if the concrete monstrosity is replaced. Read more

Jim Pickard

It’s a serious question. We are set to hear a lot of words on this as Gordon Brown jets to New York tomorrow to discuss international financial regulation. “Supervision can no longer be national, it has to be global,” he has just said in his speech.

But how will a global regulatory monolith – based in Tokyo, or Wall Street for example – be able to monitor financial services more effectively than a national one? Read more

Jim Pickard

Those outside the Westminster village may be bemused that an op-ed (today’s Guardian) on Labour’s future could be seen as a statement of leadership intent.

David Miliband’s language is carefully coded. Read more

Jim Pickard

One voice which has remained conspicuously silent over Zimbabwe is Tony Blair, former prime minister.

Unless I’ve missed something, Blair has not commented over the sham election and human rights abuses under Robert Mugabe. Read more

Jim Pickard

Officials are a bit slow to wake up to the world of the $130 barrel.

The government has revised its estimates for oil prices upwards in the wake of the recent spike, but still believe it will halve in the next 18 months. Read more