Tag Archives: global politics

America’s Perpetual War on Terror By Any Other Name

FT 11FEB13My Comments: This has nothing to do with financial planning. However, for me it has a lot to do with my perception of myself as a contributing member of society. I vote at every opportunity, which I think gives me the right to voice my opinions, which sometimes includes a lot of bitching and moaning.

Decaptitating American citizens in a mideastern desert, while appalling, does not in and of itself constitute a threat to these United States. But…

Like it or not we live and breathe, both physically and economically, in an increasingly integrated world. And like it or not, maybe by accident of birth, we are the lead dog in the human pack when it comes to sustaining civilized society. Which means we cannot sit on our side of the ocean and hope it all works out for everyone else.

By Edward Luce / September 14, 2014

If you embark on something with your eyes half-open, you are likely to lose sight of reality

Few have given as much thought as Barack Obama to the pitfalls of waging open-ended war on an abstract noun. On top of its impracticalities – how can you ever declare victory? – fighting a nebulous enemy exacts an insidious toll. Mr Obama built much of his presidential appeal on such a critique – the global war on terror was eroding America’s legal rights at home and its moral capital abroad. The term “GWOT” was purged the moment he took over from George W Bush. In his pledge last week to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, he has travelled almost full circle. It is precisely because Mr Obama is a reluctant warrior that his legacy will be enduring.

The reality is the US war on terror has succeeded where it was supposed to. Mr Bush’s biggest innovation was to set up the Department of Homeland Security. If you chart domestic terror attempts in the US since September 11 2001, they have become increasingly low-tech and ineffectual. From the foiled Detroit airliner attack in Mr Obama’s first year to the Boston marathon bombings in his fifth, each attempt has been more amateur than the last. The same is true of America’s allies. There has been no significant attack in Europe since London’s July 7 bombings nine years ago. Western publics have acclimatised to an era of tighter security.

If this is the balance sheet of the US war on terror, why lose sleep? Chiefly because it understates the costs. The biggest of these is the damage an undeclared war is doing to the west’s grasp on reality. Myopic thinking leads to bad decisions. Mr Obama pointedly avoided using the word “war” last week. Although there are more than 1,000 US military personnel in Iraq, and more than 160 US air strikes in the past month, he insisted on calling his plan to destroy Isis a “campaign”. Likewise, the US uniforms are those of “advisers” and “trainers”. These kinds of euphemism lead to mission creep. If you embark on something with your eyes half-open, you are likelier to lose your way.

In 2011 Mr Obama inadvertently helped to lay the ground for today’s vicious insurgency by withdrawing US forces from Iraq too soon. He left a vacuum and called it peace. Now he is tiptoeing back with his fingers crossed. The same reluctance to look down the road may well be repeating itself in Afghanistan. Mr Obama went out of his way last week to say that the Isis campaign would have no impact on his timetable to end the US combat mission in Afghanistan. The only difference between Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan today is that you can see the Taliban coming. Nor does it take great insight to picture the destabilisation of Pakistan. In contrast to the Isis insurgency, which very few predicted, full-blown crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan are easy to imagine. So too is the gradual escalation of America’s re-engagement in Iraq.

Mr Obama’s detractors on both right and left want him to come clean – the US has declared war on Isis. Why else would his administration vow to follow it “to the gates of hell”, in the words of Joe Biden, the vice-president? Last year, Mr Obama called on Congress to repeal the law authorising military action against al-Qaeda that was passed just after 9/11. “Unless we discipline our thinking . . . we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight,” he said. Mr Obama is already vulnerable to what he warned against. His administration is basing its authority to attack Isis on the same unrepealed 2001 law.

Why does America need to destroy Isis? The case for containment – as opposed to war – has received little airing. But it is persuasive. The main objection is that destroying Isis will be impossible without a far larger US land force, which would be a cure worse than the disease. Fewer than 1,000 Isis insurgents were able to banish an Iraqi army force of 30,000 from Mosul in June – and they were welcomed by its inhabitants. Last week Mr Obama hailed the formation of a more inclusive Iraqi government under Haider al-Abadi. But it has fewer Sunni members than the last one. Nouri al-Maliki, the former prime minister, has been kept on in government.

The task of conjuring a legitimate Iraqi government looks like child’s play against that of building up a friendly Syrian army. Mr Obama has asked Congress for money to train 3,000 Syrian rebels – a goal that will take months to bear fruit. Isis now commands at least 20,000 fighters. Then there are America’s reluctant allies. Turkey does not want to help in any serious way. Saudi Arabia’s support is lukewarm. Israel is sceptical. Iran, whose partnership Mr Obama has not sought, is waiting for whatever windfalls drop in its lap. The same applies to Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president.

Whose army – if not America’s – will chase Isis to the “gates of hell”? Which takes us back to where we started. Mr Obama wants to destroy an entity he says does not yet pose a direct threat to the US. Mr Bush called that pre-emptive war. Mr Obama’s administration calls it a counterinsurgency campaign. Is it a distinction without a difference?

The US president’s aim is to stop Isis before it becomes a threat to the homeland. History suggests the bigger risk is the severe downside of another Middle Eastern adventure.

It is hard to doubt Mr Obama’s sincerity. It is his capacity to wade through the fog of war that is in question.

YOU WORRY ME!

CharityMy Comments: I’m very conflicted by current events in the Middle East. On one hand I’m a dove, sick and tired of the hatred and death and tribal motivations of the people involved. It also reinforces my discomfort about religion since the conflict always seems to be driven by a false belief that “my God is better than your God!”. What a crock of hoooey.

I joined this world in 1941, at a time when another evil became manifest, thanks to a certain Adolph Hitler and his band of merry men. If ever there was an ideology that was cancerous and needed to be excised before it left the barn, that was it. We did eventually, but it took millions of lives and countless treasure.

ISIS is the 21st century equivalent of that cancer. Left alone, it will metastasize and and while I don’t expect it to bring Western civilization to its knees as it believes, it will be a pain the ass, to put it mildly. So somehow this ideology has to be stopped. And I’m inclined to think it will be better to make the effort sooner rather than later, and worry about the consequences after the fact. It cannot be allowed to grow.

These following comments come from someone who expresses the entire issue in well paced words. And while today is a holiday for some, Labor Day, if you have time read his words and make a comment. Thanks.

By Captain John Maniscalco, American Airlines Pilot

I’ve been trying to say this since 911, but you worry me. I wish you didn’t. I wish when I walked down the streets of this country that I love, that your colour and culture still blended with the beautiful human landscape we enjoy in this country. But you don’t blend in anymore. I notice you, and it worries me.

I notice you because I can’t help it anymore. People from your homelands, professing to be Muslims, have been attacking and killing my fellow citizens and our friends for more than 20 years now. I don’t fully understand their grievances and hate, but I know that nothing can justify the inhumanity of their attacks.

On September 11, ARAB-MUSLIMS hijacked four jetliners in my country. They cut the throats of women in front of children and brutally stabbed to death others. They took control of those planes and crashed them into buildings, killing thousands of proud fathers, loving sons, wise grandparents, elegant daughters, best friends, favourite coaches, fearless public servants, and children’s mothers.

The Palestinians celebrated, the Iraqis were overjoyed as was most of the Arab world. So, I notice you now. I don’t want to be worried. I don’t want to be consumed by the same rage, hate and prejudice that has destroyed the soul of these terrorists. But I need your help. As a rational American, trying to protect my country and family in an irrational and unsafe world, I must know how to tell the difference between you, and the Arab/Muslim terrorist.

How do I differentiate between the true Arab/Muslim Americans and the Arab/Muslim terrorists in our communities who are attending our schools, enjoying our parks, and living in OUR communities under the protection of OUR constitution, while they plot the next attack that will slaughter MORE of the same good neighbours and children?

The events of September 11 changed the answer. It is not MY responsibility to determine which of you embraces our great country, with ALL of its religions, with ALL of its different citizens, with all of its faults. It is time for every Arab/Muslim in this country to determine it for me.

I want to know, I DEMAND to know and I have a right to know, whether or not you love America ….. Do you pledge allegiance to its flag? Do you proudly display it in front of your house, or on your car? Do you pray in your many daily prayers that Allah will bless this nation; that He will protect it and let it prosper? Or do you pray that Allah will destroy it in one of your Jihads? Are you thankful for the freedom that this nation affords? A freedom that was paid for by the blood of hundreds of thousands of patriots who gave their lives for this country? Are you willing to preserve this freedom by also paying the ultimate sacrifice? Do you love America?? If this is your commitment, then I need YOU to start letting ME know about it

Your Muslim leaders in this nation should be flooding the media at this time with hard facts on your faith, and what hard actions YOU are taking as a community and as a religion to protect the United States of America. Please, no more benign overtures of regret for the death of the innocent, because I worry about who you regard as innocent…. No more benign overtures of condemnation for the unprovoked attacks, because I worry about what is unprovoked to you. I am not interested in any more sympathy; I am interested only in action. What will you do for America – our great country – at this time of crisis, at this time of war?

I want to see Arab-Muslims waving the AMERICAN flag in the streets. I want to hear you chanting ‘Allah Bless America’. I want to see young Arab/Muslim men enlisting in the military. I want to see a commitment of money, time and emotion to the victims of this butchering and to this nation as a whole.

The FBI has a list of over 400 people they want to talk to regarding the WTC attack. Many of these people live and socialize right now in Muslim communities. You know them. You know where they are. Hand them over to us, NOW! But I have seen little even approaching this sort of action. Instead I have seen an already closed and secretive community close even tighter. You have disappeared from the streets. You have posted armed security guards at your facilities. You have threatened lawsuits. You have screamed for protection from reprisals.

The very few Arab/Muslim representatives that HAVE appeared in the media were defensive and equivocating. They seemed more concerned with making sure that the United States proves who was responsible before taking action. They seemed more concerned with protecting their fellow Muslims from violence directed towards them in the United States and abroad than they did with supporting our country and denouncing ‘leaders’ like Khadafi, Hussein, Farrakhan, and Arafat.

IF the true teachings of Islam proclaim tolerance and peace and love for all people, then I want chapter and verse from the Koran and statements from popular Muslim leaders to back it up. What good is it if the teachings in the Koran are good, pure, and true, when your ‘leaders’ ARE teaching fanatical interpretations, terrorism, and intolerance? It matters little how good Islam SHOULD BE if huge numbers of the world’s Muslims interpret the teachings of Mohammed incorrectly and adhere to a degenerative form of the religion. A form that has been demonstrated to us over and over again. A form whose structure is built upon a foundation of violence, death, and suicide. A form whose members are recruited from the prisons around the world. A form whose members (some as young as five years old) are seen day after day, week in and week out, year after year, marching in the streets around the world, burning effigies of our presidents, burning the American flag, shooting weapons into the air. A form whose members convert from a peaceful religion, only to take up arms against the great United States of America, the country of their birth. A form whose rules are so twisted, that their traveling members refuse to show their faces at airport security checkpoints, in the name of Islam.

We will NEVER allow the attacks of September 11, or any others for that matter, to take away that which is so precious to us — our rights under the greatest constitution in the world. I want to know where every Arab Muslim in this country stands and I think it is my right and the right of every true citizen of this country to DEMAND it. A right paid for by the blood of thousands of my brothers and sisters who died protecting the very constitution that is protecting you and your family.

I am pleading with you to let me know. I want you here as my brother, my neighbour, my friend, as a fellow American…… But there can be no grey areas or ambivalence regarding your allegiance, and it is up to YOU, to show ME, where YOU stand. Until then, “YOU WORRY ME!”

Obama Needs to Play The Honest Broker in the Mideast

babelMy Comments: It’s Friday, I’m looking forward to the weekend, and yet the world keeps spinning and I can’t keep up. I’ve found myself turning off the TV when I find airheads talking about Isreal and Gaza, not because it isn’t important, but because I’m tired of hatred that has no other rationale than “my God is better than your God”.

Long ago I came to terms with my relationship with a God, if one indeed exists. Some would have me rethink this in light of my increasing years, but I’m not going to.

So here we have an opinion piece from Great Britain, once the world’s policeman and while hard to accept by some, describes the US right now. We, the public, have made it clear to whomever is making decisions that we are tired of war, and if this means other stupic people are intent on killing each other for the reason described above, so be it.

On the other hand, there is a time for rhetoric, and the commitment to follow it up with a swift kick in the ass. And despite our current aversion to using our military, it might be time to deliver a message.

By Edward Luce July 27, 2014

The rote quality of America’s role masks changes taking place on the president’s watch

Here we are again. Benjamin Netanyahu is reacting like the avenging angel to rockets from Gaza. US President Barack Obama is torn between wanting to censure Israel and the desire not to reward Hamas for its aggression. The response is an exercise in futility. At some point, a sullen ceasefire will be struck and the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue on its downward trajectory. Wounds will deepen and fester. For all his frustrations with the Israeli prime minister, Mr Obama will have to keep biting his tongue. Such is the logic that imprisons him.

But the rote quality of America’s role masks changes taking place on Mr Obama’s watch. For decades, Washington has kept up the pretence of being an even-handed broker in the Arab-Israeli dispute. The policy rested on two pillars. For the most part, Israel’s governments have paid lip service to the two-state solution, and in some cases (notably that of Yitzhak Rabin), genuinely desired it. Whatever the tragedy of the moment, this made it far easier for the US to back the only bona fide democracy in the Middle East.

Second, US-Jewish support for Israel has almost always held strong. This is illustrated by the near-legendary power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, often ominously referred to as the “Jewish lobby”. The only real exception was President George Bush senior, whose secretary of state, James Baker, said: “They [Jews] didn’t vote for us anyway.” President George Bush Junior did his best to rectify that. But his father’s administration was an aberration. For decades, unquestioning US support for Israel has been as close as you come to an iron law of global relations.

Both pillars are showing cracks. On the first, Mr Netanyahu has mocked Mr Obama’s attempts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He killed Mr Obama’s initial effort by continuing to build settlements in the West Bank. He challenged and outplayed Mr Obama on his home turf in a speech at Aipac’s conference in Washington.Mr Obama is sometimes criticised for a lack of warmth but not often for open dislike. Mr Netanyahu is the exception. Rarely have relations between a US president and an Israeli prime minister bred such antipathy.

By all accounts, relations have grown far worse in the past few weeks. Not only did Mr Netanyahu cripple another Obama effort to foster talks – this time led by the nuclear-fuelled John Kerry (who had to abandon them earlier this year after almost a year of Sisyphean exertion). This month the Israeli leader said out loud what most people knew he thought all along: he does not believe in the two-state solution. “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan,” he said. In other words, the West Bank would never control its own defence or foreign policy. Unless he reneges on that stance, there is no point in any more US-led initiatives other than trying to broker ceasefires.

The second pillar is also showing signs of wobbling. In previous crises, the US media was often accused of pro-Israel bias. This time, it is nearer the reverse. Aipac and other groups have complained bitterly about the television networks’ emotive coverage of the deaths of women and children from Israeli shelling at UN protected schools and other facilities in Gaza. Many have kept score sheets of Israeli deaths (more than 40 at the time of writing) versus Palestinian (more than 1,000). A majority of the US public still support Israel’s right to protect itself by targeting Hamas militants, even if it results in heavy civilian deaths. But the numbers reverse for younger Americans. According to Gallup, 51 per cent of millennials disapprove of Israel’s actions versus 23 per cent who approve.

It is too soon to conclude Aipac’s power is waning. It remains one of Washington’s most formidable advocacy groups. But it is losing its monopoly on the debate. At moments such as this, it commands reflexive support; the US Senate voted 100-0 in support of Israel’s response to the rockets. Its sway has notably waned in other areas, however. It failed in February to persuade Congress to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. And its recommendation for a bill authorising force against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria looked set to be rejected last year.
Aipac and Mr Obama were saved by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other groups, such as J Street, which promotes “moderate and sane” (as opposed to blind) support for Israel, are growing in influence.

The odds are that, once the dust settles in Gaza, Washington will let the situation drift. It is arguably the fourth of Mr Obama’s Middle East crises after Iraq, Iran and Syria. Why waste more capital on it? The answer lies as much within the US as in the Middle East. Unless Mr Obama is prepared to play the role of a genuinely neutral broker, talks are always likely to fail. If, as a growing number of American Jews and a brave minority of Israelis argue, Israel is digging its grave by undercutting moderate Palestinians, it is time for more thoughtful friends in the US to speak out. Why should Aipac be the one with the megaphone?

Peter Beinart, a leading backer of J Street, recounts a story where a senior Democrat made precisely this point to Mr Obama. “ ‘I can’t hear you,” Obama replied. My friend began repeating himself,” writes Mr Beinart. “The president cut him off. ‘You don’t understand,’ Mr Obama said. “I . . . can’t . . . hear . . . you.’ ”

Moscow’s Moves and Your Investments

My Comments: Geopolotical events almost always influence the world of investments. Today, global economic health, or lack of it, dictates to some extent how we invest our money, where we invest our money, and what we can expect going forward.

All of us saw recently how the ISIS jihadists in Iraq caused the price of gas at the pumps in far away Gainesville to jump upward. That means that if your business involves moving stuff from point A to point B, somewhere in the continuum from start to finish, the cost of transportation increased. Either you absorbed the increase, meaning you made less money, or you passed it on the next guy, which means somewhere in the chain, the final price went up also.

Don’t for a minute disregard the events going in Russia and the Ukraine. That doesn’t mean we should obsess about it, but it will affect our lives, and the lives of those around us. If you ignore it, that too will have consequences, however small. It’s just that the outcome in Ukraine is and will remain a part of the fabric of our financial future.

By Dmitri Trenin / July 1, 2014

Russia needs people and should think of the Eurasian Union as a Nafta, says Dmitri Trenin. It needs to build a nation, not an empire.

If the Maidan protests and their aftermath did not disabuse Russia of the hope of a Eurasian Union that includes Ukraine, the signing last week of EU association agreements on economics and trade with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova should have done so. Three former Soviet republics are now linked, however loosely, to the EU.

President Vladimir Putin is discovering that the “Russian world” he often refers to is a soft-power category – geocultural rather than geopolitical or geoeconomic, and that Ukrainians and Russians are not “one people”.

At this point, rather than worrying about what it sees as its losses, Moscow should consolidate its gains.

It has managed to reincorporate Crimea, arguably the only part of post-Soviet Ukraine that had a strong affinity with the Russian state. It should work hard to turn the peninsula, particularly its southern coast, into a thriving region, economically on a par with the Greater Sochi area, making it a showcase of Russia’s capacity to develop depressed areas with significant potential for tourism.

It also needs to keep Crimea’s diverse population happy, including the ethnic Russian majority; the ethnic Ukrainian minority (about 25 per cent); and, particularly, the Crimean Tatars (more than 10 per cent), Muslims who regard the territory as their ancestral homeland.

Next, its main strategic interest lies in keeping Ukraine out of Nato – and here the prospects are good. Washington has to balance its global commitments, from the South China Sea to Iraq, and Ukraine is nowhere near the top. Berlin and Paris are adamant neither Ukraine nor Georgia and Moldova should join. London sees no reason to extend the borders of common defence to Russia’s heartland.

Moscow should shift to a longer-term approach to relations with Kiev, switching from using armed rebellion in the eastern region of Donbass as a means of protecting its interests to a broader political strategy involving all of Ukraine. As the Russian defence industry’s ties with Ukrainian contractors grow unreliable, it should seize the chance to create a fully sustainable defence industry within own borders. Russia will also need to adjust its overall trade relations with Ukraine, and do so in full compliance with World Trade Organisation norms and principles.

One clear gain, besides Crimea and Sevastopol, may be the Ukrainians who cross the border into Russia. Sharing a common language and culture, they can be perfectly integrated. Rather than gathering further lands, Moscow needs to gather people from the former Soviet Union who would help it build a motivated and younger workforce, and a greater consumer base. Such a policy should favour those who can contribute the most to its wellbeing – primarily the engineers and other workers producing aircraft engines and missiles, enterprises that used to be important to Russia but face contraction or extinction as Ukraine adapts to the EU’s trading requirements.

The Russian Federation needs to continue its transition from an empire to a continent-size nation state. While it needs more people, it does not need more land. It should not think of the Eurasian Union as a replica of the EU but rather as a kind of North American Free Trade treaty. Economic interest, rather than common ethnicity or shared history, is the glue to seal the new association.

Moscow’s longing, in the past quarter century, to be admitted into the west has suffered a setback: it should see this as a blessing in disguise. With its occidental option closed for now, its choices are clearer than ever. If it embraces a “fortress Russia” concept and practises economic isolation and political repression, it will head for a catastrophe on the scale of the Soviet Union’s. If it turns east, it will make itself a raw materials appendage and a tributary of China, destroying its self-image as a strategically independent power.

If it wants to stay in the game of global competition, it has no choice but to work towards becoming a civic nation, a rules-based polity and a modern economy.

Countries, like people, often do the right thing when all other options are closed. For Russia, the choices have rarely been starker.

The writer is director of the Carnegie Moscow Center

Removing Saddam Hussein Did Not Cause This Crisis

global econMy Comments: The price of oil is increasing. The news is full of both the World Cup and Iraq. How will any of this affect our investments? And, of course, as always, it depends.

At first glance one might dismiss the author as expressing a self-serving platitude. On second glance, you remember he rose to prominence in global politics because he is intelligent, charismatic and a formidable thought leader. You don’t last ten years as the political leader of a major world player if you don’t have your act together.

It would be nice if we could simply let the folks in the middle east solve their own problems, but it’s more complicated than that, and I, for one, have no clue how to force a resolution. There probably isn’t one. But I add my voice to those who say NO to further military involvement by the US without a clear threat to our national best interests.

By Tony Blair / June 22, 2014

The Middle East’s problems lie in the toxic mix of bad politics and bad religion, writes Tony Blair

For the avoidance of doubt, of course the Iraq of 2014 bears, in part, the imprint of the removal of Saddam Hussein 11 years ago. To say otherwise, as a recent editorial in this newspaper implies that I do, would be absurd. However, there are two important points that must also be recognised.

We cannot ignore the fact that Isis, the jihadist group advancing across Iraq, rebuilt itself and organised the Iraq operation from the chaos in Syria. Isis and other al-Qaeda-type groups in Iraq were flat on their back four years ago, having been comprehensively beaten by a combination of US and UK forces and Sunni tribes. The civil war in Syria allowed them to get back on their feet.

So the first point is that non-intervention is also a decision with consequences. In the case of Syria those consequences have been dire, and as security chiefs in the UK and Europe are warning, they pose a real threat to our security.

Second, no analysis of the Middle East today makes sense unless we examine the impact of the Arab revolutions overturning the old regimes. It is odd to argue that revolution would not have come to Iraq. And surely Saddam Hussein’s response would have been more like that of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, than that of Hosni Mubarak. Whatever decision had been taken in 2003, in 2014 we would be facing a major challenge.

There is a tendency to write off the Saddam Hussein time in Iraq as if he were a force for stability and peace. Just to remind ourselves: he began the Iraq-Iran war in which there were more than 1m casualties, many dying from chemical weapons, something which then played a part in pushing Iran towards its nuclear programme; he invaded Kuwait; he used chemical weapons in a genocidal attack against the Kurds; he excluded the Shia majority; and he persecuted the Marsh Arabs. The region’s problems are the result of deep-seated issues that, with the removal of those regimes, have now come to the surface.

That is the point I am making. I am not seeking to persuade people about the decision in 2003. I am trying to convince them that the fundamental challenge is not the product of that decision or indeed the decision in Syria. It is a challenge of immense complexity that has not originated in anything we have done since this challenge burst fully on to our consciousness after the attacks of September 11 2001. Its origin lies in the toxic mix of bad politics and bad religion that is not confined to Iraq or Syria but is spread across not just the Middle East but also the world.

The reason we got into such difficulty in Iraq, as in Afghanistan, was precisely because once the dictatorship was removed, extremist Islamist forces then made progress extraordinarily difficult. That is their hideous impact the world over. The fundamental challenge today arises not from the decisions of 2003 or those of 2014. It is the challenge of Islamist extremism and it is global.

It is a challenge we cannot avoid. Its outcome will dramatically affect our own security. We may be war weary and want to disengage but the people we are fighting do not share that weariness. Leave aside Iraq or Syria; look at Pakistan today. It has powerful institutions; it has a functioning democracy. Yet be in no doubt, the struggle it is waging is existential. Nigeria was two decades ago a model of religious tolerance. Today it is on the rack of extremism. Even in western societies, there are tensions that are real and dangerous.

The bad news is that this issue is not going away. That is why I am speaking about it. Since leaving office I have spent a large part of my time studying it and through my foundation trying to counter it.

Short term, we have to do what we can to rescue the situation in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, without inclusive government this will be hard to do. The US is right in demanding political change as the price of its engagement. In Syria, an outright win for either side is no longer sensible; the majority of Syrians just want the torment to end.

Long term, we have to have the right mixture of soft and hard power responses, which fights this extremism wherever it is conducting its terror campaigns. We must deal with the root cause of the problem which lies in the formal and informal systems that educate young people in a closed-minded approach to religion and culture.

The good news is that this extremism does not represent the majority of Muslims. As the recent elections in both Iraq and Afghanistan show, where despite threats, violence and terror, people came out to vote in their millions.

These people want to be free: free of dictators and free of terror. We should help them. It is in our interests that they succeed.

The writer was prime minister of Britain from 1997 to 2007

Generation Z, the world’s saviour?

bruegel-wedding-dance-ouMy Comments:
1)  call me slow, but I’ve not heard of Generation Z.
2)  does the world need a saviour?
3) never mind the spelling; this comes from the Financial Times, which comes from London.
4) I was once in the 16-25 age group and look at me now.
5) without Eric Cantor, who is going to be in charge of the GOP contingent in the House?

By Brian Groom / June 2, 2014

Alcohol-related crime is declining.

Can “Generation Z”, or whatever label you want to put on today’s 16 to 25-year-olds, be the superheroes who save the world? Surely somebody needs to. Raised in the shadow of recession, they seem a hard-working, ambitious bunch and notably less hedonistic than their predecessors. Boring, some say.

Binge drinking is down in the UK, while the numbers of those who do not drink alcohol at all have risen. Young people smoke less and take fewer recreational drugs. Violence is falling, as it is in many developed countries, possibly in part because of the lower alcohol intake.

After the counterculture fad of my generation and the clubbing and boozing habits of those that followed, it seems a welcome relief. No doubt it is a necessity for many. “I can’t lose my job,” said a 24-year-old woman who works for a fashion magazine in London. “I’ve had to fight to get it and I know that, if I sauntered into work smelling of booze, I’d just be replaced.”

For others, it is a form of rebellion against the previous generation’s excesses. Those who belong to the Straight Edge subculture, for example, say they do not smoke, drink or take drugs. “The only thing I go to the pub for is to watch rugby, not to pull and not to get wasted,” said a 20-year-old student.

Could this generation apply its self-denying approach to cleaning up public life? So much needs doing, it is hard to know where to start. Take sport. The most recent allegations that secret payments helped Qatar to win the bid to host football’s 2022 World Cup is the latest in scandals from drug-taking in athletics and cycling to spot-fixing in cricket.

Or finance. Last week Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said progress on building a safer financial system was too slow because a “fierce industry pushback” was delaying reforms, despite scandals including money laundering and manipulation of the London interbank offered rate.

As for politics, last week’s surge of support for populist parties in the European Parliament elections was a howl of protest against establishment parties, immigration and austerity.

Expecting Generation Z to sort this lot out may be optimistic. They are a collection of individuals, not a movement. They are also young, and many choose not to vote, so their influence is limited. Reform, in any case, is needed well before they grab hold of the levers of power. So this is, for now, one of those “questions to which the answer is no” that journalists love. Yet this generation has a long-term interest in a cleaner, better world. After all, its members will have to work until they are at least 70 before receiving pensions, and many will live beyond 100.

On the right track
This month brings anniversaries of two of England’s most-loved poems, Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop (1914) and Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings (1964), which both involve trains. In Thomas’s poem, a steam train carrying the poet made an unscheduled stop on a hot afternoon at a Cotswolds hamlet: “No one left and no one came.” Its evocation of rural England carried overtones of the coming first world war, in which Thomas died three years later.

Larkin’s poem describes a journey from the east coast city of Hull to London on Whit Sunday, when couples often marry. He notices wedding parties joining at each station: the poem mordantly depicts glimpses of England, the couples’ separate yet parallel lives and their futures. It will be celebrated on Friday with a 200-mile onboard performance involving actors and the author’s favourite jazz tunes. I am not sure what Larkin, a famous grump, would have made of this.

Reverse ferret
Ferrets used to be kept mainly for hunting rabbits but are increasingly kept as pets – and they are divisive. Bill de Blasio, New York’s new mayor, seems poised to repeal a 15-year ban on domesticated ferrets after officials said that, though they can bite, they were no more dangerous than other pets.

New York City’s ferret ban was introduced in 1999 by Rudy Giuliani, then mayor, who entered into a memorable spat on the radio with David Guthartz, executive president of the organisation New York Ferrets’ Rights Advocacy. “There’s something deranged about you,” Mr Giuliani told Mr Guthartz. “You should go consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist, and have him help you with this excessive concern, how you are devoting your life to weasels.”

Obama: Prevaricating On Foreign Policy

My Comments: It’s hard not to be tired and uninterested in the speeches of a President now well into his second and last term as President. Never mind that I voted for him twice and have a generally favorable opinion of his efforts on our behalf.

Foreign policy is not something that does much for the economic fortunes of those of us in the great unwashed middle class of America. Not unless and until we find ourselves at war with various groups across the planet who have vowed to bring us to our knees and have us die a painful death.

When that happens, I get more involved. Like it or not, we are the world’s policeman. We’ve been that since the end of the Cold War and Russia dissolved into something resembling a third world country. But the death of American lives in support of those around the planet who, for the most part simply argue their God is better than my God, is not something I want to see.

As a financial planner, I’m accustomed to thinking about the future and what is likely to be in my clients best interests, things they have little use for as they live and work today. Same with the President. It’s not just who is trying to kick someone else’s ass today, it’s who is likely to be kicking who tomorrow and whether that will impact the planet to our detriment.

I don’t know the answer, and it appears as if Obama and his team don’t either. At least they don’t seem to, and I find that troubling.

By Richard Haass / May 29, 2014 6:38 pm

US president’s speech tells us what he opposes not what he favours, writes Richard Haass

Barack Obama’s long-anticipated speech on Wednesday at West Point, the US Military Academy, was designed to answer a growing number of domestic critics of his foreign policy, who believe he is not doing enough to advance American interests around the world. It was also intended to push back against the growing tide of isolationism in a country preoccupied with domestic challenges and disillusioned with the results of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the address was meant to reassure America’s friends around the world.

Not surprisingly so ambitious a speech, aimed at so many audiences, failed to meet any, much less all, of its goals.

A big part of the problem resulted from a speech that told us more about what the president opposed than what he favoured. He is against too much military intervention, but he is also against too little of it. America must avoid choosing between realism and idealism in its global conduct. It must be multilateral, except when it must act alone. All arguably true, but such generalities are more fitting for someone starting out in office than for an incumbent in his sixth year.

It did not help that, one day before the speech, Mr Obama laid out his new policy toward Afghanistan. US military forces are to come down to just below 10,000 by the end of this year, and to be removed entirely a month before he leaves office in early 2017. But this is a calendar-based policy, not one determined by conditions. It is an exit without a strategy, one that increases the odds the new Afghan government will struggle – much as has happened in Iraq in the aftermath of the complete US military departure from that country.

It would have been far better for the president to make the case for long-term presence in which the probable results justified the anticipated costs. This calculation is what lies behind the wise decisions to maintain US forces in Europe, Japan and South Korea for more than half a century. Instead, Mr Obama reinforced the very trend towards avoiding responsibility that he criticised a day later.

Elsewhere, the president did suggest that he favoured providing more help to those countries surrounding Syria that risk being overwhelmed by the flow of refugees. And he declared he would approach Congress to increase help to those opponents of the Assad regime that held agendas the US could live with. This is to be welcomed, although details were left unsaid.

Mr Obama is smart to limit direct military involvement in Syria’s civil war, but he has not made the case why the US has done so little indirectly over the past three years. Nor has he said why it should not use military force when Syria’s government clearly violates international norms, as it has done by using chemical weapons.

The president also neglected to mention Libya, where a modest military intervention by the US and others helped to create a vacuum, now mostly filled by terrorists. What we were to learn from this, Mr Obama did not say.

The president defended his policies towards Ukraine and Iran, although major tests lie ahead for both. In the meantime, he largely ignored the part of the world most likely to shape this century, the Asia Pacific.

What makes this omission more glaring is that in his first term Mr Obama called for a pivot, or rebalancing, of US foreign policy towards that part of the world. This makes great strategic sense given US interests and commitments, the rise of China, the surge in local nationalism and the weakness of regional diplomatic arrangements. One part of this pivot is a commitment to increase the presence and role of US military forces, the ostensible subject of Wednesday’s address. This has yet to happen. For now, the pivot remains mostly rhetorical. On this occasion it was not even that.

Another part of the pivot also went unmentioned – the goal of bringing about a regional trade pact. Here the greatest problem might not be in the region but back at home, where Democrats and, to some extent, Republicans in Congress have abandoned the country’s commitment to free trade. Protectionism and isolationism tend to go hand in hand, and here, too, an opportunity to make a point as to the strategic and economic benefits of expanding trade was forfeited.

The president is right to warn against the folly of isolationism in today’s world, that what happens beyond the country’s borders can and will affect what takes place within them.

And he is right to suggest that American leadership is indispensable, that international order will not come about without it.

However this requires that the American people are prepared to back such a role for their country, and that American friends and foes alike see it as predictable and steadfast.

Unfortunately, Mr Obama’s statements this week will do little to help accomplish these tasks.

The writer is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of ‘Foreign Policy Begins at Home’