Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Kerry’s Mission Impossible?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th January, 2014

Kerry and AbbasOne thing one cannot fault John Kerry on: his eternal optimism. Just about everyone who has anything to do with the Middle East — including Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, if truth be told — agrees that the chances of a Middle East “peace” being negotiated by the arbitrarily-set deadline of May is an illusion. Indeed, the very word “peace” is singularly inappropriate. What this festering sore of a conflict is all about is land and justice. The Israelis are increasingly occupying more and more of the former, in defiance of international law, while the Palestinians have been crying in vain for justice for 65 years. So John Kerry can shuttle, Kissinger-style, as much as he likes between Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Amman and Riyadh, but nothing concrete is going to be achieved until the settlements are dismantled or evacuated (as happened in Gaza, albeit on a far smaller scale), the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem ceases, and militant groups in Gaza stop firing rockets at Israeli towns. I said as much in an hour-long TV special on the Iraqi English-language al-Etejah channel this evening. As Ariel Sharon lies in his terminal, vegetative state, some wonder whether he could have delivered a settlement of the Palestinian issue, just as it looked as if a solution might be engineered by Yitzhak Rabin, another hard man who might have been able to stare down the lunatic extremist small parties that plague Israeli government coalitions; Rabin certainly had the will, but he, of course, was assassinated, by a Jewish extremist. I do not for one moment think Bibi Netanyahu has it in him to deliver a solution. Or indeed really wants one. He is like the playground bully with all the serious power in his hands, and a great big brother (the United States) to call on whenever necessary. No, there probably can never be a solution until there is an American President who has the guts to stand up to the Israeli lobby, and the strength to persuade militant Palestinian groups, including Hamas, to lay down their arms (as the IRA did in Northern Ireland). I had hoped that Barack Obama, especially in his second term, might have the courage to do that. If he had, he would have deserved winning the Nobl Peace Prize. But alas that was given to him before he even tried; the incentive was thus gone, and maybe the motivation with it.

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Could the G20 Sort out Syria?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd September, 2013

Assad and PutinRussia G20I don’t always agree with (Lord) David Owen, but he made a valid point in an op ed piece in today’s London’s Evening Standard when he suggested that the G20 Summit in St Petersburg later this week could offer an important opportunity for negotiations to find a way out of the Syria impasse. The host of the Summit, of course, is Vladimir Putin, who is Bashar al-Assad’s closest European ally. And the G20 brings together an interesting mix of developed, emerging and developing countries: the Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, UK and US, plus the European Union. It is clear that there is stalemate on the ground in Syria; Assad is not losing, but he’s not winning either, and in the meantime yet more people get killed — over 110,00 already — and more refugees are created. The Syrian economy, as well as the country’s infrastructure and heritage, is being systematically destroyed. Despite the UK Parliament’s rejection of a military option last Thursday, it is still possible that the United States (if President Obama persuades Congress), France and Turkey may take part in a strike. But what exactly would that achieve. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wrote in a piece in this morning’s Daily Telegraph that it would be possible to call another vote in the Commons and that the aim of any military strike should be to punish Bashar al-Assad. Well, there is a growing consensus that the Assad regime was responsible for the 21 August chemical weapons attack; the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was the latest authority to state that today. But as I said in a live interview on BBC Radio London this evening, surely the way to “punish” Assad and his clique would be to bring them before the ICC in The Hague, to face charges of crimes against humanity. I genuinely believe that is the best outcome, though I have no illusions about how difficult it may be to get him and his cohorts to The Hague. In the meantime, surely the prime concern must be to prevent as many deaths and as much suffering as possible. And the only plausible way to do that is convene the Geneva 2 peace conference that has been in the air for some time now. It may be uncomfortable to sit down with a dictator, but that may be the only sensible option — and it won’t happen unless Mr Putin is on board.

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Ed Davey, the EU and Climate Change

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th June, 2013

Ed Daveyclimate changeThe European Union has been leading the way in the global fight against climate change, not least thanks to the efforts of Liberal Democrat Ministers in the UK’s Coalition government, Chris Huhne and now Ed Davey. The latter was guest speaker at Merton Liberal Democrats’ summer garden party in Wimbledon this afternoon and restated his determination that the Paris summit in 2015 must seal a meaningful new treaty, to build on achievements so far. There are some member states that are dragging their feet — notably Poland, which still relies heavily on coal for its energy needs. But the UK is part of a group of 10 EU member states — dubbed the Green Growth Group — which are on the side of the angels in the related debate. Moreover, Ed has been buoyed by the appointment of John Kerry as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State in his second term, as Kerry was ahead of Al Gore in recognising the problems of global warming. Even China is sending out some reassuring signals. The problems of air and water pollution in China are immense, as a result of the country’s rapid industrialisation and relatively lax environmental supervisory standards. But public opinion in China has become increasingly vociferous about the health consequences for children — all the more acute give China’s ongoing (though modified) one child policy. Accordingly, the Chinese Communist Party has started to take note of ecological protests, instead of just suppressing them, as it realises that its survival in government may be at stake. Back home in the UK, it is the Liberal Democrats who have been keeping the Coalition government on track on climate change issues, despite the scepticism of certain Tory right-wingers. In next year’s European elections (which in London will coincide with all-out borough council elections) the LibDems must champion this success. Furthermore, Ed argued, we should not hold back in attacking UKIP, which is not only the home of many climate change deniers but also tries through its lies and distortions to undermine European cooperation with all its beneficial aspects for our common future.

http://www.edwarddavey.co.uk and http://www.mertonlibdems.org.uk

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US Foreign Policy: What Next?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th November, 2012

There were many sleep-deprived eyes in the David Lloyd George room at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime when the Global Strategy Forum held a panel debate on US Foreign Policy perspectives the day after the presidential poll. At least we knew the election result, which would not have been the case 12 years ago. And not surprisingly, most of the people present — including many foreign diplomats –were pleased that Barack Obama has been returned. But will this make much difference to US Foreign Policy, now that he doesn’t have to worry about re-election? Dare he be brave? Panelists Anatol Lieven (King’s College London), Michael Cox (LSE) and Mark Fitzpatrick (IISS) didn’t really think so. I raised the point that Obama had raised high hopes in the Arab and wider Muslim worlds when he made a speech in Cairo in 2009 shortly after his inauguration suggesting he would be more responsive to the concerns of that region, but he has deeply disappointed most people there since. The panel’s view was that not only does any US President personally come under great pressure from AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, but also Congress would never stomach a fundamental realignment of US policy in the Middle East. It was significant that in the Obama-Romney foreign policy TV debate, Israel was mentioned 34 times (and the UK precisely once). The issue of how America is ‘pivoting’ away from the transatlantic relationship to be more concerned about links to East Asia was raised at the Global Strategy Forum event and a couple of the speakers uttered the word that usually dare not speak its name in discussions about US politics: decline. Personally, I believe the US will hasten that decline from the undoubted Number 1 global spot if it does continue to stand so firmly behind right-wing Israeli governments, to the detriment of its reputation almost everywhere else. So we left the NLC gathering this afternoon discouraged by the lack of any hope for real, positive change in Washington’s world view — but also relieved by the understanding that a Romney victory would have been so much worse.

Link: www.globalstrategyforum.org

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LIBG’s Look at the US Elections

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th October, 2012

The US election is exactly one week away, but the two main candidates have not been out campaigning today because of the Frankenstorm Sandy. However, in the bowels of the National Liberal Club members of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) gathered this evening to hear a brilliant presentation by Karin Robinson, Vice-Chair of Democrats Abroad UK, on where she thinks the contest is at. Obviously she is rooting for Barack Obama’s re-election, but she acknowledges that there isn’t quite the same buzz as four years ago, when many new voters were encouraged to register and volunteers poured in to Democrat offices (especially after Sara Palin was chosen as the Republicans’ vice-presidential candidate). Nonetheless, early voting — which varies in type in different states — has been going well for the Democrats this year. For the British public, US politics is a bit of a mystery; why, as someone asked tonight, should Mitt Romney be against universal health care, especially when he introduced in Massachusetts a state-wide version of Obamacare? Karin agreed with the contention that the US public in general is rather insular and the country isolationist, but the main thrust of her remarks was how much the economy matters in this election, even more than usual. Social issues have rarely figured. She welcomed advances in US public opinion on LGBT rights, for example, but is alarmed by the retrogressive slant of many Republicans’ views on women’s rights. A recent opinion poll in Britain suggested that two thirds of Britons would vote for Obama, which makes it difficult to comprehend how someone like Romney can have traction in the US. But as Karin emphasized, the US electorate is essentially split 50:50 between Republicans and Democrats, so the actual outcome next Tuesday will probably depend on a small number of voters in swing states. In the meantime, the two main candidates and their supporters have reportedly spent more than $2 billion between them. Democracy in America does not come cheap, and it is very different to what we’re used to over here.

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Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th August, 2012

In February, US President Barack Obama declared the fall of his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad ‘is not going to be a matter of “if”; it’s going to be a matter of “when”.’ Six months later, Assad is still hanging on in there in Damascus, though the country is riven by civil war. So it was maybe a bit premature for David W Lesch to entitle his new book Syria:The Fall of the House of Assad (Yale University Press, £19). Yet this is not just a case of wishful thinking. Professor Lesch (who teaches History of the Middle East at Trinity University at San Antonio, Texas) is a distinguished authority on Syria and a longtime advisor on Middle East policy to the US State Department. Moreover, he was one of those who believed that when Bashar al-Assad assumed power following the death of his father Hafiz in 2000 that this could be the dawn of a new, less repressive era for Syria. Indeed, Lesch wrote an eqarlier book that portrayed Bashar as a potential saviour (The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Assad and Modern Syria, 2005). Lesch interviewed Bashar on numerous occasions — though not recently — and has travelled widely round the country. But rather like a lover scorned he is now totally disillusioned with the Syrian President. ‘Many of us hoped that Assad would change the system,’ he writes in the conclusion of his new book. ‘What seems to have happened is that the system has changed him.’ Indeed, the once rather gauche opthalmist, who was plucked from his higher studies in London because his elder brother — and Hafiz’s presumed heir — Basil had been killed in a car accident, has changed dramatically. Some analysts argue that he is a prisoner of the system, unable to resist the pressure from other members of the regime, including his thuggish younger brother Maher. But that is not the whole stoy. Bashar does now seem to believe that he has a God-given role to ‘save’ Syria from the forces of insurrection, whereas in reality he is leading it to perdition. He and his cohorts denounce the opposition forces — including the somewhat disjointed Free Syrian Army — as ‘terrorists’, while it is the government that is terrorising the peopulation. Nonetheless, it remains true, as Lesch points out, that a significant proportion of the Syrian population — notably the dominant Alewite minority and the Christians — would prefer Assad to stay in power as the prospect of a salafist Sunni alternative alarms them. But a resolution to the Syrian crisis does not seem imminent. Lesch was doubtless under pressure from his publishers to get his book written fast and they have turned it round in a couple of months. But the endgame is not yet in process. The short-lived Assad dynasty may be going, probably it is going, but it certainly isn’t gone yet.

Link: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300186512

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Cannes Washout

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th November, 2011

The G20 met in Cannes in pouring rain and failed to exude glamour, despite the best efforts of host Nicolas Sarkozy, who is in a fine state of PR denial, beaming as if all in the world is rosy. Of course, it isn’t. Cannes was a washout, in more ways than one, not least because the Big Boys (and a few Girls) of the world failed to address adequately the problems facing not just the eurozone but the global economy. It didn’t help that Italy’s PM Silvio Berlusconi was wandering around with his usual clownish antics, as if global summits are a sort of It’s A Knockout, with a bit of bunga bunga thrown in. The Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, should have worn a sign on her derriere, proclaiming ‘Any fellow Prime Minister giving me an inappropriate leer will be given a red card — and go straight to jail. Do not pass Go. And above all, do not collect any backhanders.’ The other oddity was to see how totally marginalised Barack Obama was in all this. This is inevitable, of course, now that the United States is well on its way downhill after a half-century (at least) of global domination. The Chinese are not grinning, however – they have too much to lose — but after Cannes the name of the game has changed.

 

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Palestine, UNESCO and the US

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 4th November, 2011

The vote to accord Palestine member status at UNESCO means that the Palestinians now have their foot in the door of the United Nations and this must now make it easier for them to obtain membership of UN specialised agencies such as the WHO. Of course, the impasse regarding Palestinian membership of the United Nations itself remains. Though it would have litle difficulty in achieving a majority in the UN General Assembly, Palestine still faces the threat of a US veto if the matter comes to a difinitive vote in the Security Council, where the matter is still being considered. The United States (and Israel, predictably) voted against Palestine’s UNESCO membership and Washington then compounded its folly by withdrawing some of its funding for UNESCO as punishment. One would have hoped that such stupid tactics had ended with the Reagan presidency, but alas the Obama administration seems as keen as its prededcessors to swear its loyalty to the government and priorities of Israel, even though it is Israel that is in violation of so many UN resolutions and aspects of International Law. Thus Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have hammered another nail into the coffin of US credibility across the Arab and Islamic world, as well as among many of the other  nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America. At least Britain did not vote against Palestine at UNESCO, though I am disappointed that it abstained. It is time for the UK to stop sitting on the fence and to actively back Palestine’s integration into the world community. London already has a full Palestinian Embassy, after all, so logically we should be recognising the territory as a state as well.

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George Mitchell and David Miliband on the Middle East

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th October, 2011

Chatham House this afternoon hosted a ‘conversation’ with former US Senator George Mitchell and former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband on the theme ‘The Middle East in the 21st Century’. It was striking that the focus of the discussion was almost entirely about that most 20th Century of questions: the Arab-Israeli conflict and the related ongoing occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. George Mitchell — who was President Obama’s Envoy to the region for a period — believes there will be a two-state solution one day, but stuck to Washington’s line that this can only come about through negotiation. I made the point that so long as settlement expansion continues, in East Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank, there can be no negotiated settlement and indeed a Palestinian state is looking increasingly unviable. The US is the only country that can put sufficient pressure on the Israeli government to halt settlements, but it has shown its unwillingness to back calls for a halt with any action (such as cutting aid to Israel). Moreover, George Mitchell — charming and drily witty as he is — also endorsed the US line on voting against the Palestinian Authority’s current attempt to get statehood recognised at the United Nations. David Miliband, interestingly, said he thought that President Abbas had used brilliant tactics in making this move, in that it thrust the issue of Palestine into the limelight when it was running the risk of being overshadowed by the so-called Arab Spring. David Miliband also wished to see the peace efforts further internationalised, with Arab states having a more direct input and Europe making its voice heard more strongly.

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We Don’t Need a Religious Right in Britain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th August, 2011

One topic I get my students at SOAS to discuss each year is the familiar proposition that Religion and Politics should never mix. Of course, historically in Britain they often did. Until the emergence of the SDP in the early 1980s, the Church of England was often referred to as the Conservative Party at prayer. And both Methodists and Quakers had a big influence on the old Liberal Party. But secularism has swept Britain over the past 50 years and the fall in church attendance has been mirrored by a distancing of most politicans from overtly religious standpoints. As Alastair Campbell famously said when he was the master of dark arts at 10 Downing Street, “We don’t do God.” — though in the case of Tony Blair himself, that proved to be completely untrue. One cheeky journalist is said to have asked Blair if he prayed with George W Bush. And of course, in the United States, religion and politics most certainly do mix, whether it is in the form of the liberal Christianity of Barack Obama or the disturbing beliefs of the Christian Right and the Christian Zionists, with their hatred of homosexuals, Muslims and many others who aren’t like themselves. Liberals in Britain have comforted themselves with the assumption that we don’t have that sort of Religious Right here in the UK, but recent trends have suggested that may not be the case. Maybe the Religious Right didn’t dare show its head above the parapet before, or simply didn’t get organised. That doesn’t mean it won’t. And if it does, both the secularists and those believers of moderate or even radical political views need to be prepared to rebut any suggestion that the Religious Right has God and morality firmly on their side.

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