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.
Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th November, 2012
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AIPAC, Anatol Lieven, Barack Obama, Global Strategy Forum, Israel, Mark Fitzpatrick, Michael Cox, Middle East, Mitt Romney, National Liberal Club, US Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »
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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Barack Obama, Democrats, Democrats Abroad, Frankenstorm Sandy, Karin Robinson, LIBG, Mitt Romney, National Liberal Club, Obamacare, Republicans, Sara Palin, US | 3 Comments »
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.
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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Barack Obama, buinga bunga, China, Denmark, France, G20 Cannes, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, It's A Knockour, Italy, Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi, USA | Leave a Comment »
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.
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.
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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alastair Campbell, Barack Obama, Christian right, Christian Zionists, Church of England, Conservative Party, George W Bush, Liberal Party, Methodists, Quakers, Religious Right, SDP, SOAS, Tony Blair | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st August, 2011
There are many good reasons not to read the Times, Rupert Murdoch being the most obvious. But one of that newspaper’s best features for some years now has been the output of political cartoonist Peter Brookes. Like all the best of his breed, he is topical, irreverent and puts the boot in where it’s needed. Unlike some cartoonists, however, he draws charicatures that are clearly identifiable, no matter how far-fetched the distortion. I think particularly of his Nature Notes, which have, for example, featured Harriet Harman as a praying mantis, Nicolas Sarkozy as a cockerel on stilts and Hazel Blears as a snail. No-one of any political party or natonality is free from his humorous barbs. Fortunately, every so often his very best cartoons appear in beautifully reproduced full-colour collections such as the one I have been savouring this afternoon: The Best of Times… (JR Books, London, 2009; £15.99). Peter Brookes holds no-one sacred, be it the Pope, the Queen or Barack Obama. Moreover, his willingness to get right to the bone prompts outright guffaws, such as his drawing of a very smug Bill Clinton declaring: ‘Fellow Democrats, trust me! Would I ever leave a sour taste in you mouth?!’ Because the volume covers the final years of the last Labour government, both Tony Blair (over Iraq) and Gordon Brown (portrayed naked on a sofa, in a pastiche of Lucian Freud’s ‘Benefit Supervisor Sleeping’) get it in the neck. I particularly love the image of a manic Cherie Blair, with terrifying grin, typing her autobiography on an old-fashioned cash register. And there is an unfogettable image of John Prescott impaled by a croquet hoop on a croquet lawn while Peter Mandelson aims a ball straight between his legs. As Liberal Democrats were not yet in government, they don’t fgure very much in this collection, apart from poor old Ming Campbell drawn alongside a Thora Hird-style stair-lift and Nick Clegg as a bird called the Great Shag. But I am sure there will be lots for LibDems to groan and giggle over by the time the next collection of Peter Brookes’s work comes out.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Cherie Blair, Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Hazel Blears, John Prescott, JRBooks, Lucian Freud, Ming Campbell, Nick Clegg, Nicolas Sarkozy, Peter Brookes, Peter Mandelson, Rupert Murdoch, The Times, Thora Hird, Tony Blair | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th April, 2011
One thing that goes in Barack Obama’s favour as he heads into the 2012 US presidential election race is that Americans have usually granted a second term to an incumbent seeking re-election, with the notable exception of Jimmy Carter in 1980. Bill Barnard, International Treasurer of Democrats Abroad (and immediate past Chairman of the organisation’s UK chapter) told the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) at Europe House today that another advantage Obama has is that as yet no substantial Republican challenger has been identified. Sarah Palin’s star is in the wane, he believes, even if she still has high name recognition. I pointed out that many people in Britain are horrified by suggestions that this might be the first ‘billion dollar election campaign’, but Bill says there is little chance of UK-style spending limitations being adopted State-side. Being able to contribute as much as one wants to a campaign is seen as an extension of the right to free speech, he commented. That means that branches of Democrats abroad are expected to raise large sums of money for US elections. At a dinner in London for Al Gore, for example, tables were filled with US expats prepared to pay $10,000 a plate. I can’t see many British expats being ready to stump up such sums, nonetheless the Liberal Democras are now building up a network of chapters abroad. Brussels and Luxembourg, not surprisingly, has had one for some time; many pro-Europeans are naturally attracted to the LibDems. Recently a second branch was launched in Hong Kong. Other should follow soon, including, one hopes, in the United States.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th February, 2011
For the past fortnight I have been glued to my iplayer, watching Al Jazeera hour after hour, as events in Egypt have unfolded. Like the crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, I have experienced a roller-coaster of emotions, from euphoria to despair. Last night was a low point, to put it mildly, as the widely anticpated resignation by President Mubarak didn’t happen. But the crowds went out onto the streets again after Friday prayers today, defiant. So there was justifiable ecstasy this evening when Hosni Mubarak did eventually stand down. Ecstasy mixed with relief, as this could have turned really nasty had the regime dug its heels in more firmly. As it is, around 300 pro-democracy demonstrators are understood to have lost their lives since the protests began. In recent hours, Western leaders have been reacting — most European heads of government, including Britain’s David Cameron, in rather muted terms, expressing hopes that Egypt can move safely from what is now a sort of military fostering to genuine multi-party democracy. The United States stood longer by President Mubarak than most states did, yet tonight Barack Obama trumped his European counterparts by giving a moving short speech, praising the Egyptian people. They have indeed been an inspiration for us all.