Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Barack Obama Is Right on EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd April, 2016

Obama EUThe US President, Barack Obama, has taken the opportunity of his short visit to Britain to underline why he believes it is in Britain’s interest — as well as that of the rest of the world — for the UK to remain in the European Union. He argues cogently that Britain is stronger IN and has more global influence. Most of British business, as well as international institutions such as the IMF, agree, but that has not stopped the advocates for Brexit attacking Barack Obama with all guns blazing. UKIP’s Nigel Farage, disgracefully but predictably, has called Obama the most anti-British President ever, but much more shameful have been the comments of the outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Not content with accusing the Americans of hypcosrisy in wanting Britain to be part of the EU, on a very dodgy use of analogy, BoJo has now declared that maybe the fact that Obama’s father originated from Kenya means he has an axe to grind with post-colonial Britain. This is barely concealed racism, as well as an unsavoury use of innuendo. Perhaps we should be not surprised, given the way that his putative successor, the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith, has been been resorting to barely disguised Islamophobia in his attacks on Labour opponent Sadiq Khan. Boris Johnson seems to be inspired by the tousle-haired populist on the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump, and is throwing his principles to the wind. Maybe he thinks that will give him a better chance of becoming Tory leader after Cameron retires, but he deserves to be proved wrong. Barack Obama is an infinitely greater politician  than BoJo and it is his voice the British public should listen to, not the self-serving porkies and insults of second-rate Trump Johnson.

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Obama in Cuba

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st March, 2016

Obama CubaBarack Obama’s visit to Cuba will probably go down in history as a seminal moment, such as Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. I was in Taipei then, taking a year abroad from my Chinese course at Oxford, and I was struck how terrified my host family was. They feared that the United States would then give the green light to Beijing to take over the island, but of course that never happened. But Nixon’s visit did open the door for China to re-enter the global community where, 44 years later, it is firmly in second place in world rankings. The potential rewards for Cuba following President Obama’s visit are unlikely to be so spectacular, but it should put an end to the shameful history of economic sanctions against Cuba by America, which Washington tried to force other countries to abide by too. There will also presumably be an influx of American tourists to the island, which will bring in much needed dollars but may not otherwise be totally beneficial. For all its shortcomings and illiberalism, the Cuban form of socialism did help create a society that had several very positive elements, including good education, plentiful qualified doctors and a remarkably low crime rate. It would be a shame if  the genuine solidarity among Cuban people were to be pushed aside in a headlong rush for modernisation and Americanisation. I went to Cuba seven times in the 1990s, culminating in my making a BBC radio documentary pegged to the 40th anniversary of the Revolution. It is a beautiful country that ought to have been quite prosperous had the Castros not stifled free enterprise. Of course, the American embargo made things worse and enabled the government in Havana to promote a siege mentality. Those days are now over and I can only hope that it won’t just be a well-connected few who will benefit from the inevitable changes, as happened in Russia and other parts of the CIS.

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Bernie Sanders’ Fatal Flaw

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st January, 2016

Bernie SandersI am not an American citizen and never will be, so I will never have the chance to vote in a US presidential election. But that does not stop me — like so much of the British political class — following US presidential contests with fascination. Or fascinated horror, might be more truthful. The horror is partly because of the obscene amount of money spent in these quadrennial campaigns; I see nothing to celebrate in the fact that 2016 will probably see the first US$2 billion dollar contest. Even worse is the quality of the rival candidates and their political discourse. Not surprisingly, I lean towards the Democrats rather than towards the Republicans (though northern liberal Democrats, rather than die-hard southern ones, I should stress). Nothing in the world would persuade me to back that chump Trump, or indeed any of his rivals for the Republican nomination. But the Democrats’ choice this year fails to inspire me. I was quite taken with Bernie Sanders and have loved the way that he has blown apart age-related prejudice. He’s radical on many issues and quite international in many ways. But he is so American, and so very, very wrong (in my view) when it comes to gun control, which he reportedly largely opposes. Poor President Obama has done his best to awaken the US public to the inherent dangers of adhering to the constitutional right to bear arms, but with as little success as a drugs counselor trying to get a heroin addict off his fixes. Sanders isn’t even trying. Which I suppose makes Hillary Clinton a preferable choice, though her pledge to be an even greater friend to the State of Israel, despite its egregious violation of human rights and international law in Occupied Palestine, makes her pretty hard to stomach, too. So, in short I probably couldn’t vote for either of them. And I’m just glad that as a European, I don’t need to. Some say that because of globalisation, everyone around the world is becoming the same. But I feel that on the contrary, the Atlantic divide between the United States and Europe is getting ever wider, and it’s probably best that it stays that way.

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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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