Monday, December 03, 2018

Diplomacy over the decades

May 4, 1987. This photo, via Saudi Press Agency, shows Saudi Arabian King Fahd having successfully gotten bitter rivals Moroccan King Hassan II and Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid into the same room to discuss their proxy war in Western Sahara. The room in question was actually one of several tents erected on the Morocco-Algeria border for the summit.

Saudi Press Agency has resurrected the photo in a retrospective on diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Algeria given the Crown Prince's visit there today -- under very different circumstances.

As this Washington Post story, contemporaneous with the 1987 summit, notes, this was an energetic period for Saudi diplomacy, as they also got Hafez al-Assad and Saddam Hussein the same room in Jordan -- all part of an effort to air the grievances before an Arab summit.

It would take a few more years before things somewhat de-escalated to a cold peace between Algeria and Morocco. But just over three years after that other below-the-radar meeting between Hafez al-Assad and Saddam Hussein, George HW Bush would be convincing al-Assad to join his coalition against Saddam Hussein. Luckily, no one was sufficiently dug in to previous positions to impede the necessary adjustment. 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Move it to the Trump hotel

Wall Street Journal on the G20 communique processology:

Negotiations were so fraught that when the U.S. negotiator asked if leaders really have to say that the International Monetary Fund is “at the center” of the global financial system, the EU negotiator replied: “Yes, it’s in Washington.”

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Now that's realism!

This New York Times story from September 1990 is written by Tom Friedman (yes, that Tom Friedman) and reports on the visit of George H.W. Bush's Secretary of State James Baker to Damascus to (successfully) get Hafez al-Assad to join Bush's military coalition to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. 

Anthem for George HW Bush

At about the 3:45 mark, Neil gets into the lyrics that use the Bush catchphrases.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Imperial Preference

The DUP's Jim Shannon in the House of Commons discussion of the Bombardier job losses --

Has the Minister had discussions with Bombardier about its intentions to bring back from Mexico and Morocco the work on parts that were once made successfully in Belfast to reflect the high level of investment the Government have made?

What does he think Belfast's competitive prospects with Mexico and Morocco are outside the European Union?

Getting Attention

Reuters on the downhill slide in Tanzania and why it only recently became the topic of external interest:

But for Murithi Mutiga of the International Crisis Group, the populist alarm bells were already there. “The world has only begun to pay attention to the situation after Magufuli weighed in on social wedge issues that typically attract media coverage, “ he said. “But the direction of travel in which he was taking Tanzania was clear from the start.”

When the cat's away

UAE news agency description of the delegation members accompanying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman --

... Khalid Al Humaidan, Head of General Intelligence ...

You bring the intelligence chief with you on a foreign trip if you're worried about what he would do at home if you were gone.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Ulster Volunteer Farce

From the House of Commons debate on the UK withdrawal agreement --

 Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) 

I stand here with a heavy heart and great sadness. Does the Prime Minister recollect the biblical story of Jacob and Esau, in which Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of pottage? Does the Prime Minister see the similarity in that she is attempting to sell my children’s and grandchildren’s birthright and my constituents’ rights to be British for a despicable and shoddy deal? As Rudyard Kipling said: “Before an Empire’s eyes The traitor claims his price. What need of further lies? We are the sacrifice.” Prime Minister, we will not be your sacrifice. We will not agree to give backstop control to the EU or to the Republic of Ireland over Northern Ireland—never.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

How we got here

Maureen Dowd in the New York Times today --

Naomi Wolf told Bill Clinton, and later Al Gore, they should present themselves as the Good Father, strong enough to protect the home (America) from invaders.

It must have taken a lot of effort from the NYT editors to get her not to mention "earth tones" -- a ridiculous detail from her linked 1999 article which encapsulated the trivia of the media coverage of that election. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Schism needed

In his justification for his favourable stance towards Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia MBS, Tom Friedman explained as follows:

It had to do with how I defined our most important national interest in Saudi Arabia since 9/11. And it is not oil, it’s not arms sales, it’s not standing up to Iran. It’s Islamic religious reform, which can come only from Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

And that becomes his basis for saying that whatever the complicity of MBS in the Khashoggi murder and his eventual fate in royal power politics, that agenda has to continue.

So the analysis is that the state is the means to reform the religion.

Among the revealing sights in the news today is a long list of obsequious statements from "official" Islamic bodies praising the way that the government of Saudi Arabia has handled the Khashoggi revelations (e.g. Muslim World League, Organization of Islamic Cooperation).

So is the problem that the religion has contorted the state, or that the state has contorted the religion?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Inside job

The credibility of the burst of late night announcements from Riyadh about the Khashoggi case -- timed for the Friday news dump cycle in the USA -- is somewhat affected by the fact that the head of a committee looking into the need to restructure the general intelligence agency is ... Crown Prince Mohammed!

Minor update: also on the committee is Ibrahim al-Assaf, one of the former ministers caught up in the Ritz-Carlton swoop last year. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Now we are getting somewhere

Late night statement from Saudi Arabia Minister of Interior:

His Highness also affirmed that what has been circulated with the existence of orders to kill him (Khashoggi) are lies and baseless allegations towards the government of the Kingdom, which upholds its norms and traditions and is in compliance with international laws, conventions and conventions.

That is a carefully crafted American PR firm style denial. It is not denying Jamal was killed. It is denying an order to kill him.

UPDATE 19 October: Confirmation on the importance of the word "orders:" Reuters story that there were no specific orders to kill, but there is a standing order to return critics to Saudi Arabia. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Kanye's World

Kanye West made his own news yesterday (the transcript is captivating) so there's probably been enough said about him. So here instead is one of his occasional collaborators, Lupe Fiasco, from 2006. When George W. Bush was President.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

The cold war in Istanbul will not remain cold very much longer

Now, in re Jamal Khashoggi, where exactly would the Saudis have gotten the idea for a brazen hit, just murky enough to be deniable, but just transparent enough so that everyone who needs to know knows what you did?

Above: Crown Prince MBS visits Vladimir Putin at the start of the World Cup. 

Quote of the (Kavanaugh) Day

Pierre Bourdieu, The Force of Law (1987) --

When combined with the specific effects of professional training, such a background helps to explain that the magistracy's declared neutrality and its haughty independence from politics by no means exclude a commitment to the established order. The effects of such unanimous tacit complicity become most visible in the course of an economic and social crisis within the professional body itself. Such a crisis arises, for example, in an alteration of the mode by which the holders of dominant positions are selected. At such a moment, professional complicity of the sort just discussed collapses. Certain newcomers to the magistracy, by virtue of their position or personal attitudes, are not inclined to accept the traditional presuppositions defining the magistracy. The struggles they undertake bring to light a largely repressed element at the heart of the group's foundation: the nonaggression pact that links the magistracy to dominant power. To this point the professional body is held together in and by a universally accepted hierarchy and consensus concerning its role. But increasing internal differentiation leads to the body's becoming a locus of struggle. This causes some members to repudiate the professional pact and to openly attack those who continue to consider it the inviolable norm of their professional activity.

Friday, October 05, 2018

His offer is this

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in an interview with Bloomberg News --

Bloomberg: It does seem to be his [Trump] opinion that the kingdom should pay more for its security. So do you agree with that? 

 MBS: Actually we will pay nothing for our security. We believe that all the armaments we have from the Untied States of America are paid for, it’s not free armament. So ever since the relationship started between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, we’ve bought everything with money.

Up the Republic, Slight Return

From Brett Kavanaugh's bid for a few Hail Marys as penance for all his yelling last week --

Our independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our constitutional republic.

That bizarre sentence appeared in Donald Trump's original introduction of Kavanaugh as the nominee, so now we know where it came from. Bizarre because, for a group -- conservative lawyers -- that insists in the intrinsic meaning of words, it makes no sense to refer to a republic as having crown dimensions of anything.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


New York Times on the premium music tour style pricing for Michelle Obama book events --

Anand Giridharadas, the author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” a critique of modern philanthropy, said the Obamas should not be held to a higher standard than other former public officials who have made money after holding office, but he added that he was still taken aback by the planned rollout. “As the first African-American president and first lady, I am very wary of arguments that they should not do something everybody else was allowed to do,” Mr. Giridharadas said. “But an arena with tiered seating is a powerful metaphor for everything they presumably want to destroy. What this illustrates to me is that cashing in has become our common culture in a way we don’t realize. It’s the water in which we’re all swimming.”

To understand what's happening here, you don't need to look any further than a case of the resolution of Status Income Disequilibrium.

They don't make them like they used to

A classic New York City obituary in the New York Times for Anne Russ Federman. More social history in this than you'd get in entire books.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Quote of the Day

In the FT,  Henry Mance wonders if the sudden change in style at the Daily Mail could happen in other newspapers:

As for the Financial Times, you'll know the revolution has come when you receive the first ever How To Spend It: Lidl Edition. 

Saturday, September 08, 2018

What happened in Islington didn't stay in Islington

The news of the separation of Boris Johnson and Marina Wheeler makes it worth recalling that, had that separation happened 3 years ago, Brexit, or at least the disorderly version of it, might not have happened at all. Because, as David Allen Green has pointed out, the obsession with the European Court of Justice seems to have metastasized within the Johnson - Wheeler household!

Saturday, September 01, 2018

The check is in the mail

From the Gulf coalition statement accepting very limited responsibility for the botched air strike in Yemen that hit a school bus --

The Joint Committee will be mandated to consider granting voluntary assistance to those affected in Yemen by contacting the legitimate Yemeni government to determine the identities and names of those affected so that they can be assisted in accordance with the procedures.

The casualties occurred in a rebel area. How will compensation sent through the "legitimate" government get to them?

Fake News

This blog has been approached by advocates for a McCain - Lieberman presidential run in 2020 to use the slogan "Best of Both Worlds."

Monday, August 27, 2018

The idiot dissenters

Yes, we posted on this same topic 5 days ago but it doesn't get any less outrageous. Today, a UN panel investigating the Rohingya atrocities in Myanmar recommended that there are sufficient grounds to investigate the Myanmar military leadership, including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, for genocide.

Here is the aforementioned general in a very jolly meeting in Moscow last week with the Russian minister of defence, Sergei Shoigu. A particular "outrage" cohort obsessed with events in Israel/ Palestine and the rightness of Bashar al-Assad snored through this event.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Common Factor

Very good Financial Times analysis of why Australian politics has such high turnover at the top --

Rupert Murdoch’s stable of News Corp Australia titles wield immense power in the country, which some critics blame for destabilising Mr Turnbull and previous Labor governments. The rise of social media and the 24-hour news cycle have ramped up the pressure on political leaders and intensified criticism, denting their image and undermining trust among the electorate. 

Of course, Murdoch is present at the scene of deep polarization and personalisation of politics in other countries too ...

The needy President

Remarkable description of the Trump mood at the White House on Tuesday night from the Wall Street Journal --

He learned of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea and Mr. Manafort’s conviction aboard Air Force One on his way to a campaign rally in West Virginia Tuesday and returned to the White House that evening in a “rotten” mood, further irritated by what he felt had been a flat audience, according to people close to the White House. His frustrations were amplified by the fact that his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is golfing in Scotland this week, people close to the president said

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Heroes of the anti-establishment

From Russian Ministry of Defence website: Defenсe Minister of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu at a meeting with the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Myanmar, Senior General Ming Aung Hlaing.

That would be the same armed forces of Myanmar that engaged in massive forced displacement and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim population of Myanmar.

But this will do nothing to stop the adulation of Russia from a certain kind of free thinker who judges causes only by the roles of certain other countries in them.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Don't hold your breath

There was a news conference today in Riyadh to report on the progress in investigations by the Saudi Arabia/ UAE/ recognized Yemeni government coalition of incidents during coalition attacks in the Yemeni war resulting in civilian casualties. The only update given for the school bus attack in Saada earlier this week was that a team has been appointed to investigate. The rest of the news conference gave updates on other incidents, beginning with one that occurred on ... April 2015. The most recent land incident addressed was in September 2017, and the report concluded with the findings about the attack on three ships in Hodeidah harbour in May 2018. The conclusion in that last case was that the ships were booby trapped and a legitimate target, and in all other cases except one, the conclusion was that given the presence of Houthi forces around the incident, the attack was legitimate no matter who was killed. And in the single case of admitted error (an air-to-ground missile attack on a car), the excuse is that the error was unintentional, whatever that means. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Quote of the Day

In the FT Weekend, Arthur Beesley returns to Ireland to look at the state of the Catholic church on the eve of the visit of the Pope and the memories of JP2 in 1979:

As for that first splendid papal visit, [Mark Patrick] Hederman suggests that, rather than some kind of a high-water mark for Catholicism, it can now be seen more as an act of self-preservation by church leaders. "The hierarchy knew this was in decline, and so John Paul II was brought in as a kind of last-ditch stand to stop the dyke from bursting. So it wasn't as if it was a triumphalist display of Catholic Ireland at its zenith. It was that they knew."

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

There goes another trade deal

Boris Johnson, before his current burqa-bashing days, giving a Brexit-boosterish speech in Bahrain in 2016 --

I don’t know whether our Kuwaiti friends want to claim credit for all City Hall’s policies – including the popular cycle superhighways which we are now extending but when you consider that we have 20,000 Gulf students in London and they are very welcome may I say, as are their fees when you think the academic exchanges, the cultural exchanges you can see why London is sometimes called the eighth Emirate. I think I may have made that up myself, but we’re proud of it. And of course we get the ball back over the net in our own modest British way - Brits pay 1.7 million visits to the Gulf every year.