Friday, February 21, 2020

An armed society is a polite society

US Secretary of State meeting the (new) Sultan Haitham of Oman in Muscat today.

The Omanis also arranged a meeting for Pompeo's wife -- travelling on the junket, apparent with a job title of "Special Assistant" -- with the Sultan's wife.

Photo via Oman News Agency

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Tone watching

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah during a characteristic extended discourse on world and domestic affairs on Sunday --

the Munich conference yesterday and yesterday, so listen to Pompeo how he talks to the Europeans, listen to the US defense minister (Mark Esper), how he talks to China, China is not a small country, China is a superpower, the superiority of whoever addresses China, puts its conditions on it and sets a roadmap for it, which has not passed in the history of the globe, no more superior and arrogant administration, tired, terror and savage than this administration, how it addresses its allies, how it addresses the people who give it billions, but hundreds of billions of dollars, how it insults them.

Your enemies notice when you insult your friends.

[previously in this series]

The Former Prime Ministers' Refuge

Theresa May meets Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai, on the sidelines of the women's empowerment events in the emirate today.

Photo via WAM

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Ireland: Belfast man comments on coalition formation negotiations

Bible Thumper

Evangelical Christian and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his "The West is Winning" speech at the Munich Security Conference --

Name me a moment in history when the weak and the meek have prevailed.

Matthew 5:5-10
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Offer not applicable to owners of newspapers

A characteristically un self-aware positioning by Saturday's Daily Telegraph on the Manchester City fallout -- oblivious to the trajectory of the Telegraph under its billionaire owners, the Barclay brothers. 

Sunday, February 09, 2020

When Ciara met Sabine

Another winter, another cycle of named Atlantic low pressure systems, with all the associated fun! Is your flight from Dublin to Frankfurt delayed by Storm Ciara or Storm Sabine? That depends on whether you're getting the explanation in Ireland (Ciara) or Germany (Sabine). Perhaps the good news is that the confusion over storm naming conventions didn't become an argument for Brexit. 

Friday, February 07, 2020


With the Irish general election tomorrow, a well-timed Financial Times analysis (alt. link) by David McWilliams --

Despite being a nationalist party, this surge in support is not, like the Brexit vote, a vote against the EU. Sinn Féin is committed to the EU as are more than 85 per cent of Irish people.

But is SF committed to the EU?

It knows that Brexit has made a formal exit position toxic. But in fact, its manifesto has numerous references to an EU that would be very different from the current one, raising the question of how deep that commitment actually is. A few sentences:

For too long, a cosy consensus has existed in Irish politics. The consensus extends from economic and social policy to Ireland’s relationship with the European Union ... We will seek to return powers to EU member states and increase the influence of member state parliaments in the EU legislative process. We support reforms of the EU which are aimed at reducing the power of the European Commission, making it more transparent and accountable to the European and member state parliaments, and increasing the influence of smaller member states. Sinn Féin will build a fairer and more democratic European Union that works for the people of Europe, not for the EU insiders, middle-men and corporate interests. Greater transparency must be introduced, the militarisation agenda halted, social protections legally bolstered and powers returned to member states.

This is all summarised in the bullet point "Returning powers to Member States and their parliaments." How is that any different from (1) a David Cameron-like fudge that, as with Cameron, could actually precipitate an exit, and (2) the standard Eurosceptic dodge that, I'm not against the EU, I'm just against it doing anything as a Union?

[Previously in this series]

Some things don't change

White House statement --

the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation in Yemen that successfully eliminated Qasim al-Rimi, a founder and the leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a deputy to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Once again, an American president is claiming that a strike against a senior Yemeni terrorist will take down AQAP and al-Qaeda more generally.

We've been here before. Anwar al-Awlaki. Maybe the single biggest mistake of the Obama Presidency. Trump's competitive streak is still at work. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

State of the Union Quote of the Day

Soundin' a lot like a House Congressional
'cause we're experimental and professional.

Sunday, February 02, 2020


There are many strange things about the Trump Israel - Palestine proposal. One strange thing is the writing style. Consider this passage:

The Arabs who were displaced have, in very significant numbers, been isolated and kept from living as citizens in the many Arab countries in the region. For example, after the Kuwaiti government returned, following liberation by the United States and its coalition, it began a systematic clearing of Palestinians from the country through violence and economic pressure. The population of Palestinians in Kuwait dropped from 400,000 before the invasion to about 25,000.

Missing in this account of the de facto expulsion of Palestinians from Kuwait are such details as a year or even a decade (it's the early 1990s), the invading country (Saddam's Iraq), or a context (the disastrous assessment of Yasser Arafat that Saddam would gain from the invasion, and King Hussein's initial hedging of bets on the outcome). Also missing is any sense that the USA had some leverage at the time to resist what was happening.

Anyway the point is that something weird happened to this paragraph. It has the advantage of a decent point -- the highly politicised treatment of Palestinians in the Gulf. But somewhere along the way, the document drafters decided that it was too awkward to give the full story, so the point stayed in, entirely devoid of explanation.

And that's what happened to a section of the document where they actually had a good point to make. As for the rest of it ... 

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Hot potatoes

Some things not mentioned in the Sinn Féin election manifesto:

One-off housing
Polluter Pays
Eurozone / European Central Bank
Intermittent (as refers to power generation)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Role Reversal

From then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's rejection of Ronald Reagan's 1982 peace proposal --

What some call the ''West Bank,'' Mr. President, is Judea and Samaria; and this simple historic truth will never change. ...  By aggressive war, by invasion, King Abdullah conquered parts of Judea and Samaria in 1948; and in a war of most legitimate self-defense in 1967, after being attacked by King Hussein, we liberated, with God's help, that portion of our homeland. Judea and Samaria will never again be the ''West Bank'' of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan which was created by British colonialism after the French Army expelled King Feisal from Damascus. ... The matter of security is of paramount importance. Geography and history have ordained that Judea and Samaria be mountainous country and that two-thirds of our population dwell in the coastal plain dominated by those mountains. From them you can hit every city, every town, each township and village and, last but not least, our principal airport in the plain below.

Nearly 40 years later, the mindset of Begin's letter is now fully reflected in an American -- not Israeli -- "peace" proposal. And Reagan's idea of Palestinian autonomy achieved by an association with Jordan, which at the time seemed like a retreat from a Palestinian state, now looks positively benign compared to what's currently in the table. And this was before the settlements issue had reached the scale it has today.

If that's what the last 4 decades have done, what is a reasonable expectation for the next four?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

About that US withdrawal from Iraq

On the way back from his Jerusalem visit (and remarks there that nearly ended Trump's joint Gantz - Netanyahu DC visit before it had even started), US Vice President Mike Pence stopped in Shannon --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Morning, everybody. We’re the Pences. 
[American] TROOPS: Morning, sir! 
 THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great to see you all. And thank you for your service. This is — now, is this your unit out of Fort Worth and National Guard? Is this where —
 LIEUTENANT COLONEL KELLEY: Fort Bliss. But it’s a combination. This is mostly the National Guard guys and (inaudible). 
 THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay, so this is National Guard?  
LIEUTENANT COLONEL KELLEY: Some of my guys are over there, sir. 
 THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay, well, Fort Bliss and National Guard. Great. Well, let me — this is my wife, Karen. We are really delighted to have a chance to see you all — to see you all. On behalf of your Commander-in-Chief: Thank you for your service to America. And we just look forward to meeting as many of you as time permits. I know you’re headed to a deployment in Iraq.

Later on, Pence refers to the Iraq deployment as being for 9 months. Thus, the regular troop rotations, including drawing from the state national guards, continue uninterrupted. 

That awful man

Just about nothing went well in the interview itself or the aftermath of Mike Pompeo's NPR Q and A with Mary Louise Kelly, but one guess as to when things went off the rails is that it happened even sooner than the pivot to Ukraine -- which tough guy Pompeo said was supposed to be off-limits -- specifically when Kelly asked this question:

But again, you say you're determined to prevent them [Iran, nuclear]. How do you stop them? I was in Tehran two weeks ago. I sat down with your counterpart there, Javad Zarif, and he told me, quote, "All limits on our centrifuge program are now suspended."

Javad Zarif is technically the Iranian foreign minister, and therefore technically Pompeo's counterpart. He's also a sociopathic clown who tweeted a broken heart emoji as part of a condolence message for the IRGC shooting down the Ukrainian airliner, and his reputation is sufficiently toxic that he managed to get disinvited from Davos (something that even his deeply unpopular Lebanese counterpart Gebran Bassil couldn't manage).

Most likely, Pompeo hates Zarif, and was annoyed at any comparison to him. And the downhill got steeper from there.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Offer not applicable in Suez

From US Vice President Mike Pence speech at the Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem --

And I’m proud to say, as Vice President of the United States, that the American people have been with you [Israel] every step of the way since 1948. (Applause.) And so we will remain.

Role confusion

During US Vice President Mike Pence appearance with Israeli caretaker PM Netanyahu today --

 AMBASSADOR DERMER: Yeah, thank you. If I could just stand for one second. Mr. Vice President, Mr. Prime Minister, if I — if you could stand. Together with President Trump, no three people have done more to cause this historic move of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem than the two of you and President Trump. 
 AMBASSADOR DERMER: There’s time for me later on. (Laughter.) To honor — to honor your contribution, I have caused the United States flag to fly over this embassy. These two flags I’m going to present to the two of you are two of the earliest flags — I’ve a third one that we’ll bring back for the President. But I’d like to present each of you with the United States flag that flew over the United States Embassy in Jerusalem in its early opening days, if I can do that.

Ron Dermer is the Israeli Ambassador to the United States. So what is he doing presenting Pence and Bibi with an American flag from the US Embassy in Jerusalem?


From Donald Trump's closing news conference in Davos --

Q Mr. President, can I ask you about the EU trade deal: Do you have any timeline for that? And if you don’t hit that timeline, if there is one, are you automatically going to go to auto tariffs or is there another — 
 THE PRESIDENT: I have a timeline. Q — is there another avenue, other than auto tariffs? 
 THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Great question, actually. I don’t have a timeline, but maybe I do, in my own mind. They have to move relatively quickly, but they have to treat us fairly. The European Union was formed pretty much for this reason, I suspect — you know, if you really think about it. Why was it formed? They formed their airplane company, which does very nicely, and now is doing better than ever because Boeing has not had a good time of it. They have — they have — they better start recovering fast. I hope they do. They have some good people in there now. They have great people in the company, but they have some good people leading it now. So, hopefully, that will be taken care of.

As usual there are so many tangents in his response that the direction is impossible to discern, but he seems to think that the European Union was formed to support companies that could compete with American firms. That might be somewhere on the list, but it was originally formed so that countries could agree on ways to manage declining industries (coal, steel, fishing, agriculture) before getting around to potentially supporting new industries. Not understanding why your trade partner is pursuing a particular policy undermines your chances of changing it. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Party Line

If a corrupted WhatsApp message was sent from the phone of Saudi Crown Prince MBS to Jeff Bezos, it does not mean that MBS himself sent the message. Others could have had access to the same phone, with MBS permission. For example, MBS's reputed digital enforcer, Saud al-Qahtani

Swiss time was running out

From the Trump media event with the Swiss President --

PRESIDENT SOMMARUGA: — (inaudible). And you know that Switzerland President has only for one year. PRESIDENT TRUMP: Right.

How he got there

From the Trump impeachment trial brief --

The President of the United States occupies a unique position in the structure of our government. He is chosen directly by the People through a national election to be the head of an entire branch of government and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and is entrusted with enormous responsibilities for setting policies for the Nation.

That's just factually wrong. The President is indirectly elected. The people choose the members of the electoral college, and the electoral college elects the President. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Is there more news?

We are not far into 2020 and already it seems like another breathless year of developments, the fourth since 2016, the year of Brexit and Trump.

But something strange has happened to the filter for what counts as news. The turn of the year brought a few reminders of big events from not to long ago: another anniversary for the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake / tsunami in which at least 250,000 people died, and the latest German announcement on coal power phaseout, which reminds us that the world is still dealing with the consequences of the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.

These were massive events.

Then there's a set of events from the Middle East, the Syrian war since 2011, the Syrian mass migration to Germany in 2014-15, the French terrorist attacks in 2015. And there's more from any and every region of the world, stuff that would get noticed, at least by people in the "news" business. The problem is that the proliferation of ostensible engagement in news through social media has commingled political developments with general events and distorted the perceptions of both.

In fact, for the USA, you could turn the logic around and argue that there's been very little news since 2016. There is self-generated "news" from the political system, but no 9/11, no oil price shock, no large new military operations overseas. Of course there's been lots to track as non-political news, including "this American carnage" as Trump labelled it. But nothing to disturb the political system from the very resilient, very noisy, fairly bad equilibrium in which it currently lies.

One conclusion being it's just possible that 2020 could see a major non-political news event pulling the political system into unchartered territory, where having instincts honed based on a pre-occupation with other political actors and hangers-on is not going to be much help. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Quote of the Day

Simon Kuper in the Financial Times --

[Trump's] tweets approach Orwell’s ideal of prose that sounds like speech; in fact, social media blur the very distinction. Trump has even mastered a rhetorical genre that Orwell didn’t have: huckster’s utopianism.

Monday, January 13, 2020

He correctly uses "couldn't care less"

As opposed to the common, but nonsensical "could care less."


There's a lot going on in the latest Hassan Nasrallah speech -- not just the revelation that he reads the editorial cartoons in the Washington Post. Among many things, two to note here. First, Nasrallah makes an interesting claim about the fateful Soleimani trip to Baghdad: his ally, Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Deputy Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, who was killed the same drone strike, advised him not to come --

why did Abu Mahdi go to the airport to receive Hajj Qassem [Soleimani]? Why? Knowing that he called and Hajj Qasim was present with us and called Abu Mahdi and said to him, Hajj, do not come to Baghdad, the atmosphere is tense, he said to him, No, I am coming, and he knows that the [climate] is tense, but he went to Hajj Qasim to the airport, I believe that God Almighty chose for these two beloved leaders, the two brothers who lived together and had an excellent and exceptional spiritual relationship to be martyred together,

Nasrallah also makes a claim about the Iraqi Kurdish president Masood Barzani demeanor during the early days of the ISIL expansion in 2014 that it clearly based on Soleimani --

I hope Mr. Masoud Al-Barzani to be thankful to [] Soleimani, who admitted Years ago ... when ISIS was close to Erbil, when the Kurdistan region almost fell into the hands of ISIS and [Barzani] contacted all your friends, but they did not help you, and you called the Iranians, so you came on the second day, by recognizing Hajj Qassem Soleimani and with him brothers, [] he was with him Brothers from Hezbollah also went with him to Erbil, and Hajj Qassem, who went to Erbil and my brothers who were with him, told me that Masoud Barzani was shivering, his hands trembling with fear. But the rapid presence of Hajj Qassem Soleimani and the Islamic Republic next to you is the one who removed this danger from you, which was unparalleled in your history in the Kurdish region.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A Beirut reader writes

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah during a trademark extended discourse on Sunday, the main topic being the Soleimani and Muhandis assassinations --

In any case, the outfit I am wearing, I am a religious science student and is inappropriate to bring you the picture, but I recommend watching the cartoon published by The Washington Post, the Washington Post comics comment on Iranian missiles on Ein al-Assad and Trump's stance.

It's not clear which cartoon he means. The Washington Post has two editorial cartoonists, Tom Toles and Ann Telnaes, and both had relevant cartoons this week. From the context of the speech, he could mean either this one by Toles or this one by Telnaes

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Full circle

Part of the Iranian "revolutionary" regime's claim to righteous legitimacy is that, in the 1980s, Iran was the victim of chemical weapons usage by Saddam Hussein, with western connivance, and the US Navy shot down an Iranian civilian passenger plane. Iran the victim in a world not interested in accountability.

Now they have connived in Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons usage in Syria, and shot down a civilian airliner.

They've become what they defined themselves against. 

Emoji condolence guy

Davos starts in 10 days. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif is apparently attending -- a favourite forum for light touch media interviews.

Can one of the interviewers ask him why he thinks a broken heart emoji is an appropriate element of a condolence tweet (no link, intentionally) to the bereaved from Ukrainian International Airlines PS752, shot down by Iran?

UPDATE 20 January: For whatever reason, Zarif became a hot potato at Davos and he is not attending

Overnight scrubbing likely

Look to the Twitter feed of Russia UN Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy for how the Ukrainian flight (PS752) tragedy was already being sucked into a Russian information operation just like their denial of the truth on MH17.

UPDATE: The Iranian leadership were told on Wednesday that a missile had caused the disaster. Everyone working on MH17-style disinformation about the attack was working on an already known lie. 

When they was fab

Qeeen Elizabeth in Oman 1979Queen Elizabeth takes a photograph as Sultan Qaboos of Oman and Prince Philip look on, during her visit to Oman in 1979.

A planned leg of the trip to Iran was cancelled after the Iranian revolution.

The Sultan's death was announced late Friday evening in Muscat.

Photo via Flickr.