Monday, February 18, 2019

Free thinking anti-establishment, Irish style

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A long way from Sir Humphrey

The FT on the interministerial feuding between defence and exchequer as a Philip Hammond China trip implodes:

Claims Mr [Gavin] Williamson's speech had disrupted planning for chancellor's trip this weekend were "total bollocks", according to a person close to the Ministry of Defence.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Quote of the Day

In the Financial Times, Simon Kuper discusses the perceived commonalities between Trumpism and Brexit --

Weakling neighbours that we bullied in the glorious past — Mexico and Ireland — will bow down again if shouted at hard enough.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Baathist entity

Member of Irish Parliament Mick Wallace, who for context is a very active tweeter on 3 foreign affairs topics: Israel (against), Syria (for Bashar), and Venezuela (for Maduro), speaking on Tuesday on a bill to restrict Irish imports of goods produced in the Israeli settlements in Palestine --

We should stop defending the indefensible - the behaviour of the state of Israel. We are not anti-Semitic, but we are certainly against the violence and brutality of the Israeli Government against the Palestinian people and several other entities in the region.

The only thing he could mean by Israeli violence against "other entities in the region" is Israeli attacks on Iranian and Hezbollah facilities in parts of Syria under the control of the al-Assad regime. He's therefore directly equating the Palestinian cause with that of foreign entanglements of the al-Assads' lust for power, which to say the least, is a discredit to Palestinians (those Palestinians in Yarmouk might not feel the same way as Mick about the virtues of Bashar al-Assad).

Then there's the question of why Mick holds Bashar al-Assad to a different standard, let's say a double standard, to the one which he holds Israel. But he's clever enough to work in the obligatory disclaimer on that one. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Quote of the Day

The FT's Philip Stephens on Theresa May:

She imagined herself the leader who could set at once the terms for Brexit and forestall a Tory rupture such as those over the Corn Laws or “imperial preference”.

That is a vital point. The teaching of history has tended to cast Chamberlain (J, not N) and Gladstone with their legacy of split parties -- and so the standard became not splitting the party. As Stephens says, the cost is splitting the country. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Missing in action

In yesterday's no-confidence motion in the British government,  it was left to a Scottish MP to deliver the significance of Irish nationalism:

Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)

I hope that the motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition is successful this evening. I was reminded that today is the anniversary of one of the first Home Rule Bills for Ireland, which was agreed by this House in 1913 but defeated in the other place. Yet again—I say this with due deference—the Democratic Unionist party is in control of the Government. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that if the motion succeeds this evening, the Scottish National party will have no truck with any Government funding the Democratic Unionist party and its type of politics?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Not shy

When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Riyadh this evening, his big meeting was with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, and Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Ambassador to the USA and brother of the Crown Prince. Prince Khalid's name, shall we say, came up in the Khashoggi affair, so having him visible at a meeting with Pompeo is a statement of itself.

Photo via SPA. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

How it's done

Just in case anyone forgets that Whataboutery originated not as a Russian media strategy or among Bashar al-Assad fanboys, but as a description of Irish Republican posturing in the 1970s:

RTE --

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has said she is very glad that two Sinn Féin representatives were in attendance at the inauguration of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro.

His election has been criticised by the EU and America as a fraud.

"We believe the Venezuelan election was open and democratic," Ms McDonald said.

"It's for the people of Venezuela and them alone to decide who their president is."

"There are people in this country who would not endorse Leo Varadkar on the basis that they have endured poverty...we also have to accepted that he is the Taoiseach."

The Obama truthers

Trumpism (increasingly indistinguishable from the Republican party overall) has been obsessed with Barack Obama's 2009 Cairo speech since it was delivered. It's that obsession which resulted in US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's clunker of a speech on Thursday, again in Cairo.

The real time context for that obsession is important. At the time (and right up until well into his campaign in 2016, when he suckered rolling news channels into yet more free coverage), Donald Trump had been trafficking in theories that Barack Obama was not born in the USA and was secretly a Muslim. That "secret Muslim" idea, whose entry into the Republican mainstream is a story worthy of Inception, has in turn driven Trump's Middle East views, and those of the people he has around him. And they've now contorted themselves into a set of alliances and stances that will eventually blow up -- as Iran (their other obsession) did in the 1970s. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Fiasco in Cairo

There may never be a worse high-level speech than the one that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered yesterday at the American University of Cairo. Pompeo travelled all the way to the Nile, but could not step outside the Potomac/ Hudson/ Fox News international relations book circle, in which the Arab Spring was Barack Obama's fault, the average Arab lives in mortal fear of Iran, and a judo contestant from Israel going to Abu Dhabi is the greatest breakthrough anywhere since Nixon went to China. And then's there a line for which we'd have blamed Steve Bannon if he was still in the administration:

Our eagerness to address only Muslims and not nations ignored the rich diversity of the Middle East and frayed old bonds. It undermined the concept of the nation-state, the building block of international stability. And our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy.

In the background, whoever wrote that is thinking ... ISIS is just like The Globalists! 

The country that should probably feel most aggrieved is Lebanon: Pompeo ignored its hosting of large numbers of Syrian refugees, mindlessly equated it with Hezbollah and Iran, and presented it as a country only to be thought of in terms of the implications for Israel.

There's not much that can be done, but why is Poland lending any legitimacy to this charade?

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Brexit road trip

Maybe Paul McCartney has been writing great songs about so many things for so long that he wrote about future events decades ago, but Helen Wheels (1973) might need to be the upbeat soundtrack for people finding a lot more joy in time on British roads.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Two nations once again

No Labels co-founder Daniel Arbess has got that whole Israel-Palestine thing sorted out in the manner that only a bipartisan no labels person could (Wall Street Journal). He's gone back to the 1922 British Mandate map of Palestine, inserted the word "Jewish" on the part between the west of the Jordan River and the sea, and declared, if you will, that we just need to go back to that map. Jordan would assume responsibility for any Arabs in the West Bank (there's no mention of Jerusalem, or indeed Arabs of 1948 who are citizens of Israel). Israel would have sovereignty, and freedom of movement and settlement, throughout the West Bank. What's not to like?

Well. for one thing, that's quite a map. There's no such thing in post-Ottoman history as "Jewish Palestine." Instead, there was an international agreement that there would be a "national home for the Jewish people" west of the Jordan river. But that careful phrase left options wide open for what the political structure and governance of that national home would be -- reasonable given that the vast majority of its inhabitants were Arab. And as a partition plan, it worked out about as well as the partition of Ireland and India by the same imperial power. Let's hope Trump is not the intended audience. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Music selection for 2019

The travel and administrative difficulties in the song make it a parable for Brexit! [backup link]

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

On the first day of Christmas

Saudi Arabia's military forces have an investigation team that looks into allegations of civilian casualties and disproportionate force in Yemen. The team held its latest news conference today, and the investigations cleared their forces in all cases. This is par for the course, but the Christmas Day touch is especially deft. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Through the looking glass

Excellent article in the Financial Times (subs. possibly req'd) on the debate over whether the rolling news format of BFM TV has fed the high viz jacket protests:

But the “BFM phenomenon” is shaking up both traditional media outlets and methods. “A BFM journalist will give the microphone to anyone on the street without doing any research on the credibility of the person being interviewed,” said Olivier Royant, editor of weekly magazine Paris Match. “BFM TV is very good at finding one sentence and having everyone react to this one controversy and then labelling it as news. “BFM is a very reactive media. A small event can become the most important topic. Then all the other media have to decide whether or not to follow BFM TV.”

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Bashar and Omar compare notes

The al-Assad fanboys can reconcile just about anything, but watching them trying to reconcile how Sudan and Syria are the good guys in the Arab world will be especially interesting.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Apres moi, l'expense report

Henry Olsen, who specializes in working class conservatism, explains the virtues of Brexit to Washington Post readers:

It's easy to see the difference between the United Kingdom and the E.U. when you visit London and Paris, as I just recently did.

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.