Friday, June 30, 2017

Quote of the Day

Gillian Tett in the Financial Times on Ireland's transformed attitude to gay marriage --

“In Ireland, the campaign was all about a person, not policy,” E Moore Quinn, a linguistic anthropologist at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, told a meeting of anthropologists last year. “The consultants for the campaign decided that everyone knows someone who is gay, and everyone recognises the importance of love. So the campaigners would start with the personal incentive and then go bigger, talking about Ireland’s desire to be a modern, pluralistic European country. But people vote for the personal not the global — that was the lesson.”

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hybrid Operations

Yesterday, by pure coincidence, the following events happened --

  • Ransomware attack that appeared to first target Ukraine
  • Mysterious explosion which killed a Ukrainian intelligence officer
  • Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov hanging out in Syria with his good friend Bashar al-Assad -- on the day that the Pentagon had concluded he was planning a new chemical weapons attack.

It's almost as if there was a strategy of multiple disruptions at the same time!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

West Brexiters in Westminster

House of Commons debate on the Brexit portions of the Queen's Speech --

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP) ... The director of social policy at Trinity College Dublin said in a letter to the leader of the Democratic Unionist party: “If the Government of the Republic of Ireland is so foolish as to seek to stay in the EU when Northern Ireland and Britain leave, it is the Republic, not the UK, that will be putting the Common Anglo-Irish Travel and Trade Area at risk.” Those are very important comments because the onus is actually on the Republic of Ireland to address its problems with Europe. It is not for Northern Ireland to address those issues. Since 2014, the Republic of Ireland has been paying €1.7 billion to be a member of the EU. ... Post-Brexit, the Republic of Ireland will be required to pay even more to make up for the UK leaving the EU. All the trading issues between the Republic of Ireland and the UK show very clearly that the Republic of Ireland can do far better by leaving the EU along with the UK. I hope that the Republic of Ireland gets that message loud and clear, and recognises that it can do more for our common citizenship by leaving the EU along with us. 

First, Ian Beag is misquoting the title of Anthony Coughlan, who is not director of anything at Trinity College Dublin, although merely by virtue of having retired from there, it gets used a credential for media references (much the same way that public sector pensioner Ray Bassett catapults onto the op-ed pages by virtue of having retired from the Department of Foreign Affairs).

But anyway, Ian's contribution is helpful: it lays out clearly the argument that it's up to the Republic of Ireland to adapt to Brexit by leaving the EU -- an argument implicit in all the claims (such as from Ray Bassett) that the Republic is not "doing enough" about Brexit. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Around the time that Donald Trump's name was being put a statement marking the onset of the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan), a statement that was issued to the media but not posted on the White House website, he felt the need to tweet, with no context, Make America Great Again. He might need to move from the armchair to the couch. 


Chris Giles in the Financial Times with a brutally accurate verdict on Brexit:

After the Grenfell Tower fire, Brexiters might think twice before declaring war on red tape in order to spur growth. The disaster has shown there is nothing inherently superior in the UK's drafting or enforcement of regulations ... The first year since the vote to leave has been difficult. Living standards are down, the economy is more fragile and there have been few signs of the fabled investment-led balanced growth. No one should take great comfort from the fact we have avoided recession.

Worse, devalued ministers are ploughing on regardless with a hard Brexit. They are playing with the oiled cogs of Britain's economy in one hand and a bucket of sand in the other. No one knows how much they will tip in.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gulf Ultimatum

New York Times 18 July 1990 --

''The policies of some Arab rulers are American,'' the Iraqi leader was quoted as having said by news agencies from Baghdad. ''They are inspired by America to undermine Arab interests and security.'' President [Saddam] Hussein said, ''Iraqis will not forget the saying that cutting necks is better than cutting means of living.'' ''O God almighty, be witness that we have warned them,'' he added. ''If words fail to protect Iraqis, something effective must be done to return things to their natural course and to return usurped rights to their owners.''

2 weeks after that article, and with repeated assurances from pundits, experts, and diplomats that all Iraq really wanted was money, Saddam invaded Kuwait.

That same obliviousness to the logic of where a Gulf political crisis is headed is happening today.

Outrage of the Day, a fortnight ago

Remember when Twitter users were tapping furiously on the nearest glass screen about how the greatest outrage in London was a New York Times headline that London was "reeling"?


From Ben Okri's poem about the tower block disaster, in the Financial Times:

But if you really look you can see it, if you really listen
You can hear it. You've got to look beneath the cladding.
There's cladding everywhere. Political cladding,
Economic cladding, intellectual cladding — things that look good
But have no centre, have no heart, only moral padding.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Brexit clarity

The media and gullible opinionators spent a couple of days discovering that the DUP actually does want to leave the European Union Customs Union -- a policy clearly stated in their manifesto and evident for months beforehand in their remarks on Brexit. Lest there be any doubt, Nigel Dodds set them to rest in the Queen's Speech debate --

We have, of course, heard some debate today about membership of the single market and the customs union, and we have heard talk about special status for Northern Ireland within the European Union. Let me make this very clear. I believe that when people voted, in the European Union referendum, to leave the European Union, they voted to leave the single market and the customs union, and I believe that Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, must do likewise. We must not find ourselves allowing borders to be erected between the island of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom; that would be totally unacceptable. We must be imaginative, flexible and pragmatic in ensuring that there is an open border, as frictionless as possible, between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. There are ways—sensible ways that have already been discussed —of ensuring that that can be made to happen, and it is in the interests of the Irish Republic and the European Union, as well as those of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, to make it happen. The great advantage with which we start is that everyone is saying that—apart from, I have to say, Sinn Féin, which is calling for special status within the EU for Northern Ireland. That has not been adopted or accepted by the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, by any of the parties in the Irish Republic, or by the EU negotiators. Everyone accepts that Northern Ireland’s priorities in relation to the land frontier must also be at the top of the negotiating priorities.

So: they want to leave the Customs Union, but they want a special arrangement for the "land frontier" with the Republic of Ireland to save them from the logic of that preference. Unfortunately, there are fools in Dublin who believe that the Irish government should step aside from the EU negotiation framework and give the Paisleyites what they want.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Opportunity Knocks

Financial Times on UK government formation:

The DUP's tough approach to negotiations has raised eyebrows in Westminster; one person familiar with talks labelled the party "short-termist fools".

Remember,  the Tories are at the mercy of Paisleyism because of an unnecessary election called on the basis of opinion polls. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Trucial Taunt

The UAE Ambassador to the USA had a prime spot in the Wall Street Journal op-ed page last week to lay out their side of the story in the dispute with Qatar. In Monday's paper, his Qatari counterpart has a letter in response ($). It's brutal --

... Surely his excellency also remembers that the U.A.E. was singled out in the 9/11 Commission’s report for its role in laundering money to terrorists, and that Emiratis, not Qataris, were among the hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers. ... he fails to mention that the U.A.E. financed the military coup that overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected government, and that the U.A.E. allegedly bankrolled the coup plotters who attempted to overthrow the elected government in Turkey. ... It has become clear that the current campaign against Qatar is not about terrorism, Al Jazeera or any of the other issues highlighted by the boycotting nations. It is about Qatar’s independence, which some apparently view as a threat. We would like our brothers in the GCC to know that we are a threat to no one. But they should also understand that Qatar is a sovereign nation, and that we will not be bullied.

The dig about the alleged UAE rule in the abortive Turkish coup is particularly significant. This isn't going to end well. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ian says out

Quite predictably, there is a "news" frenzy around the ostensible revelation that the DUP wants to leave the European Customs Union as part of Brexit -- even though this was clearly stated in their manifesto and has been mentioned by their MPs in the House of Commons for months beforehand. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tough Republic

Nicholas Macpherson in the Financial Times:

But whereas Ireland managed to reduce its gross public debt from 86 per cent to 75 per cent of national income between 2010 and 2016, Britain's public debt carried on rising: from 76 per cent to 89 per cent.  In short, Britain never experienced austerity.


Wall Street Journal on the case of newly sanctioned ISIS operative Oussama Atar:

His extraction from Iraq wasn't only because of a humanitarian campaign because of his alleged chronic illness—which later turned out to be false—but also because the Belgian intelligence services sought to recruit him as a source given his contacts in the Moroccan-Belgian community, according to an official familiar with the probe. "The Belgians promised the U.S. two things—to never give him a passport and to put him under 24-hour surveillance. They failed on both accounts," the official said.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Gulf memories

New York Times, September 23 1990 -- 2 months after the disastrous all-round miscalculation that was the Saddam invasion of Kuwait:

The American strategy, carried out primarily by the State Department but approved by the White House, was based on the assumption that Iraq would not invade and occupy Kuwait. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who assured the Bush Administration that Mr. Hussein would not invade, argued that the best way to resolve an inter-Arab squabble was for the United States to avoid inflammatory words and actions. Some senior Administration officials said the strategy was also rooted in the view that Washington - and most of the Arab world - probably could live with a limited invasion of Kuwait, in which Iraqi forces seized bits of Kuwaiti territory to gain concessions. ''We were reluctant to draw a line in the sand,'' a senior Administration official said. ''I can't see the American public supporting the deployment of troops over a dispute over 20 miles of desert territory and it is not clear that the local countries would have supported that kind of commitment. The basic principle is not to make threats you can't deliver on. That was one reason there was a certain degree of hedging on what was said.''

Ireland 1 Italy 0

New York Times on Gianluca Tonelli's sometimes uphill struggle to bring pastrami to Tuscany --

But now he felt down about Italy, its economic prospects and culinary closed­mindedness. His dream, he said, is to put the truck on a boat to Ireland. “Nobody knows pastrami there,” he said, adding that it was a nation full of open­minded people, fiscal benefits and less cuisine elitism. “In Ireland the food is great until they cook it.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017


The Saudi Press Agency is providing more details (meaning more than zero) on the phone call today between 2nd Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in which Qatar was clearly discussed. There is no official US account, so far, of the phone call. 

One quintile to rule them all

Important article by Richard Reeves in the New York Times Sunday Review: the problem in American politics and social dynamics is not the Top 1 percent, it's the Top 20 percent. Besides the fact that we completely agree, Reeves doesn't note one additional point: The Pundit Class is in that Top 20 percent. 

They'll never have lunch on Massachusetts Avenue again

Bloomberg News --

The government of Qatar, blockaded by its neighbors and singled out for supporting terror in recent days by President Donald Trump, has hired the firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for services that could include lobbying, according to disclosures released by the Justice Department. Qatar is paying Ashcroft’s firm $2.5 million to represent it in connection with its efforts to combat global terrorism and comply with U.S. money laundering and counterterrorism financing regulations, according to the four-page contract filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires lobbyists for foreign clients to disclose information about their activities.

The tone of the news coverage seems to be, here we go again, the Qataris splashing out the cash on Washington lobbyists. But the actual news is that they were able to find any Washington lobbyist to represent them, given the squeeze being applied by the much deeper-pocketed alliance against them. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have written a lot of cheques to think tanks and pundits over the last 15 years, far more than Qatar.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

American Strategist in London

From May Co-Chief of staff Nick Timothy resignation statement assessing the campaign: 

It also failed to notice the surge in Labour support, because modern campaigning techniques require ever-narrower targeting of specific voters, and we were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour.

He means Jim Messina, the Obama campaign consultant expensively hired by the Conservative campaign. 

You'll never beat the Irish

In the Wall Street Journal ($), Ben Zimmer with a reminder that the now-common term Whataboutery, often seen as a Russian media/ troll tactic, actually originated in a different era, from the opinion section of the then troll-free Irish Times --

On Jan. 30, 1974, the Irish Times published a letter to the editor from Sean O'Conaill, a history teacher from the town of Coleraine in Northern Ireland. Mr. O'Conaill wrote of "the Whatabouts," his name for "the people who answer every condemnation of the Provisional I.R.A. with an argument to prove the greater immorality of the 'enemy.' "

Three days later, in the same newspaper, John Healy picked up the theme in his "Backbencher" column, citing Mr. O'Conaill's letter. "We have a bellyful of Whataboutery in these killing days, and the one clear fact to emerge is that people, Orange and Green, are dying as a result of it," he wrote.

The DUP and the Customs Union

It's relevant -- and fun -- to lay out the loony positions that the DUP has adopted on social issues over the years. But it's important not to lose sight of the DUP's stated position on Brexit, because it's central to the tension of their support for a government also reliant on Scottish MPs. The DUP wants to leave the Customs Union. They also want a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland, but the issue is whether those two aspirations are compatible. Commitments in their manifesto include --

Progress on new free trade deals with the rest of the world 
Comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union 
Northern Ireland established as a hub for trade from Irish Republic into the broader UK market. Customs arrangements which facilitate trade with new and existing markets
 Jurisdiction of European Court of Justice ended and greater control over our laws restored

The aspiration to non-EU trade deals, special arrangements for Irish trade with the UK, and being outside the ECJ are all incompatible with membership in the Customs Union. Word games around this conundrum need to be watched closely in the coming months.

Incidentally, along with the dream of a hard Brexit that died yesterday, so did the dream of West Brexit i.e. Ireland following the UK out of the European Union, as explicitly demanded by West Brit trolls and coyly advocated by the opinion pages of the Sunday Business Post. With Britain now far more likely to stay in the Customs Union and probably even the Single Market, there would be zero logic for Ireland to have asymmetric trade relations with the UK compared with other EU member countries trade relations with the UK. 

Friday, June 09, 2017

Quote of the Day

Edward Carson in the House of Commons debate on the Government of Ireland Bill in the fateful run-up to World War I and suspension of Home Rule --

I say this to my Nationalist fellow countrymen, and, indeed, also to the Government: you have never tried to win over Ulster. You have never tried to understand her position. You have never alleged, and can never allege, that this Bill gives her one atom of advantage. Nay, you cannot deny that it takes away many advantages that she has as a constituent part of the United Kingdom. You cannot deny that in the past she had produced the most loyal and law-abiding part of the citizens of Ireland. After all that, for these two years, every time we came before you your only answer to us—the majority of you, at all events—was to insult us, and to make little of us. I say to the leader of the Nationalist party, if you want Ulster, go and take her, or go and win her. You have never wanted her affections; you have wanted her taxes.

England's Difficulty is Ireland's Opportunity

There is understandable unease about a DUP tail wagging the Tory dog in the formation of a minority Tory government. But there is a lot more good news than bad news in last night's results:

First and foremost, the Tory right/ DUP dream of a Hard Brexit is dead. The Conservative MPs now have an influential group of Scottish MPs sitting among them that will push for soft Brexit, and the Tories barely had the votes even before to dodge the controversial issues like Single Market and migration.

Second, there's a limit to what the DUP can extract from the Tories as a price for support. They are tied to a power sharing agreement with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, and the UK is a party to that agreement. If the Conservatives make too many concessions to the DUP for Westminster support, they will be destabilizing the intricate arrangements for running Northern Ireland.

And finally: is it really SF's position that on a Brexit deal vote within the next 20 months that would involve a hard border in Ireland, they would not take their seats and vote against it? Given the dramatic changes in electoral politics in the last couple of years, are they sure that a policy designed for 1918 is still the right one? 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Irish Parliamentary Party

This evening might be a good time for Sinn Féin to reconsider its abstentionist policy in the UK House of Commons. Especially given that the DUP could otherwise have the balance of power. 

The world's saddest excuse

Financial Times election eve analysis including for UKIP:

The Eurosceptic party says its anti-immigration message is being taken more seriously after the terror attacks of the last fortnight, but it still faces what one party official called the "egregious partisanship of the Tory-supporting newspapers".

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Gulf Blowback

David Gardner in the Financial Times on the Qatar diplomatic crisis:

The absolute monarchies of the Gulf are not like, say, the Hashemites in Jordan, where the late King Hussein could run through 56 prime ministers in 46 years, useful scapegoats for misfired policies. The Al Thani are a dynasty as much as the House of Saud. They cannot be laid off without weakening dynastic legitimacy all around.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times on the closing days of the UK election campaign:

It is an unseriousness abroad, a failure to leave behind the Home Office itch to land favourable tabloid headlines, even when it comes to the highest matters of state, that augurs badly for her premiership. The overall impression from the past seven weeks is of a nation protected by the best of its citizens, and governed by merely the best available.

Monday, June 05, 2017

There's always a previous Trump tweet

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Explain this to a time traveller from 2001

That would be a Taliban Twitter account suggesting to President Trump, in a way that he might find convincing, that it's time to pack in the war begun 2 months after 9/11. The latest disasters in Kabul might also be a good time to recall that there's still no satisfactory explanation for the bomb explosion which killed the UAE Ambassador, among many others, in Kandahar in January. 


Reuters interview with head of the armed forces of Colombia, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez --

"Stabilization is very complicated, very difficult. Colombians have to understand it will take time." Rodriguez said. "I would say at a minimum in ten years we will be able to see how we've done and see more concrete results."

And that's a 10 year timeline for security results within his own country. Project accordingly for insurgencies with lots of cross-border interventions on all sides, and you get a sense of what to expect for the Middle East. 

UK election

With a week to go, a few unstructured thoughts.

One question is prompted by the narrowing of the Tory lead according to the polls. What's striking is the extent to which the Tory campaign mimics the mistakes of the Clinton campaign against Trump: assuming that the ostensible awfulness of Corbyn was sufficient of itself without having to make a positive case for their own leader, and underestimating the power of a simple but resonant slogan: Make America Great Again, meet For The Many, Not The Few. Indeed, the aping of the Clinton mistakes is so striking, it's almost as if the Tories have a Democratic "strategist" working for their campaign!

Another issue is the dementia tax. In the post-mortems on the small Tory majority, that will be seen as a pivotal moment in the campaign. How did they commit such an unforced error? For one thing, they found themselves the wrong side of how the public thinks about fairness relative to bad luck.

May clearly thought that the switch from Cameron's maximum out-of-pocket on old age care to a guaranteed minimum level of assets that you'd be left with after old age care was a winner, on the logic that rich people would have a more open-ended liability. But Cameron (who, yes, will still go down as the worst PM in British history over Brexit) did have an intuitive sense that people want a limit on how bad things can get for an unlucky family -- and would place a higher weight on that than level of wealth.

When it comes to such uncertainty, people apparently prefer a bad deal (things can get no worse than X) to no deal (you won't lose everything)!