|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Jon Stewart hosted Tony Blair on The Daily Show Tuesday night, and he barely let the former British prime minister get a word in edgewise. Stewart evidently had some things to get off his chest, because he harangued Blair at length in one of his occasional moments of earnest seriousness. And in so doing, he just may have eviscerated the logic of the war on terrorism:
Stewart: As a pragmatist, is our strategy to rid the world of extremists practical? In a long-term... You talk about this as a generational conflict. Are we being practical in that pursuit?
Blair: Well, I think we're being realistic that it exists, that it exists as a more or less a global movement, with a narrative that's quite deep. And I think you know it's not just about hard power but about soft power as well. It's about how we can bring people of different faiths together, and resolve the Middle East peace process, as well as the hard business of fighting. But I think we don't have an option but to confront this extremism and defeat it. Because when the extremism came here, to New York, on 9/11, it wasn't a provocation.
Stewart: No. But I think the point I'm trying to make is: A very small group of people can do a great deal of damage now. And the amount of resources that we're putting into changing regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan...
I live in New York. We have cockroaches. I'm rich. I hire people to come in; they fumigate... I will never, as long as I live in New York City, be totally rid of cockroaches. Now, I could seal my apartment; I could use bug bombs so that it was nearly unlivable and reduce the amount of cockroaches. But what kind of life is that for me? [Applause.] Do you see what I'm saying? Do you see where I'm going here? Our strategy seems idealistic and naïve to some extent.
Blair responded that he didn't "see what the alternative is" but to stand and fight. Then, after some back and forth about the wisdom of taking out Saddam Hussein, Stewart launched this monologue, with Blair trying vainly to interrupt:
"This is what I mean by naive: Omigod, we have cockroaches. We have to get rats to eat them. Omigod, now we have rats! Oh no, we better getter cats! Oh no, we're overrun by cats; let's get dogs! Omigod, we need to get polar bears!
Do you understand what I'm saying? We are chasing our tails around...
Our resources are not limitless. We cannot continue to go into countries, topple whatever regime we find distasteful, occupy that country to the extent that we can rebuild its infrastructure, re-win the hearts and minds because here's my point: Ultimately within that, there could still be a pocket of extremism in that country... So all that effort still would not gain us the advantage and the safety that we need, as evidenced by the attacks in England by homegrown extremists. So don't we need to rethink and be much smarter about the way we're handling this?"
The interview that aired was edited, but I recommend the entire dialogue, in which Blair and Stewart also tangle about the threat of Iran.
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
Two days ago, we discussed Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's suggestion that Austalia stop recognizing the British monarchy after Queen Elizabeth II steps down. But amid harsh budget cuts, some British voters, participating in a website that solicits ideas for budget reductions, are hoping to ditch the royals a little sooner than that:
In June, Osborne said the 7.9 million pounds ($12 million) in annual government funding to Queen Elizabeth II's royal household, used to pay salaries and the costs of official functions, would be frozen for a year.
Contributors to the website say that doesn't go far enough - calling for Queen Elizabeth II either to step down, or drastically reduce the number of her family members who receive public money. "The French have not had a monarchy for more than 200 years and tourists still flock to Versailles," one of the ideas posted on the Treasury site reads.
I wouldn't count on this happening, but it does seem a little outrageous that Britain continues to spend nearly $60 million on people with no political function at a time when the government is halting construction of 700 schools and cutting health programs for pregnant women.
The amazingly named MP from Kent, Mark Reckless, has apologized to his contituents for missing a vote on the country's budget because he had gotten, like, totally wasted with his colleagues at Westminster:
Mr Reckless denied claims that he fell asleep on the terrace or got a taxi back to his constituency.
He added: "I remember someone asking me to vote and not thinking it was appropriate, given how I was at the time. If I was in the sort of situation generally where I thought I was drunk I tend to go home. Westminster is a very special situation and all I can say... is given this very embarrassing experience I don't intend to drink at Westminster again."
Mr Reckless was having drinks on the night of the second reading of the Finance Bill, which lasted until 0230 BST on Wednesday.
I don't mean to endorse voting while intoxicated, but presumably Reckless already knew how he was voting on his own party's finance bill so he must been pretty rough shape if he didn't even think he could raise his hand at the right time.
I'm guessing turning Westminster into a frat house wasn't quite what Prime Minister Cameron had in mind for his "responsibility agenda."
The New York Times reports that one Steven Perkins, a former oil trader based in London, set off a minor panic in global markets last June when he traded more than half a billion dollars in Brent crude oil after a night of heavy drinking.
According to British regulators, Perkins said he had been boozing it up at a company golf outing, fired up the old laptop when he got home -- and that's when he made the rogue trades.
Here's the regulators' account:
As a direct result of Perkins' trading, the price of Brent increased significantly. Perkins' trading manipulated the market in Brent by giving a false and misleading impression as to the supply, demand and price of Brent and caused the price of Brent to increase to an abnormal and artificial level.
In sanctioning Perkins, the FSA has also taken into account the fact that Perkins initially lied repeatedly to his employer in order to try and cover up his unauthorised trading.
In the full writeup explaining his $108,000 fine, we learn:
Mr Perkins’ explanation for his trading on 29 and 30 June is that he was drunk. He says that he drank heavily throughout the weekend and continued drinking from around mid-day on Monday 29 June. He claims to have limited recollection of events on Monday and claims to have been in an alcohol induced blackout at the time he traded in the early hours of 30 June.
Apparently Perkins has gone to rehab and is no longer drinking.
While stoppages and barricades stymie the "Freedom Flotillas" en route to Gaza, the "Speed Sisters" -- an eight-woman speed-racing troupe breaking onto the driving scene in the West Bank -- are revving up to shatter barriers at high speeds.
These unfearing females -- comprised of Christians and Muslims from ages 18 to 39 -- competed last Friday in the "Speed Test," a car race in the West Bank city of Ramallah that makes the typical NASCAR loop look like child's play. Thousands of fans attended the event to cheer on the seventy helmet-clad contestants as they navigated through treacherous obstacles, spinning loops, and serpentine pathways. And these eight women, gripping the wheels with fingerless gloves that accentuate their brightly painted fingernails, may have particularly piqued the crowd's interest: they are the first female team to enter the Speed Test. The Speed Sisters follow in the footsteps of the one female contestant -- now the group's coach -- who raced in the first competition five years ago.
While racing, many of the Speed Sisters wear t-shirts emblazoned with the British flag to pay homage to their sponsor, the British consulate in East Jerusalem. It is the consulate's personnel that facilitated the creation of the women's team, and its budget that subsidized about $8000 worth of training, coaches, and car refurbishing -- all part of a campaign to foster development in the West Bank and other communities of Palestinian refugees. But even with a financier, the women's road to the finish line is a bumpy one: they share a donated hatch-back that pales in comparison to the other high-powered BMWs and Mercedes on the track, and they face doubt and skepticism from their male counterparts.
Regardless, this strong female showing in a male-dominated arena is inspiring in such a conservative Muslim society -- especially one in which mounting political strife can often preclude a focus on social equity.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images
The British border agency discovered 728 pounds of cocaine off the southern coast of the country on Sunday, floating in bags attached to lobster pots. The three men charged with the conspiracy to import the drugs are due in court today, where they will likely confess to the crime, but remain ignorant of their invoking the drug's notorious double entendre: "the white lobster."
In the Caribbean, where the ban on coca leaves and the burgeoning cocaine trade are hot topics, many call cocaine "the white lobster." Faced with a law enforcement crackdown, Colombian traffickers often are forced to release their drug supplies into the ocean. From there, currents bring the bulging packages to the shores of some of the most impoverished surrounding regions, where fishing communities collect and sell them to make a living.
The contrast here elucidates just how vastly different the role of drug trafficking is in different areas of the world. The cocaine trade requires a crackdown; but certainly that crackdown should be executed very differently in countries like Nicaragua, where the presence of "white lobster" belies enormous financial hardship, than in Britain, where lobster -- in this case -- is merely the fancy floatie for 9 million dollars of narcotic loot.
In the much-discussed cover story of this weekend's New York Times Magazine, Lynn Hirschberg profiles M.I.A., née Maya Arulpragasam, the British-by-way-of-Sri-Lanka musician whose third album comes out later this summer. It's an interesting piece (even if its subject doesn't think so), not least because it's the first celebrity profile I've read that begins with a thorough parsing of Sri Lankan dissident politics. The subject comes up because a frequent touchstone in M.I.A.'s music is her father's resume: He was as a founder of the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS), a militant group with ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization that helped lay the groundwork for the modern Tamil statehood movement before being superseded by the more violent Tamil Tigers.
Although her father never actually had anything to do with the Tigers, M.I.A. championed the organization's cause (albeit sort of vaguely) throughout its guerrilla war with government forces in northern Sri Lanka, a war with few good guys. (By happenstance, M.I.A.'s own ascent to popularity over the course of her first two records happened mostly between the breakdown of peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers in 2006 and the rebels' defeat in 2009.) Her support is a matter of considerable annoyance to activists concerned with bringing about some sort of lasting peace on the island. "It's very unfair when you condemn one side of this conflict," Ahilan Kadirgamar of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum tells Hirschberg. "The Tigers were killing people, and the government was killing people. It was a brutal war, and M.I.A. had a role in putting the Tigers on the map. She doesn't seem to know the complexity of what these groups do."
Hirschberg mines this vein unsparingly -- you know the knives are out when a writer pulls the old take-a-radical-artist-to-a-fancy-restaurant trick:
Unity holds no allure for Maya - she thrives on conflict, real or imagined. "I kind of want to be an outsider," she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry. "I don't want to make the same music, sing about the same stuff, talk about the same things. If that makes me a terrorist, then I'm a terrorist."
A whole genre of art is, by association, coming in for a drubbing here: the venerable agitprop tradition in which M.I.A. has positioned herself. In music, the legacy runs back through Public Enemy, who championed Louis Farrakhan, and the Clash, who called their classic 1980 album Sandinista!; elsewhere, you've got Warhol's Mao paintings, of course, and pretty much everything Jean Luc Godard has ever said. It's different from the standard political peregrinations of artists and celebrities in that the art is inextricable from the politics, and from their audaciousness -- the Clash record would have sold somewhat worse if it had been called Social Democrat!
This is the line in the sand between the postmodern chilliness of M.I.A.'s radical politics and, say, the heartfelt socialism of Woody Guthrie -- the aesthetic of conflict, rather than any particular policy ambition, is the point. To Hirschberg, it suggests an unflattering comparison:
Like a trained politician, [M.I.A.] stays on message. It's hard to know if she believes everything she says or if she knows that a loud noise will always attract a crowd.
I think this is a more damning indictment of politics than it is of M.I.A. -- whose music is, all things considered, pretty great, if not quite up to the precedents of London Calling or It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Stitching an aesthetic out of politics is at the end of the day pretty harmless; assembling a politics out of aesthetics, not so much.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
It's a bit unclear who's in charge of Britain right now, but if -- as is looking more likely -- David Cameron enters 10 Downing Street with either a minority government or a wacky Conservative-Liberal coalition, he's going to have his hands full right off the bat with Argentina:
Argentina reacted with fury last night to the news that British company
Rockhopper Exploration had made significant oil discoveries in waters around
the Falkland Islands.
As news broke that the company had encountered a 53m-thick deposit of oil
220km (135 miles) north of the islands, that could lead to the discovery of
up to 200 million barrels of oil worth £17 billion at current prices,
Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana condemned British actions in the
region as “illegal” and “unilateral”.
In a statement issued yesterday by the Foreign Ministry, Mr Taiana said:
“Argentina energetically refutes what is an illegal attempt to confiscate
non-renewable natural resources that are the property of the Argentine
It went on: “And wants to make clear, to the UK authorities that authorised
this exploration and to the company involved, that the Argentine Government
will continue to denounce this illegal British action in all international
forums, and that it will take all necessary measures, according to
international law, to impede the continuation of these actions.”
Argentina’s Foreign Minister also warned that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s
Government would continue to impose restrictions on the movement of ships
between Argentina and the Falklands.
Cameron is not only hawkish on the Falklands; he has also been critical of the Obama administration's reluctance to take the British side in the dispute.
As Joe Biden would say, "Gird your loins!"
In the wake of "Bigotgate," British candidates are apparently not taking any chances with political correctness. Nick Clegg has apologized to mental health groups for use of the word "nutters" to describe people who are, well, nuts:
The remark was made in the second debate, broadcast on Sky News on April 15. Mr Clegg said that the Tory leader had aligned himself in Europe with ''nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes''.
Responding to a complaint from the charity Stand to Reason he wrote to director Jonathan Naess: ''You have raised concern about my use of the term 'nutters' in the debate and I am sorry for any offence caused.
''I am acutely aware that the stigma of mental health causes great distress to many people and my use of language that could be considered derogatory was entirely unintentional.''
Granted I've mostly heard the word used in BBC comedies rather than real life, but "nutters," unlike, say, "retarded," seems like it's more often used to describe irrational behavior than those who have mental conditions. I suspect Clegg could probably have gotten away with this one.
The biggest gaffe yet of the British general election was uttered today, and it's potentially devastating for Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour's chances. The British media, long salivating for its first taste of blood, is not surprisingly relishing the chance to stir up the frenzy.
After an impromptu conversation with voter Gillian Duffy in at a campaign stop Rochdale, during which she expressed her concerns about British immigration policy rather bluntly, Brown is heard on a still-hot microphone calling the conversation a "disaster," and describing Duffy as a "bigoted woman." Yikes. Here's the full exchange, courtesy of the New York Times:
"You can't say anything about the immigrants, all these Eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?"
The episode brings to light President Barack Obama's infamous "bitter" remarks regarding small-town voters before the Pennsylvania democratic presidential primary in 2008. But Obama was merely guilty of poor word choice, not outright hostility -- and the substantive point he made was largely accurate. Brown, on the other hand, has been caught disparaging a voter immediately after hearing her policy concerns.
British journalists are claiming this will cripple Brown, as voters with similar concerns will now wonder whether the prime minister thinks they're bigots as well. But to be fair, if Duffy's comment wasn't bigoted, it was certainly quite close to crossing that line.
Brown has now personally apologized to Duffy (it is said it went quite well), and reporters are camped on her front stoop, waiting for her response. More to come.
UPDATE: It's pointed out on Andrew Sparrow's live blog for the Guardian that Brown's exact quote was "sort of a bigoted woman," which is somewhat less harsh.
Sparrow also referenced a Channel 4 news report, during which a Rochdale resident used a variation of the "having said that" line:
One woman says: "I'm not racist, but I admit they're taking all the jobs and houses – there's several of them round here."
Lastly, actor Simon Pegg has given his (rather amusing) spin, claiming on his Twitter feed to have discovered the journalist responsible for picking up Brown's miscue.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Britain's gone mad for Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg over the past week, elevating the onetime longshot to frontrunner status in Britain's election. As it turns out, like David Bowie and U2 before him, Clegg had help from a good producer.
Pioneering glam rocker, ambient composer and pop producer Brian Eno signed on with Clegg as an advisor in 2007. Somewhat bizzarely, the 59-year-old was brought on to advise the Liberal Democrats about youth issues, but once again, it seems like Eno spotted a trend before it got big.
In a speech today at a Labour Party rally held in his old constituency of Sedgefield, former Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly threw his weight behind incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown. While some may have been surprised or even amused by Blair's endorsement of Brown, given their strained relationship, what I found most interesting was Blair's description of Conservative Leader David Cameron's campaign slogan "Time for Change" as "the most vacuous [slogan] in politics."
"Time for Change." Sound familiar? The slogan, of course, sounds eerily like Barack Obama's "Change We Can Believe In." But the Tories haven't just cherry-picked a popular catchphrase from the Obama campaign; in addition, they've hired a number of campaign strategists and consultants who've worked with candidate and President Obama, including media-savvy former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn.
What's so risible about Blair's comment is the awkward position in which it puts him: by mocking Cameron's "Time for Change," he also mocks Obama's "Change We Can Believe In." There just really isn't any way to simultaneously skewer "Time for Change" and hold up "Change We Can Believe In" as a paradigm of pith and profundity. Not exactly the nicest way to thank the guy who awarded you "first friend" status, is it?
On the other hand, maybe Blair's comment will throw some cold water on "change" enthusiasts. The change conceit does, after all, make for a vacuous campaign slogan. Given the highly polarized contemporary political atmosphere in the United States and the United Kingdom, to say that electing a president or prime minister from the opposition represents Change is nothing but an empty truism.
Owen Humphreys - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Some British bloggers seem to be infuriated by remarks made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at her meeting with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner today. Here's what Clinton had to say about the ongoing dispute over the Falkland Islands:
And we agree. We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way. [...]
As to the first point, we want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. Now, we cannot make either one do so, but we think it is the right way to proceed. So we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place.
Guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, Alex Massie writes:
So one hopes that Clinton was merely being polite, but her words carry weight and will increase a sense of expectation in Argentina (and more broadly across Latin America) that cannot possibly be met and that is guaranteed to infuriate the British. At best this is clumsy; at worst it's rather worse than that.
If me email is anything to go by... the average Briton is likely to react to this sort of American intervention by suggesting that it's time to bring our boys home from Afghanistan and leave the Americans on their own.
The Economist's Bagehot was even angrier, and seemed to speculate that the move by Clinton was some sort of retaliation for " the release of the Lockerbie bomber and the fuss over Binyam Mohamed":
I have hesitated to read drastic slights into the sometimes awkward diplomacy between Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. But this stance on the Falklands cannot be seen any other way. It really is no way for the Americans to treat their most important military ally—as some in America doubtless appreciate.
I recognize this is a very contentious issue, but I think these writers may be reading a bit too much into Clinton's statement. It seems to me that when U.S. diplomats say they "encourage both countries to sit down," what they're really saying is, "we don't want to deal with this so please, just don't start another war." I don't really see the stab in the back here.
ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images
Both sides in Britain's national elections are looking to capture a little bit of the Obama magic in a series of upcoming televised debates:
David Cameron has hired two of President Obama’s former advisers to help him to prepare for the televised debates due to be held before the election. Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director, and Bill Knapp, who has worked on the past four US Democratic Party presidential campaigns, will also advise the Tory leader on general strategy.[...]
Gordon Brown, meanwhile, is being advised by Joel Benenson , a pollster and strategist who helped to prepare Mr Obama for his TV showdowns with John McCain. Labour has also received help from David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s senior adviser, and David Plouffe, his former campaign chief.
Thanks to prime minister's questions, British party leaders have plenty of experience with televised verbal jousting, but American-style debates are an entirely different beast. From an outsider's perspective, the younger more dynamic Cameron would appear to have the upper hand, though the polls do appear to be narrowing.
Peter Macdiarmid/WPA Pool/Getty Images
The latest Twitter fail comes courtesy of the Israeli Mission to Britain. The Thursday tweet included a link to a story about Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer's advancement to the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championship, but also seemed to jokingly reference last month's killing of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, which Mossad is suspected to have committed.
It seems the message was particularly poorly-timed, as London asked the Embassy about the use of faked British passports during the Dubai operation on the very same day. The Guardian first reported the posting, but Ynet News grabbed a screenshot of the Tweet itself. It reads:
You heard it here first: Israeli tennis player carries out hit on #Dubai target http://ow.ly/18A79
The message was removed within minutes of its posting. A response was put out by the Israeli Mission today:
Naturally, messages on the Twitter network are characterized with a great deal of creativity. In this case the creativity was undoubtedly inappropriate. The ambassador told off the employee who wrote the message and it was removed.
One would have loved to be a fly on the wall during that telling off. ("WHO'S THE GUILTY TWEETER?")
There's no two ways about it: The last year of foreign policy had more drama than a Scorsese epic and enough thrills to put Avatar to shame. From the fearsome battle in the Afghan hills to the U.S.-China love-hate relationship, and from the serious al Qaeda threats in Yemen to the hard-to-take-seriously pirates off the Somali coast, 2009 was arguably a much more interesting year for global politics than for movies. So with Oscar nominations due tomorrow, we're taking nominations for our own FP Oscars.
Who would you pick for the best actor of the year? Is President Barack Obama holding his own in an unfriendly world, or does the ubiquitous Brazilian President Lula deserve an Oscar? Is Muammar Qaddafi's persona just too good to be true, or do you prefer the smooth, suave diplomacy (and wacky domestic antics) of France's Nicolas Sarzoky?
You tell us what scandals, dramas, tragicomedies, and personal stories are your picks for the history books in 2009. Listed below are the categories and a few sample entries. Send your own nominations to Joshua.Keating@foreignpolicy.com or paste them in the comments below. May the best news win!
Best picture: What one story encapsulates the year?
Best drama: Spies, dissidents, treachery, and truth. Were the adrenaline-pumping protests following the Iran elections the most dramatic event? Or perhaps it was the long, drawn-out U.S. decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. If you have a humanitarian bent, the crises in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan might come a heart-wrenching first.
Best comedy: If it isn't a tragedy, the dysfunction of the U.S. Congress is certainly good for a laugh. Then again, how about the Copenhagen Climate conference that ended in a collective shrug? Or the British MPs who used their expense accounts to buy fancy rugs and re-dig their backyard swimming pools?
Best romantic comedy: Gordon Brown requested meeting after meeting with the U.S. president; Obama just didn't have time. Brown gave him a romantic antique biography of Churchill, and Obama gave him a DVD box set. Let's just say the special relationship isn't all it used to be. But then again, there are other comedies in Europe these days ... Berlusconi anyone?
Best romantic drama: Unclear whether this should be a drama or a comedy, but the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladamir Putin certainly have a relationship worth noting -- as their press photographer has shown time and time again...
Best action: A U.S. ship is seized in the Gulf of Aden and devious pirates take the Maersk Alabama captive on the high seas, demanding a ransom for their deed. But lo and behold! A brave captain sacrifices his freedom to save his crew. And the U.S. whacks three pirates in the end, bringing everyone home safely! Phew!
Best special effects: Hmm, how about that missile launch in North Korea? It hit right on target: the Pacific Ocean.
Best director: Nicolas Sarkozy is a whirling dervish of diplomatic activity.
Best actor: Very few world leaders can also claim their own daily television shows -- and surprisingly humorous ones at that. "Alo Presidente" hasn't exactly skyrocketed Hugo Chavez to fame (his coup attempt back in the 1990s did that), but man has this guy mastered media in the Drudge Era.
Best actress: On a more serious note, few women leaders have been more powerful this year in asserting political freedom than Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi. Or does Hillary Clinton have your vote? As one FP staffer put it, "she's the queen of 'the show must go on.'"
Best supporting actress: Is Carla Bruni the perfect companion for a perfectionist French president?
Best supporting actor: Let's be honest: One man whose entire year has been a story about other people's interests is the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. For all his posturing and pontificating, he was never running the show.
Best costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes.
Worst costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes. You decide.
Lifetime achievement award: Fidel? Kim Jong Il? Mubarak? Most of the longest-lasting players on the world stage aren't particularly savory characters. Got someone better?
We'll post a full list of nominees based on your e-mails and comments on Monday, Feb. 8 and give you a chance to vote. The final winners will be announced at the end of the month.
We promise to keep the musical numbers short.
Today, on Fox News Radio (via The Hill), Rep. James Clyburn, the House majority whip, let loose with some nasty words for the upper half of the U.S. bicameral legislature: "[Senators] tend to see themselves as a House of Lords and they don't seem to understand that those of us that go out there every two years stay in touch with the American people. We tend to respond to them a little better."
It's an easy statement to sympathize with. In the past year, the majority-rules House has seemed a paragon of populist efficiency, passing cap and trade and the health care bills with relative ease -- before the Senate's long horse-trading process winnowed public support for the latter, and before the Democrats lost their 60th Senate seat and thus their ability to stop Republican filibusters.
But it left me thinking -- if only the Senate were like the House of Lords!
At the very least, Britain realized that the institution was anti-democratic and unpopular -- and reformed it, diminishing its power and changing its crusty composition. Parliament has progressively reduced the number of hereditary peers, the land-owning barons of old, replacing them with life peers appointed for career excellence. Plus, in the future, Parliament will likely start making peers elected. (See the composition of the House of Lords here.)
The Times reports that when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in London next week, she expressed concerns that a new Tory government led by David Camerson would cause a rift between Britain and Europe:
Mrs Clinton is said to be worried by Mr Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty if it is not ratified by the time of the next election or seek to repatriate powers given to Brussels in previous agreements. [...]
President Obama has repeatedly made plain that he wants a strong and united Europe as a foreign policy partner on issues ranging from Afghanistan to climate change.
He has less sentimental attachment than many of his predecessors to the traditional “special relationship”. Instead, he believes that Britain should be at the heart of Europe — a position that has been put in doubt by French and German anger over Mr Cameron’s decision to sever ties with the federalist centre right grouping in the Strasbourg Parliament.
Mr Obama is enthusiastic about the idea of a permanent EU president to replace the revolving chairmanship of the EU council, a measure opposed by the Conservatives.
It has long since been Washington’s aspiration to have a “phone to ring” in Europe and there would be strong support for a heavyweight figure such as Tony Blair taking on the role. Mr Obama’s impatience with dealing with the existing European structures is being reflected by an apparent reluctance to attend the next EU/US summit: he may send vice-president Joe Biden to Sweden in his place.
If Obama is intent to see the new EU governance structure put into place, it will be interesting to see if Vice President Biden applies some pressure to Czech President Vaclav Klaus -- the lone holdout on ratifying the Lisbon treaty -- when they meet in Prague on Friday.
In what will probably qualify as the year's least exciting civil rights victory, the far-right British National Party has agreed to admit nonwhite members nearly three decades after its founding:
A government-backed rights body took it to court, claiming the party's constitution is discriminatory.
At a court hearing, a lawyer for the party said leader Nick Griffin would ask members next month to change the constitution so it did not discriminate on the grounds of race or religion.
In an order issued at the Central London County Court, the BNP agreed to use "all reasonable endeavors" to revise its constitution to comply with the Equality Bill, which bans discrimination on the grounds of race, gender or religious belief.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which brought the case, said it would be watching to see whether the BNP complied.
Somehow I don't think minorities are going to be beating down the door to join.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Say goodbye to your Wii, say hello to Internet Eyes, the novel new game which will allow you to spot crime in real life, and win up to 1,000 pounds in prize money. Vigilantism has never been easier.
It's run by a private company, which will stream live footage from the CCTV camaras of shops and business (who actually pay to be included in this scheme) straight to the computers of players -- yes, it's marketed as a game.
Some are celebrating the novel use of footage which, as they point out, is already recorded anyway. Britain has one camara for every 14 people, a total of 4.2 million -- however, only one in a thousand of these is actually watched by law enforcement officials at any given time. Some online sites are even celebrating the democratic nature of the game saying it puts Big Brother in the hands of the people.
Unsurprisingly privacy groups are far less thrilled by the creation of a "snoopers paradise" and worry about a society in which people are encouraged to "spy and snitch on each other." The Guardian points out that even supporters of the controversial CCTV camaras, aren't totally convinced by these plan.
Although, in order to safeguard "privacy" the camaras are assigned to players randomly, without any identifying geographic information, shopgoers might want to be careful -- don't get caught buying buying inappropriate magazines by your wife, much less your mother-in-law.
Even Michael Laurie, head of Crimestoppers, foresees a 'wide range of opportunities for abuse and error' in what is, for him, 'essentially no more than a commercial venture exploiting some people's baser characteristics.'"
Gordon Brown may have a lot to answer for about his conduct as Britain's Prime Minister, but the BBC's Andrew Marr went way over the line in asking him about rumors that he is using painkillers in an interview. "A lot of people in this country use prescription painkillers and pills to help them get through. Are you one of them?” Marr asked the irritated Brown.
The question was based on rumors that have been floating the British blogosphere for weeks, though the original author says that he was merely floating a theory based on an overheard remark about changes in the prime minister's diet and had no proof to back up his speculation.
The Marr interview followed one with NBC's Brian Williams in the U.S., in which Brown was asked about other rumors that he is going blind in his one good eye. Brown denies this as well.
Whatever you think of Brown's performance of prime minister, there's nothing credible to suggest it is being adversely affected by either his eyesight or whatever medication he is taking. But he has always brought out a particularly nasty streak in the British media. BBC presenter Jeremy Clarkson, for instance, famously called the prime minister a "one-eyed Scottish idiot."
And if it's not his health, it's his physical appearance and public persona: Christopher Hitchens has described "his fingernails ... gnawed down to the knuckle." On this Web site, Alad Sked wrote, "his jaw seems to detach itself in a strange manner when he inhales while speaking." The Times's Robert Harris has described his "alarming smile which seems to appear from nowhere as if a button marked “smile” has been pressed in his head" and suggested that he may have Asperger's Syndrome.
Given Brown's low approval ratings and the leper-treatment he's been getting from the White House, he's certainly a soft target these days. But can't his critics stick to his record without attacks on his physical appearance and unfounded claims about his health?
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
CentCom commander Gen. David Petraeus writes in the (London) Times to make the case for a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan and praise U.S.-British cooperation:
[W]e need to be realistic in recognising that the campaign will require a sustained, substantial commitment. Many tough tasks loom before us — including resolution of the way ahead after the recent election, which obviously has been marred by allegations of fraud. The challenges in Afghanistan clearly are significant. But the stakes are high. And, while the situation unquestionably is, as General McChrystal has observed, serious, the mission is, as he has affirmed, still doable. In truth, it is, I think, accurate to observe that, as in Iraq in 2007, everything in Afghanistan is hard, and it is hard all the time.
Iran constitutes the main state-based threat to stability in the region. The impact of its malign activities and harsh rhetoric are felt throughout the Arabian Peninsula, making it, ironically, the best recruiter with prospective partners. We now have eight Patriot missile batteries spread across countries on the western side of the Gulf, where two years ago we had far, far fewer.
If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that “being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life”, and I’m inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country’s finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.
Petraeus also gave an address at London's Policy Exchange think tank, saying, "The challenges in Afghanistan are significant, but the stakes are also high, and while the situation unquestionably is serious, the mission is still do-able." (See the AfPak Channel for more.)
Sending Petraeus to rally British support makes sense, but it makes me wonder why the Obama adminsitration hasn't used Petraeus -- certainly the most well-known military officer in the country and a bona fide pop-culture icon -- to pitch the Afghanistan strategy to the U.S. public.
The media-savvy general seemed to be everywhere during the later Bush years defending the Iraq surge. But Petraeus has been out of the spotlight lately and the job of "selling" Afghanistan seems to have been left to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and the previously unknown Stan McChrystal. With the Pentagon worried about declining public support for the war, it seems odd that they haven't pulled out the big guns, so to speak.
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images
Today, FP's front page has an excellent article from Amjad Shuaib on the crimes and fall of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. As Shuaib notes, the Pakistani Supreme Court's decision this past July to declare Musharraf's state of emergency proclamation unconstitutional means "he may be tried for treason -- and possibly executed."
With that threat hanging over his head, one might expect Musharraf to escape to a remote island hideaway, or at least somewhere where he couldn't easily be found. Not so: instead, according to the Guardian, he's holed up in "an unassuming three-bedroom flat behind the shisha bars and kebab joints of London's Arabic quarter." Unconstitutional seizure of power aside, the only controversy Musharraf is attracting in Britain is his taxpayer/Scotland Yard-provided security detail. And while he lives decently well, the apartment is a far cry from the "Park Lane penthouses" his rival Nawaz Sharif used to own.
Still, Londoners who don't want the dictator hanging around will get their wish after this week: "he starts a 40-day lecture tour of the US next Tuesday."
John Moore/Getty Images
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has now come out in favor of pushing Libya to pay conpensation to victims of terrorist attacks by the Irish Republican Army, which was aided and supplied by Muammar al-Qaddafi's government in the 1980s. This is a reversal of his previous position on the matter:
“I care enormously about the impact of all I.R.A. atrocities on the victims, their families and friends,” Mr. Brown said at a news conference in Germany. He said the government would not negotiate directly with the Libyans in the matter, but would establish “a dedicated Foreign Office support for the victims’ campaign.”He added, “I think it is clear that we are taking what action we believe is necessary to support the families in their difficult but necessary attempt to represent themselves with the Libyan authorities.”
This, of course, has nothing to do with a certain recent scandal over a released Libyan terrorist. In fact, Brown only shifted positions after the Times revealed that he had personally intervened to veto any government help for the victims' families, saying that the government "does not consider it appropriate to enter into a bilateral discussion with Libya on this matter." (For what it's worth, the Libyans have no intention of paying.)
The general spinelessness of the Brown government's response to the ongoing Libya scandal has been pretty breathtaking. Brown would probably have a hell of a time convincing the British public that helping these people was not "appropriate," but at least he would be standing up for his own policies rather than cynically reversing them as soon as the public found out what he was up to.
Up until national elections are held, we can expect a lot more of Gordon Brown going out of his way to prove that the really hates terrorists, especially Libyan ones.
KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AFP/Getty Images
When it comes to using Holocaust metaphors, the power of suggestion is a loaded and delicate thing. Striking the right chord becomes ever more slippery when, for example, you use the most recognizable image of Holocaust evil, Adolf Hitler, to illustrate the recklessness of unprotected sex. But you just about lose any hope of keeping that line clean and clear when you make a Hitler sex video for an AIDS PSA. Which is what a small German AIDS awareness group called, Regenbogen e.V, did.
While the Telegraph says the clip appears to be a "typical advert" at first glance, I imagine most American viewers won't agree. The act of intimacy being portrayed is basically soft-core porn. It shows two very naked hard-bodies engaged in some very steamy sex. (Warning: this video ain't for the kiddies and is probably not safe for work.) The commercial's obvious-to-the-point-of-insult message, that unprotected sex is very, very dangerous, is hammered home with a rather indelicate ... bang. As the couple reaches climax, the man's face is revealed -- it's Hitler. Scary, indeed.
Not surprisingly the ad, released in Britain to coincide with World AIDS day, has created a storm of controversy. A spokesman for the National AIDS Trust, the group that coordinates World AIDS Day in Britain, had this to say:
Of course there are many HIV organisations that run their own campaigns, however I think the advert is incredibly stigmatising to people living with HIV who already face much stigma and discrimination due to ignorance about the virus.
"On top of this it fails to provide any kind of actual prevention message (e.g. use a condom) and may deter people to come forward for testing.
"The advert is also inaccurate because in the UK thanks to treatment HIV is a manageable condition that does not necessary lead to AIDS.
Hans Weishäupl, creative director of das comitee, the group that created the ad for Regenbogen e.V, defended the work:
A lot of people are not aware that Aids is still murdering many people every day. They wanted a campaign which told young people that it is still a threat," he said. "In Germany, Hitler is the ugliest face you can use to show evil."
Provocative it may be, but successful? I doubt it. Would it be a gross and malicious misinterpretation to use this ad to say that people who have unprotected sex, or people with HIV or AIDS, are as evil as Hitler? Absolutely. Is it a stretch to say there are folks out there who will do just that? Nope.
Using the evil führer's personage for good is a tricky business, one that should perhaps be left to the Charlie Chaplins of the world.
Judging by David Cameron's blistering new op-ed in The Times, it looks like the Tories were handed one hell of a campaign issue in Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi:
Many will be disgusted by the suggestion that ministers in Whitehall encouraged al-Megrahi’s release — and did so for commercial reasons. Diplomacy often involves hard-nosed backroom deals. It would be naive to think otherwise. But there need to be lines you are not prepared to cross; values you will not compromise, whatever deal you broker. I believe even to hint that a convicted terrorist could be used as makeweight for trade is a betrayal of everything that Britain stands for.
It could be that this reading of events is unfair and that the British Government played no substantive role in al-Megrahi’s release. Given that ministers are now shifting the blame between each other, that is an interpretation of events that is becoming harder to believe.
But if that is indeed the case, ministers must come completely clean about the extent of their discussions with both the Libyan and Scottish governments. They must do so to help to repair the damage to Britain’s reputation. And they have to recognise that the families of the Lockerbie victims want a closure that involves justice and truth, not an open-ended story that unravels leak by leak, spin by spin. If the Government cannot or will not provide an honest and complete account, the only other option is the one the Conservatives are demanding — a full examination by the relevant select committees.
The Government needs to understand that it cannot reject this as an overhyped summer story and dismiss these suspicions out of hand. This issue goes to the core of how this Government operates. Unless these suspicions are properly put to rest, the al-Megrahi case will mark another damning chapter in the sorry history of Labour’s years in power.
You can't really blame Cameron for picking up the Megrahi case and running with it, though if this becomes a major campaign issue it's not really going to help the perception that Cameron is content to run as the anti-Gordon Brown rather than present ideas of his own.
Hat tip: Small Wars Journal
Hamish Blair/Getty Images
The new U.S. ambassador to Britain, Louis Susman, has indicated he will not pay the 3.5 million pounds ($5.7 million!) in congestion charges the embassy owes the City of London.
Drivers pay 8 pounds a day for the privilege of driving in a central zone at peak hours -- but the U.S. embassy has refused to pay. The argument? The congestion charge is a tax, not a service fee. And embassies don't pay taxes.
The mayor's office and Transport for London, which administers the program, argue that around three-quarters of embassies pay the charge -- a service, not a tax -- and that the United States should do better than to rely on semantics to wiggle out of it.
I tend to think of congestion charges as taxes. They're designed to encourage certain behaviors and to make money for local governments. London spends the program's surplus (around a third of revenue, or nearly 90 million pounds, in 2007) on transport investment, for instance. But this still seems a little unseemly. What do you think?
At NATO headquarters on Monday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband gave a speech on British strategy in Afghanistan. The minister layed out a strategy of "reintegration and and reconciliation" with elements of the Taliban. At a press briefing in Washington today, a British official followed up on Miliband's remarks, first describing what the new strategy doesn't entail:
Nobody, but nobody is suggesting right now that we're talking to Mullah Omar and giving him parts of Afghanistan to run. That is absolutely not what reconciliation and reintigration means. What it means is the recognition that at some point, for this insurgency to die down and for Afghanistan to become a more peaceful, stronger place, there will need to be some sort of ongoing political understanding.
And who exactly is being "reintegrated?"
You're talking about the $10-a-day Taliban. At the moment the best deal he has is to accept that $10 and and go and shoot foreign or Afghan government troops. What we're trying to do by the reintegration philsophy is to try to introduce a better deal for him.
The official described a "comprehensive strategy" (what the U.S. calls a "whole-government" strategy aimed at giving Afghanistan the security it needs to keep militants under control and prevent the likes of al Qaeda from setting up shop). With presidential elections on the horizon, I asked the official if such an Afghan state need necessarily be democratic:
It's really not in our interest to set high standards of Western democracy in Afghanistan. We're not playing that game. That doesn't mean we don't want to hold dear the values that that western countries like yours and ours and the European countries have. Freedom of speech, women's rights: they're a very imporant part of the sort of activities we're conducting.... It doesn't mean that we're pounding the pavement, saying "you must have a vote on this" or demanding decisions be democratic. The phrase we've used is "going with the grain" of Afghan society.
While an Afghan strategy that encompasses negotiation with elements of the Taliban and is less concerned with democracy promotion may sound less ambitious, it will still likely entail a multi-year commitment. With rising U.K. casualties and an unpopular government, that could be a tough sell to British voters.
As Small Wars Journal's Robbert Haddick recently wrote on ForeignPolicy.com, the insurgents are likely very aware of this fact.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.