Pot meets kettle

Nicolas Sarkozy – apparently – believes Barack Obama is “incredibly naive and grossly egotistical – so egotistical that no-one can dent his naivete.” Things are so bad that the French President is now said to be deeply worried about the future of the West.

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Here’s a picture of Sarko and ‘Bama in happier times… Let’s hope the two patch things up.

Update: BTW, Jack Kelly, the Pittsburgh columnist who has passed on this tittle tattle has some fairly fixed views on Obama.  In July, he wrote a column speculating that the US President is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.

What. Just. Happened?

Exhibit A:

I grew up in a family, a party and a country that believes no obstacle is so great that it can stop the onwards march of fairness and of justice.

And so I urge you, as the poet said, dream not small dreams because they cannot change the world. Dream big dreams and then watch our country soar.

Exhibit B:

From now on all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes.

Yup, same speech.

Not often that I’m lost for words, but I am now.

Posted in UK

Africa’s new Big Man shows his true colours

Back in December, when Moussa “Dadis” Camara seized power in Guinea in a bloodless coup, he promised to hold elections and return his country to democracy after decades of hardline dictatorship. His people welcomed this approach and hailed the young and previously unknown army officer as a breath of fresh air. When he pledged not to stand in the elections, his popularity grew still stronger.

Sadly, those who were taken in hadn’t been studying their post-colonial African history. Like many before him, far from bringing change and cleaning out a corrupt system, Camara has turned out to be yet another brutal, power-hungry Big Man. Not long ago, he banned public demonstrations. Then he did an about-turn on his election promise (although he says he hasn’t decided whether or not to take part in the upcoming poll in January, a new party has sprung up saying he will represent it and few doubt he will stand).  And yesterday, he demonstrated the lengths he will go to to cling onto power by violently quashing a protest against his candidature in the capital, Conakry.

157 people died as troops opened fire on demonstrators. Many were bayoneted to death. And in a scary echo of neighbouring Sierra Leone’s vicious civil war, soldiers used sexual violence to make their point too. An eyewitness from a local human rights group “saw soldiers strip women naked, spread their legs and stamp on their privates with their boots.”

France, the colonial power, has suspended military aid to the country (why were they giving arms to an unelected dictator in the first place, you might wonder). It is reconsidering its development aid. Whether this will have any effect is uncertain, however. As Camara recently pointed out, there was widespread international criticism when Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz took power by ejecting an elected president in a coup in Mauritania last year, but when Aziz won a subsequent ballot, the complaints rapidly subsided. Camara is counting on the same thing happening with him.

On the web: Merkel’s re-election, Japan’s foreign policy, inefficient markets, and what not to say at the UN…

- With Angela Merkel re-elected as German Chancellor, and the CDU-CSU now forming a coalition with the free-market FDP, Mary Dejevsky assesses the implications for the country’s domestic politics. Alan Posener suggests that Frau Merkel has the potential to be the new Thatcher, while Der Spiegel takes a look at the implications for forming a coherent German foreign policy.

– Staying with shifting politics, WPR assesses the potential for changes in Japan’s international outlook, particularly towards the US. The Asia Times examines the domestic machinations and their likely impact on the new government’s foreign policy priorities.

– Elsewhere, the New Yorker talks to Columbia economist, Joseph Stiglitz, about his concerns over the current economic crisis and the need to address not just market failure, but government failure too. Catch the video here. The FT’s analysis section, meanwhile, assesses the flaws in “efficient markets” theory and explores what might take its place.

– Finally, following last week’s round of summitry at the UN, complete with rhetorical flourish from Muammar al-Qaddafi, Foreign Policy has a list of “The Top 10 Craziest Things Ever Said During a UN Speech” – Qaddafi joins Castro, Khrushchev and Ortega among others.

Obama: Losing control?

Tom Ricks thinks Obama’s grip on foreign policy is slipping:

Obama has done nothing much on Iraq except screw up a couple of appointments there and break a campaign promise to withdraw a brigade a month this year. And on Afghanistan, when told recently what it would take to implement the strategy he announced in March, he appeared to balk. So he reacted, characteristically, I think, by dithering. Some readers of this blog think this looks like leadership, but I disagree-it isn’t leading of you do a multi-month review of Afghan strategy, decide what it is going to be, ask the general in charge how to implement it, and then respond by deciding to review strategy again for a few weeks. Sometimes Obama’s stance manifests itself as professorial pomposity; at other times as repeated policy reviews.

Nuclear Cat and Mouse

Last week the leaders of the US, UK and France made public the discovery of a second, secret, Iranian enrichment facility near Qom.

However, this was not a new find: American, British and French intelligence agencies are believed to have known about it for over two years (though only concluded that it was an enrichment plant earlier this summer). Days earlier, when it seems they realised it had been discovered, Iran attempted to head-off international criticism by declaring a “pilot plant” at Qom to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is already monitoring the facility in Natanz the Iranians were forced to acknowledge in 2002.

This was a propaganda gift for opponents of the Iranian nuclear programme. It allowed Presidents Obama and Sarkozy and Prime Minister Brown to make the extraordinary joint statement during an important period in the international political calendar – ahead of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, and days after the opening of the UN General Assembly and less than a week before the UN special session on nuclear proliferation on Thursday.

It seemed to make little difference that the three leaders represented countries with their own nuclear weapon programmes (an irony not lost on everyone).

Reactions from within the region have been understandably mixed. Iran’s Arab neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, fear the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon capability but also worry that recent developments will be the precursor to the agreement of a ‘grand bargain’ between Iran and the west that will leave Iran unchecked as a powerful regional player.

Israel – who has long been preparing for air strikes against Iran – sees the revelation that Iran has once again been misleading the international community as a vindication of its hard-line stance. The Iranian leadership itself, however, remains defiant – insisting its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and well within the limits of international law. The Iranians view the capacity to produce nuclear power as a sign of modernity and in keeping with their position as a powerful regional actor.

Analysts will now look at what is known about the facility in Qom to try and discern if it was for use in a civilian programme as the Iranians claim. At the moment, the evidence does not look favourable. The facility is reportedly of a size to accommodate 3,000 centrifuges – too large to be a pilot plant and far too small to be of any real use in a nuclear power programme. However, this number of centrifuges can produce enough enriched uranium each year for use in a nuclear weapon if so desired (once further processed to high enriched uranium).

Ultimately, though, it is the continued deception by the Iranian regime that will raise the greatest suspicion, even amongst those that, post-Iraq, do not entirely trust the word of western governments and their intelligence agencies.

So are we a step closer to war with Iran?

Probably not. Though the war drums will beat a little louder in some capitals, not least Jerusalem, the disastrous consequences of a military strike against Iran make it unlikely, though not impossible, at this stage. But in this high risk game of international political poker the stakes have just been raised; the horse trading to follow will reveal who holds the best cards.

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