Republican rats scrabble to take over the sinking ship

14 10 2007

Gerard Baker in The London Times

This year it’s different. While the Democratic race is, as I noted last week, turning into an extended coronation for the Sun Queen, the Republican contest is a fog of competitive chaos. This is all the more striking because the polls suggest that the party is on course for a soaking next year on a scale not seen since the 1970s. Yet the number of plausible Republicans who want to be the party’s candidate is actually multiplying as they get closer to that election. It may, in fact, be the first known case in political history of rats auditioning to take the helm of a sinking ship.

More here.


Gore Wins the Nobel. But Will He Run?

13 10 2007

Eric Pooley in Time

For the past year, Al Gore has gone about his considerable business without showing much interest in running for president. While picking up an Oscar and an Emmy, publishing a very smart book and playing host at a global concert for the planet, he’s never done more than tease the idea. And yet all that time, the leaders of the Draft Gore movement have been clinging to a single fervid dream: that Gore would win the Nobel Peace Prize and use it to catapult himself to an eleventh-hour bid for the presidency.

Now the Nobel Committee has done its part, awarding Gore the Peace Prize for being “probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted” to combat climate change, according to his citation. (The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was also a joint winner of the prize.) And so, after the obligatory spasms of celebration and the equally obligatory gnashing of Rush Limbaugh’s teeth, will Americans finally get to enjoy one of the great spectacles in political history, as Gore’s ultimate honor levitates him beyond his leading rival, Hillary Clinton, and into the Oval Office?


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What has Al Gore Done For World Peace?

13 10 2007

Damian Thompson in The Telegraph

So Al Gore is the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Admittedly, he has to share it with the United Nations’ climate change panel – but, even so, I think we need to declare an international smugness alert.

The former US Vice-President has already taken over from Michael Moore as the most sanctimonious lardbutt Yank on the planet. Can you imagine what he’ll be like now that the Norwegian Nobel committee has given him the prize?

More to the point, can you imagine how enormous his already massive carbon footprint will become once he starts jetting around the world bragging about his new title?

More here.

Defining torture away

12 10 2007

From Andrew Sullivan

Bret Stephens argued in a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday that the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that several of the techniques used by the Bush administration in interrogating prisoners do not amount to “torture”. Let us leave aside the exquisite irony that the Wall Street Journal is now invoking not American law (because they cannot) to redefine torture, nor even English law (ditto), but one ruling on appeal of the much-detested European Court to decide what U.S. law is and should be. The case is much, much less than Stephens made it out to be – and the result maintained the clear illegality of some of the mildest techniques adopted by the US to torture prisoners suspected of terrorism. All the British legal authorities and the British government and the European Court and the European commission found that the five techniques cited were illegal under British and European law – separately or in combination.

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Castro – Politics’ last superstar

12 10 2007

Ignacio Ramonet in The Guardian

For the first time in almost 50 years, Fidel Castro is not in control of Cuba. And contrary to predictions, the system has not broken down, the population has not revolted, the revolution has not reversed. Now the analysts are asking: will it last? Is Raúl Castro going to reroute the revolution? Has the country entered a “transition”?

Whatever one thinks of Fidel Castro, he is one of the few men who have known the glory to enter history and legend in their own lifetime. He is the last “superstar” of international politics. He belongs to the generation of mythical insurrectionists – Nelson Mandela, Ho Chi Minh, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Che Guevara, Carlos Marighela, Camilo Torres, Mehdi Ben Barka – who after the second world war launched into political action with the hope of changing an unequal world. This was a generation that thought that communism promised a radiant future, and that injustice, racism and poverty could be eradicated in less than a decade.

More here.

Turkey at the Turning Point?

11 10 2007
tukey flag in breeze

Christopher de Bellaigue in The New York Review of Books

It is now clear that Turkey, a country to which Western visitors have often applied adjectives such as “timeless” and “slothful,” is changing profoundly, and with un-Oriental speed. To the many Turks who welcome this transformation, it holds out the promise of a free public culture, equally open to devout Muslims, secularists, and critics of Turkey’s past politics—something the country has never known. A smaller but nonetheless considerable number see the changes as a Trojan horse for Islamism as severe as one finds in Iran or Saudi Arabia. These two views come into sharp conflict on the subject of Abdullah Gül, whom the Turkish parliament recently elected president.

Abdullah Gül is a conscientious Muslim. He says his prayers and observes the Ramadan fast. His wife appears in public with a silk scarf wound tightly around her head. Although he was once associated with Islamism of a rather virulent kind and was a member of the Welfare Party, whose stated goal was to challenge Turkey’s secular traditions, Gül gives the impression of having mellowed. As foreign minister in the mildly Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from 2003 until his election to the presidency, Gül directed his energies mainly at promoting Turkey’s claims to EU membership. As president, he has promised to safeguard Turkey’s secular regime.

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Why Burma Was Crushed

9 10 2007

Lindsey Hilsum in the New Statesman

An estimated 2.5 million people of Chinese descent live in Burma; several ethnic groups straddle the 2,000-kilometre border dividing the two countries. Believing the junta’s inflexibility to be inherently unstable, the Chinese government has tried to persuade the generals to come to some accommodation with the political opposition and rebellious ethnic fighters. Chinese officials have met opposition leaders in Kunming, on the Chinese side of the border, and in June they facilitated a meeting between US and Burmese government representatives. The current upheaval may have stymied that initiative, but according to the Burma specialist Larry Jagan, Beijing had hoped the contacts could herald a process similar to the six-party talks that have brought North Korean and US negotiators together.

Western leaders dream of a Burma reinvented in their image – with a little lustre from association with the revered opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi rubbing off on them. But China is still ruled by the Communist Party that shot and mowed down protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and which suppresses Buddhist monks in Tibet.

Authoritarian capitalism, not liberal democracy, has made China successful. The Beijing government’s ideal would be for the Burmese generals to allow limited political participation, so that stability could be assured and China’s supply of timber, gemstones, oil and natural gas guaranteed.

More here.