Dancing With the Devil – Dealing With Gaddafi

Photo: donjohann/flickr

Sometimes there are articles that simply get under my skin and that create a pesky need to address them individually. John Deverell’s op-ed in The Guardian, There’s no shame in talking to people like Gaddafi, was one of those pieces.

Deverell is a British military figure who notes, with obvious pride, that he was involved in negotiations between the UK and Gaddafi. He is frustrated with a trend of criticizing the British government and institutions over their relationship with Gaddafi:

“it has become politically expedient to decry the relationship fostered since 2003 between the last British government and Gaddafi’s regime.

Former prime minister Tony Blair, officers from the British secret intelligence service, the London School of Economics ( in the news again last week): all have been criticised for the personal relationships they built with senior Libyans, to the extent of being accused of turning a blind eye to human rights and other abuses.”

Labour and Its Fraternal Struggle

David and Ed Miliband: rivals for power, photos: Downing Street/ Department of Energy and Climate Change, both flickr

Most of us know a bit about sibling rivalry. Of course politics has never needed the familial part to inspire rampant competition and skullduggery. Nonetheless a number of siblings have managed to coexist while holding political office, John and Bobby Kennedy spring to mind along with the more recent Kaczynski twins in Poland. Few, though, have ever had to run against each other for their party’s top job.

For that challenge just ask David and Ed Miliband, the brothers whose participation in the British Labour party’s leadership election has consumed media coverage in a race with apparently few other marketable qualities. All we know for sure, or so the pundits would have you believe, is that the new leader will be a Miliband. The all important forename will be announced this Saturday 25 September when the campaign draws to a close.

It is perhaps unsurprising that, in a campaign that was meant to be about long-term goals and principles, much of the debate has descended into a reassessment of New Labour after its 13 years in power and recent electoral humbling. The Milibands have given their own variations on the past with ex-Foreign Secretary David (in some quarters known as the ‘heir to Blair’) taking a predictably more centrist position on the issues. For his part, Ed as the former Climate Change Secretary has carved out a position on the left of the field, despite his close links to former PM Gordon Brown, and set out plans that resonate with more traditional Labour voters.

Despite the inevitable focus on Labour’s economic stewardship, it is in international affairs and the perceived loss of moral authority where the party’s malaise poses the greatest challenge – both for the new leader and for the cause of balanced political debate.


Afghanistan in the Balance

Afghanistan in a precarious balance between great powers, photo: imagemonkey/flickr

Afghanistan has long been precariously positioned within the international balance of power, where it has served as both playground and graveyard of rival nation-states. This week the ISN takes a closer look at Afghanistan’s continued importance in relation to great power politics, in addition to its more closely documented localized conflicts.

This ISN Special Report contains the following content:

  • An Analysis by Professor John Brobst, on the importance of Afghanistan in relation to great power politics.
  • A Podcast interview with Professor Anatol Lieven of King’s College London explores the fundamental difficulties that the international community faces in trying to forge a peace or build a nation in a country with a fraught history, deep divisions and a disdain for outside interference.
  • Security Watch articles about the Wikileaks and McCrystal scandals, the donor gap and much more.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including the Institute of South Asian Studies’ papers on President Zardari in China and the Afghan peace jirga.
  • Primary Resources, like the full-text of President Obama’s June 23rd statement on the General McCrystal firing.
  • Links to relevant websites, such as the ‘Afghanistan Conflict Monitor’ blog, an initiative of the Human Security Report at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University.
  • Our IR Directory, featuring the Afghanistan Women Council, designed to assist and empower Afghan women and children.

Back to the 80s? Bring Them On!

80s sneaker wallpaper / photo: roberlan, flickr

One fine Manic Monday, election campaign strategists of the British Labour Party put out an ad admonishing voters: “Don’t let him [David Cameron] take Britain back to the 1980s.”

But weren’t the 1980s supposed to be The Best of Times?

At least we of Generation Y tend to think so. Back in the 80s, we were not yet so politically aware. Some of us played with Barbie dolls (you guessed it: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun), others practiced the Moonwalk, watched Alf or kept ourselves busy growing mullets – yes, Madonna said so: “Express Yourself“.

Actually, we do not necessarily associate the 1980s with rampant greed, a growing economic gap, poverty, unfettered capitalism, a roll-back of the welfare state and the looming threat of nuclear extinction.

Rather, we think of 80s rock: big hair; Dirty Dancing; a booming stock market; pegged jeans; neon colors; Money for Nothing – all, baby, Hurts So Good!

The New York Times recently commented on Hillary Clinton’s voluminous hairstyle, suspiciously resembling the big bumpy hair donned by women in the (presumably conservative) 80s. And that coming from a Democrat! (But then again, Obama these days is often compared to Ronald Reagan – a Democrat version of the Reagan phenomenon, that is.)

The Tories skillfully responded to the Labour ad, playing on the 1980s nostalgia. They released a slightly modified version of the Labour poster portraying Mr Cameron as Gene Hunt from the BBC’s popular Ashes To Ashes series. Come’on, the 80s weren’t that Bad after all!

So the moral of this campaign flop is: if you want to invoke bad memories of conservative politics in Britain, don’t use the culturally rather successful 1980s to make your point.

I hope Labour has learned its lesson; otherwise, it will turn out to be a very Cruel Summer for Gordon Brown’s party.

UK Foreign Policy After Brown

UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron at the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland / Remy Steinegger, flickr

Their campaign slogan is “Vote for Change.” But in terms of foreign policy, if David Cameron’s Conservative Party maintain their opinion poll lead over Labour and go on to take office after the British general election on 6 May, change is likely to be conspicuous mostly by its absence. As The Economist pointed out last week, with the notable exception of Britain’s relations with the EU, “foreign policy is distinguished by the broad agreement it commands in Westminster […]. For the time being, politics, to a degree that some find heartening and others worryingly complacent, still stops at the water’s edge.”

Take Afghanistan, a war that bleeds popular support with every British fatality (281 now since 2001) but one that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats – the UK’s third largest party (and possible kingmakers if voting ends in a stalemated ‘hung’ parliament)  – offer to end Britain’s military involvement with any time soon. Indeed, and quite apart from any security fallout, a hasty withdrawal would deal a serious blow to the UK’s longstanding ‘special relationship’ with the US, which the Conservatives are (uncontroversially) committed to upholding.