Thursday, 14 July 2011

The United States and Sierra Leone - Two countries not a world apart

A bold headline I know, but I do feel it partially true. If you are wondering where an earth this idea comes from, the answer lies in a film - "fair game" - a good film at that, about the Valerie Plame affair during the Iraq war. During the film, a certain conversation resonated with me. A taxi driver from Sierra Leone mentioned that in his country, corruption is widespread because there is too much power at the top. He then went on to say that in America, the so called land of the free, this is not the case - to which another of the main characters replied that actually the two countries are "more similar than you would think".

In my opinion, this meant that the Plame affair highlighted that in America in particular, there was far too much executive power - an imperial presidency if you will. This is not just the fault of Obama, the presidency has been increasingly powerful, since the end of the Cold war.You only have to look to foreign policy to see how much power the president yields. Bush launched both the Iraq and Afghanistan war without congressional approval, Obama is fighting in Libya, where it could be argued he is ignoring the War Powers Act and Clinton signed many treaties like Kyoto for example without any ratification from congress.

I would not go as far to say that we now have corrupt regimes and we need a citizens revolution, but I do think that the president and the White House now hold an immense amount of power, possibly too much. Should this be the case in the worlds leading democracy? Maybe, they should try to flatten out the cracks in their own democracy, before trying to preach or impose democracy on other countries.

"Your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness"

One of Camerons greatest strengths definitely appears to be PR and public image. He has fought consistently to handle media pressure and tried to create positive publicity for the Big society, public spending cuts and major changes to the NHS for example. It hasn't always worked, but like Blair he handles media pressure well and always manages to get his message across. However, you shouldn't always assume that because you are good at something, you will never make mistakes or get it wrong. "Your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness".

Never has a statement been so true as with Cameron's appointment of Andy Coulson. Why is this the case? Well for someone so clever and thoughtful around media, communication and public relations, surely appointing someone who may have had a connection with a phone hacking scandal, was never going to end well? I am no expert on these matters, but I and experts around him, could all see that the Coulson appointment was likely to end in bad publicity.

Guess what? Bad publicity soon surrounded No10. Coulson has now been arrested in relation to the phone hacking scandal. Good thing Coulson resigned before the scandal broke, or this could have been even worse for No10.

Bin Laden's war

As we move swiftly towards the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the first (and hopefully last) of the War on Terror, I think it may be valuable to take stock or evaluate what we have actually achieved.

The achievements in my eyes, come to very few. With Afghanistan clearly the focal point of the War on Terror, from the outside and information from the media, it does not appear to be much better off then when we arrived. Granted, the Taleban is probably slightly less influential, but the war lords are still powerful and losing trust in the coalition forces.The national and local governments appear rather weak, particularly in Helmand and suicide bombings (resulting in civilian deaths) appear to be commonplace. The country itself looks to be very unstable and in no state to support itself (even the president's brother was killed). Although the lack of progress could be partially down to the apparent corruption of Karzai,(rigging of elections) the Afghan leader. It must be said that the soldiers fighting are not to blame; putting their life on the line to make a safer Britain is admirable. But was invading Afghanistan ever going to make Britain a safer place?

The answer lies with Bin Laden's vision - an Afghan war would just make the world more unstable. The purpose of 9/1, for Bin Laden, was to provoke the west into a war they could not resist - Afghanistan. Bush and Blair quickly obliged, carelessly it now seems. For Bush in particular, after 9/11 he had the sympathy and backing of not only America but the world. The world would support America in eradicating terrorism. However the recklessness of the Afghanistan war was always likely to anger the Muslim communities, possibly causing a more wide scale war between Christians and Muslims. Not only this but the West was going to be drawn into a war they simply cannot win - as seen by the little progress achieved in ten years.

So, if the war in Afghanistan was never going to be won, then surely the War on Terror would never be won. If this is the case, then Britain may well not be any safer than before we invaded Afghanistan, terrorism would still remain potent. In fact, invading Afghanistan may lead to the eventual increase in anger and terrorism directed at the West.

So it now looks as though the aims of the west, after 9/11 - to win the War on Terror and make Britain and USA safer places - have so far not been accomplished. This, to me begs the question, what have we been doing for the past 10 years, if not completing our goals?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Miliband strikes first in Phone Hacking Scandal

So as everyone on the planet will now have seen, the NotW fiasco has taken hold. The issue is painting journalists and the police in a particularly bad light, but politicians are also becoming ever more involved. Now that politicians finally have an opportunity to not only break the previous close ties with Murdoch, they have an opportunity to take on the whole Murdoch press; most are seizing the opportunity - riding the wave of public opinion. Ed Miliband surprisingly enough is showing a degree of competence and is leading the charge, affirming strongly that News corp should be thoroughly investigated and are not "fit and proper" people to take full control over BksyB. So far, this seems to be the right stance to take, in the view of the public.

However the government, particularly Cameron are taking a rather different stance, that is; if they have a stance - hence explaining the first strike to Miliband. For starters Cameron seems to be shying away from the issue. He is making the occasional comment, but not really tackling the issue head on, shown by his absence today in the H.o.C. Cameron has changed tack, on whether there should be judicial and police inquiries and still isn't really acting decisively. Jeremy Hunt the culture secretary, also a member of the government also seems rather afraid to tackle the issue. His decision today to transfer the BskyB bid to the competition commission instead of debating it in parliament, suggests to me he is scared to debate and make a decision on the issue.

Why they seem to be avoiding the issue is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. Is Cameron fearing consequences for the coalition or is he just scared of making the wrong decision? Or does he feel that his involvement with Andy Coulson (formerly in charge of No10's communications), may associate him with the scandal and therefore doesn't want to deride the issue too much, in fear of turning public opinion against himself?  What is clear though, is that the public feel angered at Murdoch's press in particular, and would like to not only see the criminals involved prosecuted, but see the government show with authority that this illegal press activity will not be tolerated ever again.