JDB, Chatham House and 60 Years of UK-Israeli Foreign Relations

Yesterday I had the great honour, and high privilege to attend a Chatham House conference marking 60 years of UK-Israeli foreign relations, at the invitation of the Israeli embassy here in London.

The conference was organised to celebrate 6 decades of international relations between the two countries and to ponder the current and future state of affairs. We in the audience were most fortunate in that the keynote address was delivered in person by the President of Israel, Shimon Peres. Click here for a link to his address.

Convened by the always smooth Dr. Robin Niblett, the day featured panels examining bilateral relations, economic and scientific issues as well as security matters. The make-up of the panellists reflected the high quality of the day and included Dr. Claire Spencer from Chatham House, Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, Israel’s Ambassador to London, HE Ron Proser, the ever effervescent Baroness Susan Greenfield, James Blitz from the Financial times, Dr. Uzi Arad, former Chairman of the Israeli National Security Council, and Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI-6.

It was a remarkable day full of remarkable people, addressing a remarkable relationship that continues to redefine itself on a regular basis. The day was brought to a fitting conclusion with a talk from the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Right Honourable William Hague, MP. Click here for a video  of his remarks.

I was able to ask the Foreign Secretary about the constraints upon the British government and the quest for peace in the Middle East of having to conform to the straightjacket of the American political timetables.

The talk very much highlighted the traditional level of excellence at Chatham House and reminded us of the need for continued dialogue in this troubled world.

JDB on Al Jazeera

I will be interviewed on Al Jazeera this afternoon on the upcoming debate on the proposed ‘on-fly zone’ at the United Nations and on splits between the US and European nations. Listen to me describe the efforts to debate the bolting of the horse long after it has returned to its stable on the news channel of the moment, Al Jazeera English.

Obama’s Greatest Possible Gift: His Potential Opponents (Part One)

Ever since John McCain and his renegade running mate lost the presidential election in November 2008, vast sections of American society have been longing for redemption in the form of electoral defeat for their unloved and in their eyes un-Christian and un-American president. In the mid-term elections, the Democratic Party received a bloody nose from its opponents, losing its majority in the House of Representatives and their super filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Much attention was paid at the time to the rise of The Tea Party (as though such a single entity actually exists. It does not) and to the visceral loathing that President Obama attracts in many parts of the nation (which he does.) Parallels were rightly drawn between the mid-term election of 2008 and the mid-term election of 1994. In both cases the Democratic majority in the House was ended after the first two years of a Democratic Administration who had promoted a radical health care agenda. In 1994 that health care agenda had failed to even make it out of the committee hearings and the Republicans romped home, taking not only the House but also the Senate. For a while this made Newt Gingrich the seemingly most powerful man in Washington. His now famous Contract with America was credited with unifying the Republican Party after its defeat in 1992 and with delivering an historic result that ultimately allowed the party to impeach the president some years later.

That however, may be where the parallel ends, for what went less noticed last November was the total lack of a Gingrich-esque figure in the Republican Party. No one individual emerged to unite the party and the Tea Party Candidates as endorsed by the former Alaskan governor, former vice presidential candidate, former beauty queen, former mayor, former this, former that, failed to sweep the board as expected. Neither did the Speaker of the House-elect, John Boehner hardly inspired confidence or exhibited great signs of leadership by bursting into floods of tears at the drop of a hat.

However, given the Democrat’s thumping at the recent mid terms, you would be forgiven for thinking that a whole host of credible candidates would be lining up to challenge for the right to contest the presidency in 2012. But you would be mistaken. Instead we have a roll call of the desperate, the deluded and the downright unelectable.

This group of misfits has started inundating the good people of Iowa in the hope of gaining the all important momentum that comes following the votes that occur there and in New Hampshire in the first days of the election cycle, which of course, don’t actually occur until January 2012. This, however, is the all-important pre-game, where the campaign is arguable won or lost, where the money game is decided and where reputations are made and discarded. Front-runner status can easily handicap candidates, perceived arrogance can derail favourites and unknown politicians from unheard of locations can emerge from, well, nowhere.

So who are these singularly unimpressive individuals who seek to challenge for the presidency? You may have heard of some of them. Indeed, when you look over the list you may be forgiven for thinking that I have made some glaring error and merely replicated the list of candidates from 2008. But again, you would be mistaken. What emerges is the fact that no one has emerged in the last four years to be a credible candidate and what makes these characters think that they will fare any better this time around, having been trounced by Maverick McCain in 2008, is anyone’s guess.

But anyway, here we go with a rundown of runners and riders and the handicaps that they face on the road to eventual humiliation at the hands of the man they view as being a Kenyan Muslim Socialist/Communist usurper yellow-belly president…

Sarah Palin

A no-show in Iowa recently, apparently replying on her front-runner status to leave an announcement to the last minute. Massive problems with this. This state is all about Retail Politics, meaning you have to press the flesh and meet the voters personally else they will think they are being overlooked. Front runner status can disappear over night here, and Palin is in serious trouble of overcooking her celebrity status.

Newt Gingrich

Sure, you remember him, famously tagged as The Gingrich that stole Christmas for forcing the last government shutdown, that led to federal employees not being paid, that led to interns filling vital roles, that led to Monica delivering pizza that led to you know what, that led to “I did not have sexual relations…” that led to “Indeed I did have a relationship that was inappropriate,” that led to impeachment, that led to a Bush victory in 2000….that led to war in Iraq. Now he’s back, with his 17th wife, umming and arring about whether to run or not. Mario Cuomo was once called the Hamlet on the Hudson for his inability to decide whether to run for the White House or not. We need a new name for Newt’s level of indecision….

Mick Huckabee

Mmm, slap that bass, Mick. With his hopes of making the bass guitar a sexy instrument about as realistic as his hopes of making it all the way this time round, Huckabee’s candidacy will make life interesting if nothing else. I mean, who wouldn’t want to vote for a creationist who believes in the threat of death panels?

Tune in next time for more on this non-event. Trust me Obama is beatable on paper, it’s just in practice that he seems so much more credible than anyone who could challenge him at this stage…

JDB Live on Talk Radio Europe Tonight at 18:20 GMT

As the station’s dedicated North American correspondent, I will be talking with Richie Allen on Talk Radio Europe’s Tonight Show, from 6.20pm London Time, that’s 7.20pm in Europe and 1.20pm in New York.

Expect to hear my thoughts and observations on a raft of issues that have arisen in the last few weeks including my take on the Republican Party candidates seeking to replace Obama in the White House come November 2012. 

Obama, U.S. foreign policy and the link with the domestic constituency are all likely be covered, so tune in if you can.

Talk Radio Europe can be accessed on the internet at www.talkradioeurope.com and you can listen live and on-line through the options available at http://www.talkradioeurope.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1676&Itemid=125

Twisting in the Wind: The Shameful Treatment of the LSE

Over the past week or so it cannot have escaped the attention of a proportion of the population that the London School of Economics has been rather mired in a scandal, seemingly of its own making. The allegations surround the university’s ties with the Libyan authorities in general and their education of Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif, specifically.

Needless to say, this has all made for easy headlines, noisy protests and the furrowing of brows among much of the left-leaning intelligentsia in the UK. The affair has now led to the honourable resignation of the university’s director, Sir Howard Davies. Yet this furore is overshadowing the great work done by the university in general and the sterling work of the LSE IDEAS department in particular, which has hosted Professor Niall Ferguson this year, to great acclaim.

As a practicing academic in the current economic and educational climate it is hard to know where to start with the accusations that have been levelled at the LSE and its management.

For years of course, the Libyan regime was a pariah on the international scene, blamed for the downing of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie and for over atrocities during the 1980s and early 1990s. It is no coincidence that the bad guys in Back to the Future were Libyan terrorists; in an age of Gorbachev’s reforms, ‘Mad Dog’ Gaddafi made a perfect foil for President Reagan.

Yet in the twenty-first century, quiet diplomatic efforts, led in part by the British government, appeared to make great strides, leading to the meeting between Gaddafi and Tony Blair and the Libyan leader’s rejection of a WMD programme. In line with these developments, and at the behest of the British government, the LSE advised the Libyan government with regard to its finances. At the same time, a number of British companies, including BP, sought to maximise the new potential that exited in dealing with this former adversary. For that was the situation as it stood until the past few weeks; of Libya as a reformed state, with whom the west could suddenly do business.

Little wonder therefore that organisations and universities were happy to trade and advise Libya since they were actively encouraged to so do by their own government! Advise Libya on financial matters? Why not! Educate potential Libyan leaders of tomorrow? No problem. And why should it be? After all, this was a country that was embraced on the UN Human Rights Council and was not seen as being worthy of inclusion in the now notorious Axis of Evil.

That the British government has allowed the LSE to twist in the wind like this is shameful, as is the all too obvious silence by former members of the Labour government. With former Foreign Secretary David Milliband due to address the LSE in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see what he has to say on the subject, unless, of course, he cancels in favour of his efforts to seek a career in television.

During the Second World War the United States’ government encouraged its citizens to join organisations that celebrated US ties with the USSR and its esteemed leader ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalin. Within a few short years this same government would accuse such citizens of being Communists as the McCarthy era purges began. The LSE is in such a position today.

The other allegations centre on the LSE’s decision to educate Gaddafi’s son, Saif. Educating an individual whose wealth and power may have questionable origins had better not be outlawed, else there will suddenly be both a mass exodus of students and with them a great deal of money from many British universities, right at the moment that they cannot afford to lose either. With less and less public money being allocated to the university sector, more and more institutions will be required to look elsewhere for their funding. If businesses and philanthropists come forward to provide assistance, great, but if not, then the bank accounts of the not so great and the not so good will look increasingly attractive and necessary if these academic institutions are to survive in the increasingly competitive marketplace of global education.

The LSE will no doubt be hoping that Sir Howard’s departure will draw a line under the issue and that the focus will now shift elsewhere. But no one working in academia or seeking a career in the university system should be under any illusions that this situation is in any way unique or that it will not happen again. Indeed, it is the proverbial tip of the iceberg and more likely to be the way of things in the future than any mere embarrassing solitary incident.