President O’Bama Returns Home

So now we know the truth. After all of the shenanigans regarding birth certificates, it emerges that Barack Hussein Patrick O’Bama is really an Irishman. Apparently, one of over 20 presidents who make claim to Irish ancestry. Few have as strong claim to such roots as John F. Kennedy, who famously returned to the Emerald Isle in the last summer of his all too brief life, but America’s newest Irish-American made a brave (and nicely light hearted) pitch in front of a crowd of thousands in central Dublin last night.

The president’s speech was a remarkable tour de force, coming on the heels of an equally spirited address by Taoiseach Kenny. In an emotive and wide ranging address, O’Bama weaved personal and national narrative together in a highly effective manner that really made one realise why he is the President of the United States. At times it has been easy to forget the power that his rhetoric carried in the 2008 campaign, but it was certainly on show in Dublin last night.

If there is a downside to this it is perhaps that the people of England will no be privy to a similar occasion. The president’s schedule in England is formality personified: staying at Buckingham Palace, meetings with the Prime Minister and addressing both Houses of Parliament. It is a shame that no such public occasion appears to have been factored into the president’s schedule. Could it be anything to do with the absence of a discernible English-American voting block in the States?

JDB and Sky News

As some of you may have seen, I was on Sky News this morning, discussing President Obama’s trip to Europe. The conversation concentrated on his initial stop-over in Eire, where he will apparently revel in his Irish ancestry. I must admit that one doesn’t really look at Obama and immediately think of the Emerald Isle, but I guess that he is just the latest in a long line of president’s claiming Irish ancestry to bolster their domestic standing with the Irish community in the United States.

I seem to remember when Obama used to be from Kenya and Hawaii? Apparently that was soooo yesterday! I know he campaigned on a platform of ‘Change’ but I didn’t think that changing his ancestry was what he had in mind.

In London from Tuesday, Obama will hold meetings at Downing Street with the PM David Cameron to discuss Afghanistan and UK/US foreign policy. Doubtless to say questions of the Special Relationship will come up, along with issues pertaining to the demise of Osama bin Laden.

Obama will be staying as a guest of Her Majesty the Queen and will also address both houses of Parliament. A press briefing is expected at the FCO. The president will be accompanied by Secretary of State Clinton who is expected to hold meetings with her opposite number, William Hague.

Suffice to say, getting around central London may be a little tricky with the heightened security this week!

I will be returning to the airwaves through the week as the president spends his State Visit here in London, so watch this space for more news.

JDB and LBC Radio

I will be returning to the airwaves once more this evening, to discuss the future defence position of the United Kingdom in light of Defence Secretary Dr. Liam Fox’s speech today. Where will David Cameron’s government take the nation and position the country in 20 years?

Tune in to hear me in conversation with Iain Dale at 20.35 on LBC Radio97.3FM or listen online at http://ukrp.musicradio.com/lbc973/live

Some thoughts on ‘The Kennedys’

Every once in a while words fail me. As a writer, academic and broadcaster, I am sue that you can imagine that this is a problematic situation. However, such a situation occurred recently after watching the TV miniseries, The Kennedys.

Before I go any further let me state for the record my interest in this material. It may be hard to believe, but as a young guy growing up in Thatcher’s Britain I was a little unfocused. At 14 I imagine most guys are. Certainly I was more interested in football and girls than in studying and accordingly my ‘forward thinking’ teachers assured me that I would never amount to much, and would certainly fail any A levels that I should attempt.

And then something interesting happened. British television screened a miniseries starring Martin Sheen as the lead role in Kennedy. Broadcast over consecutive nights I was hooked, even if they finished too late for me to watch the end of them.

From then on I was hooked on American history and by extension, politics. Martin Sheen’s portrayal of JFK probably had as big an impact on me as anything ever put on screen. I started reading about the president, the family, the assassination and later on wider issues pertaining to the nation and its history. Like a ripple in a pool, my interests widened, but always with JFK at the heart of things. Eventually we studied the assassination at school and for the first time, I knew more about an event than the teacher.

So, it’s important to note that 1) I’m interested in the subject matter, and that 2) I’m no academic snob. I’m of the belief that whatever it takes to get people interested in history or politics, or whatever, is a good thing if it inspires people to develop an interest.

So, to end the digression and return to the subject at hand….

Earlier in the year, controversy arose when it was revealed that The History Channel were producing a lavish $30 million dollar mini series examining the Kennedy family. Key members of the Kennedy entourage spoke out against the project having seen drafts of the shooting script. This included the late, great Ted Sorenson, whom I had the very great honour of meeting before his death last year. The fear was that this was to be a conservative interpretation of events that would raise all sorts of scandals and portray a very different idea of Camelot than I had experienced in 1983.

With former Kennedy Aide, Ted Sorensen

Things came to a head when the finished project was turned over for broadcast. Realising the state of the finished article, the History Channel passed on the project. Having financed it, they now refused to broadcast it, claiming “this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.” Channel after channel passed on the project until it was later picked up by the ReelzChannel at a cost of $7 million, plus a further $10 million in advertising and broadcast the series in April 2011.

What you would be forgiven for not knowing having watched The Kennedys

 1. That Ted Kennedy ever exited

2. That Joe and Rose Kennedy ever had more than 4 children (only Joe Jr, JKF, RFK and Rosemary are identified)

3. That Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday, Mr President

4. That Frank ‘The Voice’ Sinatra organised the Inaugural gala

5. That JFK gave more than 3 speeches as president

6. That JFK ever travelled overseas as President

7. That Kennedy signed a nuclear test ban treaty

8. That JFK and Jackie ever had civil world to say to each other

9. That Jackie miscarried in the 1950s

10. That JFK was 6ft tall and not shorter than most people around him

11. That haircuts changed from 1952-1968

12. That someone named Martin Luther King existed

13. That RFK went on a voyage of self discovery from 1963 to 1968

14. That anything of any importance happened between 1963 and 1968

15. That there is any dispute over the deaths of the Kennedy brothers.

16. That Joe Kennedy was American and not British.

17. That Joe Kennedy had his stroke in the winter of 1961 and that the administration carried on fine for almost 2 years after that.

18. That JFK had a group of talented individuals around him who worked on key issues and ensured a successful delivery of the administration’s policies and messages.

19.That there was anyone else in the cabinet except Bob McNamara (who looked nothing like he did in this series and was pictured sitting on the wrong side of the President in key meetings.

20. That Secretary of State Rusk was not the same person as Ambassador Stevenson. Time and again the show allocated sentiments and statements articulated by US Ambassador to the UN, Adlai Stevenson, to Secretary of State Rusk.

I could go on, but time and space prevent this!

Problems abounded in the production. There was a lack of tension, music was terrible, the use of non-related, pretentious quotations at the start of episodes was distracting. The habit of starting episodes with the climax before rehashing events that led up to events was repetitive and didactic. And then there were the haircuts…

I don’t know how familiar any of you are with fashion, but over a 16-year time span, they change. But not on this show. JFK and RFK are shown with the same wigs throughout this entire time period, ensuring that RFK looked exactly the same at the start of Ike’s America, as he did at the peak of the hippy movement in 1968.

This was nothing more than a Pantomime interpretation of history. The real tragedy will be if anyone accepts it as history, or worse is repelled from this incredible story due to the awful portrayal of events in this travesty of a show.

On Obama and Osama

So, after the better part of a decade the deed is done and the greatest manhunt in history is over. Finally, questions pertaining to whether bin Laden is dead or alive can cease and more substantive questions can be addressed.

How did the operation proceed? How could bin Laden have survived so long under the nose of Pakistani intelligence? What role did the Pakistani authorities play in the operation? What condition was bin Laden in when he was apprehended? Could he have been taken alive? Why the burial at sea? Expect answers to these questions in Bob Woodward’s next exposé.

No doubt the conspiracy theories will continue and be ramped up in the coming months. No doubt Donald Trump will be seeking publication Osama’s Death Certificate as he once sought Obama’s Birth Certificate.

This is a time for contemplation as to what this means on many fronts. It would be fantastic high upon which Defence Secretary Bob Gates could stand down. It does much to bolster the reputation of the US military and its Special Forces.

Domestically the timing is remarkable for President Obama. With numerous Republicans putting their toes in the water to test for a potential campaign in 2012, the timing could not have been better. This incident appears to have inoculated Obama against charges from the right that he is soft on Terrorism. How can they complain now that he has delivered what W. was unable to produce? With few Republicans focusing on domestic issues (except to overturn health care, something local courts will no doubt manage without them) there appears to be little incentive to run. As such the stage is set for a repeat of 1992, with potential opponents choosing to sit out the race in anticipation of an unbeatable incumbent. Clearly Bill Clinton proved that not to be the case, so it will be fascinating to see who chooses to enter the fray and who decides that Obama is a shoe-in.

Obama’s re-election odds are greatly helped by the news for another reason; it further removes any chance of a challenge from within his own party. The simple, salient fact is that incumbents who avoid a challenge from their own party go on to win re-election. Those who have to fight a rearguard action for their own party’s nomination, lose. What democrat could possibly challenge Obama now, having delivered Health Care and the head of Osama bin Laden? To do so would be to redefine the word ‘churlish.’

Let us be clear, however, this is not the end of the struggle against political violence. Bin Laden was the poster boy for international bad behaviour, but a bigger fish remains to be fried; Ayman alZawahiri. Incorrectly identified as bin Laden’s second in command amongst headline writers, alZawahiri’s capture would be far more detrimental to the operational capability of those who perpetuate political violence in the name of Jihad. For more on him and his place in the history of political violence, head straight to the work of Jason Burke. A potential down side to this is that with the death of bin Laden, interest in defeating proponents of political violence will wane until the next wake up call. Perhaps we should all heed the warning of history, that ‘Eternal Vigilance is the price of freedom.’

One death does not a victory make, but today’s news is a vital, symbolic step towards a goal that was established in the aftermath of the attacks of September 2001. Somewhere, George W. Bush can smile a little wider and sleep a little easier, as his legacy becomes easier to spin.