JDB at Joint Commitee On National Security Committee

As part of my ongoing research into US-UK intelligence links I am attending a meeting of the Joint  Committee on National Security at the House of Commons this afternoon to hear testimony from the new UK National Security Advisor, Sir Kim Darroch. Expect the work to feed into my ongoing work on these vital areas for the Special Relationship.

I ended up sitting directly behind the National Security Advisor so I thought I would provide the link, so click here to enjoy…

 

Of Ambassadors and the enforcement of Free Speech

So I’m here in southern California and I can’t lie, it’s fabulous. The weather is perfect. This morning was almost too perfect. I drove down from a meeting at Pepperdine University in Malibu, former residence of the witch-finder general, Judge Kenneth Starr, taking in the fantastic views from the Pacific Coast Highway, through LA, Santa Monica, Long Beach and other such places that I had long heard off from one classic rock track or another, but never gave much thought to ever driving through…

So I arrived in Irvine about an hour south of LA. I’m here for the International Studies Association regional conference addressing security issues. I’m delving a paper in the morning on the development of the UK national security council and the parallel rise of the transatlantic body set up by Obama and Cameron in the summer.

This evening I was invited to a reception with former US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, something I anticipated very much. I was expected an evening of fascinating personal insight drawn from his career in the service of his country overseas in some of the most vital postings available.

Disappointed doesn’t cover it…

Instead of what could have been an erudite performance, we were treated to a bland, colourless and limp discourse on the state of the world today. No attempt was made to address his own insight, based on his experiences or engagements with the great and the good, or with the truly rotten.

The real low point however, came when he stated that the situation in Iraq was essentially the fault of, guess who, the British, since we had created the ethnic conditions that allowed for Saddam to be in power! How easy it is to have the Brits to kick whenever necessary. How easy it is to forget America’s own woeful tale in Iraq, or their sending of Donald Rumsfeld as President Reagan’s emissary in the early 1980s, or the curious case of arming both sides when circumstances suited in the eight year Iran/Iraq War. Shocking doesn’t come close to covering it!

To compound matters the ambassador was late arriving, not realising apparently that traffic in LA tends to get somewhat congested in rush hour. One wonders how long he has been in his diplomatic bubble?

Late,bland, boring. Other than that it was a great experience!

Needless to say the sycophants were running around congratulating him on a magnificent job. The tell-tale sign was the mass exodus of students from the well guarded auditorium. That’s right, the auditorium was being patrolled by a uniformed member of university security, looking for all the world like a police officer. I cannot confirm whether he was armed with a firearm not. The students left, deciding that they had less important things to do, leaving us under the watchful glare of the failed police officer, there apparently to ensure freedom of speech! Past experiences had apparently led to protests that had prevented speakers from talking, thereby denying them their first amendment rights.

Can you see the contradiction here? We have apparently reached a point whereby security is being employed on university campuses to ensure the enforcement of first amendment rights for invited guests, whilst denying them to attendees. Does this strike anyone as odd?

Land of the free and the home of the brave.

Right.

JDB returns to California

Update from the flight deck: I’m returning to California for meetings at Pepperdine University, USC and a conference in Irvine. I’ll be attending a talk with US Ambassador Chris Hill and delivering my latest paper, this one on the development of National and Transatlantic Security Councils. I will also be taking the political pulse of California ahead of the forthcoming election season, which should add depth and colour to my upcoming media appearances. See you on my return!

Time to Walk, Like an Egyptian Hosni

To quote the great Scottish International Relations philosopher, Rod Stewart, it would appear that ‘tonight’s the night’ in Cairo. All reports coming out of the Egyptian capital seem to point to an imminent departure from power by President Hosni Mubarak after some 30 years in charge. 

For more than a generation he has been the strong man in the region, ensuring that Egypt holds a pro-western stance in relation to Israel and as a result has ensured that Egypt has continued to receive billions of dollars in aid and in arms from the United States following the Camp David Accords. Regardless of political affiliation, the White House has been a constant ally to Mubarak and as such, U.S. foreign policy in the region is at a potential turning point.  Speaking in Michigan this evening, President Obama was careful to reference the movement for democratic change, whilst moving on quickly to other domestic policies. Behind he scenes, however, the president continues to be kept up to date by his experts at the CIA and the National Security Council.

As the world prepares for a post-Mubarak Egypt, the White House is playing a very careful game; not wishing to be seen to be interfering, but doubtless working furiously behind the scenes with the Egyptian military and intelligence services to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. The question is, to what? Is a military coup underway as some suggest? The irony in such a thought is that Egyptian leaders have traditionally come from the military, so a military coup appears to be  something of a contradiction!

What appears clear is that at 20:00 GMT, Hosni Mubarak will face the world and make an announcement of profound importance. If he announces his departure, a new era can begin. If he delays the inevitable, the possibilities appear to be endless. What is certain is that the risk of violence and potential deadly uprisings will increase the longer Mubarak clings to power and the longer the people continue to clamour for reform. Tonight we will find out if he departs in the manner of Ceauşescu or Gorbachev. The Mubarak regime is over. The only question that remains is over the timing of its demise.

One Hundred Days And Counting…

So, one hundred days after the tumultuous events that followed the 2010 general election, what have we learnt about the coalition government and its approach to foreign policy?

For one thing, Cameron appears to have taken to the job like a duck to water. No apparent hesitation or diffidence has been evident. Neither have signs of self-doubt or insecurity. Whilst he clearly relishes the role of statesman, he is secure enough in his own skin to have appointed the very credible William Hague as Foreign Secretary, who has gone about breathing new life into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Key policy decisions have already been made and announced regarding Britain’s role in the world, and the direction the nation intends to take in the 5 years of this government.

Cameron’s foreign trips have proven to be a success, even when failure was forecast. No apparent problems dealing with the White House, despite the all too problematic situation concerning BP. His declarations that followed, regarding Israel and Pakistan have been rounded on (unsurprisingly) by David Milliband, and praised by our former man in Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer. Take your pick as to who to side with. (Here’s a hint, he wears red socks…) Intriguingly, these declarations, on the status of Gaza and of terrorism in Pakistan, came after the meeting at the White House and not before. Could this be a new strategy in the Special Relationship, of good cop (Obama), and straight talking bad cop (Cameron)? It’s too early to tell, but it is worth pondering as the weeks unfold…

With a new foreign policy initiative and a new defence policy on the horizon, Cameron has sought to revitalise UK foreign policy. With the newly inaugurated National Security Council, he has sought to restructure the decision-making process and in so doing, bring both policies and procedures into the 21st century.

One hundred days in, so far, so good…

For more on this, see my interview on Aljazeera, August 18, 2010.