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 and London LBC 97.3 Radio Saturday Night

Following my contribution to the Drive Time show on Friday evening, I have been invited back to London’s LBC 97.3 radio station to offer comment and analysis on the developing situation in Libya. Tune in tonight to the Nick Abbot show at 10.20 to hear my thoughts.

LBC can be accessed at http://mediaweb.musicradio.com/player/default.asp?s=82&e=0

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.

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.

JDB and London’s LBC Radio

I will be interviewed by the always engaging James Whale on his Evening Show on London’s LBC Radio this evening at 5pm. I will be discussing the international response to the events in Libya and the role played by Obama and Cameron.

Tune in to see how it goes!

JDB and the Global Policy Institute

I am very pleased to announce that I have been appointed a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute.

Created in August 2006 as a Research Institute of London Metropolitan University, The Global Policy Institute brings together academics from the social sciences and business disciplines to formulate new policy solutions. I will be working with the institute’s Director, Professor Stephen Hasler and Research Associate Chris Luenen to produce both research and consultancy that will be of direct practical use to decision-makers and civil society groups.

I have been drawn to the institute in part because of its commitment to its London context. Its base at Jewry Street in the City of London ensures it can draw on its international connections and continue to utilise its well established links with practitioners in business and financial services.

I will be working with the Global Policy Institute as I continue my research and analysis into the role of the United States on the world stage in the early twenty-first century and my exploration of the life of Robert S. McNamara. I am very much looking forward to the opportunity of working with their team of dedicated researchers and to the potential that this initiative promises for all concerned.

Obama: Two Years In and Counting…

With the second anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration looming (January 20) Dr. Boys will be making the rounds of the world’s media to address the impact and record of America’s latest chief executive. Radio and television appearances have already been arranged for next week, including a piece with Aljazeera and Radio City FM. Expect more to follow in the coming days

A Sub-Plot on the Sub-Continent

With the midterm elections out of the way, President Obama has travelled to India and Indonesia in his latest effort to show a new face of American leadership in parts of the world that have previously lacked for such attention. Much has been made of his public diplomacy and efforts to dance in particular, but there is far more at stake here than the street credibility of Barack Obama.

Cold, hard, power politics are at the heart of the trip, with the president looking to secure up to 20 individual agreements worth $10bn for American producers, including General Electric and Boeing. At stake here is the president’s domestic standing since such deals could secure up to 54,000 American jobs, vital if the U.S. economy is going to recover in time for the re-election campaign that in many respects is already underway, but which will kick off in earnest in a little over a year’s time in the snows of New Hampshire and Iowa.

The price of generating such business in India is presidential support for a proposed Indian seat on the UN Security Council. This was not quite an announcement of active support for such an eventuality, but will regardless aggravate Pakistan at a time when the U.S. is in desperate need of their support on the AfPak boarder. Similar pronouncements were made regarding Japan and Germany in the 1990s, to no avail. This latest bout of posturing to a host nation, however, is indicative of the degree to which the American president has been reduced to a travelling salesman, promoting U.S. business interests in an effort to improve his own domestic political standing.

In addition to visiting India, Obama has continued his outreach to Muslim nations in Indonesia, his home as a child. Obama’s efforts in the face of repeated ambivalence and perceived reduced American leverage in the world carry great risks, both internationally and domestically. On the world stage, few expect a rapprochement anytime soon as the outreached hand continues to be met with an iron fist. Domestically, efforts to engage with the world’s largest Muslim nations will likely inflame tensions, with a stubborn percentage clinging to the belief that their president is a Muslim and ineligible for office as a foreigner. Such fears were played out in the mid-term elections this month, which saw Obama’s Democrats lose control of the House of Representatives.

Obama’s ability to continue his outreach to foreign lands will be curtailed by this result. Although he can now highlight Republican intransigence, he will also face investigations and hearings into policy and personnel as he prepares to seek re-election. In similar circumstances, previous presidents have sought solace abroad. Obama’s salvation however, can only come from the American electorate. Irrespective of foreign popularity, he must seek to rebuild his credentials as a president for the American people if he stands any hope of becoming a global statesman in a potential second term.

Rendition, Justice and the American Way…. (Extract from Research Paper)

The election of Barack Hussein Obama was equated to a political ablution, designed to purge the electorate of the policies that had so offended the world for the past eight years. Yet whilst the overriding sentiments of anti-Americanism have clearly subsided, this has had little to do with a change in policy. Obama may well be the world’s president of choice, but Obama has not expressly repudiated Dick Cheney’s view of the world. Indeed, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch has denounced the Obama Administration for adopting policies that “mimic the Bush Administration’s abusive approach.” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Wizner has lamented that Obama “has chosen to continue the Bush administration practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course.”

President Obama may have signed an executive order banning enhanced interrogation techniques, but his administration reaffirmed the rendition program, a move deemed to be ‘Extremely disappointing,’ according to the ACLU. The high rhetoric of Obama’s campaign, his inaugural address and first orders indicated a new direction for US foreign policy, but while this initially appeared to be the case, ‘there are a growing number of reasons to suspect that Obama will not be quite as liberal on these matters as his rhetoric might have suggested, his supporters might have hoped, or Dick Cheney might have feared.’ Indeed, all indications are that the Obama administration will try to find a middle road that will protect civil liberties without leaving the nation defenceless. The political risk is that it will leave Obama, as Clinton was before, fending off criticism from both the left and the right, for doing too little to change and for doing too much.

It is the former vice president who has done much to criticise the new administration. This is perhaps, not surprising since Obama ‘was elected partly to cleanse the temple of the Cheney stain, and in his campaign speeches he promised to reverse Cheney’s efforts to seize power for the White House in the war on terror.’ The reality, however, is not one of radical change, but rather of degrees. There have been more predator drone attacks in the first years of Obama’s presidency than under Bush; the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay remains open as of September 2010. Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel who has been consulted by the new administration on these issues, says the change on rendition “is not a seismic shift in policy. Rather, it is that the United States will send individuals to other states, and, if those states have a questionable record on human rights, then we will not only seek assurances as we have in the past, but that we will be more rigorous on following up on those assurances.” It’s change you can believe in, just not the sort that many wanted.

It remains too much for Cheney, of course. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, he accused the new Administration of making “the American people less safe” by banning brutal C.I.A. interrogations of terrorism suspects that had been sanctioned by the Bush Administration. Ruling out such interrogations “is unwise in the extreme,” Cheney charged. “It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness.” It would be wrong, however, to imagine that this White House is staffed by, or under the guided by, those with an extreme liberal ideology. Many are from the tough political machine of Chicago politics, whilst others have returned to the White House having served as New Democrats under Clinton.

A prime example is DCI Leon Panetta. As the former Chief of Staff who brought a modicum of discipline to the Clinton White House, Panetta had a reputation as a leg breaker. When asked about Rendition at his confirmation hearing, he noted that suspects would no longer be kidnapped, sent overseas and tortured. However, he added, ‘Renditions where we return an individual to the jurisdiction of another country, and then they exercise their right to try that individual and to prosecute him under their laws-I think that is an appropriate use of rendition.’ Clearly the Obama administration has chosen to return to a public stance on rendition that is akin to the previous model exercised by the Clinton White House, where it began, ‘in a more carefully monitored form,’ before being ‘transformed into what John Radsan, former C.I.A. lawyer, called “an abomination.”’ Panetta says the Obama Administration will take precautions to ensure that rendered suspects are treated humanely; “I’ve talked to the State Department, and our people have to make very sure that people won’t be mistreated.” The Obama administration will sharply restrict “extraordinary renditions” in which the United States sends terrorism suspects to foreign countries for detention and interrogation. Of course, the Bush Administration professed to be taking similar precautions.

These issues raise serious questions pertaining to the American sense of mission and of exceptionalism. It is hard to ascertain how they do anything but undermine such aspirations. Obama entered the Oval Office with great hopes and aspirations and with the expectation of world opinion. It is hard to see how much of this remain intact on the world stage with so few major alterations from the Bush Strategy, regardless of stated intent. This is not necessarily Obama’s fault. As president, there is, paradoxically, only so much that he can do, but the world expects so much more. There is in addition the two great double standards at work: The double standard to which great nations are always held, of either interfering too much or not often enough; and the contradictory nature of American foreign policy, of oscillating between imperial designs and latent isolationism. Solving these dilemmas will not be rectified anytime soon.

A Mother has two sons….

You may have heard the old joke in American politics, “A mother has two sons, one joins the navy, the other becomes Vice President… And neither are ever heard of again.” Ok, so not particularly funny, but it used to have them rolling in the aisles in the 1950s when Tricky Dicky was Ike’s Veep.

Now the tale needs updating to accommodate the Miliband brood. One son becomes a Foreign Secretary with aspirations of leadership, heeds his kid brother’s advice not to challenge the leader and to bide his time, and is then defeated by said brother in the leadership election. I wonder how Christmas will be in the Miliband household this year?

However….I wonder if poor old David hasn’t escaped lightly and may yet have the last laugh. As of this morning he has yet to announce his plans. But for what it’s worth, let’s speculate: Ed has secured the leadership without the support of the Parliamentary Labour Party or the membership and is reliant on the Unions for support. If the Tories are smart this will be brought up on every occasion that the increasingly militant  unions bring London to a grinding halt or ground British Airways flights at Christmas.

How does David Miliband deal with this? By putting 3,000 miles of clear blue water between himself and the plight of his kid bother. Go west, young man and make a killing. Go to Harvard and teach. Cosy up to the Democrats in DC, let Hillary swoon over you in Fogy Bottom and become a man of international renown. Meanwhile let brother Ed take the fall for another Labour defeat in 4 1/2 years and become the next ‘greatest Labour prime minister the country never had.’

Then he can decide if he wants to return to the fray and lead a resurgent Labour Party in 2015… It’s just a thought.