Nobody saw it coming. Nobody. General Qasem Soleimani, the most feared man in the Middle East, was assassinated in Baghdad by a US drone strike in the early hours of Friday morning, and not a single Middle East analyst, journalist or pundit had seen it coming. When disbelief finally faded and reality set in, the confirmation of the news that the commander of Iran’s Quds Force had been assassinated on orders from Washington sent shockwaves around the world. We were and are witnessing an era-defining moment for the Middle East.
The Soleimani era is over, not a single person predicted it, and not a single person knows what will happen as a result for the region, or for the world. And that is terrifying. “A multitude of mixed feelings, but ‘fear’ is the dominant one,” tweeted Iraqi journalist and editor of Irfaa Sawtak, Rasha Al Aqeedi. “God-like figures aren’t supposed to die. When they do, it gets very confusing.” (Read more)
There are worse leaders than Scott Morrison. The “international community” includes torturers, mass murderers, ethnic cleansers and kleptomaniacs beside whom he seems almost benign. But no leader in the world is more abject than the prime minister of Australia.
He cuts a pathetic figure. A leader must speak honestly to his people in a crisis. The sly tactics of climate change denial, the false consoling words that it’s a scare and we can carry on as before, have left Morrison’s words as meaningless as a hum in the background. Nothing he says is worth hearing.
Australian English is rich in its descriptions of worthless men: as useful as tits on a bull, a dry thunderstorm, a third armpit, a glass door on a dunny, a pocket on a singlet, an ashtray on a motorbike, a submarine with screen doors, a roo-bar on a skateboard. Morrison is all of the above, but a British saying sums him up: “too clever by half”. Morrison won last year’s Australian general election, although his conservative Liberal party was expected to lose, by slyly mobilising opinion against tax rises in general and environmental taxes in particular. (Read more)
The civil service is based on the “cult of the generalist”, mandarins who move far too frequently from job to job and are never in post long enough to be held accountable for the success or failure of the projects they manage. And they’re out of touch with the public. At the same time, the public sector undervalues scientists and other specialists.
That’s the argument of Rachel Wolf, part-author of the Conservative manifesto, who wrote in the Telegraph this week about Dominic Cummings’ plans for a Whitehall “revolution”. But it’s also the argument of the Fulton report, perhaps the most famous attempt to reform the civil service, published over half a century ago (and two decades before I joined the Treasury).
So when Wolf says that civil servants “seem woefully unprepared for what’s coming” – a “seismic” overhaul of the way Whitehall operates – the more prosaic truth is that we’ve seen it all before. Which is not to say that the problems she identifies don’t exist – it’s just that solving them will neither be quick nor easy. (Read more)
JAKARTA: Floods that killed 60 people in Indonesia’s capital after the biggest rainfall since records began should be a wake-up call to climate change in one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, environmental groups said.
But, despite the catastrophe in Southeast Asia’s biggest city, authorities see no greater impetus for more cuts to planned carbon dioxide emission reductions or other measures to address climate change.
The floods “should serve as a strong reminder to the government that things can’t be business as usual,” said Yuyun Harmono, a campaign manager at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, the country’s biggest green group. (Read more)
Howard W. French
Since the end of the Cold War, American relations with Africa have been characterized by a single, powerful trend: disengagement. Its direction has been so constant that it is tempting to think of it as a fixed given, but that would be a mistake. In reality, over the past three decades, this troubling trend has only accelerated.
As the civilian bureaucracies that are supposed to lead American foreign policy have steadily disengaged from Africa, they have been eclipsed by the Pentagon. Of course, every few years Washington still rolls out a tepid rebranding of its low-wattage trade and investment policies toward the African continent. The Trump administration’s version is something called “Prosper Africa.” But when it was unveiled at a summit in Mozambique last June, the truest reflection of prevailing American attitudes toward the continent came from the fact that Washington couldn’t even muster a Cabinet secretary to attend the event. (Read more)