International politics

Was Nato expansion worth the risk?

This is an important and topical book. Mary Sarotte traces the difficult course of Russia’s relations with Europe and the United States during the decade which followed the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, a period which saw Russia’s brief dalliance with democracy and Nato’s advance to the frontiers of the old Soviet Union. The story has been told before, but never so fully or so well. In a remarkable historical coup, Sarotte has persuaded the German foreign ministry to open its archives to her, and the Americans to declassify thousands of documents previously closed to researchers. When Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was moved to denounce so much

Cameron to make his case for war to the Commons next week

David Cameron will set out his case for air strikes against IS in Syria to the Commons late next week. Cameron is, as I say in my Sun column today, immensely frustrated by the current British position of only bombing Islamic State in Iraq and not Syria. But he knows that it would be politically back breaking for him to lose another Commons vote on a matter of war and peace, so is proceeding cautiously.   But last night’s UN resolution has strengthened Cameron’s hand. Even before that, 30 Labour MPs were certain to back Cameron on this issue and another 30 were highly likely to. With a UN resolution

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is no longer just an authoritarian state; it is a dictatorship

The murder of Boris Nemtsov, even more than previous assassinations of journalists and other figures deemed unhelpful to Vladimir Putin’s regime, feels like a moment of grim significance. It represents a watershed, dividing Putin’s past from his future. It is true, for sure, that Putin has rarely bothered to conceal his darker side. True, too, that too many people are prone to forgetting his actions – or rather the actions of people close to and supportive of Putin – in the Moscow apartment bombings which eased his path to power. Nevertheless, for a long time now, many people have preferred to turn away from the reality of Putin’s Russia. Reality

Isis are just very un-progressive Open Border fanatics – we need an Atatürk to fight them

If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend reading this fantastic essay by the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood on What Isis Really Wants. He takes the time to look into the theology of the ‘so-called Islamic State’, as the BBC insists on calling them (I can’t remember ‘so called Irish Republican Army’), and there is no doubting the theological link. To single out just one passage: ‘Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who

Podcast: the great European revolt and the dangers of the Green Party

Who will benefit from Syriza’s victory in Greece? On this week’s View from 22 podcast, James Forsyth and Sebastian Borger discuss this week’s Spectator cover feature on the impending European revolt. How will David Cameron make political capital from the rise of the anti-austerity party? What are the challenges facing Angela Merkel? Will similar parties be as successful in other parts of Europe? Denis Sewell and Greg Hurst also look at the government’s faltering schools revolution. Why does the coalition talk down one of its most successful policies? How important was the reshuffling of Michael Gove in changing the tone of discussing schools reform? And would a Labour government kill off or continue pushing free schools

Syriza’s rule will be short-lived: the EU will never give what it wants

So Alexis Tsipras is Greece’s new Prime Minister. Syriza, the extreme-left party he leads, may end up (just) short of an overall majority. But it won a landslide today – and no one will stand in the way for making government policy of its party programme. This means we’re guaranteed turbulence ahead, both in Greek and Eurozone politics. Syriza is no club for chic leftist posturing, nor is it a discussion circle for grey-haired Marxist academics. It is a coalition of hard and soft communists, violent and peaceful revolutionaries, eco-warriors, radical socialists and a hotchpotch of lefties that think it is an act of fascism to take away bonuses to public servants for washing

Why is Westminster Abbey honouring the king of a country where Christianity is banned?

Private Eye will have a field day when it comes to the tributes being paid to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – it’ll be like beheading fish in a barrel (for adultery). Among the tributes paid to the people’s medieval theocrat was one by David Cameron, who said: ‘I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abd Al Aziz Al Saud. ‘He will be remembered for his long years of service to the Kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths. ‘I sincerely hope that the long and deep ties between our

Obama prepares for battle in his sixth State of the Union address

If you think British politics is broken, just look across the Atlantic to see how dysfunctional things can really become. Since the Republicans seized control of the Senate in November, the gridlock in Washington has become even worse. The Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives are set to spend time and money debating legislation, only for the White House to veto it. In his sixth State of the Union (SOTU) address last night — the rough equivalent of the Queen’s Speech here — Barack Obama killed off any hopes of bipartisanship.  The president pointed to the priorities set out by the Republicans and set out why he doesn’t intend to work with

The ineffable sadness of Mitt Romney 2016

The suggestion Mitt Romney might make another run for the Presidency of the United States made me think of a line from one of my father’s novels: ‘There’s nothing so sad as the memory of lost fucks.’  There’s a measure of wistful sadness but also some wry resignation. The obvious reaction is that, hey Mittens, third time ain’t no charm. Because that’s the way it’s supposed to work these days. You’re supposed to accept being beaten, supposed to retire gracefully from the fray, supposed to recognise it’s someone else’s turn. This ain’t Richard Nixon’s America and it’s not Ronald Reagan’s either. And yet, in one sense, why should Romney accept it is

How the Greek election will affect our election

In ten days time, Greece goes to the polls in what is, arguably, the most important election that will take place this year. For if — as looks likely — Syriza wins, then the Eurozone crisis will move into an acute and particularly dangerous phase. Syriza are committed to a loosening of the terms of the Greek bailout deal. But, as I write in the magazine this week, Berlin, Frankfurt and Brussels are all adamant that there will be no easing of the fiscal straitjacket. Indeed, Berlin is making it clear that it would rather Greece leave the Euro than allow it to restructure its debts. As always with Greece

Six key points from MI5’s Andrew Parker speech on the terror threat in Britain

A lot of rot is written about what MI5 thinks, because the spooks don’t talk –even to deny wrong stories (like the supposed Remembrance Day Plot to kill the Queen, etc). But now and again, they do speak. Andrew Parker, the agency’s director-general, gave a wide-ranging speech last night which worth reading in full. It makes the front pages today. Here are half a dozen points which jumped out at me: 1. The terror threat is heating up. ‘Terrorist-related arrests are up 35 per cent compared with four years ago. Since 2010, more than 140 individuals have been convicted for terrorist-related offences’. 2. Three Islamist plots have been intercepted ‘in

PEGIDA and the Left’s morality play

Germany is on its feet again, ja, so what can go wrong? This week Good Germans have been taking to the streets to counter-protest the PEGIDA (the Bad Germans) and their ‘anti-Islamisation’ rallies that began in Dresden; Europe’s media is horrified, if also slightly fascinated, with the clear subtext being ‘if the rest of Europe can’t go in for flag-waving there’s no way you lot can’. Not that media hostility will make much difference, I imagine; across western Europe the anti-politics movement is also anti-journalism. Large numbers of people feel that the broadcast and broadsheet media gives an inherently distorted account of multiculturalism, which its journalists view as a tenet

Podcast special: end of year roundup and predictions for 2015 and the general election

2014 is drawing to close, so it’s time for our annual end of year podcast — looking back on an exhilarating year both in Britain and abroad. James Forsyth reflects on the Scottish referendum and why it’s been a bad year for Westminster. Isabel Hardman discusses how Ukip have continually confounded expectations in 2014 and the challenges they face in the next few months. Matthew Parris has written off the Liberal Democrats but believes we need to watch out for the SNP next year. Douglas Murray remains concerned about Russia and the Islamic State, while I discuss what has been happening across the pond as the 2016 presidential race earnestly begins in Washington. Fraser Nelson thinks the collapse of the Swedish government is an example of the ‘ugly baby

Restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba? What’s with all this eruption of sanity in Washington?

The conventional wisdom, at least in Britain, seems to be that Barack Obama’s presidency has been a desperate disappointment. That is partly a reflection of the extravagant – impossibly so – expectation that accompanied him to the White House and partly, of course, a simple reminder of political reality. And yet it seems to me that you can make a persuasive case that he’s been a better President than his predecessor (a dismally low bar, granted) but also a better President than Bill Clinton. This, true, reflects the gravity of the times. Clinton complained in his autobiography that he’d been deprived the chance of tackling the kind of challenges that

Sydney hostage situation: what we know so far

At least one armed gunman has taken ‘fewer than 30’ people hostage in a Sydney café. Here is what we know so far. Five people have escaped the café in the past couple of hours, with one male hostage in hospital in a ‘satisfactory’ condition. Reports are that between eight and 50 people are being held, with the deputy NSW commissioner Catherine Burn saying it is fewer than 30. The police have confirmed they are treating this as a terrorist incident, saying they are ‘operating according to our counter terrorism protocols’ and they are working towards a peaceful resolution. They have had contact with the person who has taken the

The CIA’s torture regime shames the United States. It will not be forgotten

We knew and we knew years ago. Anyone who has been paying attention has known for a long time that the CIA committed appalling acts of brutality in the years after 9/11. Anyone who paid attention has also long known that the agency’s torture regime – not too strong a way of putting it – produced very little in the way of useful intelligence. It was sadism masquerading as detective work; depravity disguising impotence and, in the end, the kind of programme that shames a nation. There are still some people who think it fine and dandy, still some people who think it’s a lot of fuss over not very much.

Another UN official who makes me more likely to vote Ukip

The latest half-witted United Nations official to stick the boot into the United Kingdom is one Francois Crepeau, UN ‘Special Rapperteur’ (nope, sorry, don’t recognise the term), on the Rights of Human Migrants. Crepeau, who comes from the useless part of Canada, said that British fears about immigration were ‘utter bullshit’. He added that if the British people voted for Ukip it would ‘not be cool’. Mr Crepeau’s intervention made me 30 per cent more likely to vote Ukip next May – and if Farage suggested we leave the UN as well as the EU, make that fifty per cent. Crepeau is the third UN official to have decided recently that of

ISIS are a scourge on humanity; the UK must play its part in confronting this horror

Doing nothing is always an option. Sometimes it can even be a sensible policy. There is much to be said for modesty and restraint and an awareness that unforeseen consequences lurk around every corner. Even so, doing nothing has consequences too. But the United Kingdom is not going to war in Iraq again. It is not going to war in Syria either. There are two parts to the battles against ISIS: an on-the-ground war and an in-the-air police action. We are, today’s vote in the Commons permitting, taking part in the latter element of the battle. A punitive action designed to make it easier for those doing the real fighting – the Kurds and others

Hopeless in Gaza; Israel’s tragically futile war

Travelling back from holiday yesterday we had Jeremy Vine’s show on the car radio and the Radio 2 man was talking about the fighting in Gaza and as is often the case with such matters how the subject is framed is at least as interesting as anything that is subsequently said during the discussion. In this instance, the debate was pitched on the premise that there was something unfair about the fighting. Even something grotesque. Israel, after all, is so very strong and Gaza’s Palestinians so terribly weak. What’s more even if you accept – and not everyone does! – that Israel has been sorely provoked there’s still the question

Will America take up the job of whack-a-mole in the Middle East?

President Obama said recently that the United States cannot simply play ‘whack-a-mole’ in the Middle East. The only appropriate response to which is to say, ‘Yes you can.’ We can all understand why the President might be feeling a little tired over all this. For nearly six gruelling years he has been calling the troops home and declaring that the war is over. Making that speech repeatedly, with the facts so continuously contradicting it, might get to anyone. The successful raid on the bin Laden compound in Pakistan was meant to have put an end to al-Qaeda. Iraq was meant to have been solved when President Obama ordered US troops