What Would Happen If 'The Donald' Became President?

Youssef El-Gingihy   |   March 2, 2016   11:49 AM ET

The Donald is now the official front-runner for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Yes I know. So let's suppose that we are to wake up to a nightmare Room 101 scenario on the morning of January 20th 2017 to find that the Donald is being inaugurated as the most powerful man in the world.
It's terrifying to think that a narcissist (based on his tendency to emblazon his name on everything he owns from real estate and his plane to hooded tops) would have his hand on the button. Narcissists need a regular narcissistic supply. If they are not the centre of attention or they are snubbed ie their supply is cut off then they tend to go ballistic. Now, in a normal situation, this is usually no biggie. But when you have your hand on the nuclear button then going ballistic would literally mean the end of the world.
For example, the Donald talks about obliterating ISIS, which energises his base no end. What would this translate into in realpolitik terms? Well, let's suppose that there is a second 9/11 then internment camps for American Muslims plus a nuclear attack on Syria and Iraq would certainly be on the cards. Of course, the list of potential nuclear targets would be longer. So we can safely assume that Iran, North Korea and France would also be on it. In fact, anyone who has ever got in between the Donald and his egomania.
Of course, he wouldn't be the first narcissist to become President. The political world is full of sociopaths - men and women prepared to do the bidding of their lizard overlords for personal gain without a thought for their fellow citizens. Likewise, the corporate and financial universe. Which is why Trump's business background would be ideal preparation for the job of President - an irony missed on his fans, who believe that his business background is an asset. In fact, Trump's vehicle of the American version of The Apprentice tells you all you need to know about his value system and those, who aspire to it. A world of atomised, hyper-individualised beings with zero emotional substrate prepared to deep fat fry their grandmother's liver and climb over the bodies of other contestants in order to win.
As for the assumption that the President has immense executive power, well one look at the Obama presidency tells you all you need to know about that theory. Although I for one do not subscribe to the notion that Obama is weak. He's just not liberal. As Tariq Ali points out in The Obama Syndrome, the man is an arch neoliberal. Hence why he's made it so far. He's just selling a great brand of being black, hip, cool and looking like he cares. Domestic policy has encompassed failure to punish Wall Street for the financial crisis or even impose policies that might force them to cough up for their mass corruption. Obamacare was only given the green light, unlike the Clinton healthcare reforms of the 90s, because it basically meant more money for the insurance industry. All the while, he has pulled off a fantastic performance in rebranding USA PLC after the global PR disaster of the Bush presidency and provided us with some soaring rhetoric along the way. And we have not even got to his foreign policy.
The charge sheet attacking the Obama administration from Trump, the fanatical Fox News and their acolytes is laughably absurd. They contend that Obama's foreign policy has weakened the US empire. The reality has been to extend the Bush White House national security doctrine, escalate the use of extrajudicial killing through drones, clampdown on civil liberties, allow the CIA to escape unscathed from the torture disclosures and failure to close Guantanomo.

The reality of modern day imperial USA is that the power is bottom up and not top down. In other words, power is diffused throughout a nexus of corporate, finance and military-industrial sectors. For example, defence policy-making filters up from the Pentagon, defence firms, intelligence agencies, hi-tech companies and thinktanks. And this is before we even get to the paralysis of Congress in which the days of cross-partisan politics, in the interests of the people, are long over.
So the Donald would quickly find that his powers are curtailed. George W Bush commented that his biggest surprise was finding how little authority he had. The Obama administration was enraged to find that, on coming to power, they were given two options for Afghanistan - either a small or a large surge. They went for the former with an escalation of 30,000 troops.
The Donald would thus find that the NSA and the CIA are dictating national security and foreign policy and his friends on Wall Street are doing the same for domestic policy. And anyone, who thinks they can take on that lot should be reminded of the old Bill Hicks joke about how the first thing every new president is shown is the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination from a never before seen angle, which looks suspiciously like it's off the grassy knoll!
So a Donald presidency would look very much like an Obama or Bush presidency. The point is that the President these days is not a Roosevelt or even an Eisenhower but a figurehead. That's not to say that a Donald presidency would not be terrifying with its imitation of fascist demagoguery. On the domestic front, we would continue to see neoliberal economic policies siphoning wealth from the 99% to the 1% and, on the international front, more wars and more bombing at the behest of the military-industrial lobby.

Shake Ya Ass, But Watch Yourself! On Beyonce

David McAlmont   |   February 23, 2016   12:00 AM ET

"But when you shake your ass they notice fast and some mistakes were built to last." George Michael (Freedom '90)

Innumerable citizens of the Land of the Free, so called, ask God to bless America frequently. I've long pictured God holding his head in agony on a nightly basis as hundreds of millions of American voices ascend the spheres, breaching the serenity of heaven, reiterating the request. I've also wondered, "Why America and nowhere else?" It seems a tad "über alles," but then what would befall if Obama were to say, "Goodnight and God bless China" instead? I wish an American president would slip up thus, just once, just to see what fun days would ensue on the worldwide web.

God's blessing upon the Land of the Free is perceived by its citizens to be a birthright. The perception makes sense: it is what has been taught. It is born of the kind of propaganda that nations tend to generate in classrooms: I pledge my allegiance; your country first; dulce et decorum est pro patria mori; for queen and for country, and so on. But is the British monarch's God the same as the American one? Having been a citizen of two nations, my impression for many years was that the Queen of England was gracious and that it was my duty to implore God to save her. I also believed that Guyana was A "Land of six peoples united and free" because its national anthem says so, but there are actually a few more "peoples" to Guyana's population profile than that.

A nation's peoples process and interpret that nation's propagandist information. They have no choice unless they live somewhere else and subscribe to a different propagandist programme. Whether stable or psychotic/law-abiding or crooked, deep down, Americans respond to what it means to be a citizen within the borders of their realm. This is why Jeb Bush recently tweeted the word "America" attached to a photograph of a gun with his name incused on it. This is why Donald Trump- fusing Patrick Bateman with Travis Bickle- honks, "Let's make America great again!" It is why Obama has voiced calm faith in the American people by disbelieving in the possibility of a President Trump. It is why Beyonce has stirred lust, purchased freedom, social consciousness and success into a tricksy mixture that has potently hexed the Land of the Free.

I don't mind telling you I have been completely obsessed by the song Formation. It isn't unusual for me to play a record I like several times a day, and presently I can't get enough of the sonic assembly that constitutes this controversial masterstroke. I have watched the video and listened. Watched the video and listened. Initially, I struggled to reconcile the plutocracy in the message to its social conscience, its voluptuous visuals to its politics. The message seemed to lack singularity. It was all over the place. But then several viewings and listens yielded dividends. Those dividends might have been apparent at the outset, to the sharper thinker, but I have never filed myself under that heading.

At first it seemed like a massive wind-up, a deliberate "queering" of African Americana: I use the term "queering' to cite the mid twentieth century renunciation of the late nineteenth century homosexual "condition;" the adjustment from the decriminalizing early twentieth century gay ethos to the radicalized, unapologetic, politicized queer; the post Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976) "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" merged with Punk's "This is who we are and if you don't like it you can do one!" After all of the comely melodies and Beyonce's stealthy proximity to the Whitney, America's sweetheart succession, out of nowhere she added a sinister, bolshie, in your face edge. At first, I loved it because Beyonce had suddenly thrown "Eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog" into an almighty steaming southern cauldron and made America inhale and choke on it. But I was wrong. That wasn't quite it.

In fact, the message, infuriating, bewildering and inappropriate as its execution may seem, is quite simple: racism and racist violence destroy American potential. Beyonce is raising herself as an example of what can happen if a citizen is allowed to live, to freely and fully realise their prospects. When she says, "Y'all haters corny with that Illuminati mess" she is saying that she has not joined a mythical secret society a la Dan Brown, rather she has grafted for the vaunted dream on offer in the Land of the Free. When she mentions her father and mother, "My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma," it is an American statement more than it is a race declaration. It is the 2016 equivalent of Patti Smith's 1978 Babelogue battle cry, "In heart I'm an American artist, and I have no guilt!"

When Beyonce recklessly rocks her Givenchy dress and intimates to the listener, "When he f*** me good I take his ass to Red Lobster. If he hit it right I might take him on a flight on my chopper..." She is merely saying that she is human, a woman who likes to look good, a woman who enjoys performing spousal duties- two American values if ever I heard them. When she claims that she could "Get your song played on the radio station" or "you might just be a black Bill Gates in the making," she is regurgitating the promises from nationalist propaganda long entrenched in the collective American Dream psyche. It is to this compelling reading of the enshrined dream that she adds her sucker punch.

When you watch the video she sinks, recumbent atop a police car, into the flood. With that simple action she is transmitting what could have become of her if racism had greater reach, alerting her audience to what occurs with the reach that racism already has. She is saying that good fortune has allowed her to become an exemplar of the American Dream. She is acknowledging miracles: her father and her husband are alive and un-incarcerated. In America their survival and freedom has never been a given. I can't agree with those who think that the message is apolitical, and self-aggrandising. I hear a call to arms here, "OK ladies now let's get in formation:" a bid to stand strong, a phalanx of female might in the face of very apparent hostility that fells their men, their husbands, their brothers and their boys.

Another criticism that has arisen in response to Formation is the hackneyed old sleight that is routinely levelled at too many successful female musicians who are unashamed of their bodies: she is not talented- she is a great entrepreneur i.e. if she were any good she wouldn't have to get her kit off. This nonsense just makes me want to swear. OK. Maybe Madonna's timbre is disagreeable to some, but don't try to tell me that Borderline, Like a Prayer, Live to Tell or The Power of Goodbye are just good entrepreneurship, bereft of credible musicianship. Likewise, Beyonce is an entirely credible musician, a supreme rhythmic technician. She has long recognised this and made a killing with it.

The Destiny's Child hits like Bills Bills Bills, Lose My Breath and Independent Woman, alongside solo hits like Crazy in Love, Single Ladies and Drunk in Love are acquitted with innovative melodic/rhythmic invention. You might not like the woman or the message, but when it comes to musicianship one should know one's music and recognise truly outstanding skill before attempting critique! If in doubt try singing the second verse of Independent Woman to the same melodic/rhythmic standard. I won't argue with my friend who the other night said, "She only uses one nostril." Even he admitted that the nostril has impressed him twice, and he isn't easily impressed. More valid was his point about the juxtaposition of Beyonce with Jennifer Hudson in Dream Girls (2006). Beyonce did rather pale in comparison.

Pale comparisons aside, the singer is getting it from all sides of late. It goes with the territory. The police in Tampa, Florida are refusing to police her stadium show: ah yes, lovely Tampa where the police infamously hindered African American voters from getting to the polling booths during the presidential election in 2000- allegedly; Florida, where vigilante desperado, George Zimmerman, DID NOT murder Trayvon Martin. The NYPD is being more "reasoned:" they will not boycott the concert if the singer explains why her Super Bowl turn included women in Black Panther-esque outfits.

Meanwhile, Conservative glove puppets- like Power 105.1 FM, The Breakfast Club's Donkey of the Day, Tomi Lahren who has voiced the questionable concern that Beyonce is advancing a radical agenda against "white domination-" are distracting Americans from the simplicity of Beyonce's Formation message, making it ugly, screaming terrorism, pleading for the salvation of Beyonce's newly "blackened" soul. While some African American writers are instructing Beyonce that if she is going to have a butt that she should not shake it while preaching a serious message. Really? Well, to them I would say consider this: every time I see that butt I think that had a particular school of bigotry lurched in that particular butt's direction it might well be six feet under having had its full butt shaking potential annihilated.

As James Brown once sang, "Shake ya ass, but watch yourself..."


Chris York   |   February 22, 2016    9:24 AM ET

A 106-year-old woman has fulfilled her dream to meet President Obama in one of the most excitement-filled encounters you're likely to ever see.

Virginia McLaurin danced for joy and waved her cane in the air as her 14-month quest to visit the White House came true.

She said: "It's an honour, it's an honour! I thought I would never live to get in the White House and I tell you, I am so happy!"

Her campaign began in December 2014 when she recorded a video request that even came with its own online petition and Facebook page.

A visibly stunned Michelle Obama stood by as the President half-jokingly tells her to slow down.

The First Lady said: "I wanna be like you when I grow up."

"You can," McLaurin replies.

In her 2014 video she says: "I didn't think I'd ever live to see a coloured president. I am so happy. I pray for you every day of my life."

Paul Vale   |   February 17, 2016    1:27 AM ET

Here’s why Donald Trump will not be US president, spelled out by the current occupant of the Oval Office.

“It’s not hosting a talk show, or a reality show,” said Barack Obama on Tuesday. “It’s not promotion, it’s not marketing. It’s hard and a lot of people count on us getting it right.”

barack obama

Obama answers questions during a news conference following the ASEAN leaders summit at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016

Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Rancho Mirage, California, Obama said: "I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president. And the reason is because I have a lot of faith in the American people."

The president did not say whether he thought Trump could land the Republican Party nomination, but did lambast the GOP for its savage rhetoric during the primary process that leaves “foreign observers are troubled.” The president said international observers were particularly troubled by the GOP's anti-scientific stance towards climate change and its flirtation with anti-Muslim bigotry.

In the UK, Trump's November suggestion to ban all Muslims from entering the US in the wake of the Paris massacre sparked a Commons debate on whether the business tycoon should be barred from entering British shores.

According to ABC, Trump immediately responded to Obama's dismissal, calling it a "great compliment.”

Watch the video above...


The Secret of Trump's Success (Is Not What You Think)

Simon Phillips-Hughes   |   February 16, 2016   12:34 AM ET


He has been called a racist and a fascist, has no government experience and has insulted everyone from venerated war veterans to women. Yet loathe him or love him, Donald Trump's New Hampshire win and national numbers must make him favorite for the Republican nomination. He has double-digit leads and no one else is getting close. What explains his success in the polls, and what would a President Trump mean?

Conventional wisdom (an oxymoron in any case) tells us Trump is the extreme right-wing flip-side to the anti-establishment anger also responsible for the rise of Bernie Sanders. But the truth is very different, and bodes for continuing victories, even to the general.

Spoiler alert: Trump is actually a moderate who has said some tough-guy things to get the party's right to go along with him. A sheep in wolf's clothing. A conservative in campaign style but a 'wet' in wisdom, an entrepreneur doing what entrepreneurs do best: catering to a huge gap in the market.

In this case it is the vast number of conservatives, independents and even Democrats neglected by the political consulting and lobbying industries who have pushed the parties to either extreme, and approval of Congress to single-digit lows. He is doing what the GOP should have done years ago, and he is making it look easy.

He's been labelled an 'insurgent' Wall Street right-winger but if you look at the issues Trump is as Main Street and moderate as they come. On the most electorally important issue of the economy, the candidate has said things that would be a liability for a Democrat any other year, let alone a Republican. Remarks about the ability of hedge fund managers to legally avoid taxes echo Sanders more than his GOP rivals.

Opposition to 'free trade' turns thirty five years of neo-liberal Republican orthodoxy on its head and gets the union vote. He understands something different is going on within the structure of capitalism. No wonder writers at the Weekly Standard and National Review are choking on their pens.

He's even on record as a supporter of single-payer healthcare (Republican kryptonite) and in the first debate praised the way national healthcare has worked out in the UK. His offer to repeal and replace Obamacare with something that includes all actually puts him to the left of the president; the Affordable Care Act is a measure for the working poor and excludes those making $12,000 a year or less as many Republican Governors have not allowed Medicaid to take up the slack. Yet he has been let off the hook, probably because everyone is looking for a way to decrease healthcare's ever increasing cost.

It's the same with international relations, where Trump's bombast actually defies labels of 'hawk' and 'dove'. Because the last two presidents were drawn from the ideological reaches of their parties, foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere has zig-zagged like a jack-knifing eighteen-wheeler and nobody likes the result.

Even proposals from moderates like Bush and Fiorina to mirror Russia's wargames would take us back to a Cold War situation which hindsight tells us nearly turned very hot, more than we were ever told at the time. Maybe, like Reagan, it is time for a leader who can deal on a personal level with the Russian leader. If Trump can do this, he could de-escalate tensions in the Gulf and Europe and kill two birds with one stone.

The one issue of immigration where Trump has aimed to 'out-conservative' the likes of Cruz and Rubio is now a priority for governments of every political stripe. Then take into account America's unusual situation of a huge land border with a second-world economy, overseen by a federal government designed not to act even when a clear majority wants it to. As a builder, he must have witnessed first-hand the effects of illegal labour on wages. In any case, his most controversial proposals to deport twelve million people and ban Muslims will be frustrated by the timeless wisdom of the US Constitution. Trump must know this. And after events in Cologne and elsewhere, maybe his most incendiary comments don't seem so far-fetched after all.

Yes, this Trump campaign is a third-party juggernaut in all but name, and it is driving right between both parties; not just their 'elites' but busybody ward captains too. It isn't an 'establishment' lane or an 'insurgent' lane, just the road traveled by many right-thinking people. So far this century voters for president in the general election have been offered a false choice between national security and economic security; false because neither has been delivered and false because they shouldn't have to choose. Now there is a credible, incredible alternative.

But with all his advantages Trump could have made a good showing in New Hampshire any year, as reform-minded crusaders Pat Buchanan did in 1996 and John McCain in 2000. So what's different this time?

As a businessman Trump should know that timing is more than half of life, and within the last twelve months two important and interrelated trends have come to a head. For the first time in memory fewer Americans now identify with either party than do, which means the 'floating voters' that actually decide the outcome of elections are now in the majority.

Secondly, high earning and low paid Americans now outnumber those in the middle income bracket. This is a shot through the egalitarianism at the heart of the American Dream, which generally excuses leaner welfare provision. Because median income has not increased and inequality has only accelerated sharply under both parties, the pocket-book voter has nowhere to turn. This is his trump card.

As importantly, Trump's personal and patriotic style, his business celebrity, private billions and mastery of mass and social media mean he can overcome the in-built disadvantage of moderate candidates, usually pilloried by outlets like Fox as 'RINOs': Republican in name only. A master marketer knows that people do not buy just because of a mix of positive features, but because a product is a leader in its category. How can he be a Republican in name only when he is the Republican front-runner?

Snooty Europeans may balk at the gold-plated name signs and nouveau-riche heraldry, but Americans warm to a character in a league of their own. Especially if he can use his power to finally upset a two-party system that is currently not even serving itself.

Obama on Climate: Yes He Bloody Well Did!

Barry Gardiner   |   February 12, 2016    5:32 PM ET

Obama came into the White House to the mantra of "Yes we can" and this weekend as he announced his final budget we can happily conclude that as far as climate change is concerned: "Yes he bloody well did!"

The problem with climate change has always been that whilst political timeframes and economic investment timeframes work on a 3-5year cycle, the planet needs a rather longer term view. That is what Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has called the Tragedy of the Horizon: investors requiring the best possible return over the short-term at the expense of the best return over the medium and long.

Non-economists have simply called it market failure. And of course climate change is perhaps the best example of market failure that we have: individually rational, economically prudent, short-term decisions that collectively undermine the global public good.

That is why the UK Climate Change Act charged the Committee on Climate Change with the legal duty to advise government on the most cost effective pathway to achieving our long term goal of an at least 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.

Acting on long-term thinking

Last weekend, Barack Obama set a bold example of long-term thinking by announcing he plans to use his final budget as President to double U.S. spending on clean energy research by 2020. This followed his decision last week to boost investment in electric vehicles by introducing a $10 per barrel fee on oil paid by oil companies.

It used to be thought that the last year of a presidency was lame duck territory. Obama has proved that not standing for re-election can, in fact, be a tremendously liberating experience.

Courageous political leadership is precisely what is needed to deliver the low-carbon vision that world leaders agreed at COP21 last December. Obama has now given a clear signal to the markets that they need to invest in the future rather than continue to rely on the subsidies of a fossil fuelled past. The White House wants to use the budget to increase funding for research into clean energy, electric cars and battery storage. This is a dynamic boost that will carry forward the momentum from Paris and give real substance to the pledges that the U.S. brought to the conference.

The Paris Agreement is a highly significant step in tackling climate change - but a piece of paper will not save the world. It is not 'job done'. This international agreement on tackling climate change provides the mechanism to speed up and scale up climate action. Governments must now put solid resources and tough regulation behind the visionary text of the agreement. This means, a step change in investment to scale-up clean energy globally.

Bringing Paris home - or not

Obama's announcement builds on Mission Innovation, an initiative launched at COP21 where 20 countries, including the UK, pledged to double clean energy research and development investment up to 2020. This evolved out of the Global Apollo Programme, which the UK's own climate change envoy, Sir David King, launched last year to supercharge investment in clean energy research and development. In his speech to the Paris conference, David Cameron told delegates, ""Instead of making excuses tomorrow to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action against climate change today".

But underneath this rhetoric on the world stage, the UK's domestic action is going backwards when compared to our international partners. I welcome the doubling of innovation funding by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to £500m in 2020. But Cameron must realise that this has been undermined by a swathe of spending and policy decisions that have seen investor confidence plummet in the UK's capacity to deliver regulatory stability for clean energy. This saw Britain fall out of the Top 10 of places to do low-carbon business for the first time last autumn.

George Osborne's Autumn Statement just before the Paris conference was anything but a confidence boost to the clean energy sector in the UK. In a sharp contrast to Obama's plans to pump $564 million into the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage, the UK Government withdrew all capital funding for CCS just days before COP21 began. This raised serious questions which have gone unanswered about how the UK will be able to meet its existing climate change targets - let alone uphold its obligations to ramp up ambition over time, as all countries have now agreed to do.

It used to be an article of faith held across parliament that the government should be "technology neutral" to achieve cost-effective decarbonisation. Now, just as the rest of the world is speeding up its transition to a low-carbon economy the UK government has decided to champion fossil fuels, like gas and diesel, and extremely expensive nuclear. With the government eliminating support for clean energy options, it is little wonder that the Committee on Climate Change have warned that trying to meet our climate targets without CCS could double the cost to the UK.

In another stark difference to the plans laid out by the White House, George Osborne's changes to vehicle excise duty have actually made it more expensive for drivers to choose smaller, cleaner cars that are better for our environment. Alongside such perverse tax changes, scrapping support schemes for clean energy have threatened the economic viability of renewables from windfarms to solar, where industry claims over 20,000 jobs in the UK have been lost by the government's inconsistent approach.

In fact, one of the only signs of stability in UK energy debates has been the consistently high public support for renewable energy. The latest public polling conducted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change found that only 4 out of 100 people are opposed to clean energy. What is lacking is the political commitment to low-carbon energy. How different from the U.S. where, despite vocal opposition from Republicans who fail to recognise the wide-ranging benefits of the clean energy transition to their constituents, Obama has shown a determination to prioritise climate action that is achieving far more than many thought possible.

We must hope that Obama's announcement ups the Chancellor's game for next month's Budget. As fossil fuel company share prices continue to nose-dive, and companies and pension funds begin to prioritise smart, forward-facing investments in clean energy and transport, might the UK not look to Obama's lead? How tragic if the fullest aspiration of George Osborne's Budget is to deliver himself into No.10 rather than to deliver the clean energy future that our country so badly needs.

Barry Gardiner is the Member of Parliament for Brent North, and shadow minister for energy and climate change.

Syria: History's Verdict

Robin Lustig   |   February 12, 2016    8:58 AM ET

Read More: syria, obama, russia, world, uk world

I have been granted a sneak preview of a history book due to be published in 2061. In view of the latest headlines about a 'partial cessation of hostilities' agreement in Syria, I thought you might be interested to see it, so here's an extract:

'Fifty years after the start of the uprising in Syria that led to a devastating regional conflagration, the global effects of which are still being felt, it is now possible to attempt an assessment of the world powers' catastrophic failure to prevent the disaster that was unfolding in front of their eyes.

'The question that needs to be asked is why, with so much real-time information available to them, and with the unprecedented amounts of detailed surveillance data that they were able to collect from drones and satellites, world leaders did so little to contain the conflict. Indeed, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the actions they took fanned the flames rather than damped them down. Their faith in a succession of flimsy so-called ceasefire agreements served only to highlight the inadequacy of their response to what they all knew was a major humanitarian disaster.

'In 1920, the then British prime minister David Lloyd George said that Europe had "staggered and stumbled" into the First World War. The same could be said of the conflict that engulfed the Middle East after the start of the woefully misnamed "Arab Spring" in 2011. Regional powers, especially Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, turned Syria into a battleground on which they fought for domination, and when President Putin committed Russia's air power on the side of the Assad regime in late 2015, the table was set for a war without end.

'To understand the reluctance of the other world powers -- especially the United States and the European Union -- to take early and effective action in Syria, it is necessary to acknowledge the deep trauma suffered by Western decision-makers after their disastrous military interventions in Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011. In each case, intervention was seen to have done more harm than good. It is no surprise, therefore, that the brief flowering of the UN doctrine known as 'the responsibility to protect' (R2P), did not survive.

'In February 2016, the Washington Post published an article headlined "Syria, already a catastrophe, seems on the verge of an uncontrollable disaster", in which it quoted the then German ambassador to the US, Peter Wittig, as saying of the refugee crisis caused by the war: "The United States has been slow to recognize this is a much bigger thing than anything else we've experienced since the beginning of the European Union ...We were totally unprepared."

'Coincidentally, on the same day, the Financial Times ran a piece by a leading Russian analyst, Dmitri Trenin, of the think-tank the Carnegie Moscow Center. After Russian warplanes had pummelled opposition positions in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, he warned, there was a chance that both Saudi Arabia and Turkey would be tempted to commit their own troops to the war. If they did, he said, "With the US, Russia and regional powers directly involved, Syria can become the first battleground in the global competition for power and influence that has restarted after a 25-year hiatus."

'On 11 February 2016, the Russian prime minister Dimitry Medvedev, was quoted as telling a German newspaper: "The Americans and our Arab partners must think hard about [deeper Saudi military involvement in Syria] - do they want a permanent war? All sides must be forced to the negotiating table instead of sparking a new world war." The warning could not have been starker -- yet it was ignored.

'Another analyst, Julien Barnes-Dacey, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, accurately forecast the next phase of the conflict: "A central story of the Syrian conflict has been the cycle of escalations and counter-escalations in the continued pursuit of victory by both sides, and we're likely to now enter a new, equally devastating, phase."

'We now know that this is exactly what happened. Each party to the conflict committed more military resources to the battlefield in the belief that a stronger position on the ground would strengthen their hand in negotiating a political settlement. It is impossible to overstate the wrongheadedness of this approach and the incalculable cost in human suffering that it caused.

'What makes any convincing analysis of European leaders' myopia so difficult is that by 2015, the impact of the Syria crisis was affecting them directly, with hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war flooding across their borders. The net result, however, rather than encouraging them to seek a resolution of the conflict, was that they focused their energies almost exclusively on how to keep the refugees away from their borders and how to protect their citizens from what they mistakenly characterised as an existential terrorist threat. It was to prove a major error of judgement.

'The approach of the US President, Barack Obama, who had come to office on a promise to end wars, not start them, was one of extreme caution verging on paralysis. Towards the end of his eight years in the White House, he relied increasingly on his secretary of state, John Kerry, to keep alive the hope that negotiations could end the conflict. But after the inauguration of his much more hardline successor in January 2017, US military aid to the anti-Assad forces was sharply increased, resulting in turn in an increase in Russian military support for the regime and an intensification of the conflict.

'It is not as if no one saw what was coming. One of the US's most influential commentators, Tom Friedman of the New York Times, wrote in February 2016: "I am certain that Russia's President Vladimir Putin is deliberately bombing anti-regime Syrians to drive them into Europe in hopes of creating a rift in the European Union, strain its resources and make it a weaker rival to Russia and a weaker ally for America."

'The Russian analyst Dmitri Trenin wrote: "The Middle East has entered a period that will probably last a couple of decades, in which there will be little peace and a lot of fighting." He was wrong -- but only in underestimating the duration of the conflict.

'If there were an Inter-Galactic Judicial Authority -- and given the recent discovery of life forms far more advanced than ours elsewhere in the universe, such an authority may soon be established -- it would be fully justified in ruling that the political leaders on Planet Earth in the first half of the 21st century were culpably negligent in the way they mishandled the Syria crisis. The tragedy is that their successors have not shown any sign so far of learning from their mistakes. War has become the new normal.'

For the avoidance of doubt, I should clarify that the history book from which the above extract is taken has not yet been written. I wish I were more confident that it never will be.

Owen Bennett   |   February 10, 2016    7:24 PM ET

Barack Obama should open up America’s border with Mexico before giving advice to the UK on the upcoming EU referendum, former Defence Secretary Liam Fox sniped today.

The Tory MP hit back at the US President for claiming the UK needed to stay in the European Union to maintain its influence on the world stage.

Dr Fox today rebuffed President Obama’s comments, which were made last June, and even suggest the EU itself was guilty of “pernicious anti-Americanism” when it came to defence.

The Somerset North MP was one of a number of leading eurosceptics who appeared at a Brexit conference in Westminster this afternoon discussing how Britain would manage itself if the public voted to leave in referendum.

After claiming that it was Nato, not the EU, which had led to more than 60 years of peace in Europe, Dr Fox said: “The next time the American president wants to give us advice about remaining in the EU, which of course he’s free to do, he can do it when he has an open border with Mexico and a Supreme Court that can override their own Supreme Court.”

He added: “The Americans need to understand that there is a pernicious anti-Americanism in a great deal of this policy to push EU defence.

“It’s not just pushing the EU into the space, it’s pushing America out, and that is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of threat we face in the world around us.”

The event also saw Ukip leader Nigel Farage launch an attack on fellow eurosceptics who did not want to focus the Leave campaign on immigration concerns.

Paul Vale   |   February 10, 2016    4:12 PM ET

The US Supreme court blocked plans to regulate carbon emissions from American power plants on Tuesday, a blow to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan designed to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

The reduction in carbon emissions was a cornerstone of the US pledge made at the COP 21 climate change negotiations in Paris last December.

Unveiled by Obama in August, the plan established a target for carbon emission reductions for each state, a goal states would then be responsible for meeting by whatever means they saw fit.

However, 27 mostly Republican-led states, along with lobby groups for the coal and utilities industries, launched a legal challenge, arguing that Obama’s initiative violates individual states’ rights.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to suspend the plan until the legal challenge had been heard.

States were initially given until September 2016 to submit plans for reducing emissions. Tuesday's ruling means that deadline will now be missed, pushing any resolution beyond the end of Obama’s second term as president.

Should a Republican win the White House in November, the initiative is likely to be cancelled permanently, throwing into doubt Washington’s ability to maintain it’s international environmental commitments.

Many of the states opposing the initiative rely heavily on fossil fuels for the economic wellbeing. They argued that Obama's plan would force power plants to spend billions to comply with the reduction targets.

In response to the ruling, the White House put out a statement noting it "disagreed" with the Supreme Court's decision.

George Bowden   |   January 30, 2016   10:41 PM ET

If Obama didn't know how awkward Brits could be before, he does now.

This photograph, used to publicise the UK's new ambassador to the United States, shows our man in Washington standing bolt upright, as if incredibly uncomfortable with President Obama's physical contact.

The ceremonial picture of Kim Darroch besides the 44th President of the United States was published on Friday.

He was quickly mocked.

Yet not every ambassador being sworn in this week shared his predicament.

Darroch presented his credentials during a formal ceremony at the White House during which President Obama conferred his status.


Chris York   |   January 27, 2016    8:21 AM ET

Rest easy folks, Baracksdubs are back and this time they have surpassed themselves.

The President's latest involuntary musical incarnation sees him take on Justin Bieber's 'Sorry' - and it's everything you hoped it would be.


If you need some more of that kind of thing - and let's face it you do - then check out these...

Answering the Call to Improve America's Voting Experience

Lord Malloch-Brown   |   January 22, 2016    4:36 PM ET

Last month, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address.

His speech focused on the nation's most pressing issues, including strengthening democracy. Before Congress, guests and the American people President Obama called for making voting easier, not harder, for all Americans.

In a little noticed part of his speech, the President made clear that one of his priorities in his final year would be to push to upgrade America's voting system and "modernize it for the way we live now." In doing so, he acknowledged that the current system is outdated, and he demonstrated a bold commitment to ensuring that the same level of daily modernity, security and convenience enjoyed by US citizens would be reflected in the manner in which they exercise one of their most treasured rights.

President Obama believes that the US can, and should, adopt a more contemporary approach to its election technology. And I couldn't agree with this proposed reform more. As chairman of Smartmatic I have seen how incorporating modern tools into a nation's election process benefits citizens and governments, and it is a practice all nations (not just the US) should adopt. Doing so makes elections more efficient, transparent, accountable and accessible from registration to voting and ultimately helps to strengthen democracy.

Among the many benefits, newer, updated systems reduce polling lines, granting more freedom to people who must leave work to vote. They allow handicapped voters to hear ballot options, voters to select language preferences, election commissions to audit polling stations, and offices to speed up ballot counting. Most important, perhaps, these systems are more secure and more reliable than the outdated machines they should replace.

Regardless of the specific technology, its benefits, and where it's adopted, the type of modern and accessible voting system called for by the President must be founded on several core principles.

Its technology must be simple and easy-to-use both by voters and polling officials alike; it must make life easier for election officials through logistical and management efficiencies; it must provide transparency to third-party validators; and it must be impenetrably secure and affordable to local election bodies and, ultimately, the taxpayer. It may sound novel, but it's not.

Today, systems like these exist and are being used successfully in select nations around the world.

Belgium, for example, adopted a system using stand-alone voting machines that use screens to provide a user-friendly voter experience. With this technology, Belgium conducted the first ever EU Parliamentary elections with paper trail in 2014, helping to ensure greater transparency.

In Brazil, during their last election two years ago, over 141 million voters elected 1,709 officials from 26,131 candidates by way of electronic voting. Doing so, resulted in its national elections registering the lowest cost per vote the country has seen in 16 years.

Belgium and Brazil represent just two of the many countries taking steps to advance efficiencies within their democracy. Adopting electronic and internet voting systems has helped numerous other countries such as the Philippines and Estonia increase voter participation, audit their elections, conduct elections efficiently and affordably and build confidence in their government.

President Obama's call shows a desire to maintain America as the indisputable innovator in democracy. The US--the country that produced Silicon Valley, Google and Facebook--cannot afford a repeat of the infamous "hanging chad" affair of 2000 as such incidents serve to undermine its democratic standing in the world.

How Obama's Changed the Game on the Tampon Tax

Laura Coryton   |   January 22, 2016   12:00 AM ET

President Obama spoke more sense about tampon tax last Friday, than any other leader has in history. During a poignant interview with YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen, the president made some important comments that convinced an extra 24,000 people to sign my 'Stop Taxing Periods. Period' petition in two days, flat. With a total of over 300,000 signatures, we are now more likely to succeed than ever before. But Obama changed the game when he introduced a new frankness to the debate that has sparked a craze to axe the tax that even he deems to be underlying sexist.

Having openly acknowledged that he knew little of tampon tax prior to Nilsen's grilling, he agreed it "fair to say" that dealing with menstruation in the only socially acceptable way possible (with the aid of sanitary products) shouldn't be considered a luxury. He even said that "Michelle would agree with [him] on that". We hope that most Americans would, too.

In admitting that he was not aware of the tax before Nilsen "brought it to [his] attention", Obama highlighted an important problem: there is a menstruation taboo that, in many countries across the world, has prevented us from talking frankly about (and even discovering) issues associated with periods. Crucially, this means we have been unable to solve those issues. Sadly, that includes tampon tax. But there's something we can do about it. In talking about the tax, and acting out against it, we're challenging the period taboo and the oppression that has subsequently silenced women and shamed them for an inevitable function of their body. We're tackling female focused shame by protesting against a female focused tax that many, like Obama, simply haven't been made aware of, leaving him previously unable to join our protest.

In his second comment, Obama dropped one of the biggest tampon tax truth bombs of all time. He said: "I have to tell you I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it's because men were making laws when these taxes were passed."

We have been waiting for almost half a century for a political leader to publicly connect male agenda setting to the existence of policies such as tampon tax and finally the wait is over. Yes. There is a logic behind the taxation of tampons and the simultaneous tax exemption of maintaining private helicopters or eating exotic meats. It stems from a perception of essentiality that has come from men at the top. Sadly, these men didn't seem to view tampons with the same love as they did their taste for crocodile meat. Hence, in 1973, a male dominated parliament passed a law in the UK that enabled them to tax tampons, mooncups and sanitary products as luxury items, and exempt other, more essential goods. Women and trans men aside, all was well.

In making this short but powerful statement, Obama highlighted another very important issue that tampon tax has become a symptom of. Female political underrepresentation. When women become underrepresented in parliament, like they are in the vast majority of countries across the world, their visibility and voices suffer. Obama pointed out that this sexist tax may well have been created due to an issue that is still alive today. Women were politically underrepresented in 1973, and that undoubtedly helped the passing of tampon tax trough parliament, but the important point is that women continue to be outnumbered in Westminster, alongside other parliaments, today.

The Westminster MPs who have made a personal effort to connect with this campaign and help us to end tampon tax have been exclusively female. Even after meeting with Andy Burnham's team during the Labour leadership race, we were told that other issues had taken his focus away from tampons. Including women in politics shouldn't be a political tool to win votes. It should be a necessity of a functional parliament. Obama explained why and his words can be summed up in one simple sentence: a world-wide tax on menstruation.


Paul Waugh   |   January 20, 2016    6:22 PM ET

The Tory party spent nearly £3m on polling and strategy provided by American and Australian campaign chiefs in the last general election, new figures reveal.

In its final analysis of the 2015 election’s financing, the Electoral Commission said that the Conservatives paid £2.4m to CTF, the political strategy company run by the ‘Wizard of Oz’, Sir Lynton Crosby.

It also spent £369,000 on market research by Barack Obama’s polling guru Jim Messina, who had vowed before the campaign that he had never lost an election.

axelrod messina

David Axelrod and Jim Messina, in 2009, when they both worked for Barack Obama

The Tories’ election victory meant that Messina won his own fierce battle with former fellow Obama staffer, David Axelrod, who worked for the rival Labour party.

Axelrod, who was criticised for rarely visiting Britain during the election campaign, saw his firm AKPD paid £223,572 for its services.

Sir Lynton, who was credited with pushing the relentless focus on Labour's economic weakness and the threat of the SNP in a hung Parliament, was awarded a knighthood by David Cameron in the New Year’s Honours List in recognition of his role in winning the election.

Overall, the Commission found that the Conservatives spent £3 million more than Labour on its campaign, clocking up expenses of £15 million to their rivals’ £12 million.

Buried in the accounts is a £577 payment Labour made to hire ‘chicken suits’ used to accuse Mr Cameron of avoiding TV debates.

But the party blamed an ‘administrative error’ for failing to include receipts for its infamous ‘Ed Stone’, the list of policy pledges unveiled by Ed Miliband to widespread ridicule.

Mr Miliband unveiled the eight foot stone carving on the final weekend of the campaign, saying that it would be installed in the garden of Downing Street to remind the party to honour its six main election promises.

A party spokesman said: “Due to an administrative error these invoices were not included with other items of campaign spend. We have informed the Electoral Commission and will seek to rectify this error as soon as possible."

In the year upto polling day, the Tories massively outspent Labour on adverts with a cool £1.2m on advertising on Facebook – and £250,000 during the election campaign itself - compared to Labour’s £16,000.

However, the Conservatives’ spending on social media adverts was dwarfed by its spending on direct mail, with one firm paid more than £4 million to deliver election leaflets.

UKIP got most value for money, spending an average of 73p per vote compared to the Lib Dems’ £1.46 per vote.

Ukip also spent £10,000 on copies of Nigel Farage's book, the Purple Revolution.