Thomas Tamblyn   |   September 12, 2014    9:44 AM ET

A man wearing a Pikachu hat and a stuffed Pikachu backpack has been taken into custody after jumping the north lawn fence of the White House and walking on the lawn.

The superfan hopped over the fence and headed in the direction of the White House only to find himself being swiftly dump tackled to the ground by the Secret Service.

The event was caught by bystanders who immediately took to Twitter to share the news of the deviant Pikachu fan.

It's not yet clear why the gentlemen wanted to gain access to the White House or indeed if the bright yellow Pikachu hat is in any way connected.

Our Obligation to the Memory of the Victims of 9/11

Jon Snow   |   September 11, 2014    2:17 PM ET

Thirteen years on, have we learned from 9/11?

Could any of us have imagined that the attack on America by mainly Saudi-born radicals on this very day 13 years ago, would represent one of the most defining events of modern history?

From my own experience reporting sporadically across the region for over three decades, my fear is that we have not learned.

For most of the years since the second world war the contract has been clear: Gulf oil for the west in exchange for Western weapons, security, banking and commerce - no questions asked. Across the west our generous gates have allowed the most radical Muslim preachers to criss-cross the globe carrying their Wahabi messages of extremism.

Pakistan, once so recognisable a legacy of Empire, now represents the most unstable nuclear power in the world - its landscape dotted with radical Madrassas and Mosques. A whole generation of Muslim children far beyond Saudi borders, from Birmingham to Bombay, know no other view of the world than the Saudi-spawned Wahabi view of their faith.


Thirteen years after 9/11, an English speaking voice articulates the beheading of an American hostage. There are hundreds of western Muslims in the ranks of Islamic State (IS).

In waging unwise and horrific war themselves in Iraq, western powers have forfeited their capacity overtly to bolster moderate regional forces in Syria and Iraq.

In spite of the warrior pose President Obama deployed on Wednesday night, his instinct is still for the regional powers around Syria and Iraq to resolve the Islamic State madness themselves.

One is tempted to ask how many of the 1,700 military jets that the collective west has sold to Saudi and Gulf states down the years, have yet left the ground in anger against IS. How many of the Sandhurst trained officers from the region have yet been spotted in the field?

We may be part of IS's target, just as New York and Washington were the targets of other regional radicals on 9/11.

But this time those same regional states from which the 9/11 gang sprang, know that they are now the targets too.

Watching regional events from Iran in the last week, I observed a quiet acceptance that the Shia forces in Iraq needed leadership, strategy, and gumption that only Iran's revolutionary guard and ancillary resources could provide - and providing it they are.

And let us not forget what a top Iranian Foreign Ministry official told me which I reported several years ago; "you think we sit here in Iran fearing Israel, or America. We don't, our fear is the radical implosion of Pakistan and nuclear implications of radical Sunni Muslims with their hands on nuclear weapons firing them at Shia Iran".

There is a fire raging in Arabia today, which we in the west are not competent to extinguish. There is regional power to do the job, and we should not interfere with them getting on with it.

But those same regional powers should know, should even be told, that they cannot enjoy our friendship, our open gates, our Mayfair Hotels, our city finance unconditionally. Our condition must surely be that they distinguish themselves from the extremist forces that some of them knowingly, or unknowingly, have spawned, and deal with the effluent that is IS.

If the 3,000 dead of 9/11 are to be remembered with honour, we have an obligation to get this crisis right this time.

This blog was originally posted on Channel Four's Snowblog, and can be read here

Fighting the Urge to Overreact

Hilary Stauffer   |   September 11, 2014   11:07 AM ET

Last night, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Obama laid out the justification for American military action against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organisation.

At least in part, his address to the nation was based on the the terrible images of IS fanatics beheading American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, which spread around the world like wildfire in recent weeks. The sickening pictures prompted vigorous online debates about the most appropriate response to their transmission: to view or not to view? In viewing the videos, radical Islamists were finding a captive audience for their message of hate. But by not viewing the videos, Westerners were refusing to fully acknowledge the violent extremism in their midst.

Not surprisingly, the beheadings also prompted anguished navel-gazing among Western leaders, who yet again were forced to confront the not-insignificant question of how to best respond to radical Islam. Unfortunately, so far most of the answers have been of the fear-mongering variety. The United Kingdom is threatening to strip suspected jihadists of their passports; the White House has concluded that while there is no 'imminent danger' to the US homeland, foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria could pose a significant 'threat' to American interests both home and abroad.

Such sentiments by political leaders are not entirely without foundation. In the not-too-distant past, both the US and UK have been victims of terrorist attacks by those professing to adhere to an extreme interpretation of Islam. Neither country has yet found an effective response to the culture clash being foisted upon them against their will. But there is a real danger that the governments in these and other Western nations will use the menace posed by the Islamic State to further erode civil liberties and democratic values, somehow discounting the fact that the last decade of scare tactics and hysteria hasn't made their countries any safer.

We've been here before. Guantanamo Bay prison camp--festering like an open wound off the coast of Florida--is a visceral reminder of what happens when the panicked need to 'do something' overtakes common sense. But the West's collective impulse to instinctively overreact in the face of an apparent existential threat first manifested decades before Osama Bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks. Back then, the common enemy was Communism.

The Cold War was used to rationalise a multitude of sins, not least among them nuclear proliferation. But successive administrations in the United States also used it to justify political witch hunts, dodgy deals with discredited authorities, and proxy wars in Asia, Africa and Latin America--all in the name of 'fighting Communism'. Untold human rights abuses were perpetuated by dictators allied with the United States, who turned a blind eye to their injustices, so long as they promised to affiliate themselves with Washington instead of Moscow. As late as the 1980s, the US government was still formally allied with the apartheid regime in South Africa, because of the suspected 'communist' leanings of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. Mandela himself was on a 'terrorist watchlist' until 2008, in what is surely one of America's more embarrassing administrative oversights.

There is zero indication that any of the IS leadership has Mandela-like ambitions for peace, reconciliation and racial harmony. Very much the opposite, in fact--they have pledged to overrun and subjugate everyone who is not 'believer', whatever that means in their twisted notions of the Muslim faith. This unquestionably includes Americans and their allies. But cooler heads need to prevail in the War Room--because when the United States overreacts and ignores its own stated ideals in the fight against extremist political views, it gives everyone else a free pass to do so as well. Plenty of undemocratic governments are looking for any acceptable excuse to infringe the rights of their people, and 'anti-terrorism' laws are very attractive in this regard.

In his speech last night, the President stated that the United States had a 'responsibility to lead', and that the values of freedom, justice, and dignity underpin American leadership in an uncertain world. Adherence to these principles has been found wanting in recent years; let's hope that policymakers remember them while they search for a comprehensive response to the Islamic State's provocations.

*An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Express Tribune.*

Paul Vale   |   September 11, 2014    2:17 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Addressing the nation late on Wednesday evening, President Obama detailed the US strategy for "degrading and defeating" the threat of the Islamic State, formerly ISIS (ISIL), which includes the authorisation of air strikes against the terrorist group within Syria.

"We will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists," he said. "Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven."

The president, who had been roundly criticised in recent weeks for his lack of strategy to combat the growing jihadist threat across Iraq and Syria, said that an addition 475 service personnel would be sent to Iraq to assist local forces, but reassured the American people that US troops would not be returning to ground combat, following the disastrous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking from the White House on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, Obama said: "This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists, who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years."

Without over-hyping the threat of the Islamic State – "We have not seen any immediate intelligence about threats to the homeland from ISIL," he said – Obama made the point that if the militant forces were left "unchecked" they could eventually threaten Europe and the US.

"So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat," he said. "Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy."

To read the full text of Obama's address to the nation, go here.


Paul Vale   |   September 10, 2014    7:08 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Anyone grasping for a better idea of the politics of Barack Obama should red Mein Kampf, according to one likely Republican Presidential candidate.

Speaking on the Newsmax channel, Ben Carson, a mouse-spoken former doctor, whose past hits include calling the provision of affordable healthcare "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery" and equating gays with people who practise bestiality, advised viewers to read Hitler’s national socialist tome, as well as the works of Vladimir Lenin in reference to the current President and Attorney General Eric Holder.

The bespectacled Republican, who in recent years has criticised Obama for trying to turn the US into a Nazi state (Communism and Nazism appear to be interchangeable to the good doctor), also advocated for a book called The Naked Communist, a Cold War polemic that sets out an agenda for the Soviet Union to infiltrate and take over governments across the world.

"It shows the whole timeline of what would be necessary in gaining control of school systems, of unions and eventually a foothold in government and the executive branch," he said.

…and yes, Ben Carson really does want to stand for President.


(H/T RightWingWatch)

  |   September 9, 2014   12:06 PM ET

We've all been there, that feeling of unadulterated boredom that comes when forced into your smartest clothes and involuntarily made to mingle with people you really don't want to.

While for most of us that experience is limited to awkward work meetings and family get togethers, this young man was seemingly driven to soul-destroying boredom by the President of the United States.

As Barack Obama chatted with the boy's parents, a departing Secret Service agent and his wife, the little boy reacted to his plight in glorious fashion - by face-planting onto a couch in the Oval Office.


The majestic dive, captured by Lawrence Jackson, was released as the White House revealed some candid behind-the-scenes photographs from June on its official Flickr account.

In other candid photos involving the US president and other, slightly more interested-looking children, Obama recently made a family's day when he swapped "banter" with three young boys during his sightseeing trip to Stonehenge.

Janice Raffle, a mum of three who runs 10K races dressed as a bee to raise money for Cancer Research UK, rushed to the famous monument with her husband and sons after hearing that the leader of the free world was paying a surprise visit.

The family, who live nearby, shook hands with the US president and chatted to him over a barbed wire fence as he toured the ancient site in Wiltshire last week.

A delighted Raffle shared the moment the family tracked down the President on Twitter.

Obama had taken advantage of his attendance at the Nato summit in Wales to visit the historic site.

Raffle told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "He was really sweet, he asked all our names, whether we lived in the area, which we've only just moved to two weeks ago.

"He commented on the fresh air and the beautiful countryside and also said that I was quite outnumbered because I have three little boys as well as my husband."


President Barack Obama greets the family

She also told the BBC: "There was a bit of banter between the boys, saying boys are best and he said 'Well, I don't know if I agree with that'. He was really kind, it was a really amazing experience for all of us."

Her husband, James Raffle, said the chance encounter had been "incredible".

He told ITV News: "He was worried about the kids on the barbed wire fence. He was worried about Janice because she was overrun with boys."

Seeing Stonehenge had been on the president's "bucket list" of things to do and he stunned onlookers when he squeezed in the visit after the final day of the Nato summit in south Wales.


The Case for British Strikes Against the Islamic State

James Snell   |   September 9, 2014   12:00 AM ET

The case for American attacks on the Islamic State is eminently clear. Diplomatic personnel need to be protected; a nation which is barely emerging from the dual quagmires of dictatorship and reconstruction cannot be allowed to simply fall apart; and ethnic and religious minorities must be rescued from the genocidal ambitions of the sort of adventure-hungry savages who delight in taunting captives before their brutal executions (and beheading a journalist only days after receiving an emotional appeal for his safety from his mother).

British involvement in this most grave of international crises has been suggested, but apparently a majority of the public are against military action. The isolationist bent which besets these islands is something I have documented in the past, but rarely has it manifested itself with such a self-defeating and outright dangerous obstinacy.

First we must consider our own interests. It takes a certain degree of delusion to imagine that a group as brutal, well armed and well financed as IS would refrain from attacking us in the West for any reason. After all, IS is by its nature expansionary: it has purposefully dissolved national borders in aid of the creation of a caliphate. In addition, it is all too happy to kill citizens of Western nations. Anti-Western sentiment forms a great deal of its propaganda.  Prominent supporters in Europe and elsewhere delight at the prospect of governments which currently hold sway there facing an aggressive challenge from outside.

But, even if IS did not pose a direct threat to us, there would still be a formidable case for action. National interests extend further than national borders, and the ties between nations and peoples cannot be forgotten for transient political expediency - and nor should they be. The Kurdish peoples have been a constant and long-standing ally of ours. More than that, they are the largest stateless minority in the Middle East, and have suffered barbaric persecution and mass murder at the hands of the Iraqi state under Saddam Hussein.

Aiding them in their fight against IS is therefore vital on two fronts. IS must be defeated, and the Kurds must be supported at every possible opportunity. But leaving the peshmerga to take on this vicious enemy alone is merely outsourcing our responsibilities. If we truly want to help the Kurds, we must be brave enough - financially, militarily and politically - to do everything in our power to aid them in their struggle.

Britain is a rich nation. Here, we possess one of the most powerful militaries on the planet and enjoy - despite recession and financial woe - one of the world's most bountiful treasuries. We enjoy close alliance and co-operation with partners across the globe. America has already begun the necessary process of, in that clunky phrase, 'degrading' the capacity of IS to advance further and to hold the territory it has already conquered. We also have the ability to do so. We must act on it.

With air support from the United States, Kurdish fighters retook Mosul Dam last month. The same process (a ground assault aided from the air) has now begun in Haditha. In a land as dry as Iraq - military operations in the area invariably attract the unfortunate prefix 'Desert' - this is not nothing. Controlling the water supply is a vital step towards wresting the nation itself from the hands of the fanatics.

Whenever someone tells me, and it is frequently said, that those in Washington who ordered these airstrikes are not 'learning the lessons of occupation' or that merely fighting IS will not yield any results, I show them a photograph of the biggest dam in the Iraq from last month. In it, the flag of the Islamic State flies freely. That is no longer the case. That black flag - now as symbolic of violence and criminality and lawlessness as any in history - has been torn down, and replaced with one more visually and politically appealing.

Again, it must be said: this isn't nothing, and anyone who says otherwise betrays contempt, subconscious or not, for the Kurdish and Iraqi volunteers who liberated that dam from the Islamic State with US assistance. After all, would you rather they attempted to do so without help? The only honest answer an anti-war type can give to that is 'yes', and in that their principles are flagrantly violated. There is a war already going on in Iraq and Syria - and we in the West did not start it.

But the fight back against IS is gaining momentum. That was accomplished with American help. With British firepower added to the table - as well as our intelligence-gathering capacity and diplomatic connections - defeating the terrorist state can only become easier.

And to those who are prone to muttering that by attacking Islamic State forces and killing IS fighters we are 'giving the terrorists what they want,' I have this to say: If that is giving them what they want, it is a rare point of convergence between our objectives and theirs; a coming together of preferred outcomes. Let us not fail to exploit it. These are the people who have massacred whole communities on the basis of religion or sect, who have sold women into sexual slavery on a sickening scale, who have terrorised civilian populations with arbitrary and barbaric rule. If the same jihadi warriors truly wish to die by Western bombs and bullets, we should do everything in our collective powers to oblige them.

We can, with our technology, our material and our enviable financial position, intervene on the right side. We can fight the aggressors, the fascists, and rescue Iraq from the scourge of Islamist violence. But this is only possible in coalition, in alliance. Leaving the Kurds to fight the Islamic State alone is immoral; abandoning Iraq is equally bad; and letting the United States shoulder the burdens of internationalism alone fails the very definition of the term.

IS must be defeated, and we in Britain must join our allies in making that happen.

James Snell is a Contributing Editor of The Libertarian

Jack Sommers   |   September 7, 2014   11:14 PM ET

Barack Obama has insisted "we're going to defeat" Islamic State (IS) and said he will sketch out a plan to do in a speech later this week.

Without revealing details of any planned US action, he said America would engaged in something "similar to the kinds of counter-terrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years".

He will give his speech on Wednesday, the day before the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Speaking to NBC's Meet The Press today, Obama, who was elected president on a platform of getting US soldiers out of Iraq, said: "This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war.

"The good news is is that because of American leadership, we have I believe, a broad-based coalition internationally and regionally to be able to deal with the problem."

barack obama

Obama has said the West will 'defeat' IS

Obama has been accused of being indecisive over IS as it has torn through Syria and Iraq. He told reporters last month "we don't have a strategy yet".

The strategy he will announce on Wednesday will have political and military elements, he said today, which would "systematically degrade" the terror group.

He said: "We are going to be as part of an international coalition, carrying out air strikes in support of work on the ground by Iraqi troops, Kurdish troops.

"We are going to be helping to put together a plan for them, so that they can start retaking territory that ISIL (former name of IS) had taken over."

He said the West would "have to work hard" to attract back Sunni tribes in Iraq which were shunned by the Malaki government, which favoured Shia muslims with government appointments and alienated the Sunnis - who enjoyed more power under Saddam Hussein.

Islamic State:

He continued: "So there's going to be an economic element to this. There's going to be a political element to it. There's going to be a military element to it.

"And what I want people to understand, though, is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIL.

"We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We're going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we're going to defeat them."

Obama was speaking after attending the Nato summit in Newport, Wales with other leaders of Nato countries.

Last week, former UK foreign secretary Jack Straw gave a withering critique of the president's foreign policy, saying: "Much though I respect him, I think, if you like, he is very long on analysis and not quite as fleet as foot at being decisive, and you need a balance if you are the president of the United States."

  |   September 6, 2014   10:46 AM ET

Barack Obama made a family' s day when he swapped "banter" with three young boys during his sightseeing trip to Stonehenge, their mother has said.

Janice Raffle, a mum of three who runs 10K races dressed as a bee to raise money for Cancer Research UK, rushed to the famous monument with her husband and sons after hearing that the leader of the free world was paying a surprise visit.

The family, who live nearby, shook hands with the US president and chatted to him over a barbed wire fence as he toured the ancient site in Wiltshire yesterday.

"I squealed like a teenager. You’d think I would know better," Mrs Raffle told ITV.

A delighted Mrs Raffle shared the moment the family tracked down the President on Twitter.

Mr Obama had taken advantage of his attendance at the Nato summit in Wales to visit the historic site.

Mrs Raffle told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "He was really sweet, he asked all our names, whether we lived in the area, which we've only just moved to two weeks ago.

"He commented on the fresh air and the beautiful countryside and also said that I was quite outnumbered because I have three little boys as well as my husband."


President Barack Obama greets the family

She also told the BBC: "There was a bit of banter between the boys, saying boys are best and he said 'Well, I don't know if I agree with that'. He was really kind, it was a really amazing experience for all of us."

Her husband, James Raffle, said the chance encounter had been "incredible".

He told ITV News: "He was worried about the kids on the barbed wire fence. He was worried about Janice because she was overrun with boys."

Seeing Stonehenge had been on the president's "bucket list" of things to do and he stunned onlookers when he squeezed in the visit after the final day of the Nato summit in south Wales.


  |   September 6, 2014    8:14 AM ET

The UK has pledged to stand beside America in global efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, in a struggle that could last up to three years.

Nato has launched a a "core coalition" of 10 countries – led by the United States and including the UK, France, Germany, Canada and Australia – to tackle jihadists, amid speculation that Britain could soon join airstrikes.

The alliance's summit in Wales wrapped up with Cameron urging a "comprehensive plan" to deal with the growing threat, while refusing to rule out military intervention to defend our “national interest”.

cameron isis

But there were some signs of tensions, with UK officials concerned that the US is not putting enough emphasis on involving regional powers, and the French indicating they are not prepared to take part in military action in Syria.

IS militants have threatened to kill Scottish aid worker David Haines who they are believed to be holding in Syria. They have already beheaded two American journalists, posting the evidence on line in gruesome videos featuring a masked jihadist with a British accent.

US president Barack Obama insisted Nato members were "unanimous" in their commitment to stamp out to the "extremist nihilism" of IS - also known as ISIL and ISIS.

"We are going to achieve our goal. We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, the same way that we have gone after al Qaida," he told a press conference.

At his own press conference, Cameron said: "My argument is you need that mixture of intelligent politics, diplomatic pressure, long-term engagement in a comprehensive plan as well as the potential for military or other more aggressive action.


Prime Minister David Cameron holds a news conference at the end of the NATO Summit at Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales

"This will take time and it will take resolve. We will proceed carefully and methodically, drawing together the partners we need, above all in the region, to implement a comprehensive plan."

Despite evidence that Tory MPs are being canvassed over whether they would support involvement in airstrikes, Cameron said Britain was not yet at the stage where it was ready to take offensive military action.

He is thought to want to wait at least until a more inclusive Iraqi government is formed - which could happen next week.

Earlier, US secretary of state John Kerry appeared to try to up the tempo, calling for agreement on an international plan for dealing with IS by the time of the general meeting United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month.

Kerry and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond jointly chaired a meeting of foreign and defence ministers from what the US called a "core coalition" of allies to discuss the way forward to eradicate the “genocidal, territorial-grabbing, caliphate-desiring” fighters.

Ministers from France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark were also at the talks.

"We have the technology, we have the know-how. What we need is obviously the willpower to make sure that we are steady and stay at this," Kerry said.

“We’re convinced in the days ahead we have the ability to destroy Isil. It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years. But we’re determined.”

There was some irritation among British officials at the apparent attempt to put a group of predominantly North American and European nations at the forefront of the effort at a time when they are seeking to build support from allies in the region.

Earlier Hammond said the Government will not be deterred from launching air strikes against IS by threats to the life of a British hostage they are holding.

"We will do everything we can to protect this individual (Mr Haines) but we have to be clear about the nature of the organisation that we are dealing with," Hammond told BBC News.

"They are utterly brutal, they are ideologically driven - almost pathological in the way that they behave. We cannot allow our strategy to be driven by their behaviour.

"We have to approach the challenge of Isil with focus purely on what is in Britain's best interests - protecting our citizens and our security from the threat that Isil poses from foreign fighters, from potential attacks on our soil, destabilisation of the region.

"We will not be diverted from doing what is right by the threats from this organisation."

Haines, 44, has a teenage daughter in Scotland from a previous marriage and a four-year-old daughter in Croatia from his present marriage.

Educated at Perth Academy secondary school, he has worked for aid agencies in some of the world's worst trouble spots, including Libya and South Sudan.

He was in Libya during its civil war in 2011, working as head of mission for Handicap International, which helps disabled people in poverty and conflict zones around the world.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph at the family's home near Zagreb, his wife Dragana Prodanovic Haines, 44, said: "He's everything to us. He's our life. He's a fantastic man and father.

"Nobody can understand how we are feeling. My daughter keeps asking about him every day. She hasn't seen her father for a year and a half. She has gone through so much. She sees me crying all the time."


Paul Vale   |   September 5, 2014    8:14 PM ET

Having concluded the Nato summit in Wales, President Obama visited the historical site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire on Friday, touring the prehistoric monument with English Heritage curator Heather Sebire.

Addressing reporters, Obama quipped, "How cool is this?... Knocked it off the bucket list." Having run against John McCain in 2008, this is not the first time Obama has encountered an ancient, rigid Neolithic structure. Still, the President was clearly impressed, telling Sebire, "It's spectacular, it's spectacular. It's a special place."


The ancient stones could even predate GOP attitudes towards women

After the visit the curator said: "Mr Obama was fascinated by the story of the stones, what we know about them and the mysteries that have yet to be solved. He asked lots of questions about how old the monument is, how long it took to build it, and what was its purpose.

"He described the atmosphere around the stones as ‘really special’ and his visit to Stonehenge as ‘a highlight of my tour’. He particularly loved seeing the colour and texture of the stones. It was a beautiful still evening and it was a privilege to show the US President around this unique monument which continues to inspire and intrigue people."

The visit also resulted in what is being hailed as the greatest piece of live-tweeting in the long history of Wiltshire. The poster was Janice Raffle, a mum of three who runs 10K races dressed as a bee to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Upon hearing rumours that the US Commander-in-Chief was in the neighbourhood, the family hiked up to the site hoping to get a glance of the President... only for Obama to wave, walk over, shake hands and have the mandatory picture taken. "I squealed like a teenager. You’d think I would know better," Raffle told ITV.

As one respondent to the final post succinctly put it, "Noway!!!! Lol. OMG".


  |   September 5, 2014    7:00 PM ET

Britain is to a head up a new rapid-reaction Nato "spearhead" force designed to deter Russian further aggression against former Soviet bloc states in eastern Europe, David Cameron has said. On the final day of the alliance summit in South Wales, the Prime Minister said the UK would be the first member state to take charge of the 4,000-strong force when it becomes operational at the end of next year.

The UK will provide the largest contingent with a 1,000-strong battle group and headquarters for the force which will be on standby to deploy troops within two to five days in the event of a new crisis.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that the European Union would press ahead with a new round of sanctions against Russia, despite the agreement of a ceasefire with pro-Moscow rebels announced by Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko.

Mr Cameron welcomed the truce, but said that Western sanctions would only be removed if "proper milestones" towards a lasting peace were reached. The Prime Minister hailed a "hard-fought" agreement by all 28 Nato members to reverse the trend of cuts in defence spending and move towards meeting the alliance's target of spending 2% of GDP on defence over the coming decade - with a fifth of spending to go on major new equipment.

He sought to underline Britain's own commitment to alliance collective defence with an announcement that the Royal Navy's second new aircraft carrier - the Prince of Wales, due to be completed in 2017 - will enter service rather than be mothballed or sold off, enabling the UK to have a carrier available at all times. The Newport summit has been dominated by concerns over Russian aggression in the east of Ukraine, as well as the violent uprising by Islamic State jihadis in Iraq and Syria.

The creation of a spearhead force able to deploy thousands of troops in a matter of days is intended to provide reassure to allies in eastern Europe such as members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who fear they could be the next targets of Soviet aggression. Troops will be provided by member states on a rotation basis. It will have a headquarters in Poland and will be supported by the "pre-positioning" of supplies of fuel and ammunition in bases in eastern Europe.

Mr Cameron said that Britain would also be deploying 3,500 military personnel on a series of Nato exercises running to the end of 2015 intended to ensure a persistent alliance presence in the region while providing further financial assistance to the government in Kiev.

"We will continue our efforts to support Ukraine, including by providing financial assistance to improve their command, control and communication capabilities," said the Prime Minister. Nato members across Europe - particularly in central and eastern Europe - have been reassured that this is an alliance that will meet its treaty obligations to come to the defence of any member under threat.

"No one will leave here with any doubt that our collective security is as strong as it has ever been. The alliance is firmly committed to providing ongoing reassurance to our eastern allies."


Prime Minister David Cameron holds a news conference at the end of the NATO Summit at Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales

US president Barack Obama said the agreement demonstrated that Nato was "fully united" behind Ukraine's independence, territorial sovereignty and right to self-defence. "This commitment makes clear that Nato will not be complacent," he said.

Mr Poroshenko, who attended the summit as a Nato partner, said the new ceasefire was based on a 12-point plan drawn up on the basis of his phone conversation earlier this week with Russian president Vladimir Putin. All hostages held by rebel groups are expected to be freed by tomorrow.

"Now it is very important that this ceasefire lasts long and during this ceasefire we continue the political dialogue to bring peace and stability," said the Ukrainian president. Nevertheless, Mr Cameron said that sanctions against Russia agreed by the European Union last weekend and due to be detailed later today will go ahead.

"The announcement about the ceasefire is good news," he said. "We need to look carefully at whether it is a ceasefire or whether it also includes a commitment, as I understand it might, to make real progress on a proper peace plan. We should be clear that the sanctions which we agreed last Saturday in Brussels will go ahead. But, of course, if a ceasefire and a proper peace plan are put in place, then it'll be right to look and see how those sanctions could potentially be removed if proper milestones are reached."

Mr Cameron denied the West was accepting a de facto partition of Ukraine or that Moscow was set to "get away" with its aggression. The summit had sent a clear message to Russia that President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine were "indefensible and wrong".

"We stand firmly behind Ukraine's right to make its own decisions, not to have them dictated by Russian tanks rolling over the border," he said. Sanctions have proved effective and Moscow could see that the EU and US were acting together and there would be "more pressure" if aggression continued, said Mr Cameron, adding: "I am confident that we are taking the right approach."

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said progress towards meeting the 2% pledge would be reviewed at every future summit of the trans-Atlantic alliance. "This is no easy task, and there is much work to do," he said.

"But the direction of travel is clear and the security of our countries of citizens is too important for us to cut corners or to cut still more funds." He said the creation of the spearhead force "sends a clear message to any potential aggressor: should you even think of attacking an ally, you will be facing the whole alliance".


A World Without a Globo-Cop

Robin Lustig   |   September 5, 2014    3:54 PM ET

I can't think of anywhere that would have been less appropriate as a venue for this week's Nato summit than the UK.

A United Kingdom that within the next couple of weeks may become shatteringly disunited. A once middle-ranking European power that now has no idea what sort of international role it wants for itself, or indeed whether it even wants to be part of a European Union. A nation that sometimes seems to have decided to have no further truck with any joint international endeavours.

Inward-looking, backward-looking, suspicious of its neighbours: everything that Nato is meant not to be. And this at a time when the world is a more dangerous place than it's been in decades. So why are Western leaders - because it's not just David Cameron - so dismally unable to confront the dangers?

The answer is both simple and complex. Simple, because the world's traditional globo-cop - the US - no longer has either the will or the cash to carry on as before. Its ill-fated military ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have sapped the Americans' appetite for more wars, and its economic plight means it can no longer afford to fight other people's wars for them.

Good thing too, you may say, when you look at the consequences of the US's most recent forays. But here comes the complex bit: in the absence of a globo-cop, bad people get more chances to do bad things. (Globo-cops can do bad things too, of course: Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, you can draw up your own list ...) Who should stop the bad people -- and how -- is now the single biggest foreign policy headache facing world leaders.

Nato? Ah yes, good old Nato. The US by another name. As Gideon Rachman pointed out in the Financial Times this week, the US now provides no less than 75% of Nato's total spending, compared to 50% at the height of the Cold War. It may still be the world's biggest economy (just), but it's heartily fed up with European leaders whining about a lack of "American leadership" and then scurrying for cover as soon as someone suggests they might like to cough up some cash themselves.

I remember a senior Nato official telling me some years ago that for effective international action to be agreed, you always need one political leader to go out in front, pick up the phone and do some serious arm-twisting. Tony Blair was pretty good at it (Kosovo, 1999); so were George H.W. Bush (Kuwait, 1991) and Nicolas Sarkozy (Libya, 2011). This time, when it comes to Ukraine, Syria, or Iraq? Er, no one.

As it happens, there are some very good reasons for the reluctance to go back to war. First, recent experience is not encouraging. Second, it's extremely difficult to see what kind of action, at least in Syria or Ukraine, would be effective. Third, there's the very real possibility that military intervention would make things worse rather than better.

There is, however, one Nato member that might be in a position to take up where the US has left off, and that member is Germany. It is the most powerful economy in Europe, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is by a long way Europe's most powerful leader. Germany is also, according to a global opinion poll conducted last year, the most admired country in the world.

There's just one problem: history. The Germans themselves, and the rest of Europe, remember what happened in the past when Germany had ambitions to be a global power, and it did not end well. So whether it's the global economic crisis or Russian troops stomping around in eastern Ukraine, Chancellor Merkel has no intention of dressing up in a globo-cop uniform. I can't say I blame her.

But with the Polish prime minister Donald Tusk now in pole position in Brussels (sorry) as the new president of the European Council, Mrs Merkel really is best placed, together with Mr Tusk, to mediate between Moscow and Kiev. (Britain has no useful role to play, if only because of its unedifying determination not to upset all those Russian oligarchs who like to use the London property market as their playground.)

Let's be clear: even if the latest ceasefire is effective, the Ukraine crisis won't be over until there's a sustainable political settlement. No outside power is going to go to war on Kiev's behalf - that's why at the Nato summit in Bucharest in 2008 (I was there), Western leaders rebuffed Ukraine's attempt to begin a membership application process.

As for Iraq, it seems to me that President ("no strategy yet") Obama is heading slowly in the right direction. Just as the first President Bush did in 1991, he wants to assemble a multi-national coalition that extends beyond the Western powers. That means bringing countries like Turkey on board, plus Jordan and at least some of the Gulf Sunni autocracies. (If they really don't approve of the IS jihadis, now is the time for them to show it. And to do something useful with all that military hardware we keep selling them.)

Most important of all is to engage with Iraq's Sunni leaders to help them confront the brutality of the IS zealots. Because if there is to be any hope for Iraq -- or Syria, or Ukraine -- the shape of the future must be decided by its own people.

Finally, spare a thought for the people of Bama, in northern Nigeria, 26,000 of whom are reported to have fled from their homes after the town was seized by jihadi fighters from Boko Haram, IS's African soul-mates. Bodies are said to be littering the streets.

And if you can, spare another thought for the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, facing the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history. According to the president of the international medical relief agency Médecins sans Frontières: "The world is losing the battle to contain it ... cases and deaths continue to surge. Riots are breaking out. Isolation centres are overwhelmed. Health workers on the frontline are becoming infected and are dying in shocking numbers."

If it wasn't for everything else, Nigeria and Ebola would be on the front pages as well.

  |   September 5, 2014   10:23 AM ET

So heartbreaking, in fact, that the uploader of the video above has added Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Sound Of Silence' for extra pathos.

Oh dear. Maybe it just happened because he's left-handed? Still, that could be Obama's excuse, too...

(Via LiveLeak)