Louise Ridley   |   November 11, 2015   10:37 AM ET

Most people would drop anything for the chance of a White House meeting with the President of the United States, but not David Attenborough.

The broadcaster and naturalist spent his 89th birthday with Barack Obama, and said it was a "great, great privilege" to visit the White House earlier this year.

But though he was impressed by the invitation, Attenborough wasn't about to cancel prior commitments to see him.


Attenborough meets Obama

After the pair's meeting was reported earlier this year, it has now emerged that just before the date, the President's office asked if Attenborough could alter the timings and visit 24 hours earlier than planned.

But having already promised to speak at Kew Gardens, Attenborough turned the president down, The Evening Standard reported.


"Attenborough was apologetic but firm," editor Sarah Sands wrote. "He had agreed to speak at Kew the night before. He fulfilled that engagement."

"A lesson for the over-invited," she added.

Luckily, the scheduling worked out and the meeting did take place in May. The White House released a video of the pair "discussing and contemplating the natural world" to prove it.

Watch David Attenborough's full interview with Barack Obama

Chris York   |   November 10, 2015    7:47 AM ET

Fact 1: President Obama finally has a Facebook page.

Fact 2: The White House garden is actually a national park.

Fact 3: Obama likes watching squirrels.

While obviously the last one is the most important, it is the first that has taken hold the most recently.

The page has all the big things backdated - his birth, marriage and political highlights (y'know the whole president thing) - but his first new post is all about Climate Change.

Hello, Facebook! I finally got my very own page. I hope you’ll think of this as a place where we can have real conversations about the most important issues facing our country – a place where you can hear directly from me, and share your own thoughts and stories. (You can expect some just-for-fun stuff, too.)I’m kicking it off by inviting you to take a walk with me in my backyard – something I try to do at the end of the day before I head in for dinner. I say this often, but that’s because it’s always at the front of my mind: We’ve got to preserve this beautiful planet of ours for our kids and grandkids. And that means taking serious steps to address climate change once and for all. Now, we've made a lot of progress to cut carbon pollution here at home, and we're leading the world to take action as well. But we’ve got to do more. In a few weeks, I’m heading to Paris to meet with world leaders about a global agreement to meet this challenge.I hope you'll join me in speaking out on climate change and educating your friends about why this issue is so important. At a time when nearly three in four adults online use Facebook, this feels like a great place to do it. Share your thoughts in the comments, and pass this message on to folks you think need to see it.If we're all in this together, I'm confident we can solve this and do right by future generations.

Posted by President Obama on Monday, November 9, 2015

"I hope you'll join me in speaking out on climate change and educating your friends about why this issue is so important," Obama wrote on his Facebook Monday. "At a time when nearly three in four adults online use Facebook, this feels like a great place to do it."

Obama is a late-joiner to Facebook having launched a personal Twitter account back in May, which broke the Guinness world record Monday for the "fastest time to reach 1 million followers on Twitter".

This insane infographic shows how that looked.

His Facebook page is growing at a slightly more sedate pace with 580,448 likes (and rising).

Is South Korea Ready to Join Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Preetam Kaushik   |   November 3, 2015   10:15 AM ET

The recent slug fest between Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress on granting President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or fast track authority) that will allow him to craft trade agreements and then force a Congressional vote under expedited procedures and without amendments has implications beyond the American shores. For one, it will help the US President bring in South Korea as one of the negotiating countries as part of Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP.

The TPP is a proposed regional regulatory and investment treaty being negotiated by 12 countries Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US. The proposed pact for which initial talks started in 2005 intends to enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries; promote innovation, economic growth and development and support the creation of jobs. The countries taking part in it initially aimed to wrap up negotiations in 2012, but contentious issues such agriculture, intellectual property and services & investments have caused negotiations to continue, with the last round meeting in Ottawa in July 2014.

Four of the 12 countries ratified the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement in 2006, while eight more have joined negotiations for TPP whose text has not yet been finalised.

South Korea was invited to the TPP negotiating rounds by the US after the successful conclusion of the free trade agreement between the US and South Korea in December 2010. South Korea already has bilateral trade agreements with some TPP members.

Taiwan, the Philippines, Laos, Columbia and Thailand are among other countries which are said to be joining TPP sometime in the future. Cambodia, Bangladesh and India too are listed as potential members. Notable exclusions from TPP negotiations are China--which has been accelerating its own trade initiatives in Asia and maybe interested in joining the TPP eventually--and Japan, the world's third largest economy. Bringing these two behemoths into the negotiation would set the stage for a final agreement covering more than 50 per cent of world economic output.

During her visit to Washington, DC recently, South Korean President Park Geun-hye indicated East Asia's third-largest economy's willingness to TPP. She described the Republic of Korea as 'a natural partner' in TPP, in part because it has bilateral free trade agreements with almost all TPP members. Despite being a 'natural partner', why has South Korea been reluctant to join the partnership? Seoul's reluctance to join TPP is said to be due to its intention to distance itself from US-led regional coalitions so that its relations with China will remain intact. South Korea has been perceived as more keen on seeking a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with China, which absorbed 26 per cent of South Korea's exports last year as its number one trade partner (the bilateral trade between the two countries has already reached $221 billion), than joining a coalition led by the US.

Also, since it has bilateral free trade agreements with nearly all TPP members, it thought it would be redundant to join the forum. In addition, Korean policymakers relied more on economic data (according to a 2014 study by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, a government think tank, joining TPP would increase Korea's GDP between 1.7 and 1.8 percent over 10 years) to assess the merits of TPP without weighing other geopolitical benefits. The purely economic perspective missed the fact that the TPP is more about extending global standards to the region at a time when regional powers are vying to dictate how business gets done. President Park's recent announcement in Washington that South Korea is ready to join TPP reflects a strategic shift in South Korea's trade interests. It seems the country is realising that to be a regional player, it needs to go broaden its perspective and consider both tangible and intangible benefits of trade deals.

South Korea's new-found interest in TPP reflects a similar desire by Indonesia--recently Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his country is ready to join TPP in two years, arguably triggered by concerns that Indonesia--a G20 member with about a $1 trillion economy--may fall behind its neighbours which have joined the accord, including Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

However, South Korea renewed interest in TPP is likely to anger its critics who oppose South Korea's entry into TPP negotiations, citing its deteriorating human rights record.

A United Nations investigation into South Korea's human rights abuses points to the fact that migrant labourers and immigrant families from the Philippines, Vietnam, China and elsewhere in South Asia are treated badly in the country. According to a human trafficking watchdog, South Korea is a source, transit and destination for human trafficking of men and women subjected to forced prostitution and labour. The country also has a bad reputation of being racist towards people from other countries especially those from China, Vietnam, Philippines and Japan. Last year, The Korea Herald reported instances of discrimination against those who wish to immigrate to the country from Cambodia, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Thailand in addition to China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

A study by Hyundai Research Institute showed that 44.2 per cent South Koreans do not think of immigrants or migrant workers as their neighbours. This figure was significantly higher than in many other nations. For example, only 21 per cent of Germans, 10 per cent of Australians and just over 3 per cent of Swedes say the same thing. In addition, according to the study, an alarming 31.3 per cent of South Koreans said they do not accept different religions while only 3.4 per cent of people answered the same in the US. Amnesty International also published a report recently highlighting widespread use and exploitation of forced migrant labour in the agricultural sector in South Korea.

The US' move to welcome South Korea to join negotiations on an Asia-Pacific free trade agreement is amid Japan's bid to enter the same set of talks. South Korea, the world's 15th largest economy, has been much more aggressive than Japan in negotiating free trade agreements, having already struck deals with the US and the EU.

The TPP that aims to overhaul trade relations among member nations and establish new rules in areas as diverse as intellectual property, labour and the role of the governments in private enterprise, has also been seen as a threat to China's international trade influence. However, the US has made it clear that China and other nations are free to join the TPP as long as they can abide by partnership's rules.

Roping in China into TPP would enhance South Korea's interests considering its strained relationship with Japan, another Asian giant which is also seen as a possible TPP member.

While South Korea is likely to part of TPP talks and eventually be a member, how soon that should happen is the question that needs to be answered considering its unimpressive human rights record and its poor relationship with Japan.

Ryan Barrell   |   October 29, 2015   10:38 AM ET

YouTuber Baracksdubs is back with another masterful mash-up.

This time, the editing genius has stitched together some clips of the US President to make him sing 'Thriller' by Michael Jackson, just to get us into the Halloween spirit.

It's almost as awesome as the time he did MC Hammer's 'U Cant Touch This'.


Assault At Spring Valley High

Aaron Vallely   |   October 27, 2015    5:09 AM ET

I had only been having dinner with my cousin, Andy, while we watched the recent Vice Documentary where President Obama made a visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma. Amongst the things highlighted, was the unequal treatment of black people compared to that of white people in federal prisons. The two of us then discussed this, and spoke to one another about how ghastly ridiculous it is that so many black people get life sentences in prison for first time drug offences. How there is a thumping inequality between the proportion of black people in jail with that of white people, and it being the consummate injustice.

I only just got in the door home, when I casually scrolled down my Twitter feed to be confronted, quite frankly, by one of the most outrageous videos I have seen in quite some time. It shows a police officer, Deputy Ben Fields, violently man-handling and dragging a young black female student from her desk on front of a group of her fellow students. The young gentleman who dutibly and sensibly recorded the incident, was allegedly arrested for having so done. On what grounds, I wonder? This vicious interaction took place at Spring Valley High School in Richland County, South Carolina. If an assault is determined as a physical attack, then surely this qualifies. Imagine it was a member of your family? One can, and should, view the videos below:

Another angle:

I found irresistible the righteous compulsion to email the Principal of the school, Mr. Jeff Temoney. Making staunchly my concerns regarding the incident, hoping for a thorough investigation, and extending my well wishes to the students. Martin O'Malley, Presidential Candidate, Former Governor of Maryland, and Mayor of Baltimore, had a powerful live reaction on television. I thought, as he did, that if it actually had been a member of my own family, I would be incensed by a formidable anger. Watch below:

A young gentleman, and fellow student, who tweeted that he was himself in the classroom during the assault, described the incident. Apparently it all kicked off because the girl was chewing gum. And what on earth was the teacher doing standing there watching it all?

One of the students, Tony Robinson Jr., who videotaped the incident said he and other students were scared as the incident played out. A second student who was arrested, Niya Kenny, spoke out about what happened.

Deputy Ben Fields, the 34-year-old senior school resource officer at the high school, has been placed on administrative duty while an investigation takes place within the sheriff's office. The school district said it instructed Fields not to return to any school in the district until the investigation has been concluded. The video, predictably went viral, with #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh trending worldwide on both Twitter and Facebook. It also surfaced that Fields has been sued twice in federal court. One of the lawsuits is still pending with a jury trial set for January 2016. It concerns allegations that Fields is accused of falsely claiming that a black student was a gang member The other lawsuit, in which Fields was accused of attacking a man over a noise complaint went to a jury, which ruled in his favour. According to the lawsuit, Fields later confiscated a mobile phone from Mr. Carlos Martin's wife, Tashiana Anita Martin, who had reasonably recorded the incident on video and then never received back her phone. Ms. Martin was then also arrested.

A tweet that got some attention regarding the incident from a lady stating she was a graduate of Spring Valley High, was not at all surprised.

She is also, apparently, not the only one:

The utility and swift immediacy that social media enables is perfectly vindicated in an incident such as this one. Now that so many incidents are being recorded, whether it is an officer throwing a young girl around at a pool party, or a woman, Sandra Bland, who dies in a jail cell under suspicious circumstances after being arrested for a broken tail light, or an unarmed black gentleman, Eric Garner, who was choked to death in broad daylight here in New York City, or the shooting of musician - and you can still listen to his Music if you would like to remember him - Anthony Hill, despite the fact he was unarmed and had his arms up, or the numerous other cases of police brutality.

I recently sat beside relatives of the late James Baldwin, at a screening of the documentary "The Price Of The Ticket", by Karen Thorsen and Douglas K. Dempsey, in the Lincoln Center in Manhattan. I wonder, so very often, what Jimmy would say about us. Again and again, when anger strikes, I turn to 'The Fire Next Time', a letter to his nephew James and a blistering analysis of America's racial divide. Those words Baldwin wrote to his nephew are burned into my memory, and they remind me, not only of injustice against Black people, but injustice against all people. Everyone should read those words.

"The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what that believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, though the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them."

I also think of Gore Vidal, who said "we learn nothing because we remember nothing".

What a world.

Tips for Students to Counteract Climate Change

Maria Keogh   |   October 26, 2015    3:27 PM ET

According to Obama 'No challenge  poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change'

NASA this year released data showing how temperature, and rainfall patterns worldwide may change through the year 2100, because of growing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere.

The evidence is apparently clear, and according to some UN climate change experts, we are running out of time to save our planet. Despite this warning, some scientists dispute the evidence for 'Global warming'.

As stated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide caused a 34 per cent increase in the global warming in the last 10 years.

The future generation of students have a pivotal role to play in helping to counteract adverse 'climate change' at schools, colleges or universities. Young people are a key demographic to ensure the protection of the planet. Here are some tips for students to help counteract 'Climate Change.'

Join a Climate Change Society in your University
If you don't have a society in your university, then get started. Contact the leader of your college, or university societies, and they will give you all the information you need.

Organise Educational Lectures
Research Climate Change guru's, and invite them to hold a lectures or Skype conference in your university. This is a great way of informing your peers of the urgent need of counteracting Global warming.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
One of the core ideas behind environmental responsibility is the "3 R's." By practicing reduce, reuse and recycle you conserve natural resources, and prevent pollution that ends up contaminating our air, water, soil, and eventually our bodies.

Buy and use less materials. Print and copy on two sides, or download lecture notes on your computer.
Remove your name from junk mail lists. Arrange announcements and newsletters to be electronic, for those who have access. Purchase items in bulk to reduce packaging.

Reduce Water Consumption
Take showers, instead of baths. Use a reusable water bottle instead of bottled water, although be aware that a reusable bottle gathers germs quickly.
Fully load your laundry, and set the washing machine to use cold water. Turn off the tap when you're not using the water, such as while brushing your teeth, or shaving.

Reuse and Recycle
Things don't always have to go in the bin after one use, or even after you think you're done with it. Be creative, and give things a second life. Donate used clothes, mobile phones and chargers to your local charity.

Organise events, such as, a charity fashion show from recycled clothing, or an art exhibition from your recycled art-work, or sculptures. Start a recycle-week in your college. Find out what your local recycling facility takes, and make sure you have collection bins clearly labeled around the campus.

Lower your Carbon Footprint
Turn off the lights when natural light is sufficient, and when you leave the room.
Consider walking or riding a bike to college, provided the distance is not prohibitive.
Use Compact fluorescent light bulbs.(CFLs) use 75% less energy than incandescent, and last up to 10 times longer.

Remember plug-in products are a leading source of energy consumption in dorms, labs, libraries and offices. Once plugged in, most products will consume energy even when they are not in use. So make sure you unplug, when it's charged. Cut down on the number of appliances you are running on your iPhone, or computer, and you will save your battery, bank balance, and you will be doing your duty for the environment.

More information may be found on these links

Additional information about the new NASA climate projection dataset is available at:

Kathryn Snowdon   |   October 21, 2015    1:35 PM ET

The 14-year-old boy who was arrested after his teacher mistook a homemade clock for a bomb plans to leave the United States after accepting a scholarship to study in the Middle East, his family said on Tuesday.

Ahmed Mohamed will attend school in Qatar where he will be "accepted by that country", his father said.

The Texas teenager's family released a statement this week saying that Ahmed had accepted a scholarship to study at high school and then college in Doha.

ahmed mohamed

Ahmed Mohamed is moving to Qatar with his family

On Monday, Ahmed visited the White House and met President Barack Obama. The family announced they would be moving to Qatar as they boarded a flight from Washington on Tuesday.

"We are going to move to a place where my kids can study and learn, and all of them being accepted by that country," Ahmed's father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, told The Dallas Morning News before boarding an airplane from Washington back home to Texas on Tuesday.

Ahmed visited Qatar a few weeks ago during his world tour.

The statement said the family had been "overwhelmed by the many offers of support" since Ahmed's arrest at his school in Irving, Dallas.

The family said it accepted an offer from the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development to join its Young Innovators Program.

Ahmed will relocate to Qatar after receiving a full scholarship for his secondary and undergraduate education.

The teenager said that he was impressed with the program and thinks he will "learn a lot and have fun, too," the Associated Press reports.

A statement from the Qatar Foundation said: "As an incubator of knowledge and talent, QF values its multiculturalism, diversity and non-discriminatory atmosphere, and is happy to welcome Ahmed to the Young Innovators Program.

"QF is glad to welcome the family to Doha and provide Ahmed with the opportunity to develop his skills and excel in future endeavors."


Ahmed was arrested and placed in handcuffs at his school in Dallas after a teacher believed he had a bomb. He was then taken to a detention centre and was suspended for three days.

Police chose not to charge Ahmed and his parents later withdrew him from the school.

Thousands rallied round the teenager as the #IStandWithAhmed campaign was created. Obama even invited Ahmed to the White House.

Ahmed posted a picture on Instagram of him meeting Obama on Monday, captioning it "so happy, I can't believe that I met with the #president of the #unitedstates!!!!"


A photo posted by Ahmed Mohamed (@official_istandforahmed) on

Natasha Hinde   |   October 14, 2015    8:28 PM ET

A couple got the surprise of a lifetime after President Obama crashed their wedding.

Brian and Stephanie Tobe wed at The Lodge at Torrey Pines in San Diego over the weekend.

The golfing venue is well-known for attracting sports stars (think Tiger Woods), celebrities and political figures.

Brian and Stephanie were both shocked and delighted to discover that the President was playing a round of golf near to where their ceremony would take place.

Wedding photographers Erin and Jeff Youngren recounted the moment they realised Obama was on the golf course in a blog post.

"Brian and Stephanie were so excited that he was there," writes Erin.

"We laughed and joked all morning, and tried to get a peek of him through the curtains, feeling honoured just to be at the same location, not expecting anything more than that."

The couple waited in the hotel while the President finished the course. They were forced to stay indoors for security reasons.

After Obama had finished and was due to leave, Brian and Stephanie - who was wearing navy heels and a Monique Lhullier gown - burst from the hotel and raced towards the golf course hoping they'd catch the President.

And they did.

Stephanie, who describes herself as a "shy person", told ABC News she was crying as she ran out to meet the President.

"I couldn't believe it," she added. "You're just overwhelmed with emotion."

According to the couple, President Obama congratulated them on their happy day and told Brian not to tread on his wife's wedding dress.

Then they had photographs taken with him, which they'll no doubt treasure forever.


Couple Invite Strangers To Crash Wedding

This 80s-Inspired Engagement Shoot Is So Awkward

Aaron Barksdale   |   October 13, 2015    9:32 AM ET

This President Obama impersonator goes after Donald Trump in a hilariously, perfect diss track titled, "Back to Back."

Actor and impressionist, Iman Crosson who goes by the stage name Alphacat, impersonates Obama in his latest YouTube video which was inspired by Drake's response to the Internet beef he had with rapper Meek Mill in July. Alphacat is a popular social media personality known for his impressions of President Obama.

In the video, which has more than 235,000 views since it was posted on Saturday, Alphacat claps back at Trump's claim that Obama is worst president in history of the country by saying, "You'll make America better? I laugh so hard I'm crying. Mmmm... oh my God! Why you always lying?" 

Alphacat, dressed in a black suit as Obama, schools Trump on what he's done in his "back to back" presidential terms while riding around on an Oxboard and backed by an entourage of secret service agents. At the end of video, there's a clip of Alphacat with the real Obama (around 2:55) and the president's reaction to the spot-on impression is priceless!

Trump has taken a dig at nearly every presidential candidate in both parties during his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and he's also thrown a few shots at the current president, too. Since Obama is too busy running the country to respond to Trump himself this awesome parody diss record definitely puts Trump in his place, and we are living for every moment of it. 

Putin Colludes With ISIS to Shore Up Assad and All Obama Can Do Is to Prevaricate

Nehad Ismail   |   October 12, 2015   12:23 PM ET

Russian jets and warships have been bombarding targets across Syria for nearly 2 weeks in a campaign which Moscow says is aimed at the Islamic State fighters who control large parts of north and east Syria, as well as swathes of neighbouring Iraq.
But many Russian strikes have taken place in areas of western Syria held by other insurgent groups, and Western leaders have accused Russia of intervening primarily to support President Bashar al-Assad.
Most observers believe that Russia's intervention is to shore up the Assad regime by targeting the Free Syrian Army and ignoring ISIS. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that one Free Syrian Army (FSA) target in the northern city of Aleppo was hit by Russian fighter jets, then was attacked by ISIS and was also attacked by the Syrian regime.

Only 1 in 20 Russian air strikes in Syria have targeted ISIS fighters according to the UK's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. British intelligence services claim that five percent of the strikes had attacked the militant group, with most "killing civilians" and Free Syrian forces fighting against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron says Vladimir Putin's decision to take military action in Syria to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a "terrible mistake". "It's going to make the region more unstable," he told the BBC on the first day of his Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester.

Activists in Syria believe that the Assad's regime is providing the Russians with a list of targets to be hit. So Assad selects the targets, and Putin's air force carries out the bombing. This explains why ISIS is being spared.

It is not therefore surprising to see Putin's airstrikes are not attacking ISIS (Daesh). ISIS has never been a real threat to Assad.

The Assad regime committed unspeakable crimes against its own people, colluding with ISIS for over two years. Evidence shows the Assad regime never targeted ISIS but invariably attacked the Free Syrian Army, the only moderate rebel group in Syria fighting ISIS (Daesh) apart from the Kurdish Peshmerga in the north of Syria. When Daesh seized oil wells the regime was its first customer, providing funding and support.

The relationship between the Assad and ISIS is complex and based on a mutuality of serving each other. It is a kind of a Faustian pact at best, and an outright collusion at worst. So, neither the Assad's regime nor Moscow are in a hurry to get rid of Daesh.

The dithering Obama administration has handed the initiative to Putin who seized it with relish. He is now calling the shots and is telling the world Assad must stay. Historical precedent is on Putin's side, he seized Crimea in March 2014 and the West did nothing apart from imposing puny financial sanctions here and there.

The gullible John Kerry, US Secretary of State, and Philip Hammond, UK Foreign Secretary have cautiously welcomed Putin's intervention in Syria. Hammond told the media he hoped Moscow will use its leverage to force Assad to scale down barrel bomb attacks against Syrian civilians. The exact opposite happened. More and more barrel bombs are being dropped on people because Putin's action has emboldened Assad to be more brutal. Kerry in the meantime is busy arranging meetings, holding meetings, and speaking about more meetings, and telling the media about his constructive talks in various meetings.

Putin has forced the West to accept that Assad can stay during the transitional period which can be 3 months, 6 months, 2 years or 4. Putin decides and the world complies.

When I asked an American contact about Obama's paralysis he replied - "He is receiving advice from pro-Iranian advisors and from Tehran-funded lobbyists not to say or do anything that may alienate Iran and jeopardise the nuclear deal". This explains somewhat Obama self-imposed paralysis.
So the conclusion is this; no matter what Obama says or does, no one seems to take any notice. Republican Senator John McCain, a long-time critic of the current US administration, blames Obama's inaction and lack of strategy for Syria.

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Thomas L Friedman said this about Obama: "He keeps letting himself get pummelled into doing and saying things that his gut tells him won't work, so he gets the worst of all worlds: His rhetoric exceeds the policy, and the policy doesn't work".
It is clear the US and the EU have capitulated to Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. In 2013 Kerry and Obama were outmanoeuvred by the Russians over Assad's use of chemical weapons, they are now being duped over the fight against ISIS/Daesh in Syria.
Of course the Russian action will prolong the war and escalates the violence and will force hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring countries and to Europe.

According to the Wall Street Journal; Donald Tusk EU Council President said last week "more than 3 million Syrians may seek refuge in Europe if the Assad regime Prevails".

Aubrey Allegretti   |   October 8, 2015    8:09 AM ET

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has entered the foray raging among White House-hopefuls in the US by suggesting that Barack Obama is not a "real black president".

The Times and Sun owner praised Republican candidate Ben Cason and his wife on Twitter this week, but also seemingly took a racially charged swipe at the current Democrat leader.

Murdoch described Carson as "terrific", having previously praised the 64-year-old African-American for being "irreproachable on background, achievements, character, vision".

But Murdoch added in his contentious post on Wednesday: "What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide?"

ben candy carson

Ben and Candy Carson pictured in a Phoenix, Arizona rally

In a follow-up tweet, the News UK owner referenced a New York Magazine article about the "minority community" and its disappointment with America's first black leader.

Several hours later, Murdoch apologised in a follow-up post, insisting he meant no offence with his original remarks and personally found "both men [Obama and Carson] charming".

Obama is set to step down as President in 2016, after a bitter battle between the eventually-chosen candidates from both Republican and Democrat parties go head-to-head next November.

Figures competing to succeed him include Jeb Bush, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.


Russia and Iran Are Not Allies Against ISIS

Dr Andrew Foxall   |   October 6, 2015   11:38 AM ET

Co-authored with Mr. Tom Wilson.

Dr Andrew Foxall is Director of the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society, a London-based international affairs think-tank, where Mr Tom Wilson is Resident Associate Fellow at the Centre for the New Middle East.

- -

In an escalation of the conflict in Syria, Russia's launching of airstrikes last Wednesday was closely followed by Iran's readying of its troops, the next day, for a ground offensive. This came after President Obama, addressing the U.N.'s General Assembly, had described ISIS as an "apocalyptic cult" and announced his willingness "to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran" in facing down the threat it poses.

Although the Kremlin said its airstrikes would target ISIS strongholds, thus far they have largely hit the US-backed Free Syrian Army. As if it were not apparent beforehand, Mr. Obama should question the motives of those whom he has embraced as allies in combating ISIS. In one important regard, their interests run squarely counter to those of the West: they do not want to defeat ISIS.

For the past six years, the U.S. has withdrawn from its role as global leader as Washington has recast how it deals with the outside world. Mr. Obama believes, as he explained in 2009, that "moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon." In America's post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq moment, the President prefers to 'lead from behind', with other countries sorting out their own problems.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Syria. And few countries understand the opportunities Mr. Obama's strategy of retreat and accommodation provide quite like Russia and Iran.

For President Vladimir Putin, the West's impotence in Syria is a reflection of the failures of democratic liberalism, which he seeks to undermine when- and where- ever he senses the chance. Russia's support for President Assad is primarily about securing its own interests in the Middle East -- and with them, the ability to call itself a global power. Mr. Putin's calls for a UN-mandated coalition to fight ISIS, the Russian leader hopes, will end his country's international isolation over Ukraine.

Having already allied itself with Iran and its Shia militias in the fight against ISIS in Iraq, the West is now doing the same in Syria. Tehran has used both its Hezbollah proxies and dispatched its own Quds forces to assist Mr. Assad in slaughtering his own people so as to keep in place the pro-Iranian Alawite regime there. Doing so not only preserves another Iranian satellite but also ensures that the Islamic Republic keeps open its corridor to Lebanon and the Mediterranean.

It is understandable that Washington, having failed to end the war in Syria over the last four years, should now be clutching at straws from Moscow and Tehran. But this is a self-defeating policy.

Earlier this summer, evidence emerged that Russia has helped its citizens join ISIS. Research conducted by the investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta suggests that Russia's security service, the FSB, created a 'green channel' to enable jihadists to leave areas in Russia where they were fighting the Russian state and to travel to Turkey and then onto Syria. The FSB's logic, presumably, is that such jihadists are less of a threat to Russia if they are fighting (and dying) in Syria.

Throughout the Middle East, Iran has benefited from the instability of civil war, and has every interest in perpetuating these conflicts. Tehran has consistently hijacked this kind of strife for the purpose of extending its own influence and emboldening local proxies and allies. In both Lebanon and Yemen, we have seen how effectively the Iranians have fomented sectarian conflict as an opening for arming Shia factions and forcing a confrontation with rival powers. The same is now true in Syria.

President Assad, for his part, has strengthened ISIS, as well as other Islamist radicals, at the expense of Syria's moderate opposition. Throughout 2014, Mr. Assad's Syrian armed forces fought other rebel groups more often than they fought ISIS. At the same time, the strategy pursued by Mr. Assad's military has been to hold Damascus and the heavily Alawite territories to the west of the country, rather than recovering ISIS-controlled areas in the east.

Like Moscow and Tehran, Damascus has every interest in keeping the threat of ISIS as a force not only to further their own domestic interests but also to use as leverage in their relations with the West.

Even if Russia and Iran were serious about defeating ISIS, and even if they could deliver on this, the West would then have to confront the reality of a Syria in the clutches of two states hostile to its interests. Both of which would see this as an indication of Western weakness, and would be emboldened to further their ambitions.

It is a reflection of the failure of recent U.S. policy toward Syria that in fighting ISIS, Washington is aligning itself with regimes that do not want to defeat ISIS.

Fighting the Impunity of Terrorism with the United Nations Tools

Dr Ion Jinga   |   October 3, 2015   11:29 PM ET

Motto: "There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for". Mahatma Gandhi

Friday October 2nd, in New York and worldwide was celebrated the International Day of Non-Violence. It is marked on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. Almost 68 years after Gandhi's assassination, his legacy as a prophet of non-violence is more actual than ever.
On September 29th, President Barack Obama hosted the Leaders' Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, at the United Nations in New York. The Summit was attended by representatives from more than 100 nations, Romania included, more than 20 multilateral institutions, some 120 civil society groups from around the world and partners from the private sector. Its agenda included a reflection upon lessons learned in fighting terrorism, a focus on comprehensive and integrative approaches to defeating ISIL, how to confront the false ideologies espoused by the group and how to address social, political and economic drivers of violent extremism.

In his remarks, President Barack Obama underlined that: "This is not a conventional battle. This is a long-term campaign, not only against this particular network, but against its ideology. Ultimately, it is not going to be enough to defeat ISIL in the battlefield. We have to prevent it from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others to violence in the first place. And this means defeating their ideology. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they're defeated by better ideas -- a more attractive and compelling vision. We will ultimately prevail because we are guided by a stronger, better vision: a commitment to the security, opportunity and dignity of every human being."

His words were echoed by the British Prime Minister David Cameron: "We need to win this propaganda war far more effectively than we have to date. I believe in freedom of speech, but freedom to hate is not the same thing".

I share this vision. And, again, as President Obama noted: "Poverty does not cause terrorism. But when people are impoverished and hopeless and feel humiliated by injustice and corruption, this can fuel resentments that terrorists exploit. Which is why sustainable development is part of countering violent extremism. So the real path to lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; I believe it is more democracy".

Justice is part of democracy. Together with freedom speech, freedom of religion and strong civil societies, it has to play a part in countering terrorism and violent extremism. Fighting the impunity of terrorism with the tools of international law, under the aegis of the United Nations, is part of Romania's approach and my country has a long and consolidated tradition in promoting the UN multilateral diplomacy and the UN legal instruments.

Speaking in front of the UN General Assembly on September 29th, President of Romania Klaus Iohannis sent an unequivocal message: "The consolidation of international justice and the need to put an end to impunity should trigger a reinforced legal approach towards international terrorism. Terrorism is a sum of crimes against individuals and societies. Romania believes that the international community should do more in combating terrorism with the tools of law, including international criminal law. It is with that purpose in mind that Romania and Spain triggered a process of reflection on the possible creation of an International Court for the Crime of Terrorism".

Same day, Foreign Ministers of Romania and Spain co-hosted a debate on the topic "Towards an International Court against Terrorism (ICT) - Ideas and Challenges", in the margins of the UNGA ministerial week. The debate reflected how to fight against terrorism with the means of international criminal law, and not only with the military force. The topic is both complex and sensitive: how to tackle the definition of terrorism, how to define jurisdiction, how to convince states to cooperate. All these elements were open for debate. It was underlined that the ICT added value would culminate to its preventative effect on perpetrators and the question of victims of terrorism came central: there is too much impunity for crimes of terrorism and too many victims not receiving justice nowadays. Hence, the discussion on the ICT was timely.

Terrorism attacks the core sovereignty of a country and therefore the issue of countering terrorism and violent extremism brought the whole of the UN together. More than half of the UN Security Council resolutions adopted over the past year focused on this topic and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was resolute in upholding the human rights in the fight against terrorism. Terrorist groups constitute a direct violation of the UN Charter and a great impediment to the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Political will and support from the civil society are essential for the continuation of the Romanian-Spanish initiative but one thing is clear: terrorism is a grave challenge and the international justice could be one of the greatest force at the disposal of mankind to counter it. It could be mightier than the mightiest weapon. As the great Romanian legal expert Vespasian Pella wrote in 1950: "Without an international court, indicted people would always feel convicted not as a result of guilt, but of defeat".

Will Vladimir Putin Save the World?

David Spencer   |   October 3, 2015    8:56 AM ET

There has been precious little to praise about the regime of Vladimir Putin in recent years. His actions in stoking civil war in Ukraine and annexing the Crimea region is criminal under international law, his crackdown on political opposition and dissenting voices has seen numerous state-sponsored and the oppression that can be experienced in Russia by ethnic and religious minorities, and the LGBT community, is shocking and criminally under-reported here in the west.

And yet it seems that this tyrannical despot might just be the one person able to stop the march of Islamic extremism in Syria, given the failings of our own Governments and International organisations to act.

The rise of ISIS and other Islamism groups in Syria and Iraq has been driven by the civil war in the region which has created a power vacuum in much of the east of the country. Combined with the inept and weak US-supported Iraqi government, the circumstances in the region were ripe for a non-state entity to fill the void.

This is precisely what ISIS have done having seen an opportunity to impose their own warped interpretation of the Koran on a large territorial area.

It is exactly this kind of situation which the UN should address as a peacekeeping organisation. However these days the UN can be perceived as little more than a feckless talking shop where nations can afford to be big of rhetoric, without ever having to worry about taking any meaningful action to back it up. Its history is littered with inaction and its role in the Syrian conflict to date has barely stretched beyond putting out press releases.

The UN's ineptitude is at least partly why the US and the UK have been drawn into other Middle East conflicts and it has been these ill-thought-through campaigns which have made further such interventions politically toxic. This has left a situation where the US and the UK are unable to justify putting troops on the ground in Syria.

This is despite the fact that ISIS do offer a far more tangible threat to British and US interests than other adversaries in the region. It was ISIS followers who killed the satirists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It was an ISIS gunman who slaughtered British tourists on the beach in Tunisia. And it is ISIS who have gloated over the beheading of innocent western hostages and lured our Muslim citizens to their deaths in a conflict they are no part of.

Politicians go to great lengths to explain why ground troops will not work against them, yet military experts, such as the former head of British Armed Forces, Sir David Richards, consistently say it is the only way to defeat ISIS, and that success could be achieved in as little as six months.

Vladimir Putin is now stepping into this hiatus, and although his actions so far have been confined to air strikes, it is widely expected that ground troops will follow.

So what's the difference between Putin and the West? The primary one is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is allied to Putin and fiercely opposed by western leaders.

Make no mistake, he is also not a nice man. He has tortured captives, bombed his own civilians and is responsible for the deaths of some 200,000 of his own people during the civil war. In normal situations he is not the sort of leader we would want to work with.

But the current situation in Syria is far from normal, and the treat to our interests in growing. Yet still we remain intransigent in our insistence that we must get rid of ISIS and Assad. Such ambitions are at best naïve, and at worst making the situation far worse.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight this week, Lt General Sir Simon Mayall, a senior Military advisor, criticised the UK for being guilty of 'wishful thinking' over the removal of Assad, and stated that the Russians had been 'in many ways more realistic'.

History has shown time and time again that trying to win a conflict on two fronts at the same time always leads to disaster. Diplomacy norms state that it is fruitless to try and deal with two conflicting issues at the same time. The aftermath of the Arab Spring in countries like Libya has demonstrated clearly that removing those in power without a plan of transition leads to chaos and offers a fertile breeding ground for yet more Arab extremists.

And yet we remain steadfast.

To remove Assad from the regions he still controls now is only going to open up more territory for ISIS, or other Islamist groups, to move into. To remove them both together is all but impossible, and would simply open the door to al-Qaeda or others.

The only way to bring an end to the war in Syria is to take it one step at a time.

The first task has to be to defeat ISIS because it is they who pose the direct threat to western nations. Bashir al-Assad is a despicable figure, but he does not threaten the lives or security of Western people. It therefore makes sense to leave him in power, however flimsy and hampered by sanctions that may be, until the extremist threat has died down.

Then is the time to start political and diplomatic efforts to get rid of him.

Of course this is not Vladimir Putin's objective. His motivation is far from altruistic, as he wants to retain Assad as an ally in the region. But as the only actor in the region who seems willing to step up and take on ISIS, he is the most likely to move us on down the road towards this endpoint. Once Putin has removed those threatening Assad, the international community will find it much more straightforward to manoeuvre him out of power.

It is not a perfect scenario by any means, and will likely see a great deal more bloodshed in the interim. But in the long run, it seems to be the only viable, realistic solution to bring stability back to the region.

And while the rest of the world sits on its heels and fails to act, it seems it will be Vladimir Putin who is keeping the streets of the UK and the US safe from Islamic extremists. We may well have, not Barack Obama or David Cameron, but Vladimir Putin to thank for saving us from the horrors of ISIS.