|   September 3, 2014    7:28 PM ET

Nato leaders have ramped up the pressure on President Vladimir Putin - with a warning they will fight back against any incursion by Moscow against alliance members on Russia's borders. Ahead of a two-day summit meeting in Wales, US president Barack Obama made clear the alliance stood ready to defend the territorial integrity of "every single one" of its 28 member states.

Meanwhile French president Francois Hollande bowed to months of pressure from fellow allies with the announcement that he was suspending the delivery of the first of two giant Mistral class helicopters destined for the Russian navy. Prime Minister David Cameron said the summit would provide an opportunity for Nato to reaffirm its commitment to collective security as he condemned Russia's "appalling actions" in eastern Ukraine.

"In this dangerous and difficult world, Nato has an absolutely key role in providing our collective security and that's what the next two days are going to be all about," he said. Mr Putin showed signs he was feeling the pressure, issuing a call to the pro-Russian separatists to "stop advancing" while urging the Ukrainian army to withdraw its troops from the region.

However his words are unlikely to satisfy Western leaders who have threatened to tighten the economic sanctions against Russia unless it withdraws its support for the insurgents and ends its attempts to destabilise the government in Kiev. They came after a morning of confusion which saw Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko announce he had agreed a ceasefire only for the rebels to repudiate it while Moscow said that it was not part of the conflict.

nato summit

A Foxhound patrol vehicle (left) and a Scout Specialist Vehicle (right) are displayed on the golf course at Celtic Manor in Newport South Wales ahead of the Nato summit

The strongest intervention came from Mr Obama during a symbolic visit to Estonia - one of the three Baltic states bordering the Russia which were once part of the Soviet Union and which fear they could be the next target of Mr Putin's aggression. Unlike Ukraine - which only has a partnership agreement with Nato - Estonia, Latvian and Lithuania are full alliance members and Mr Obama made clear the alliance would honour its obligation to defend them in the event of an attack.

"You lost your independence once before. With Nato, you'll never lose it again," he declared before a packed audience in a concert hall in the Estonian capital, Tallinn. "We will defend our Nato allies - every ally. In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no senior partners or junior partners - there are just allies, pure and simple. And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single one."

Earlier he announced that he would be sending further air force units to the region in fresh show of US military strength. Nato leaders meeting in Wales are expected to agree to the formation of a new high-readiness "spearhead" force able to deploy "several thousand" troops - backed by naval and air support - within a matter of days in response to a crisis.

The alliance is also planning to establish forward operating bases in eastern Europe where fuel, ammunition and other supplies can by stockpiled ready for use in operations. With Britain and the US two of only four member states to meet the alliance's obligation to spend 2% of GDP on defence, Mr Cameron and Mr Obama will be pressing other leaders to raise their spending on their armed forces.

The US president had some harsh words for European members who had failed to deliver on their commitments in the past. "For I think a certain period of time there was a complacency here in Europe about the demands that were required to make sure that Nato was able to function effectively," he said. "Obviously what's happened in Ukraine is tragic, but I do think it gives us an opportunity to look with fresh eyes and understand what it is that's necessary to make sure that our Nato commitments are met."


  |   September 3, 2014    9:35 AM ET

Jack Straw has blasted Barack Obama's foreign policy and backed British launching air strikes against the Islamic State (IS), saying we should not be "paralysed" by regret over the Iraq War.

Straw, who was foreign secretary in 2003 when US and British-led forces invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, said IS's genocidal violence in that country and Syria were a "threat to civilisation" and he said Britain should "probably" consider bombing them.

He also said Obama was "long on analysis" but not good at "being decisive" and said the ongoing Nato summit in Wales offered a chance for "decisive" leadership for the US.

But the comments of one of the key cabinet members responsible for the Iraq War - which many blame for enabling IS's rise in the first place - have been attacked on social media and by Straw's political opponents.

Straw was speaking after IS were confirmed to have executed a second US journalist by beheading - and threatened that a third British hostage would be next.

David Cameron led an emergency meeting of COBRA to decide on next steps this morning.

jack straw

Jack Straw said Britain should "probably" begin bombing IS

While the US has carried out airstrikes to assist the Kurdish fighters battling IS, Britain's military involvement has been limited to humanitarian aid drops for the refugees fleeing the Islamist fanatics.

When asked whether Britain should follow “My instincts would be probably to do so.”

He added: “No one is more aware than I am of the legacy of the 2003 Iraq war. Of course we should learn the lessons of the past, but we should not be paralysed by the past at the same time.

"These barbaric jihadists were doing this kind of atrocity before the Iraq war, and they would do it irrespective of the Iraq war.

"They are a serious threat to civilisation."


On Obama, he said: "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.

“It’s a difficult job being the president of the United States, but I certainly think this Nato summit provides an opportunity for some very clear leadership by the United States.”

Speaking from Tallinn, Obama said: "We will not be intimidated... Our reach is long and justice will be served."

He said the US would fight "the kind of barbaric and empty vision that [ISIS] represents."

Paul Vale   |   September 2, 2014    7:55 PM ET

Fox News waited less than an hour to use the tragic news of the "beheading" of US journalist Steven Sotloff to blame President Obama for the killing.

Watch analyst K.T. McFarland respond to a question about the brutal act with a rant about how Obama has "stuck his head in the sand… and now two Americans have lost their heads".

(H/T Media Matters)

Teaming Up with Assad to Fight ISIS Is a Very Bad Idea

Nehad Ismail   |   September 1, 2014    8:47 AM ET

The beheading of the captured American journalist James Foley has focused attention on the danger posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, not just to those countries, but to the United States. The US is now considering action against ISIS' main bases in Syria, beginning to mobilise a broad coalition of allies behind potential intervention, and moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq.

Certain influential voices in the West have suggested that the US must seek the support of President Assad defeating ISIS. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee at the British Parliament, has proposed talking to Iran and working with Assad. A number of journalists and public figures from Lord Dannatt to Sir Christopher Meyer suggest similar alliances. But how to square an alliance with an acknowledged rogue leader who has killed 191000 of his own people and used toxic gases at least eight times since April this year?

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on 25th August, David Blair: " Bashar al-Assad, the chief arsonist of Syria, ...is now being hailed as ideally qualified for the post of fireman. " But, he argues, it is a nonsense that Assad is a bulwark against IS.

The Assad regime committed unspeakable crimes against its own people, colluding with IS for over a year. Ample documented evidence shows that the Assad regime never targeted IS but invariably attacked the Free Syrian Army, the only moderate rebel group in Syria fighting ISIS/ISIL. When ISIL seized oil wells the regime was its first customer, providing funding and support.

Some observers reject the involvement of Assad in the fight against ISIS, but would like to see more Arab and regional involvement. Koert Debeuf, Representative of the European Parliament's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and author of "Inside the Arab Revolution" told Carnegie Europe recently: "Yes, Europe will go to war against the Islamic State --but it should not lead the campaign". Europe, he argues, is already at war, albeit in a limited way. UK and France are supporting the US in stopping the march of ISIS into Kurdistan by launching air attacks and arming the Peshmerga (the Kurdish military), who are fighting the jihadists.

Debeuf calls for a coalition of Arab states to take the lead in this war. Only co-ordinated action by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, and, preferably, Iran, can prevent ISIS's expansion in the region. The role of the EU and the United States should be to ensure that this war conducted by the neighbours is a 'success' .

Henrik Heidenkamp, Research Fellow for the Defense, Industries, and Society Programme at the Royal United Services Institute, disagrees. "Europe certainly could directly engage ISIS with military means; whether it will depends on European leaders' resolve."
US Secretary of State Kerry is blunt: "Assad is the single biggest magnet for terrorists there is. He is a one-man super-magnet for terrorism. Before Assad started killing his own people, these terrorists were not in Syria."
The debate continues, President Obama dithers, but what is certain is that action against ISIS must be taken, and very soon, without Assad.

A year ago, the use of chemical weapons saved Assad's regime, and now that regime is trying to survive on the back of the war against ISIS. Hussein Ibish, a columnist at NOW and The National (UAE), believes "that Assad is smelling another opportunity to survive and rehabilitate the regime".
Last year David Cameron pledged his support to President Obama in confronting the Syrian regime. The pledge was wrecked by Ed Miliband, for narrow political advantage. Had action been taken a year ago, we wouldn't have heard of ISIL/ISIS and its latest incarnation, so-called IS.
Back in 2011, when the uprising started against Assad, unarmed demonstrators were labelled terrorists.

All the indications are that the US is preparing for some kind of military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria. US military Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey warned last week, it would have to extend itself into Syria.

The most cost effective and ethical strategy for the West is to ignore Assad altogether and provide full military support to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Syria and to arm the Kurds in Northern Iraq. They can do the job themselves with air support from NATO.Assad has mobilised every resource and every possible weapon, including poison gas, for use against the non-Islamist rebels. Day after day, his tanks, artillery and strike aircraft pound the remaining strongholds of the FSA and deliberately avoid direct confrontation with ISIS. As I write, I hear reports of Assad regime using barrel bombs, cluster bombs, scud missiles and toxic gases against the people of Syria, not against ISIS.

The top priority now is the eradication of ISIS/ISIL/IS. Without Syrian help - quite the reverse. The most pressing objective for the campaign should be the removal of ISIS' key ally, the Assad regime.

Ellie Dierking   |   August 27, 2014   10:48 AM ET

Remember the day President Barack Obama accepted his nomination for presidency of the United States? That just so happens to be exactly six years ago today.

Obama stood before the world to deliver only one of the hundreds of speeches he would have to give over the next six years. He promised change to the nation, and to the eighty-four thousand attendees who listened excitedly, whilst waving “Yes We Can” campaign posters and roaring their approval.

The then-future president delivered a speech meant to inspire and unite listeners by explaining what he had in store for the nation. With unemployment at the time just topping six percent, Obama promised to create new industries which would supply five million new jobs by investing “$150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy.” He also promised to cut taxes by 95 percent of all working families, believing that “in an economy like this, the last thing [the government] should do is raise taxes on the middle class.”

He guaranteed changes in education from the recruitment of more teachers with higher salaries, to protect pensions by changing bankruptcy laws, and equal pay. He also guaranteed a new health care plan which would cover those without health care, and lower the premiums of those with health care.

Pledging to put the safety of the nation first, he assured an end to both the devastating war in Iraq, and the long fight against Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also made a passionate promise to “take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants” and give justice to those families affected in the devastating attacks of 9/11.

A full six years have passed since President Obama vowed to keep “the American promise alive.” Regardless of which promises Obama has kept and which he has thrown out the White-House-window, a lot has changed.

In 2010, Obama signed the Affordable Health Care Act, providing coverage for 32 million uninsured Americans beginning in 2014. He also signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 in order to spur economic growth. He addressed Wall Street by signing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) and providing greater regulation. He ended the war in Iraq by pulling the last American troops out in December of 2011, and in the same year he finally eliminated Osama Bin Laden.

These developments, although vital, are only some of the adjustments that the U.S. and the world have seen in the past six years. Obama-supporter or not, he has kept his word in that he would provide change. Although both good and bad, the world has seen quite a lot of “change” in the past six years.

IS Is Pure Evil; So Is Assad: We Must Be Prepared to Fight Them Both

James Snell   |   August 24, 2014    4:04 AM ET

Appalling news arrives from Iraq, where the Islamic State (IS) has beheaded a journalist, James Foley, in a deliberate and public manner. This is a war crime, and those who committed it are very happy to show off that fact. All of this demonstrates further (as if more evidence was needed after years of Islamist brutality in Syria and latterly Iraq) the barbarism of IS and its methods, and the core of hatred at the heart of its actions.

For the theocrat, there are no serious deterrents; for the fascist, there are no illegitimate targets. In the case of the former - and this is especially true of IS, which comes, with its sinister propaganda reels and its incessant brutality, as close as any grouping in recent times to epitomising that ominous yet overused phrase 'a cult of death' - eternal life is the reward for barbarism, and there is little on this earth which can come close to the promise of paradise. And for the latter, seemingly anything is justified in pursuit of the objective at hand. Obviously, there is a great intersection between the two, and the vulgar ceremony which fills the streets of Raqqa with the militaristic and the mystical at once exemplifies this with ferocious, daily certainty.

And there is another link between the forces of autocracy and the new 'caliphate'. James Foley was thought to have been captured and incarcerated by the forces of the Assad tyranny in Syria, not IS. This raises questions about the link between the two - or it would do, if cooperation between the Syrian regime and IS had not been fairly well documented.

IS has been selling Iraqi oil to the Assad regime since at least as far back as January. In addition, some of its fiercest campaigns have been directed against rebel groups (I hesitate to preface that designation with 'other'), and especially those of a more moderate, Western-friendly slant.

The Assad government has a keen ear for propaganda, and its strategy has recently evolved. Where once the threat of Western intervention to end the slaughter was deflected with appeals to supposed US exceptionalism or even imperialism, now the focus has shifted; in light of the many atrocities committed by the Syrian government that we now know about, Assad wants to be seen as a lesser evil.  He is able to do so because the actions of IS are so monstrous, and because we let him.

Dogmatic isolationists, such as Peter Hitchens, refuse to row back on the claims that they have been making for months, if not years. In a recent column, Hitchens sidestepped the mounting evidence that links Assad and IS in order to declare that war against the regime would have put us on the same side as the jihadists 'now murdering, persecuting and mutilating their way across the Middle East.' Others openly advocate allying with Damascus against the terror state - a position as self-defeatingly futile as it is morally abhorrent.

For the citizens of democracies far from the territory now under the control of IS, the horror of Foley's murder might go some way to begin to demonstrate what the citizens of Syria and Iraq well know by now. IS is not an abstract concept, and nor is it going away without a fight. Barbarism of this political magnitude demonstrates both intent and desperation. IS has overplayed its hand here. In killing a US citizen, it has committed a brazen act of terrorism. That will elicit a response - and rightly so.

For all the talk of the fabled 'Iraqi political solution', tranquillity and clear-headedness does not come easily to a nation under attack from an existential threat. Nor does it deal with the seedbed for all of this: Syria, were over 200,000 have met early, preventable deaths, and where a tyrant is poised to use all the talking points at his disposal to turn IS - the rise of which is at least partially  his fault - into a reason for his own staying in power. In other words, international action might useful here, and not just necessary.

There is a serious point to be made here: Fighting IS in Iraq is utterly vital; protecting the people there, including minorities who have been credibly threatened with genocide, is the only moral course of action when confronted with evil of this nature. But that is not all. IS is proud of its destruction of national borders, and its operations are not nicely confined to one imperilled nation at a time. Weaponry and vehicles looted from the Iraqi army have already found their way back to Raqqa, and are being employed in Syria with devastating effect. There is a serious possibility that airstrikes and aid that focus on Iraq alone will not be enough. We must also consider action in Syria, and not just against IS.

The Assad regime supports IS, and is also responsible for the murder of thousands of civilians. Is it churlish to point out that it has also avoided punishment for chemical weapons attacks and other savageries and actions of calculated callousness? In addition, it is more than a little inconvenient for those advocating alliance with Assad to point out that his government is reasonably believed to have carried out the torture and murder of over 11,000 people in state prisons. Worse than that - and things can only realistically surpass this evil in matters of scale - he is poised to do so again, and to a far greater number of people. In its current state, the Middle East ought to demonstrate the fallaciousness and opportunism of 'enemy of my enemy' calculations. Sadly, for some, the reverse appears to be the case.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron is hampered by a quest for domestic political success, which led to his leaving Libya unmade and Syria untouched. Hence my own cynicism: I just can't expect much from any Iraq policy enacted by this government.

However, that does not mean that questions about an extension of the American combat mission (and the potential for British involvement) should not be asked. After all, do we really need telling that IS comprises a bunch of murdering fascistic war criminals? With that in mind, the more America can do to fight IS and its sponsors in the Assad regime the better, and the situation can only be improved if Britain begins to do the same.

James Snell is a Contributing Editor at The Libertarian

Obama Is Just Too Nice to Be a Good President

Lizzie Roberts   |   August 22, 2014    2:09 PM ET

Barack Obama's latest batch of criticism comes after his lack lustre approach towards the escalating crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, and rightly so. Throughout his second term the President has continually been scrutinised, either for his inability to "get things done," or alternatively his attempts to exert too much executive power. As the outcries of "Lame-Duck President" come out in force, why has Obama failed in turning his 2008 promise of "Yes We Can" into a reality?

Is it the loss of a Democrat majority in the House? The Republicans stubbornness and inability to compromise? The continuous barriers against Obama's attempts to pass certain Acts? Or is it because the House is filing a law suit against him? (Yes really). Clearly all of these things coupled together worsen the situation, but Obama's main problem is that he's just too nice to be President.

To be President of the United States you have to be sneaky, snake-like and willing to make deals you didn't initially set out to make. After all, the main weapon in their arsenal in government is the power to persuade. In order to get the House and the Senate, the Democrats and the Republicans on board the President has to make concessions for each side, giving them both what they want, whilst simultaneously attempting to make his mark in US history.

Unfortunately, this seems to be exactly where Obama, the leader of the free world and the first African American president, lacks immeasurably. He seems unable to make deals with the Republicans, as their views just stray too far away from what he envisages. But with their House majority granting them the ability to block every bill Obama attempts to pass, he finds himself in a sticky situation.

Past Presidents have been significantly better at playing the game that comes with the title in order to get their own way. Take for example Richard Nixon embodied this characteristic to an extreme level. He may have been infamous for the 1972 Watergate scandal, but this incident seems menial compared to his act of treason. During his campaign in 1968 whilst the Vietnam War still raged, he attempted to sabotage peace talks between the two sides.

Passing a message to the South Vietnamese government he told them that they "should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal." Effectively, Nixon prolonged the war leading to more American and Vietnamese deaths, technically an act of treason against his country.

Ronald Reagan is another controversial President who was determined to make his mark whilst in power and he achieved this through secrecy and deception. The 1986 Iran-Contra scandal is still relatively unknown, yet the deceit conducted is incredible. Despite Iran being one the USA's main enemies since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Reagan struck an arms deal with the country. The Reagan administration transferred the profits from the sale of military equipment to Iran to the Nicaragua Contras, a revolutionary group who were countering the communist regime in South America, which Reagan was keen to end.

Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, clearly has the illegality of the 2003 Iraq war hanging over his presidency. But another more sinister aspect of his administration, which is still shrouded in relative secrecy, is the passing of the 2001 Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11. To see full picture of what powers the Patriot Act gives to the government take a look here, but effectively it enables them to override the US constitution and invade the private lives of innocent citizens without proper cause.

Obviously I do not think these examples are how a US president ought to behave, nor do I think Obama should follow in their footsteps. Though all four clearly made a huge impact on the United States, they had extensive executive power, control over the rest of government and definitely "got things done". But in order for Obama to prevent his complete transition into lame-duck status, maybe he should realise he doesn't hold the same level of authority and stature as his predecessors, especially when he delivers threats to his enemies standing on a kindergarten's alphabet rug.

No 'Just God' Will Stand For What You Do Either Mr Obama

Dilly Hussain   |   August 22, 2014   12:00 AM ET

As the world watched the shocking images of American journalist, James Foley being beheaded by a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Muslims rightfully condemned the act as unIslamic. Islam prides itself in its treatment of prisoners and non-combatants based on the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and Caliphs that came after, who showed mercy and protection to women, children, the elderly and even trees - these are evidently being ignored by ISIS.

Whilst most modern armies and governments would fail miserably in trying to emulate such a high standard of prisoner welfare which Islam teaches, it came as no surprise when the most powerful man in the free world stated God's stance on the crime which Foley fell victim to. President Barack Obama said in a press conference yesterday that Foley's execution was a "shock of conscience" and "no just God will stand for what they [ISIS] did." Upon hearing those words I nearly choked on my sandwich. My immediate reaction was to throw a slipper at the telly after hearing such an audacious lie and blatant statement of hypocrisy. Unless, like his predecessor, G.W.Bush who claimed God ordered him to invade Iraq, Obama has clearly forgotten his own blood drenched crimes.

I wonder if a 'Just God' would stand for U.S. drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen where hundreds of innocent women and children have been killed in schools and wedding ceremonies. Maybe Obama's 'Just God' stood by him whilst his administration authorises 3 million dollars of military aid every year to Israel, advanced weapons to be tried and tested on Gaza. Is it possible that this 'Just God' gave the green light to the ongoing police brutality against unarmed African American teenagers in the state of Missouri?

As for "shock of conscience" - where was Jiminy Cricket when Obama silently consented to a military coup led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose forces killed more than a thousand peaceful supporters of Egypt's first democratically elected president? I take it there is no shock of conscience when President Obama witnesses the violent butchery of Muslims in Central African Republic, Burma, Syria and Kashmir? And how can we forget America's compassionate treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo? Clearly innovative torture techniques like waterboarding, mock executions, sexual assault, sleep and sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, pressure positions, and the use of dogs to strike fear into prisoners was no shock to Mr Obama's conscience.

We have witnessed this kind of empty rhetoric from world leaders when it concerns their own citizens. President Obama quite swiftly shed a few tears when American children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but where were his tears when drones killed up to 200 children in Pakistan since 2009? It is almost as if murdering hundreds of civilians is acceptable as long their names and faces are unknown, but the murder of a single westerner, whose face and name will be on the front pages of every newspaper, is an act of barbaric terrorism.

There has to be a balanced approach by world leaders and humans in general to the death of civilians irrelevant of race, ethnicity, nationality or religion. President Obama's selective wording in which crimes a 'Just God' would stand by and stand against is as farcical as his statements on global peace and stability.

The beheading of James Foley, a non-combatant journalist was wrong for so many reasons. However, the bombing of entire villages/towns with predator drones and F-16s, dismembering civilians is a completely different level of barbarity dressed up in political niceties of 'fighting terrorism'.

What Kind Of Week Has It Been? 22 August 2014

Paddy Duffy   |   August 20, 2014   11:26 PM ET

The inevitable ice bucket calamity of news

It's been a week of great frustration. There's an Irish proverb about a house with a broken roof, where a man explains that when it's sunny it poses no problem, and when it rains the weather is too bad to fix anything. In most countries, that would be a charming fable. In Ireland, it's the basis for our goddamn abortion law. It was only a matter of time before Ireland's myopic policy on the matter got back in our face, but nobody was expecting it this quick. Much least the legislators who crafted it, or the doctors implementing it.

In the States, the terrifying developments in Ferguson, Missouri (resident population: 21,000. Black cop population: 3) show a scene you'd hope was long gone. Not only is police brutality not long gone, but police brutals are cynically covering their ass, overseeing curfews and arresting journalists while weaponed up like a bunch of Gotham City street punks.

Over in London, the frustration over the situation in Gaza was lent a down-the-rabbit-hole situation emblematic of the whole regional problem. The Jewish Chronicle published a humanitarian appeal about Gaza, raising the sad but inevitable opprobrium from the usual places. The JC then responds by apologising, saying that they were publishing it as a straight up humanitarian appeal like they would anywhere else in the world, and stressed that they did support Israel's latest attempt to make Gaza the finest rubble created by a western democracy. Which, as editorial policies go, is like The Sun raising money for Justice for the 96.

It's paragraphs like that that would probably get me blackballed by former MP and transatlantic irrelevance Louise Mensch. Earlier this week she took a stand against people who use the phrase Zionism, on the basis that it's used in a conspiratorial, anti-Jewish sense. Which is fair enough, except she'd press the block button on the founder of Zionism too. Assuming she recognised him. In fairness to Mensch though, her record on religious nuance has never been the tops.

Speaking of nuance and attention to detail, the good folk of Downton Abbey have got themselves in hot water over the bottled stuff loitering about in shot. But to their credit, they got ahead of it. with a response that was both charitable and evian self-deprecating humour. Greggs had a good day at the PR office in the face of adversity this week as well, as they exchanged jokes, Simpsons references and general good humour in reaction to a small but vital slogan change online.

President Obama too knows how a smile and a gag can counteract all manner of bad press, but he denied the opportunity for a photo op with a football helmet because, as he explained himself, "You don't put stuff on your head if you're President". That rule is also known as Dukakis' Law. It's probably wise for other reasons; with matters in Iraq getting more and more gruesome and the agenda being overcome by the terrible (and woefully proliferated pictures of) death of James Foley, it's probably better he keeps his mind clear.

Paul Vale   |   August 20, 2014    3:47 PM ET

President Obama's reaction to events in Ferguson, Missouri has been "disgusting" and a display of “overwhelming hypocrisy”, according to Cornel West.

Speaking on the BBC’s Newsnight on Tuesday, the philosopher and academic decried the president's response to events in the St Louis suburb following the shooting of Michael Brown, saying his words “reek of political calculation rather than moral conviction”.

“Bear in mind, he [Obama] put out a statement on the death of Robin Williams… before he put out a statement on brother Michael Brown,” excoriated West, adding: “It’s disgusting to have a black president who is unable to keep track about what’s happening among the young black youth.”

When asked about the looting that has been a feature of the riots, West said it was wrong, however added that if there was "any semblance of a just process, a semblance of transparency, you wouldn’t have the young brothers and sister out there throwing the Molotov cocktails.”

whatsapp politics

The president has been heavily criticized in the US for his lack of passion on the issue of Ferguson, having said little on events in Missouri, other than to confirm Attorney General Eric Holder was to travel to St Louis.

According to Vox, the White House appears to have concluded that Obama has become such a divisive figure that anything he says on an issue, particularly one as potent as race, will only widen the rift between the protesters and the authorities.

West has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration, particularly on the issue of race. Last year, the author called Obama a "global George Zimmerman" in response to the president's attempt to rationalise the killing of innocent children in US drone strikes.


  |   August 20, 2014   10:33 AM ET

Well, we say 'sings'. But it's not exactly as tuneful as Grande's original (see below).

Because this is the work of BaracksDubs - who previously brought us such gems as Barack Obama Sings 'U Can't Touch This' and Barack Obama Sings 'Get Lucky'.

And we think this is up there with the best of them.

If at First You Don't Succeed...

Paul Marshall   |   August 19, 2014    2:57 PM ET

No one starts a business thinking it's going to fail. That would be potty. ( Although not quite as potty as the adult in car potty with the accompanying slogan of WHEN YOU CAN'T STOP, BUT YOU'VE GOT TO PLOP).

However, somewhere in the back of their ever-whirring minds, enterprising souls know the dispiriting facts.

Yet like smokers who reduce their lives by 28 minutes with each pack of cigarettes puffed and drinkers who live 8 years less by glugging back more than 21 units a week, they choose to ignore the statistics.

Never mind that 20% of small ventures go under in the first year and 50% don't make it past their third birthday. This is presuming the owners of said companies haven't smoked or drunk themselves into an early grave before then, thanks to the gigantic amount of stress involved.

For budding Branson's, the motto to adhere to is plainly 'Hope for the best and prepare for the worst'.

Oh God! I make being in business sound akin to relatives gathered round an ailing family member's bedside waiting for the inevitable to occur.

Obviously though if the worst does happen and all your long held aspirations and dreams go floating down the Swanee, there's no point in wallowing in your misery, despair and depression. At least not for too long. There's a period of mourning that goes hand in hand with the loss of a company and it's nowhere near as lengthy as that experienced by Queen Victoria when Albert passed away.

The reality is that there really is nothing wrong with failure. Most tycoons - no matter how successful they end up becoming - experience it at sometime or another. And never do they think to themselves 'never again'.

Neither should you. For heaven's sake, you're British, aren't you? As a nationality we don't merely embrace failure. We hug it. We kiss it. We treat it as a one night stand. We take it for an inordinately expensive dinner that would give the creditors a coronary. We then drive it home, make passionate love to it and come the morning, we bid it a fond farewell. OK, perhaps we make it breakfast.

For guidance on what to do next, there's unquestionably only one person whose wise observations can make you want to relook at commerce with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

I think you know who I mean.

Move over Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller, Estee Lauder and Jeff Bezos. Stand aside Philip Knight, Ted Turner, Howard Schultz, Warren Buffett, Howard Hughes and Mark Zuckerberg.

Welcome into the spotlight (has she ever been out of it?), Ginger Rogers.

"What, as in Rogers and Astaire?", you ask incredulously.

The very same. In the 1936 film, Swing Time, she gave what could be considered the best piece of business advice that's been spoken (sung, if you're being pedantic) in nearly 80 years.

Here, if you're not familiar with it are four verses.

Nothing is impossible I have found
For when my chin is on the ground
I pick myself up, dust myself off
Start all over again

Don't lose your confidence if your slip
Be grateful for a pleasant trip
And pick yourself up, dust yourself off
Start all over again

Work like a soul inspired
Till the battle of the day is won
You may be sick and tired
But you'll be a man, my son

Will you remember the famous men
Who had to fall to rise again?
So take a deep breath
Pick yourself up, dust yourself off
Start all over again.

Seldom have there been more inspiring words to help one cope when Plan A doesn't quite go according to, well, plan.

They were even used by Barak Obama in his first inauguration speech in 2004 when he said to an expectant country and a hopeful world the following: "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America".

Fortunately we were spared the President and First Lady dancing.

I know for certain that should I fail, and I surely will, in my future endeavours, the voice of Miss Rogers will be ringing loudly in my ears. May it always ring as clearly in yours.

Islamic State Could Attack West In Response To Air Strikes, Top Terror Expert Warns

Mehdi Hasan   |   August 18, 2014    5:54 PM ET

Anglo-American air strikes on Islamic State positions in northern Iraq could "increase the risk" from homegrown terrorists in the West, the former head of counterterrorism at MI6 has warned.

Richard Barrett, who handled counterterrorism operations for Britain's Secret Intelligence Service both before and after the 9/11 attacks, told the Huffington Post UK that the latest military intervention by the West "does rather play to the [jihadist] narrative that these bad regimes are being supported by outside powers and, therefore, if you get too close to overthrowing them, the outside powers will come and beat you up."

The people who were "going to fight [Bashar Al] Assad or [former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al] Maliki are now seeing a broader enemy" in the form of the US and UK governments.

"The argument that they could also achieve the same [result] by [conducting] terrorist attacks in Western countries becomes stronger [though] not necessarily inevitable."

Such critical comments from one of the West's leading experts on Al Qaeda and its affiliates will come as a blow to President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron as the two leaders continue to authorise military action against Islamist militants in the north of Iraq.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend, Cameron claimed that "if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain."

Barrett, however, warned that taking military action could, inadvertently, exacerbate the threat to people living in the West. "If ISIS pull back from Mosul, as a result of air strikes, they're not going to disappear, they'll still be out there," he said, pointing out that fighters from the UK and other European countries would return home and be much more motivated to attack targets in the West.

"Their justification will be: 'If it hadn't been for air strikes we would be fine, establishing our caliphate [in Iraq].. Why did you mess with us? Now we'll mess with you.'"

us air strikes iraq

US air strikes near Mosul have helped Kurdish forces retake a key dam from Islamic State fighters

Barrett, who has also served as coordinator of the UN's Al-Qaida/Taliban Monitoring Team and is currently a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, pointed to the situation in Libya where "military intervention without a proper plan to follow up had all sorts of unintended consequences and led to chaos and instability".

He also noted how Cameron has conceded that the struggle against Islamic State and other jihadist groups is ultimately a fight within the Muslim-majority world, between moderates and extremists, but asked: "If that's the case then what are we doing there? Where are the Saudi aircraft? There's a disconnect between what [Cameron's] saying and what's he's doing."

Both Cameron and Obama have publicly pledged that they won't be putting 'boots on the ground' but the former MI6 counterterrorism chief believes the UK and US governments could be on a slippery slope in northern Iraq.

"You start with some air strikes then you have a few more, then we need people down there to tell us where targets are [so] we put special forces in, then they're in a pickle and they need force protection, before you know it, we're drawn down this road that has no obvious ending," he told HuffPost UK.

david cameron barack obama

Cameron and Obama have both promised that there won't be 'boots on the ground' in Iraq

Military action, said Barrett, should always be a last resort and isn't the "tool that is going to solve the [Islamic State] problem. Look at Libya, look at Afghanistan, look at Iraq in 2003. It's just reaching for a hammer because it is a hammer and it's to hand."

Diplomatic efforts aimed at getting Iran and Saudi Arabia around the negotiating table to resolve their differences and form a united front against groups such as Islamic State are "going to have much more impact [on Iraq] than flying out [aircraft] and dropping bombs - or even food parcels. We have to be careful that people aren't interpreting [air strikes] as gesture politics". Such strikes, Barrett argued, "have to have a very clear purpose and objective" but "I'm not sure we have that".

On Sunday, the Church of England attacked the government for having no "coherent or comprehensive approach" to tackling the rise of Islamist extremism across the Middle East. Labour has said the government's position on military action in Iraq is "pretty unclear".

Asked how he would 'defeat' Islamic State, Barrett told HuffPost UK that the key "was drawing down any sort of public support or community sympathy [for the jihadists].. Sure, then you can attack [Islamic State's] support base, the oil fields [and] stop foreign fighters going to join them as well. But you have to ask why [the foreign fighters] are doing it? How can we understand why they're doing it?"

Security services in the UK estimate that around 500 young Muslim men from the UK have gone out to fight with jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Barrett believes it is politics, not religion, that is driving the radicalisation process. "I don't think the 400 or 500 people who have gone from Britain have been brainwashed in madressas; what they're doing is being pushed [and] pulled... The push factors [include] some sort of alienation, disaffection and a lack of identity, of a real sense of purpose... Pull factors are a [Sunni] community [in Iraq and Syria] that is vulnerable and that is being discriminated against and a brave band of warriors that's trying to defend them."

On the positive side, however, the latter argument is "becoming weaker because everyone knows what ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra represent," he explained.

The former UN terrorism expert praised counter-extremism plans drawn up by the Home Office in recent months but added that British Muslim communities "need to feel confident about working with the authorities and reaching out for help [against extremism]."

Ferguson - A Country Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   August 17, 2014   10:46 PM ET

"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South." A. Lincoln

The House Divided Speech was given by Abraham Lincoln on June 16, 1858 upon accepting the Illinois Republican Party's nomination as that state's United States Senator, at what was then the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

Although Lincoln lost that election for the US Senate to incumbent Stephen A. Douglas, of the Lincoln-Douglas 1858 campaign debate fame, Lincoln's remarks in Springfield emblazoned upon the country an image of the dangers of slavery and a people living half slave and half free.

It was on the Illinois State Capitol steps a century and a half later that Illinois Senator Barack Obama launched his successful campaign to become America's first Black President.

On October 16, 2011, I posted a Huffington Post UK Analysis Blog titled:
An America Divided marking the 150th Anniversary of The Civil War.

A century and a half ago, Americans struggled with both the end of slavery and a conflict that pitted brother against brother and divided the nation.

Today, in August of 2014, that struggle continues as America still wrestles with the legacy of slavery and oppression and tries to get a handle on exactly what went terribly wrong on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

We are once again trying to understand each other through the lens of yet another tragic event.

It is 49 years since the Watts Riots of August 1965; 22 years since the Rodney King beatings in 1992; 20 years since the OJ Simpson Murder Trial in June of 1994 and only 2 years since Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida - and now Michael Brown killed in Ferguson, Missouri.

Not much has changed!

Despite all the efforts toward racial equality from the Emancipation Proclamation to the 13th Amendment, from Plessy vs. Fergusson to Brown vs. the Board of Education, from "The Little Rock Nine" in Arkansas to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor Peoples March on Washington; from busing to quotas, all the way to the election of the first Black President in 2008, the economic and social divide between White and Black Americans stubbornly persists.

Despite the efforts of Fredrick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, John R. Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, Ralph Bunche, Whitney Young, Julian Bond and Malcolm X, along with countless others....we still remain separate and unequal.

We are still consumed by an overwhelming sense of social and economic upheaval and a fear of one another.

From To Kill a Mocking Bird to Guess Who is Coming to Dinner to Do The Right Thing to 12 Years A Slave - the lesson, that we are all people who have a common bond - to love our families and our children and to give them a better life than we have had - is one we just cannot seem to learn.

White and Black Americans have fought in one way or another, side by side in the Union Army, in World War I and II, in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, only to return to their own separate neighborhoods, separate houses of worship and their own separate lives.

Black and White Americans, for the most part, simply do not live in the same society and do not see the world around them in the same way.

Many White Americans see the police as their protectors while many Black Americans view them as a group of armed enforcers who are naturally predisposed to doubt their innocence...."Driving While Black."

From birth many White Americans truly believe they are entitled to a good education, have every opportunity open to them, that their only limits are their own willingness to work hard to achieve a goal - and that they are innocent until proven guilty.

While many Black Americans believe that a good education for their children is something that is out of reach for them, they do not believe they have the same opportunities in the workplace for promotion - and they believe they will be treated as if they are guilty until they prove their innocence.

Even the most affluent Black Americans teach their children "special rules"- how to behave when confronted by police, where not to go, how not to dress and what not to say or do in an effort to ensure that they will not fall victim to a "fatal misunderstanding."

Perhaps the worst irony is that white "Hip Hop" suburban kids try to dress and act "black" to be cool.

However, they are not subject to and never will experience the fear that comes with simply being black in a society where most positions of authority are held by White Americans.

When a situation like Ferguson erupts in a black neighborhood the local police now tend to "deploy" their heavy military weaponry to ensure that things do no get out of control. They have developed a "Swat Team" mentality where use of excessive force has become the status quo.

Ferguson has shown America and the world just how militarized these responses have become thanks to free surplus military equipment from Congress. (That's another Blog)

So once again we watch as yet another tragedy unfolds before us and becomes a "A Media Event" with it's very own "theme".

A young man is dead and a police officer's life will never be the same again. As information dribbles out, White and Black Americans will process it differently through the lens of their own experience.

No matter how this situation is resolved we will never really know how these two individuals perceived one another at the critical moment that lead to this tragedy.

Whatever the outcome, both the officer and the young man were living out their roles against a backdrop of misunderstanding and distrust.

These problems are not only deeply rooted in each person's perception of the other they are also exacerbated by tough economic times.

Lately the sacred "American Dream" where each generation does better than the last seems more like an impossible dream for both White and Black Americans.

Many in the Black Community had hoped that the election of Barack Obama would make a real difference not only in the lives of Black Americans but in the perceptions of White Americans.

In his effort to be the president of "all Americans" some believe President Obama has not done enough to bridge this gap and seize this grand opportunity.

After his Philadelphia Campaign speech in 2008 many believed Candidate Obama would do more to engage Americans on the issue of race. Perhaps his reluctance to do this and his desire to be judged on his own merits and not as the "First Black President" speaks volumes about how far America still has to go to be truly free from its past.

Although President Obama has weighed in once again he knows he is speaking to a divided nation.

This latest situation cries out for the leadership of a Lincoln or a Dr. King - someone who is able to rise above the moment and give voice to a "New Dream".

In 2008 candidate Obama addressed the differing perceptions of White and Black Americans eloquently in his Philadelphia speech.

"This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together, we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. ....And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children... teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.....

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed... It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper. "

White and Black Americans need to find a new way to engage with one another - more mistrust and violence cannot be the answer.

They know the old rules of the game simply don't apply anymore and they are looking for leadership to help them find that path forward.

Although President Obama has been chided by his detractors for his rhetorical abilities, there may never be a time when those abilities are needed more.

He is blessed with a unique perspective of what it is like to live in both White and Black America.

As President Obama looks forward to his legacy this event and it's aftermath may have presented him with an historic opportunity to heal this long festering wound.

After all, words do matter. In fact the words and challenges of our greatest presidents and leaders live on with us long after they have left the public stage - they continue to guide and inspire our lives and deeds.

The challenge for President Obama, if he chooses to accept it, is to use this moment in time to make a lasting difference in the way White and Black Americans see and relate to one another.

The challenge for all of us is clear. Now is our time as a Nation to start listening to one another and begin walking in our brother's and sister's shoes perhaps for the first time.

If we don't, in light of all that has happened, we will continue to hear the somber words of Abraham Lincoln - "A house divided against itself cannot stand."