As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world.
But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough.
This blog is about the new ideas that can change our world and how a 'new multilateralism' can tackle the global challenges of our age.
Change the World, Reports from the Fabian new year conference

Monday, December 31, 2007

Kenya's democracy crisis

Kenya's election campaign was a good advertisement for democracy. While Kenyans fear political polarisation along ethnic lines, this was a hard fought and vibrant campaign. The President was under pressure because he has disappointed, particularly on corruption, having had a clear mandate for change in 2002. The opposition ran a vigorous campaign, but was not promising a fundamental change of direction on economic or social policy.

But elections are also very much about how the votes are counted.

While reports on irregularities and complaints are still coming in. But it is already clear that the re-election of President Kibaki lacks credibility in Kenya, across Africa and internationally. Kenya has gone from one of the possible success stories of African democracy to a violent crisis which risks doing much to undermine its reputation for stability and gradual progress.

There can be no doubt, from the parliamentary results, that this was a 'change' election in Kenya. The Presidential contest was widely tipped as a knife-edge race, and may well have been closer than the parliamentary rout of government ministers. However, the scale of the difference between the parliamentary and presidential voting patterns is hard to credit or explain.

It is the coincidence of so many issues which has undermined the democratic credibility of the declared Presidential result: the lack of agreement on independent election commissioners; the delaying of the results from Kibaki's electoral stronghold; with specific irregularities in turnout which would support the theory that the delays were to find out how many votes were needed to win. The hastily rushed inauguration and the blackout of broadcast news in Kenya after the result have fuelled the crisis atmosphere.

The US government was slow to adapt its standard congratulatory message, but is now expressing concerns similar to those of the EU election monitors. The Commonwealth observers gave a mixed interim report - but have yet to give a verdict on the counting controversies which are now the central issue.

There will be a need for reconciliation among all parties. This may be difficult for an opposition with grounds to feel that it has been cheated. The hope must be that the parliamentary result and presidential controversy means that there is a need to negotiate some sort of effective power-sharing deal. But international pressure on a President who lacks legitimacy will be needed to achieve this.

The best round-up of news and commentary from inside Kenya and across Africa is on the site's Kenya pages.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Does Rawalpindi matter in Iowa?

The parochial concern on the 2008 campaign trail was the need to appear Presidential in responding to news from Pakistan.

Despite the Bhutto assassination throwing US policy into deep flux, most candidates realised that their immediate responses should simply mirror the statements of President Bush and other world leaders - expressing shock and sympathy at the tragic news and pledging to redouble efforts for democracy and against terrorism.

Still, Mike Huckabee messed it up, bizarrely apologising for the assassination, before correcting his remarks later.

Fred Thompson was particularly concerned to make sure that people around the world didn't get the wrong idea from the apology.

With more time to consider, Huckabee put up a policy argument. The Bhutto assassination showed why the US needed to build a border fence with Mexico to keep out Pakistanis.

“We ought to have an immediate, very clear monitoring of our borders and particularly to make sure if there’s any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country", he said.

Further clarifications defending these remarks did not seem to clarify much.

Mitt Romney had picked a bad day to argue that foreign policy experience doesn't matter all that much, though stressing the Reagan rather than the Dubya precedent to make his case:

“If the answer for leading this country is someone that has a lot of foreign policy experience, we can just go down to the State Department and pick up any one of the tens of thousands of people who’ve spent all their life in foreign policy.

Rudy Giuliani and John McCain stressed the opposite message to highlight their own experience.

On the Democrat side, the issue played to Hillary Clinton's experience on the international stage. Her personal relationship with Bhutto allowed her to stress that she will be ready on "day one" for the international demands of the Presidency. Perhaps for that reason, the Obama camp took an aggressive approach, bringing the issue back to the question of judgment over Iraq, sparking controversy about comments by Obama's strategist David Axelrod, who seemed to imply that Clinton's support of the Iraq war had contributed to the causes of the assassination.

Meanwhile, John Edwards placed a personal call to President Musharraf himself to press the case for democratic reform.

UPDATE: CNN quotes Huckabee campaign staff, explaining that his immigration comments were intended to distract attention from the fact that he has "no foreign policy credentials". Let's hope Iowa and New Hampshire care more about foreign policy experience than that.

Why the west must think again on Pakistan

PThe desperate news of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Pakistan yesterday brought back the memory of my father watching and being deeply affected by Indira Gandhi's funeral, broadcast on television here in Britain. I remember the strange spectacle of the funeral pyre which, to my ten year old self, seemed to burn for an age. My father's family in India, as middle-class Gujeratis, were natural Congress supporters. It was some time later that I learned that Indira had been a flawed, often divisive politician. Certainly a powerful female icon of political leadership but rather an ambiguous democrat. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, remains one of my political heroes. The key moment in embedding the world's largest democracy came in the 1977 emergency as India showed its democratic culture and institutions capable of rejecting the charismatic appeal of its founding dynasty.

Benazir Bhutto was also the flawed heir to a great, progressive political legacy, though hers was a bloody and turbulent inheritance defined by her father's execution by General Zia's military dictatorship. She had little to show for her two spells in office. Still, her death - and the courage of her final campaign - will rightly make her an enduring symbol of the desire for Pakistani democracy. That was not just the central theme of the tributes paid by world leaders. It is also echoed in the more nuanced and critical accounts from commentators and political opponents.

Bhutto's assassination also marks a failure of US and western polcy towards Pakistan. Over recent months, the top priority of the US administration had been brokering a Musharraf-Bhutto alliance, a strategy fraught with risk since the rift between the military and the Bhutto clan has dominated Pakistan's recent political history. The ostensible rationale was to bolster stability and western influence, yet those aims seemed to have become indistinguishable from the wish to 'bail out' President Musharraf.

It should now be clear that this broader strategy of backing Musharraf has now failed. The Washington debate has been about stability versus democracy - yet history is littered with evidence that making the 'strongman' choice for stability frequently delivers neither stability nor democracy. The broader mistake has been to place far too little emphasis on backing democratic principles and institution building, and instead too much on backing individuals, whose rhetorical commitment to those long-term goals has been, at best, contingent and more often lacking credibility entirely.

The argument for a change of policy is made powerfully by newspapers on three different continents today.

In London, The Guardian anticipates that Musharraf will claim to be the alternative to chaos, but notes that the claim has become threadbare:

This is by now a familiar speech. He made it when he first seized power as chief of the army eight years ago. He had made it when he launched a mini-coup by declaring a state of emergency on November 3. And he made it again last night. Each time he claims that the chaos in society justifies emergency powers, he fails to deliver that stability.

The New York Times is hopeful that the right policy might now be followed since all alternatives now appear to have been exhausted.

Betting America’s security (and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal) on an unaccountable dictator, President Pervez Musharraf, did not work. Betting it on a back-room alliance between that dictator and Ms. Bhutto, who had hoped to win a third try as prime minister next month, is no longer possible.

That leaves Mr. Bush with the principled, if unfamiliar, option of using American prestige and resources to fortify Pakistan’s badly battered democratic institutions. There is no time to waste.

The Times of India puts a related point perhaps most powerfully of all. The argument that "the top priority has to be stabilising the nation" is correct, but should not now imply once again reinforcing emergency powers for Musharraf. "Making Musharraf the main prop of the nation's stability has failed, decisively".most powerfully of all. says the paper, noting the highly questionable focus of this supposed path to democratisation in recent months.

Musharraf's administration has focused its energies on targeting lawyers, political activists, supreme court judges and mediapersons, sending thousands of peaceful activists to jail. While being unable to prevent terrorists from striking at will, not even in Rawalpindi, which is a garrison city as well as ISI's home base. The military has also been diverting aid meant for frontline troops fighting the Taliban and the Al-Qaida, for the sake of trophy arms purchases if not outright corruption.

Independent voices in Pakistan have expressed similar views. The day before the assassination, an editorial in Dawn, Pakistan's leading English language newspaper noted the lack of substantive foreign policy progress in the Karzai-Musharraf summit this week, noting that 'the president's decision to shed his uniform, the return of the exiled ex-prime ministers, and the on-going campaigning have not given Pakistan even a semblance of normality.

Yet one lesson of the failure of current western strategy is to appreciate the limits of what can be engineered from outside. The possibilities for constructive external diplomatic pressure will depend on internal developments. Benazir Bhutto's PPP was a strange hybrid - a wholly owned family fiedfdom and yet still perhaps the best hope for democracy. Turning a dynasty into a democratic movement must be the task of those seeking to construct the viable alternative to military rule or Islamism which Pakistan needs.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Will there be a public inquiry on Iraq?

Today's Independent reports on the David Miliband interview in the new year issue of the Fabian Review. Asked by my colleague Tom Hampson about the case for a public inquiry, the Foreign Secretary said:

"I am obsessed with the next five years in Iraq, not the last five years in Iraq. And I think that the best 'inquiry' is putting the best brains to think about how to make sure the next five years in Iraq get that combination of political reconstruction, economic reconstruction and security improvement that are so essential."

As the Independent correctly reports, this is rather cooler than a number of previous Ministerial comments. The paper reports that this suggests that the government has "backtracked over demands for an independent inquiry into the mistakes made in the run-up to and aftermath of the invasion of Iraq". That could be a significant development.

However, the headline goes a bit further than the story itself. (As can often happen: reporters don't get to write or approve the headlines on their pieces). I think is too early to say "Government rules out inquiry into Iraq conflict". I think it is equally plausible to regard David Miliband's comment as an attempt to give a fairly neutral/open answer - that the focus should be on the future - because no decision has yet been taken or announced. Fabian Review is very important, of course. But it isn't Hansard! I don't see that Miliband has given a definite indication of future government policy.

In my view, the issue remains an open one. The case for an inquiry will continue, within and outside government.

The call for a public inquiry is one of the points in my own 10-point 'Manifesto for the World After Bush', which will also be published in the Fabian Review.

"Learn the lessons of Iraq to rethink intervention"

We must learn many lessons after the Iraq war – from the failures of intelligence and diplomacy to the shameful lack of a reconstruction plan. In the UK, Gordon Brown should announce that a full public inquiry will begin once British troops leave Iraq. Increased government contributions to the Iraqi Reconstruction Fund (IRFFI), and civil society engagement with Iraqi media, trade unions and other bulwarks of democracy is the best way to reflect our continuing moral responsibility to post-war Iraq.

Learning the lessons of a catastrophic pre-emptive intervention should not involve ignoring genocide in future. The UN Responsibility to Protect principles should be at the heart of a new European Security Strategy: national governments should promote much greater awareness of how these principles address public concerns about how intervention can be effective and legitimate


Friday, December 21, 2007

Bush and Blair: the million dollar question

This blog is about looking forward, but that also depends on learning the lessons of how and why we got here.

Ben Furber asks me this million dollar question:

'Why on earth did Blair have this relationship with Bush and why doesn’t Brown now run a hundred miles in the opposite direction?'

Response follows later on

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Could inexperienced Obama still claim an edge on foreign policy?

Obama has gone on the front foot on foreign policy, countering charges of a lack of experience. This area of comparative Obama weakness is a key message of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Despite this, Obama can also claim three advantages over the Democratic field.

Firstly, he made a brave call in opposing Iraq. And his measured reasons for doing so look ever better with hindsight. Hence his slogan 'Judgment to Lead'.

He also says he is "running to do more than end the war in Iraq. "I'm even more interested in ending the mind-set that got us into it. It's easy for us to lay all of the problems of the world at George Bush's doorstep."

Secondly, does being a third culture kid give Obama with 'superior intuition' on foreign policy, as Zbigniew Brzezinski, chief national security adviser to the Carter Presidency, suggests?

Thirdly, and most powerfully of all, image.

The day I'm inaugurated, not only will the country look at itself differently, but the world will look at America differently

For that reason, President Obama would be the most likely to engage and excite non-Americans. But will that help or hinder him at home?

For, while the world is watching, it is Americans who will vote.

Experience versus inspiration?

EJ Dionne offers an incisive analysis of what he calls Hillary's moment of great peril, as the campaign got interesting again at just the wrong moment for the long-time front-runner. As Dionne says:

if Obama, with his soaring and idealistic rhetoric, has been more theme than pudding, Clinton's campaign has been more pudding than theme.

Obama's broadside against "the same old Washington textbook campaigns" does score an effective hit against the guarded tactics and caution of his opponent. (But at least, the Clinton campaign pulled back from what looked like a potentially fatal flirtation with 'going negative', which would surely have played to Obama's strengths with primary voters, by giving him the moral high ground to go with his recent momentum).

Many Democrats' priority will be to pick a winner. But the contrasting strengths and weaknesses of the front-runners make the balance of risk a more open question than it had seemed. The Des Moines Register's endorsement may well capture the conundrum faced by undecided Democrats in trying to weigh experience and inspiration.

Indeed, Obama, her chief rival, inspired our imaginations. But it was Clinton who inspired our confidence.

Perhaps the experience card will still prove trumps for Hillary Clinton - but that may depend on playing it less defensively and with a smite more inspiration too.

Coming soon: A manifesto for the World After Bush

The new year issue of the Fabian Review has gone off to the printers.

The cover story is our 10 point manifesto for the World After Bush. The issue is full of practical ideas for a better world, as we gear up for the big Change the World conference in January.

Malcolm Chalmers' essay on Iran sets out what should happen next, now that the US intelligence report appears to have taken the imminent threat of a military confrontation.

And my colleague Tom Hampson has a very interesting interview with foreign secretary David Miliband.

Fabian members receive Fabian Review every quarter as part of their membership, along with our influential pamphlets and invitations to free lectures and debates.

You can join the Fabians here

Clinton v Obama: a generation divide?

Andrew Sullivan's Atlantic Journal essay on Obama was extracted in this week's Sunday Times here in London.

Sullivan does more than make the moderate conservative case for Obama; he claims that only Obama can end the culture wars of post-Vietnam United States. (That these are strange times for the Republican Party can be seen by Sullivan's decision to back Ron Paul for the nomination).

I was particularly struck by this claim that the generational divide between the candidates explains why Obama is less defensive than Clinton about progressive values.

A generational divide also separates Clinton and Obama with respect to domestic politics. Clinton grew up saturated in the conflict that still defines American politics. As a liberal, she has spent years in a defensive crouch against triumphant post-Reagan conservatism. The mau-mauing that greeted her health-care plan and the endless nightmares of her husband’s scandals drove her deeper into her political bunker. Her liberalism is warped by what you might call a Political Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Reagan spooked people on the left, especially those, like Clinton, who were interested primarily in winning power. She has internalized what most Democrats of her generation have internalized: They suspect that the majority is not with them, and so some quotient of discretion, fear, or plain deception is required if they are to advance their objectives. And so the less-adept ones seem deceptive, and the more-practiced ones, like Clinton, exhibit the plastic-ness and inauthenticity that still plague her candidacy. She’s hiding her true feelings. We know it, she knows we know it, and there is no way out of it.

Obama, simply by virtue of when he was born, is free of this defensiveness. Strictly speaking, he is at the tail end of the Boomer generation. But he is not of it.

This is a contrast between the tactical politics of triangulation, and what Sullivan takes to be Obama's instinctive and principled moderation. (Closer tom home, Sullivan's critique of Hillary Clinton chimes strongly with the lack of confidence being shown by the Brown government here in the UK. The scars of Labour's 1992 defeat still run deep: both Blair and Brown have feared that Britain remains an essentially conservative country).

Sullivan's neatly argued conclusion captures why it is so difficult to work out where voters will decide the greater risk lies, with Hillary still favourite but the momentum having been very much with Obama this past week.

The paradox is that Hillary makes far more sense if you believe that times are actually pretty good. If you believe that America’s current crisis is not a deep one, if you think that pragmatism alone will be enough to navigate a world on the verge of even more religious warfare, if you believe that today’s ideological polarization is not dangerous, and that what appears dark today is an illusion fostered by the lingering trauma of the Bush presidency, then the argument for Obama is not that strong. Clinton will do. And a Clinton-Giuliani race could be as invigorating as it is utterly predictable.

But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Huckabee's worldview: treat Saudi Arabia like we treat Sweden

Setting out your would-be Presidential worldview for the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal is one of the rites of passage for any candidate. It is a worthwhile exercise, in a campaign where the rest of the world can become an afterthought, though there aren't many surprises, as candidates add a little intellectual polish to the usual stump speech.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's contribution may merit more attention than most. Huckabee is fast becoming the joker in the Republican pack, with the polls suggesting he is a serious contender.

But it is difficult to imagine any Presidential candidate - including, probably, Bush in 2000, having less experience or interest in foreign policy.

Huckabee's worldview is somewhat all over the place. But most striking is the opening in which he sounds like Obama on foreign policy and how America should lead in the world if it wants others to follow.

Huckabee writes:

"The United States, as the world's only superpower, is less vulnerable to military defeat. But it is more vulnerable to the animosity of other countries. Much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised.

The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad".

He writes too of wanting to "treat Saudi Arabia like we treat Sweden" and makes energy independence a priority.

The article has evoked criticism from Republican rivals for using the Democrats' playbook and talking points.
Yet Huckabee's evident talent has been for empathy for the public mood. Whether his quirky campaign maintains its momentum remains to be seen. But the changes needed to restore respect for America may be becoming a bipartisan theme.

Beyond Bali: what should happen to those who don't sign up?

It is not difficult to point out flaws in the Bali agreement on climate change, such as the absence of hard numbers from the commitment to make carbon cuts. But, as a mandate to negotiate, it is important in opening the possibility, at least, of a post-Kyoto deal by the end of 2009.

Climate change is unlike any other diplomatic issue.

On global trade, for example, negotiators might consider that they had made significant progress if everybody could get 50% of what they came for. On climate change, half a loaf would simply not be enough. The imperative must be to get a deal which meets the scientific evidence - not the best political deal possible.

Yet what is negotiated internationally also requires deep domestic change. Our way of life will have to change because of what is negotiated around the conference table.

The drama of the final hours of the Bali summit showed how the debate has shifted. The US had to concede, under pressure, because an unenthusiastic White House did not want to be isolated and accused of wrecking all progress. This demonstrates the way in which US opinion has changed a great deal (below federal level). With Australia having changed sides following Kevin Rudd's election victory, the divisions are not nearly so deep as they were over Kyoto.

If we can achieve a deeper consensus by 2009, this will raise another important question where the public debate has barely begun . What should happen to countries which don't agree to fair binding targets for carbon cuts in a post-Kyoto agreement? There will be much hostility to those attempting to 'free ride' on the efforts of everybody else - and we can expect calls for protection where 'unfair' competition is not bound by the same rules.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The world after Bush: the positive agenda we need

On a bright, cold day in January as the Washington clocks strike twelve, you might just, if you listen carefully, be able to hear a swooshing sigh of relief as it travels around the world. As the 44th President of the United States takes the oath of office at noon on the 20th January 2009, George W Bush's Presidency will enter the history books.

But what happens next?

We will need much more than a critique of what should have done differently.

Those of us who believe we need a 'new multilateralism' to deal with the global challenges of our age must show that we can find the ideas, the policies and the political strategy to make it work.

The Bush revolution in foreign policy has failed. But that does not mean there will be automatic swing back to a more internationalist approach. Traditional realists, for whom foreign policy must be a values-free zone, and left oppositionists, for whom western iniquity is at the root of every global problem, feel vindicated by events, while many liberal internationalists are divided and demoralised.

This blog will seek to contribute to debate about the new ideas which can be turned into an effective multilateral agenda.

It will discuss the impact of the US election campaign, as voters prepare to elect a new President. But it will place at least as much emphasis on what those outside the United States - particularly in Britain and the rest of the European Union - must do to make a 'new multilateralism' effective.

The blog will draw on and debate the ideas of a significant Fabian Society strand of activity on the world after Bush, including the major 'Change the World' conference in January 2008, and further events and publications across the year, as well as drawing on a wider range of contributions and ideas.

The Fabian Society has run a series of activities on this theme over the last 18 months. Here are some selected highlights:

* Sunder Katwala's Fabian essay, 'The World After Bush' published in the summer 2006 Fabian Review, a global politics special issue, calling for a more confident 'neo-prog' agenda to challenge that of the neo-cons.

* Charles Clarke's Fabian Next Decade lecture, 'The World After Bush' in November 2006, argued for a recommitment to liberal internationalism and arguing that this requires a stronger British commitment to the EU, and a rethinking of the renewal of Trident.

* Glenys Kinnock's Fabian Review article ' in 'What needs to change in foreign policy, in December 2006, argues that returning ethics to the centre of foreign policy demands a rethinking of the 'special relationship' with the United States. Glenys Kinnock debated this with Hilary Benn
at the Fabian new year conference in January 2007.

* Tony Klug's Fabian freethinking paper 'How peace broke out in the Middle East: a brief history of the future, which has been widely acclaimed for its advocacy of the possibility and necessity of a just settlement for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Our fringe debate (full transcript) 'What do Iran's democrats want from us?' held by the Fabian Society and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Bournemouth in Autumn 2007.

The big event: "Change the World", Saturday 19th January 2008, London

The Fabian Society will kick off a year of new ideas in global politics with the Fabian New Year Conference, Change the World. Programme and speaker information will be updated on the Fabian site. Tickets can be booked online

Exactly one year and one day before a new US President takes office, the event will debate the ideas that can change international politics, and ask what progressives in Britain and Europe should do to make a new multilateralism effective.

Key themes include democratic responses to terrorism, climate change, intervention after Iraq, Middle East peace, Iran, migration, and development.

In addition to a major keynote speech, confirmed speakers include Hilary Benn, Shami Chakrabarti, Catherine Fieschi, Timothy Garton-Ash, Will Hutton, Mary Kaldor, John Kampfner, Sunder Katwala, Mark Leonard, Catherine Mayer, Ed Miliband, Sir Christopher Meyer, Polly Toynbee, Margot Wallstrom and Shirley Williams.

The Fabian conference has a strong reputation for kicking off the political year, with the next decade conference previewing a year of transition in 2007, and the future of Britishness conference with Gordon Brown continuing to reverberate.

The event is held in association with media partners, The Guardian and the New Statesman, and our international partners E! Sharp, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Policy Network, Oxfam, Amnesty International and Critica Sociale.

As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world. The Bush Presidency will not leave the legacy its architects intended. But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough. This blog is about the new ideas which can create a 'new multilateralism' to tackle the global challenges we face.