The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Sarin: The lethal fog of war

The Syrian government’s reported use of sarin in its war against rebel forces is ominous. It suggests dissemination of the nerve agent could become more frequent there -- whether by the Syrian military or by opposition forces in possession of captured stockpiles. If this happens, many more people will likely suffer the tortured effects of the chemical.

This could weaken the international taboo against such weaponry. No wonder President Barack Obama has warned that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of sarin would be a “game changer.”

For sarin is considered a weapon of mass destruction. As with all chemical agents, effectiveness depends on the purity, the means of dissemination and vulnerability of the exposed population. At worst, chemicals can be devastating agents of death, even if less expansive in their effect than a biological release or a nuclear detonation.

A drop of liquid sarin can be lethal after skin contact or inhalation of its vapor. The colorless, odorless material blocks the transmission of impulses between nerve cells, which effectively paralyzes the organs of the body, including the lungs. Asphyxiation and death can result within minutes.

Obama half-term report: must try harder in economics

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–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.–

In the welter of comment on President Obama’s second term, one remarkable feature seems to have slipped under the radar. This has been a presidency blessedly free of scandal. When last did the White House remain more or less scandal-free for as long as four years? His predecessor, George W., had the average scandal quotient (Halliburton contracts, the Abramoff affair among others). Before him, there was Clinton, who seemed to clock up a scandal a week – we all remember the sex, but there was also Whitewater, which involved money, allegations of graft and ultimately suicide. Under Bush Senior and Reagan we had the Iran contra affair. As for Nixon, the less said the better. Even the saintly Jimmy Carter had a problem brother and some rather loose cannons among the pals he shipped in from Georgia to staff his administration.

from The Great Debate:

The neocons’ war against Obama

The neoconservatives who rebuffed the Republican establishment’s warnings about the perils of war in Iraq have now opened another front —against President Barack Obama.

The neocons, unlike the muscular Democrats who led the U.S. into the Vietnam War—including Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk— are not reflecting about what went wrong in Iraq. Nor are they dodging the public spotlight.

from The Great Debate:

Obama at the electoral tipping point

By Cliff Young and Chris Jackson
The opinions expressed are their own.

The Obama administration finds itself between a rock and a hard place.  On one side, an emboldened Republican Party smells blood, with their largely successful (politically speaking) full court press on the debt issue and dominance of the news cycle.  On the other, the economic news—both domestically and internationally—has been depressing at best, and downright scary at worst.

Given this dreary backdrop, the common wisdom among pundits and politicos is that Obama has been winged and is beatable in 2012.  Pundits offer varied reasons for this new found pessimism in Obama.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Solving Afghanistan and Pakistan over a cup of tea

cups of teaI have never read "Three Cups of Tea", Greg Mortenson's book about building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I tried to read the sequel, "Stones into Schools" and gave up not too long after the point where he said that, "the solution to every problem ... begins with drinking tea." Having drunk tea in many parts of South Asia - sweet tea, salt tea, butter tea, tea that comes with the impossible-to-remove-with-dignity thick skin of milk tea - I can confidently say that statement does not reflect reality.

So I have always been a bit puzzled that the Americans took Mortenson's books so much to heart. Yes, I knew he boasted that his books had become required reading for American officers posted to Afghanistan; and yes, there is the glowing praise from Admiral Mike Mullen on the cover of  "Stones into Schools", where he wrote that "he's shaping the very future of a region". But I had always believed, or wanted to believe, that at the back of everyone's minds they realised that saccharine sentimentality was no substitute for serious analysis. Just as hope is not a strategy, drinking tea is not a policy.  (To be fair to the Americans, I have also overheard a British officer extolling the virtues of drinking tea in Afghanistan.)

The U.S.’s big, fat political debt problem

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USA-BUDGET/By Kathleen Brooks

The U.S. has practically zero chance of solving its debt problem in the foreseeable future while politicians line up to contest the 2012 Presidential elections.

We have already heard President Obama lay out his partisan cards. He called for Congress to come up with a plan to trim $4 trillion from the U.S. deficit in the next 12 years. His favoured way to do this: end tax cuts for the rich – a well versed refrain from Democrats throughout the ages.

Obama blows the starting whistle – who will his opponent be?

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OBAMA/-Andrew Hammond is an Associate Partner at Reputation Inc, and was formerly a Special Adviser in the UK Government and a Geopolitics Consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.-

With U.S. President Barack Obama announcing his re-election campaign bid on Monday, the unofficial starting whistle for the 2012 election has been blown.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: Petraeus, personalities and policy

chinook2Buried in the Washington Post story on Marc Grossman taking over as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are some interesting references to the possible departure of U.S. commander General David Petraeus.

"... virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy's other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there," it says.

UK deficit cutting – lessons for the US

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USA-BUDGET/The news that China is engaged in talks over the building of a rival to the Panama Canal ought to set alarm bells ringing in Washington – and not just because of its obvious geopolitical implications. It is yet another sign that the Chinese have finally woken up to the fact that relending their hoard of dollars straight back to the USA is not a very smart policy, at least not as long as the Federal Government carries on spraying out greenbacks like a tipsy GI on furlough, and without Chinese support, the outlook for the Treasury bond market looks threatening.

Those who argue that it is a bad time for imposing austerity should be ignored – in the good times there was no sense of urgency, and in any case deficit reduction has to be a multiyear project. The Federal deficit is running at over 10 percent of GDP and the projections for the coming decade on unchanged policies are too frightening to contemplate.

What WikiLeaks reveals about the changing map of global power

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-Andrew Hammond is a Director at ReputationInc. The opinions expressed are his own-

The WikiLeaks release last month of around a quarter of a million classified U.S. State Department documents has, by critics, been variously characterised as the “September 11 of world diplomacy” (Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini); an “attack on the international community” (U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton); and a threat to “democratic sovereignty and authority” (French Government Spokesman Francois Baroin).

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