Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

I’m Ronald Reagan! No, I’m Reagan! No, over here, I’m the real Reagan!

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 22, 2014 06:00 UTC

 Rand Paul introduces U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. McConnell to crowd of campaign supporters after McConnell defeated Tea Party challenger Bevin in state Republican primary elections in Louisville

Did anyone hear the crack of a starting pistol? Nor me. But the race to become the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 is on.

Of course Reince Priebus, the GOP chairman, has been trying to keep the contest under close control since the party’s 2012 presidential primaries became a cable comedy sensation.

Perhaps he should have told the prospective candidates. The most eager wannabes, keen to take an early lead, have jumped the gun. Though it is too early to tell how the race will unfold, let alone who will win, we are already getting a taste of the themes, the policies and, above all, the complexion of the primaries to come. If the vituperative mood of the opening salvoes is anything to go by, we are in for fireworks.

Once again the ghost of Ronald Reagan looms large. Though his record in raising taxes and adding to the deficit, and his involvement in redrawing the map of the world, would make him ineligible to become the nominee were he still alive, the contestants are already comparing themselves with the only Republican president whose conservative credentials are made of the same material as earned him his nickname, the “Teflon president.”

FILE PHOTO OF FORMER U.S PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN.As always, the frontrunner is taking the most flak. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) now enjoys support from 11 percent of Republican voters, a point or two ahead of scandal-ridden New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and former governors Jeb Bush of Florida, and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Paul is three points ahead of Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), former vice presidential candidate and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. This crowded field also includes Senator Marco Rubio of Florida with 6 points and Texas Governor Rick Perry with 3.

Nothing pacific about it: Japan pushes back on China

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 15, 2014 06:00 UTC

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces' airborne troops stand at attention during the annual SDF troop review ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka

China is on the march. Or, to be precise, China has made a strong push, militarily and otherwise, into seas nearby, setting off alarms among its neighbors. Now Japan has pushed back, announcing it will “reinterpret” its pacifist constitution so it can be more militarily aggressive in responding to China’s persistent territorial expansionism.

Japan’s actions, however, have also raised alarms. A century ago, Japan set out on a destructive path of conquest, and many still remember firsthand the brutality with which Japanese troops occupied the region — from Korea and the Philippines, through Manchuria and China, Vietnam and Thailand, all the way to Singapore. Though China is now threatening peace, the memory of Japan’s savage adventurism adds to the general unease.

If Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is to persuade countries nearby that his intentions are honorable, there are actions he can take to show that Tokyo has learned the lessons of the past and truly reformed. If he does not, his latest political maneuver is likely to set his neighbors’ nerves on edge, adding to the prospect of warfare between two or more of the nations on the East and South China Seas.

Rupert Murdoch’s troubles are far from over

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 1, 2014 06:00 UTC

News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch leaves his flat with Rebekah Brooks, Chief Executive of News International,  in central London

The acquittal of Rupert Murdoch’s favorite executive, the flame-haired Rebekah Brooks, on charges of phone hacking and destroying the evidence might have marked the final act in one of the most bruising and expensive chapters in the history of News Corp.

It hasn’t turned out that way.

The $85 million that Murdoch paid to help keep his protégée out of jail has done little more than stoke the fires of resentment against his company in Britain. It also reminded U.S. federal authorities of the likelihood that similar crimes have been committed in America.

With convictions secured in Britain for bribing public officials, there is already enough evidence for U.S. authorities to pursue News Corp. under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Which may be why the FBI requisitioned 80,000 emails from News Corp.’s New York headquarters.

U.S. power: Waging cold wars without end

Nicholas Wapshott
Jun 26, 2014 06:00 UTC

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses troops at Bagram Air Base in Kabul

Suddenly, it seems, the world is at war.

In Iraq, armed and angry militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are at the gates of Baghdad. In Pakistan, government forces are mounting a ferocious campaign against the Taliban in North Waziristan. In Syria, the civil war drags on. These are “hot wars” involving the clashing of troops and weapons. Having escaped such “hot” conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, these are the sort of war Americans have made it plain they are not prepared to fight.

But there are other wars going on. In Yemen, a forgotten war against an al Qaeda outcrop continues, largely fought with lethal U.S. drones. In Ukraine, Moscow is undermining the Kiev government by stealth. Russian President Vladimir Putin, anxious not to press his luck after successfully snatching Crimea from Kiev, is like a fox sliding through the hen coop, careful not to set off the alarm. He is being countered by targeted sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. These are “cold wars” — a contemporary variation on the 40-plus years of  Cold War fought to a standstill by the United States and the Soviet Union.

vietnam -- soldiersThe very nature of war has changed since the hauling down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As the Cold War raged with often imperceptible intensity, the two sides mounted “hot wars” by proxy in minor theaters — the most prominent and punishing for the United States being Vietnam, a “cold war” first fought with teams of U.S. advisers, war materiel and money that became “hot.”

Democracy is on the ropes. So what are we going to do about it?

Nicholas Wapshott
Jun 17, 2014 19:15 UTC

child holds her father's hand at a polling station in Kabul

Democracy is taking a bashing. On almost every continent, attempts to extend the right of people to choose their own government is running into deep trouble. In Iraq, Egypt, Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other countries, democracy is being overwhelmed by despotism and despair.

A commonly heard response is that Western democracy is not for everyone, that what works in our society does not automatically work elsewhere. Another is to suggest that we should not try to spread democracy to the rest of the world; it is none of our business.

Both views are mean and short-sighted. If the United States abandons democracy in the rest of the world, not only is the rest of the world sunk but tyranny will soon be heading our way as voting laws here become more restrictive.

Whether GM or banks, some companies are still too big to jail

Nicholas Wapshott
Jun 10, 2014 06:00 UTC

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department  in Washington

Attorney General Eric Holder is in the middle of a prosecuting binge against some of the world’s biggest companies. Washington’s attempt to bring such large corporations to justice is long overdue.

Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street protesters were furious that financial executives who brought the world to the brink of penury in 2008 paid no price for their reckless behavior. The anger became widespread when the U.S. justice system seemed incapable of bringing culpable individuals and companies to account.

Now a number of large firms are finally being forced to face the music and this notion of whether a company can be “too big to jail” is being tested. Last month, General Motors agreed to a fine of $35 million for failing to respond soon enough to faulty vehicle ignitions that contributed to the deaths of 74 drivers.

VA scandal is no mark against big government

Nicholas Wapshott
Jun 3, 2014 06:00 UTC

U.S. military veterans listen in the audience during a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the Phoenix VA Health Care System wait list, on Capitol Hill in Washington

For some, the veterans hospitals scandal is a human tragedy pure and simple. Those who loyally served their nation in uniform, putting their lives on the line, were shunned when they sought medical help.

For others, however, the troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs have provided what one pundit called “A gift from God.”

For those commentators, the scandal confirmed their worst fears. The logic runs like this: The VA provides a government-run health service; the failures of the VA are a disgrace; ipso facto, all government-run health systems are a disgrace; proving that all government-run bodies are a disgrace. So all government should be sharply reduced — if not abandoned altogether.

The healthy route for Hillary Clinton: Release your medical records

Nicholas Wapshott
May 20, 2014 22:10 UTC

hillary!!

So Karl Rove has cast doubt on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s health. He may have been off when he claimed that the presumed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate spent 30 days in the hospital — she was only kept in for three — but he has clearly drawn political blood.

The Clintons went into full defense mode. Though every presidential candidate in modern times has provided a full account of their health, and if Hillary Clinton decides to run, she too will have to hand over her full medical file — including an explanation of the blood clot between her skull and her brain caused by a fall, a full account of why she fell, what treatment she received, how well she recovered and whether there are any lasting effects. It’s par for the course.

The Clintons being Clintons, however, are keeping mum about the substance of Rove’s accusation. As if it were somehow bad manners to raise health as an issue. Health is, should and will be an issue, just as the health of whoever emerges as the champion from the GOP presidential primaries will be pounced on, prodded and pored over.

Fighting for the future of conservativism

Nicholas Wapshott
May 13, 2014 03:15 UTC

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech to placard waving Conservatives during an European election campaign rally at a science park in Bristol

Establishment Republicans have been delighted by the victory of Thom Tillis, their favored candidate in last week’s North Carolina primary. After expensive advertising campaigns by establishment bagmen like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, mainstream conservatives believe they have a candidate who can beat Democrat Kay Hagan to win a valuable Senate seat in November.

Some commentators see Tillis’s triumph as a sign that other impending GOP primary races will also deliver electable candidates. Having watched the Senate slip from Republican grasp in 2012, as Tea Party candidates such as Todd Akin in Missouri, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Richard Mourdock in Indiana depicted the party as too extreme, they say the Tea Party is in retreat.

Not so fast. The experience of conservative parties elsewhere suggests that when pragmatists triumph over dogmatists, the dogmatists either regroup and go on to overwhelm the moderates, eventually making the party their own. Or they set up their own party — and trounce the moderates at the ballot box.

Sterling: Defying a century of progress

Nicholas Wapshott
May 6, 2014 06:00 UTC

A supporter holds a photo cutout of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling while standing in line for the NBA Playoff game 5 between Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles

The punishment of Clippers owner Donald Sterling for being caught expressing his racist beliefs — “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” — was swift and severe. The National Basketball Association, the players and a large majority of the team owners were quick to come together to condemn Sterling’s primitive remarks.

The same was true when the TV chef Paula Deen was revealed to have previously used a racial epithet — the “n” word — while being deposed for a workplace discrimination lawsuit. Notwithstanding the fact that Deen was a big cheese on the Food Network, she was abruptly fired.

Radio talk-show host Don Imus speaks with Rev. Al Sharpton during Sharpton's radio show, in New YorkThe same happened when Don Imus ridiculed black women college basketball players on his Imus in the Morning program on MSNBC. Though he appeared on Al Sharpton’s radio show to address the issue, it was too late. Before he could mount his full defense and apologize, he was out of a job.

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