Tag Archives: hammond

Why Boris at the Foreign Office makes a lot of sense

Boris Johnson's appointment as foreign secretary caught many off guard. (Facebook)
Boris Johnson’s appointment as foreign secretary caught many off guard. (Facebook)

It’s been a busy three weeks in British politics, but it’s been an especially busy 36 hours since Theresa May became the new prime minister and rolled out the key appointments of what will be the country’s government for the foreseeable future.United Kingdom Flag Icon

The most important role goes to Philip Hammond, who is now chancellor after three years as foreign secretary, and Amber Rudd will replace May as home secretary. But the biggest surprise was May’s decision yesterday to appoint former London mayor Boris Johnson as the new foreign secretary.

In one sense, it’s a perfect move for Johnson, who is perhaps the most well-known British politician abroad, who was born in New York City, and who (mostly) served as a capable ambassador for London in his two terms as mayor, most notably during the 2012 Olympics. It’s a remarkable comeback for a politician who lent his star power to the ‘Leave’ campaign, then watched as his ally, Michael Gove, brutally nudged him out of the Conservative leadership contest. Despite his humiliating withdrawal from the contest, Johnson is still one of the most potent political talents on the Tory benches.

For May, however, it is a bold and cunning move — for at least four reasons. Continue reading Why Boris at the Foreign Office makes a lot of sense

‘Coalition of the frenemies’ is bombing Syria for all the wrong reasons

The aftermath of an American strike in Syria's Idlib province last September. (Abdalghne Karoof / Reuters)
The aftermath of an American strike in Syria’s Idlib province last September. (Abdalghne Karoof / Reuters)

Call it the ‘coalition of the frenemies.’Syria Flag Icon

With British prime minister David Cameron’s victory in the House of Commons last week, fully four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus NATO member Turkey and several regional allies, will now be engaged in the fight against ISIS (ISIL/Islamic State/Daesh) in eastern Syria. Following last week’s fatal shooting in San Bernardino, California, by two jihadist sympathizers, US president Barack Obama reassured the United States in a rare Sunday night prime-time address that his administration will continue its intensified airstrikes against ISIS in eastern Syria, increasingly targeting the oil tankers controlled by ISIS that fund its jihadist mission.

Cameron’s team, including foreign minister Philip Hammond, argued that a force of 70,000 ‘moderate’ Syrian forces would be willing and ready to take on the ISIS threat in the event of a coordinated allied campaign to deploy sustained airstrikes against ISIS, both reducing the terrorist threat to Europeans at home and establishing the conditions for peace abroad (and the Obama administration has more or less echoed this sentiment). That seems optimistic, however, given that ‘radical’ rebels, like ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra quickly overpowered ‘moderate’ rebels like the Free Syrian Army throughout 2012 and 2013.

In reality, there’s no bright line among anti-Assad Sunnis in Syria. Although Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is Alawite, 75% of Syria’s pre-war population was Sunni, which means there’s a lot of room for variation. Nevertheless, after more than a year of U.S. airstrikes, moderate Syrians (whether 70,000 or 7,000) and Kurdish peshmerga forces have not effectively dislodged ISIS, particularly outside traditionally Kurdish areas of Iraq and Syria.

Though U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is still boosting peace talks in Vienna in early 2016, neither the Assad government nor the anti-Assad rebels have indicated they will join those talks. What’s more, it’s not even clear who would ‘represent’ the anti-Assad rebels, who are fighting as much against each other as they are against Assad.

Even as countries from four continents are running air campaigns in Syria, they are acting in far from a coordinated manner. Tensions are already rising after Turkey downed a Russian military jet late last month, despite repeated warnings that the jet was infringing Russian airspace. Imagine how tense the situation could become if a Russian jet attacks an American one in the increasingly crowded Syrian skies. None of the actors, including Russia or the United States, has any clear strategic plan for an endgame in Syria. Russia still can’t articulate a credible scenario where Assad rules a united postwar Syria, and the United States still can’t articulate a credible scenario where Sunni and Shiite factions can work together to govern Syria — or even Iraq, for that matter.

The descent of the world’s major powers upon Syria was accelerating even before jihadist terrorists left 130 innocent civilians dead in Paris, and the manner in which Syria has now become a proxy war for so many other regional and global actors is starting to resemble the domino trail of alliances and diplomatic errors that began World War I.  It’s irresponsible to argue that the world is plunging into World War III, but the escalations in Syria reflects the same kind of destructive slippery slope that began with the assassination of the heir of a fading empire by a nationalist in what was then a provincial backwater. Continue reading ‘Coalition of the frenemies’ is bombing Syria for all the wrong reasons

Handicapping the race to succeed Cameron as Tory leader

Boris Johnson Theresa MayPhoto credit to David Levene.

British prime minister David Cameron is gearing up to fight the toughest campaign of his life to win reelection on May 7.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Nevertheless, his announcement earlier this week that he intends to serve out two terms — and no more — has started the race to determine his successor. Despite Cameron’s efforts to signal that he will step down in 2020, there’s no guarantee that Cameron will be so lucky. The next Conservative Party leadership race could start immediately after the British election if Cameron leads the party to defeat or, possibly, after 2017 when Cameron has pledged (if reelected) to hold a referendum on continuing the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union.

But even if the Tories win a renewed mandate (an outcome that seems more likely today than at any time in the past two or three years), a second Cameron term will now become even more consumed by the debate among his would-be successors to define the party’s future. Notwithstanding the planned 2017 EU referendum, the party’s next leader will determine whether the Conservatives should be relatively more pro-Europe or anti-Europe in an era that features the rise Nigel Farage’s populist and eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP). The next Tory leader will also face a fragmenting political environment that appears to be transitioning from a two-party to a multi-party system and a growing sense of constitutional crisis in the aftermath of last September’s referendum on Scottish independence. Moreover, the next Tory leader will also have to choose between two strains of economic policy — a pro-market Thatcherite approach or the more centrist ‘one nation’ Tory approach of her predecessors that concedes a stronger role for government social welfare.

Obviously, a lot depends on timing — a leadership contest in 2015 could bring a different result than a contest in 2017 or 2019.

Cameron, in his remarks earlier this week, singled out Johnson as well as chancellor George Osborne and home secretary Theresa May as particularly strong candidates. Though Cameron almost certainly prefers Osborne, whose leadership stock is certainly on the rise as the economy improves, the two frontrunners today are clearly Johnson and May (pictured together above), whose personalities and approach to politics and government couldn’t be more different.

Here’s a look at what Johnson, May, Osborne would bring to the leadership — along with four other potential candidates waiting in the wings. Continue reading Handicapping the race to succeed Cameron as Tory leader

Uranium, sovereignty and corruption headline Greenland vote


It may seem quaint that misuse of just over €14,000 in personal and travel expenses could bring down a government, but that’s exactly why Greenlanders are going to the polls just 19 months after their last election — after a sudden September 30 scandal caused prime minister Aleqa Hammond to step down.greenland flagdenmark flag

Hammond, who stepped away from frontline politics two months ago, is sitting on the sidelines of Friday’s election, watching as her former deputy, acting prime minister Kim Kielsen tries to steer the governing Siumut (Forward), a center-left, moderately pro-sovereignty party, to a longer term in office.

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RELATED: Greenland’s election a case study in climate change, sovereignty, China, the EU and the Arctic’s future [March 2013]

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Amazingly, Kielsen has a real shot at winning Friday’s election, notwithstanding the fact that Hammond’s corruption woes are the immediately cause of the election. In part, that’s because Kielsen has run a humble campaign focused on his own reputation for honesty and appealing to traditional Greenlandic voters.


In part, it’s also because the chief opposition party, Inuit Ataqatigiit (‘Community of the People’), has pledged to slow down the government’s push to open up large parts of Greenland to international mining interests hoping to unlock the potential mineral wealth of the Arctic north. Its candidate for premier, Sara Olsvig (pictured above), entered politics only in 2011 as one of two members of Denmark’s parliament, the Folketing, and she is currently head of the Folketing‘s Arctic committee. Though she seemed a lock to become Greenland’s next premier when Hammond’s government collapsed, her hesitation with respect to Greenlandic mineral and oil development has, in part, stalled her campaign.

Inuit Ataqatigiit is even more leftist than Siumut, and it is stridently more in favor of Greenlandic independence, but it has also tried to balance the frothy excitement of a mining boom against the concept of sustainable development. That’s especially true in an era of climate change and melting glaciers in Greenland.

In one sense, you can think of the 2014 Greenlandic election as a choice between two imperfect ideals:

  • a more conservative approach to autonomy coupled with a more aggressive approach to the kind of mining and development that could give Greenland the economic basis for independence in the decades to come; or
  • a more aggressive approach to independence with a more hesitant approach to economic development that prioritizes the risks to the environment, local communities and other factors.

Traditionally, Siumut has controlled Greenlandic government since 1979, when Greenland, an ‘autonomous country’ within the Kingdom of Denmark, won self-rule, though the party only recently retook control of government in the March 2013 elections, following a four-year Inuit Ataqatigiit government led by local musician Kuupik Kleist.

No matter which party wins the November 28 election, the vote is unlikely to settle definitively either Greenland’s debate over the nature and pace of mining and development or its status vis-à-vis Denmark. That’s most of all because no one yet knows whether Greenland harbors the kind of oil or mineral wealth that could allow it to become a viable independent nation-state. The country currently receives a subsidy grant of around $600 million from the Danish government (and it still posted a budget deficit last year).

Continue reading Uranium, sovereignty and corruption headline Greenland vote

What to make of Cameron’s night of the long knives


It wasn’t a surprise that British prime minister David Cameron sacked Kenneth Clarke, the one-time self-proclaimed ‘big beast’ of the Conservative Party from government. United Kingdom Flag Icon

At age 74, the pro-Europe former chancellor, who began his ministerial career in Edward Heath’s government of the early 1970s, had already been demoted once from justice secretary, his progressive ideas for penal reform and lighter sentencing guidelines  thwarted by the Tory right two years ago.

But it was something of a surprise that Cameron sacked so many other high-profile members of his cabinet last night.

Foreign secretary William Hague (pictured above with Queen Elizabeth II), one of the most high-profile Tories inside or outside government will now become the Commons leader. Hague, once a strident eurosceptic, was elected leader of the Conservative Party in the aftermath of Tony Blair’s massive victory in 1997. He stepped down in 2001 after his failed campaign to return the Tories to power. Though just 53 years old, Hague also announced he would also leave office at the 2015 elections, cutting short what’s been a solid career, if not one that might have elevated Hague to the premiership under different conditions.


His replacement is defence secretary Philip Hammond, another Conservative firebrand, who has ably worked with chancellor George Osborne to reign in spending while the United Kingdom has reduced its role in the US-led occupation in Afghanistan. Hammond, who served as Osborne’s deputy in opposition, comes from the right wing of the party, however, having opposed Cameron’s push to legalize same-sex marriage last year. He’s not known as a particularly charismatic figure, and he’ll have a hard time shaking the notion that he’s No. 11’s man at the foreign office. 

Having argued that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union without significant, additional British carve-outs, Hammond will now be tasked with salvaging the UK-EU relationship.

But the knives went longer and deeper still — David Willetts, the minister for universities and science, nicknamed ‘Two Brains’ and deemed one of the cabinet’s most thoughtful members; David Gove, the combatively conservative and stridently eurosceptic education minister; Dominic Grieve, the attorney general; Owen Patterson, the environmental secretary.

The semi-official word is that Cameron’s reshuffle represents an effort to put his cabinet and his government on footing to wage next May’s general elections, with a particular focus on elevating the number of women and younger Tories to higher positions.

To borrow a phrase from former US president Bill Clinton, a ‘cabinet that looks like Britain.’

Continue reading What to make of Cameron’s night of the long knives