America (and before it, Britain) has felt it was “at war” when the conflict threatened the country’s basic security—not merely its interests or its allies abroad. This is the common-sense way in which we define a wartime leader, and by that definition the politicians in charge during World Wars I and II—Wilson, Lloyd George, Roosevelt, Churchill—are often described as such. It’s not a perfect definition. The United States has been so far removed from most conflicts that even World War I’s effects could be described as indirect (incorrectly in my view). But it conjures up the image of a threat to society as a whole, which then requires a national response.
By any of these criteria, we are not at war. At some level, we all know it. Life in America today is surprisingly normal for a country with troops in two battle zones. The country may be engaged in wars, but it is not at war. Consider as evidence the behavior of our “war president.” Bush recently explained that for the last few years he has given up golf, because “to play the sport in a time of war” would send the wrong signal. Compare Bush’s “sacrifice” to those made by Americans during World War II, when most able-bodied men were drafted, food was rationed and industries were commandeered to produce military equipment. For example, there were no civilian cars manufactured in the United States from 1941 to 1945.
Iran refused again at the weekend to give a straight answer to the west’s offer of incentives in return for halting its uranium enrichment programme. But its call for a swift resumption of negotiations, and its assertion that a “new environment” conducive to progress now exists, will make it all the more difficult for Israeli and US hawks to press the alternative case for tougher sanctions or military action.
Tehran’s apparent attempt to divide western counsels while counting on Russian and Chinese sympathy at the UN looks familiar. The question of how to maintain a united front and a coherent policy is becoming a hardy perennial as the nuclear dispute drags on. The west’s next move will be discussed at this week’s G8 summit in Japan.
Sceptical western diplomats, convinced Tehran wants to build a nuclear bomb, suggest it is trying to “run out the clock” on George Bush, who leaves office next January and without whose (at least tacit) support Israel is unlikely to act. Foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s welcoming of “new voices in America”, a reference to the less bellicose Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, points in that direction. Meanwhile, diplomats believe, the nuclear programme continues apace.
Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated – according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.
The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.
The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.
Vanessa Alikhan was at a Democratic ”unity party” when she overheard another guest indignantly refute the rumor that Barack Obama is Muslim, as if it were a racial slur. She later recounted the conversation to a friend.
”She told me that this is politics and that I should just deal with it,” said Alikhan, a Fort Lauderdale graphic artist who converted to Islam about five years ago. “To me this is the same as telling an African American or a Jewish person they should deal with discrimination because people aren’t ready to embrace them as a group.”
She and other American Muslims are speaking out, as the Obama campaign pushes back on widely e-mailed and patently false claims that he is tied to Islamic terrorists. The rumor could be particularly damaging in a must-win state like Florida, which has a large Jewish population.
When a candidate calls a second news conference to say the same thing he thought he said at the first one, you know he knows he has a problem.
Thus Barack Obama’s twin news conferences last week in Fargo, N.D. At his first, Obama promised to do a “thorough assessment” of his Iraq policy in his coming visit there and “continue to gather information” to “make sure that our troops are safe and that Iraq is stable.”
You might ask: What’s wrong with that? A commander in chief willing to adjust his view to facts and realities should be a refreshing idea.
But when news reports suggested Obama was backing away from his commitment to withdrawing troops from Iraq in 16 months, Obama’s lieutenants no doubt heard echoes of those cries of “flip-flop” that rocked the 2004 Republican National Convention and proved devastating to John Kerry.
“Le style, c’est l’homme,” a Frenchman said a long time ago. If style is indeed the man, and the man is on the verge of being nominated for the presidency of the United States, it seems the moment to ask what his style might tell us about his mind and heart.
Many Americans have already decided what they think about this question. Some find in Barack Obama’s eloquence the promise that he will be a leader of insight and inspiration. Others distrust his verbal fluency and feel he is nothing more than a smooth-talking huckster. I know discerning people on both sides of the question. And, since there is no evident correlation between eloquence and executive leadership (Washington was an indifferent writer, Lincoln a great one), it may not be possible to know who’s right except in retrospect.
Even after his breakout into national prominence, Obama has remained a largely unknown politician whose air of destiny can make him seem distant and opaque. Yet, by listening closely to his language, I think we can learn something about who he really is.