Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Clare Mulley tells the extraordinary story of Krystyna Skarbek (aka Christine Granville)

In this YouTube video, award-winning author Clare Mulley tells the extraordinary story of Krystyna Skarbek (aka Christine Granville) - the first, and the longest serving, female special agent working for Britain in the Second World War. The talk was delivered as part of the Lunchtime Lectures series, - a programme of free talks that takes place at the National Army Museum in London every Thursday at 12.30pm.

I am sharing it with you because this is one of the best talks I have seen. It's just over 49 minutes long, but is absolutely gripping. Enjoy!


Friday, October 11, 2019

Trying to understand foreign policy in a Trumpian and febrile environment

To say that I find President Trump unsettling is an understatement. It's not just what he does, but how he does it.

Since coming to office, he has launched trade wars that are now dragging the global economy down. He has launched a detente with North Korea whose effect appears to have been an entrenchment of the regime without any reduction in its arms program. He has begun and then partially withdrawn from attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan whose primary effect to this point has been a strengthening of the position of the Taliban. He announced that the US would develop a new circuit breaking deal between the Israelis and Palestinians while taking steps that would seem to preclude any such deal. He withdrew the US from the deal with Iran triggering a new round of sanctions and uncertainties. Now President Trump appears to have triggered the long planned invasion by Turkey of parts of Syria designed to break the power of the Kurds.

These various moves have taken place against a backdrop of a rapidly changing international scene and have added to the pace and uncertainty associated with those changes. They have been delivered with a mixture of bluster and blandishment expressed through tweets that I sometimes feel have been composed by a lonely man sitting alone at night seeking to establish relevance and satisfaction through the artificial sugar hits that come from twitter audience and responses. Others have responded, making twitter the dominant news mechanism of this new age. Who would have thought?

Millions of words have been written analysing the man, his policies and actions. I don't have a lot to add here, especially on immediate events  I agree that his approach is transactional. I agree that he has delivered on things he promised during his election campaign. I agree that US domestic political issues including the Muller Inquiry and the impeachment moves play into his responses. To my mind, none of this matters. We just have to wait it out.

The current international scene is as uncertain as I have seen it in my life time. To a degree at least, Europe and the UK are paralysed over the UK's departure from the EU as well as political divides within the UK and EU countries. Relations with Russia are uncertain as President Putin continues to push his own agenda. Fighting continues in the Ukraine.

The Middle East can only be described as a mess with both Syria and Yemen humanitarian disasters. Further west, war continues in Afghanistan, while the sub-continent is tense following Indian actions in Kashmir. China continues its expansion despite US trade actions, has become more authoritarian, is dealing with internal ethnic tensions and faces problems in Hong Kong and potentially Taiwan. South Korea and Japan, two key US allies, are at each other's throats.

Without going further, this simple list indicates the scale of global problems and uncertainties. Within this mix, President Trump has become a random wild card. As I said earlier, it's not just what he does, but also the way he does it.

I suppose that I could make guesses as to what might happen, but with so many cards in play it's perhaps better to wait on events, It must be creating nightmares for the planners and policy advisers in Canberra and other capitals.

From an Australian perspective, this is a time for caution. It is not clear to me that Australian Prime Minister Morrison is capable of exercising the caution and subtlety required to work through the shoal waters we face. I don't have a really solid evidence base to support this conclusion. It is based on his US trip, on his attacks on globalism, his arguments for the reshaping of the trade order, some of his responses to China.

To a degree, the Government seems locked in a time warp still driven by concepts such as the "war on terror", the need to propitiate and manage hard right ideas within the Liberal Party as well as sometimes xenophobic fears within the Australian community driven in part by the Government's own previous rhetoric, fears shared by those on the left as well as the right.

Managing all this requires a clear articulation based on a combination of principles and pragmatism, as well as the capacity not to say things, something that is very hard in Australia's sometimes febrile    political and media environment. It's not easy.

Postscript 13 October

In  a comment kvd wrote:
"Judges 15:16
Twitter is Trump's "jawbone" - in more than one way."
You will find the reference here. I had to laugh.

The BBC's Anthony Zurcher had a useful summary of the apparent confusion of the US position on the Kurds and Rurkey over the last week. Mr Trump's suggestion that he might mediate struck me (and I suspect the Turkish President) as very odd. Meantime, the roller-coaster continues with President Trump proclaiming that a phase one deal had been agreed with China on the trade war. We will have to wait and see what this actually means.