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Writing Worth Reading

Gaza And The Nuclear Negotiations

The Gaza conflict reduces the chances of a successful deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons. The US and, to a large extent, Iran, have sought to compartmentalise the nuclear negotiations, keeping other regional and strategic issues off the table. But crises such as the one in Gaza will affect the calculations of all parties in the Iran negotiations, and also of those, notably Israel, which have a stake in the outcome (Metered) (1,140 words)

Collateral Damage From Punishing Russia

Economic forecasters have a hard time incorporating shocks into models. Which may explain why official forecasts seem so sanguine about Western sanctions against Russia: they are “a decimal point disturbance”. But if the EU bans investment in Russian financial assets, the effect could be profound. “Just as finance acted as a growth accelerator before the economic crisis, financial sanctions could act as decelerator” (Metered) (870 words)

Wild Speculation On Hamas And Its Rocketry

Rockets are a very inefficient way of killing people, especially when they don’t have effective guidance mechanisms. But rockets can have a powerful disruptive effect: which is why Hamas uses them, and why it has concentrated, at least until now, on range rather than accuracy. “Siege is a fundamentally economic form of warfare; the Israelis are besieging Gaza, and the Gazans are trying to impose a counter-siege” (1,480 words)

Russia Is Pregnant With Ukraine Pick of the day

Magnificent satire from Russia’s greatest modern novelist. Worthy of Blake or Gogol. “During that hot month, sitting in front of an overheated television set, Russia conceived. A new life stirred in her enormous womb: Free Ukraine. The authorities were horrified, the liberals were jealous, and the nationalists were filled with hatred. Neither the Kremlin nor the people had anticipated such a rapid development of events” (1,120 words)

Israel: What’s Different This Time

The assault on Gaza overshadows another event in Israel — Shimon Peres steps down as president. Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin; but his vision then of “a Palestinian state next to an Israeli one, open borders and regional economic cooperation”, seems today “like a tasteless joke”. The Israeli centre is shifting towards “hyper-nationalism”. Peres’s liberalism is dead (1,600 words)

The EU And An Independent Scotland

Claims that an independent Scotland could remain in the EU are “driven more by advocacy than analysis”. There is “neither precedent nor treaty provision” for a member-state to split and for both parts to stay in. In any event, the question would take time to resolve. The priority for Edinburgh should be agreeing transitional arrangements to maintain EU status for Scottish citizens in any hiatus between leaving the UK and joining the EU (1,850 words)

Obsessing About Gaza, Ignoring Syria

Far more people are being killed, day by day, in the Syrian civil war, than in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Yet the attention of the West is focused massively on Israel and Palestine, scarcely at all on Syria. “What happens in Syria should be of first-order interest to the US media. But it is clearly not.” The answer may be that “Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs” (1,520 words)

What Is Wrong With The Grand Nation?

Spiegel travels the route of the Tour de France, talks to locals, and asks, de haut en bas: Why is France doing so much worse than Germany in every way? One common rationale: It’s the foreigners. “We still have values here in the village”. “Why don’t the football players sing the national anthem?” Le Point says: “France under François Hollande is like Cuba, only without the sun but with the extreme right.” (4,900 words)

Why Do Palestinians Support Hamas?

“The demand that the people of Gaza protest against Hamas, often heard in Israel today, is absurd. Israelis themselves hate protests in times of war. They expect the Palestinians to conduct a civil uprising under fire. The people of Gaza support Hamas in its war against Israel because they perceive it to be part of their war of independence. Many would gladly see Hamas fall, but not at this moment” (1,250 words)

Writers Or Missionaries?

On reporting the Middle East. Journalists are quick to advocate solutions, before they are even close to understanding the problems. They should watch, learn, describe — not preach. But any writer is limited by her own conceptual framework and that of her readers: “The Palestinians are important to the West because, through their oppression by Israeli Jews, they have become characters in a Western narrative” (8,400 words)

Getting By Without Russia Pick of the day

Russia has a big history. It has gas and nukes. It looks big on the map, but its size is exaggerated by Mercator projections, and it doesn’t have a lot to offer in any other respect. Its neighbours are not mere “props and brackets for its weight”. Could the world manage without Russia? Yes, and so it should while Russia is in the hands of Vladimir Putin — “the privatisation of a beautiful old prison by one of its former jailers” (777 words)

The End Of Russia’s Fairy Tale

The MH-17 tragedy was the product of bad and reckless government in Russia, much as the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 was the product of a bad and reckless government in Libya. After Lockerbie the West joined ranks, isolated the Libyan regime, and forced change upon it. Does the West have the resolve to do the same to Russia? Or will we go on pretending, even now, that Ukraine is a local problem? (Metered) (819 words)

After The Crash

Commentary on the crisis in Ukraine, with remarks from former Kremlin spin-doctor Gleb Pavlovsky, who thinks Putin has gone too far: “The audience is warmed up and ready to go. It is waiting for more and more conflict. You can’t just say, ‘Calm down’. It’s a dangerous moment. Forty per cent of Russia wants real war with Ukraine. Putin himself doesn’t want war with Ukraine. Putin needs to lower the temperature” (1,110 words)

Diary: Life In Aleppo

Bombs by night; four hours of electricity per day; danger on all sides. “I put on a hijab (not something I wore before the war) and a loose knee-length sweater. As well as being dressed conservatively, I have to make sure I have a male ‘guardian’ with me. This area of Aleppo has always been conservative, but before the war visitors could wear what they wanted. That is no longer the case now the social tradition is armed” (1,260 words)

Anglo-Scottish Union Belongs To The Past

The Union may have been “glorious” in the Victorian age; but that is hardly an argument for maintaining it now. 18C Scotland traded its independence for prosperity and security; that bargain no longer obtains. Rather, the reverse. Only full independence can safeguard modern Scotland against “barbaric neoliberalism” in Britain, and from being dragged out of the European Union by “groundless English panic” (1,140 words)

Germany’s Choice: America Or Russia?

Germans divide evenly in their sympathies for Russia and America. After the Bush presidency and the Snowden revelations, America is “an erstwhile friend whom many now see as sinister”. German distrust of Russia has grown with the Ukraine crisis, but Germany is “grateful for unification”, cannot imagine ever going to war with Russia again, and sees Russia as a primary focus of German foreign policy (4,630 words)

Ukraine And Great-Power Rivalry

Useful backgrounder on the Ukraine crisis from a Russian (but not a Kremlin) perspective. Key points: Relations between Russia and the West have changed fundamentally for the worse. Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are the “new battleground” for influence. Russia has pivoted towards China. Poland has pivoted against Russia. Russia’s defiance of America has won it new credibility in the Middle East (11,800 words)

World Cup Boom And Bust

Notes from Manaus, Brazil, where one-quarter of houses have no running water and nine-tenths have no mains sewerage. When the river floods, residents “find alligators or snakes swimming in their living rooms”. The 19C opera house, product of a short-lived rubber boom, inspired a Herzog film; but it pales as a folly beside the $350 million, 40,000-seat football stadium built for the World Cup (1,350 words)

If Scotland Goes

Most English are “only just waking up” to the idea that the United Kingdom might “go poof” if Scotland votes for independence in September. Then what? “The Irish question would be reopened, as Northern Ireland’s status began to look increasingly anomalous”. England would need a new base for its nuclear submarines. But if Britain could absorb the loss of America in 1776, it can absorb the loss of Scotland in 2014 (2,880 words)

Abe’s Long March

Japan’s government plans to “reinterpret” the postwar constitution to allow Japan to intervene militarily on behalf of allies; a momentous change without even a parliamentary vote; in keeping with prime minister Shinzo Abe’s nationalist agenda. It’s hard to say which prospect will please China less: A Japan defended by America, or a Japan with its own nuclear weapons and an independent foreign policy (900 words)

Pacifist Japan Inches Towards Normal

Japan’s post-war policy of non-militarism is ending. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has formed a national security council, enacted a secrecy bill, eased arms exports. China’s “growing power and assertiveness” has prompted the change. Japan is becoming a more normal country; all other big countries equip themselves for war. But it’s worrying that the change is happening without much public debate (Metered) (950 words)

A British Identity

Support for Scottish independence has stabilised at around 40%. That may not be enough to win September’s referendum; but it is more that enough to ensure that Scottish separatism will continue to destabilise British politics, whatever the outcome of this vote. Anti-independence campaigners have failed to explain persuasively to Scottish voters what it means to be British; perhaps because there is no good answer (720 words)

Agent Storm

Morten Storm is “a former biker turned European militant Islamist blowhard, turned Al-Qaeda associate close to some of the most senior operational extremists in the world, turned spy, turned whistleblower”; and now the author of a memoir, My Life Inside Al-Qaeda, in which he recounts befriending and betraying Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Anwar al-Awlaki, slipping him a flash drive which allowed the CIA to find and kill him (1,300 words)

Ukraine’s Secret Weapon: A Feisty Oligarch

Interview with dodgy-sounding Ukrainian banking tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky, newly appointed as a provincial governor (though he lives mainly in Switzerland), who is spending $10 million a month of his own money to equip militias for suppressing pro-Russian separatists. His province, Dnipropetrovsk, boasts 2,000 “battle-ready” troops. He wants to build a 1,200 mile electrified fence between Ukraine and Russia (2,000 words)

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