Somali good enough


Very keen to read Andrew Harding’s new book on Somalia, The Mayor of Mogadishu. There’s a fine review in The New York Times which finishes with some lines about the moral complexity of dealing with Somalia (much like other failed states)…

As Harding’s fine book makes clear, morally compromised figures like Nur may be the best one can hope for in a country desperately short of heroes.

Is this the best one can hope for? Isn’t this is the same philosophy that delivered Mogadishu to the warlords, with suitcases of dollars and the sense that this was the least worst option?

I go backwards and forwards on this. I don’t know what the answer is. There’s a danger that this is patronising nonsense, bordering on racism. Or maybe it is healthy realism – “Somali good enough”, to adapt the saying from Afghanistan – when the alternative is paralysing naivety.

NYTimes: Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Its Store in China

Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Its Store in China

This is one of the many reasons why I avoid Apple. The company’s central control may keep software and hardware in sync, giving a more reliable product often, but it means it has too much power over what users can use. See also the drone strike monitoring app

On typos and errrors of ignorance

Much hilarity at Donald Trump’s tweet this morning (since deleted and replaced)…

Followed by analysis and what it might mean in terms of a president-elect tweeting without any sort of oversight by comms team etc who might have been able to weed out a “typo”.

Except of course it is not a typographical error, a mistake resulting from the printing process and typesetting, or (in its more modern usage) the slip of a finger.

Trump made an error of ignorance. He doesn’t know how to spell “unprecedented”. A typo would have meant he typed it with a letter missing, or a pair of letters transposed or some variation on the correct spelling, perhaps the result of typing on a small screen or a momentary brain freeze. In fact he has guessed at some approximation of the spelling.

That is a spelling mistake not a typo.

Or is there a deeper meaning from a man who perhaps never expected to become president, who knows he won without winning the popular vote and who might very well already be worrying about impeachment.






Something must be done in Syria. But what?

I wrote this in September 2011, as the Libyan regime of Col Gaddafi collapsed, and calls for intervention in Syria began. At the time, the interventionists were on a high. But the conditions that made action in Libya attractive were very different to the conditions in Syria, for reasons I bullet-pointed…. (I have no link as the Telegraph blogs have disappeared)

• So far, with forces already at full stretch and committed to Afghanistan and (for now) Libya, there’s not much energy, cash or equipment left in the tank for another war

• The Syrian opposition has been adamant that they want to do it themselves. They don’t want outside help

• Intervention in Syria would be messy too. Hizbollah, Iran, Turkey and Israel would be just some of the actors brought into play. Libya’s conflict has been very much contained within its borders partly because Colonel Gaddafi had managed to alienate many would-be allies

• The Syrian opposition is nothing like as united as Libya’s National Transitional Council. Sunnis, Shias, Christians, communists all have a different idea about how to do things. Working with them would be a nightmare

• The Libyans had Benghazi and the east, with its border crossing to Egypt, in which to organise. The Syrian opposition has no such haven, which could be protected by Nato or used by special forces and visiting diplomats

With Aleppo now falling to Syrian government forces, the calls for intervention have begun again. Something must be done. And the bloodshed – and the fear of worse to come – is horrifying.

But what can be done? The mess was too complex in 2011, as I wrote then, and it has only become messier.

When British MPs voted against joining action against Bashar al-Assad in 2013 they did it for the very worst reason – to make amends for what happened in Iraq. Their motives were misguided. They weren’t discussing what was best for Syria. But it seemed to me at the time it was the right decision, ensuring that we did not contribute to making things worse.

And the same is true now. No fly zones, no bomb zones, humanitarian corridors all represent an escalation of the conflict. They must be policed and defended. To do that requires a commitment to bombing the Syrian regime, its air defences and military installations and raises the risk of a clash with Russia.

Something must be done. But what?

Steve Coll on Rex Tillerson

So Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil chief executive, has finally been announced as Donald Trump’s nomination for Secretary of State. It feels a very “Trumpian” pick – a business giant known for his deal making but with no political experience – and he will blend easily into a cabinet of billionaires and generals.

Steve Coll, who has written what sounds an absorbing account of ExxonMobil, has this to say about him on The New Yorker website

In public appearances, he comes across as sophisticated, yet his life is rooted in environments that are fundamentally nostalgic for imagined midcentury virtues and for the days when burning fossil fuels did not threaten to trigger catastrophic climate change. Tillerson once listed his favorite book as “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel that has become a touchstone for libertarians and promoters of unbridled capitalism. Compared to the records of some of the other people around Trump, Tillerson’s is at least one of professional integrity; Exxon is a ruthless and unusually aggressive corporation, but it is also rule-bound, has built up a relatively strong safety record, and has avoided problems such as prosecutions under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, even though it operates in many countries that are rife with corruption.

As well as a nice line on ExxonMobil’s foreign policy often being more important than the State Department’s…

Is this the alt-right?

This is small-town America in December 2016. Tinsel Christmas trees and golden stars hang from lampposts along Main Street in downtown Roxboro, North Carolina (population 8,632, according to the 2010 census).

Its short parade of shops are mostly shut. The street is deserted, apart from two car repossession men watching a parked SUV for its owner to return.

Then it happens.

A pickup turns left into the street, followed by 30 more vehicles in a parade of honking horns. It’s hard to tell exactly how many people are in the cars. Some fly the Southern Cross — once a symbol of the Confederacy during the Civil War; today seen by many as a badge of the racist right. Other flags are labeled with a white cross on a red background, a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan.

As they pass, two men in black shirts lean from their windows and extend an arm into the air, raising their palms in a Nazi salute.

You can read the rest of my CNN piece here

Will America follow suit?


The finger pointers began coming to Trump Tower in 2004. Donald Trump was making the transition from property mogul to TV celebrity in The Apprentice, and fans would head to his iconic skyscraper on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. There they would point an index finger at the 58-storey tower (where the top floor is labelled 68) and shout his catchphrase, ‘You’re fired.’

Well, the fingers are still raised. Just not the index finger and with a rather different sentiment.