Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 20:17 | SYDNEY


America democracy

Michael Lind has a refreshing essay in Prospect about three myths of American decline. He says America is not suffering a growing racial divide, it does not have a growing religious divide, and it is not in substantial economic distress. Yesterday I blogged about another long article, this one by

Why we should talk to our enemies

Speaking of Khalilzad, he was rebuked by the State Department overnight for debating the Iranian foreign minister at the Davos World Economic Forum. The US and Iran are not on speaking terms, and Khalilzad's actions were apparently a no-no. The extreme silliness of this stance reminded me of a

America in the new world order

It's good to see a publication as prominent as the New York Times publish a long, serious essay arguing the US will not be at the centre of the emerging global order. Certainly there is little indication in the way the presidential candidates discuss foreign policy that, relative to much

Email of the day: Mobile phones and civil society

Katrin Verclas from responds to my post, which pointed to an op-ed arguing that the potential to use mobile phones as a development tool was being ignored in favour of initiatives involving cheap lap-tops: We at have been tracking the use of mobile

Blogospheric gems

There's more to the political blogosphere than instant analysis of breaking events. Here are two outstanding examples of how flexible and imaginative and plain wonderful this medium can be. They both have very literal titles, so need no explanation from me: Strange Maps and A Soviet Poster a

State of the Union

It was instructive to watch President Bush's State of the Union from the offices of the US Consulate here in Sydney. The consulate's hospitality, as is so often the case with Americans, was generous and cheerful. But George Bush's America has another face, and those who attended also 

Email of the day: Mobile phones saving the world

In response to my post of last Friday on the potential for mobile phones (rather than laptops) to boost economic development in poorer countries, Erin Maulday writes: are right about the current trend towards mass SMSing in developing countries. In fact, in Australia it was this

Friday funny: Jon Stewart

The Daily Show host's 2004 commencement address to students at the College of William & Mary has become a minor classic, which you can read or listen to here. Enjoy your weekend, and for our non-Australian readers, note that blogging will be light to non-existent on Monday, which is the

Saving the world, one Nokia at a time

A presentation I gave last year on 'Blogging world politics' argued that blogs, while politically influential in the US and some other countries, were largely a rich country phenomenon, and that mobile telephony had much more potential to be a politically influential technology in the

One more reminder about the email digest

The Interpreter has an Email Digest feature (in the column to the right, just below the RSS button). Enter your email address, and you can receive a daily or weekly email that lists all the items that have been posted on The Interpreter in the previous day/week. The emails will contain the titles

Rogue trader

As if the international financial system wasn’t getting enough bad press. Now it turns out that a rogue trader has cost France’s Société Générale €4.9bn in what is being described as the ‘biggest fraud in investment bank history’.  The story of a trader going off the rails

Sovereign Wealth Funds and the WTO

One of the more intriguing aspects of the current financial turmoil has been the role played by Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs). As this Leader in the Economist points out, SWFs have been involved in a large-scale recapitalisation of Wall Street. Once upon a time, we used to think that responding

More on the Fed rate cut

The debate over whether the Fed’s emergency 75bp rate cut was a sign of panic or a sensible policy response continues. Stephen Cecchetti makes the case that, contrary to the prevailing story, the Fed was not spooked by falling stock markets. Instead, he suggests that the move may have reflected

Richard Branson is building a spaceship

Just when you think you're too jaded and cynical to be left slack-jawed by the technological wonders that surround you, along comes Sir Richard Branson to help you reclaim your innocence. I give you the first pictures of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, due to start carrying paying

NATO nuke threat leaves world aquiver

The authors of a major new report on global strategy have tainted their many good ideas by mixing them with a rotten one: the notion that the threat of first-use of nuclear weapons deserves a future. Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World is meant to be a wake-up call to a complacent

I like Ike

Steve Clemons and Matt Yglesias have each recently hit on a point about US presidential leadership – in fact any kind of national political leadership – that deserves more attention. Namely, that we tend to place higher value on leaders who prevail in a military confrontation than those who

Email of the day: A climate sceptic replies

Michael Fullilove's post got this reaction from Alex Avery: Your comments about my father’s book are lacking in any substance whatsoever. Spelling errors and perceived lack of 'authoritative feeling' aside, where is any mention of the reams of cited peer-reviewed research

The fed rate cut: Panic or plan?

So, the US Federal Reserve has responded to the recent widespread financial market turmoil with a 75 bp rate cut. The Fed’s media release cites continued deterioration in broader financial market conditions, tightening credit conditions,  a deepening of the US housing sector contraction, and

Hillary Clinton defined

A fine portrait by the New Yorker's George Packer. The piece portrays the Clinton-Obama contest as a clash between two styles of presidential leadership: Hillary thinks it is a technocratic task of mastering the machinery of government (and there are some impressive quotes from her

The Atlantic Monthly, free

Good news — The Atlantic Monthly is making all its magazine content available online for free. There is a heap of outstanding international policy-related content in this magazine each month, not to mention the web-only stuff. Two interesting asides: the New York Times reports that it is The

Climate skeptics tilting at windfarms

A few weeks ago I, along with most of my colleagues on the staff and the board of the Lowy Institute, received a complimentary copy of a book called 'Unstoppable Global Warming – Every 1,500 Years', by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery. When I arrived at work there was an enormous pile

Obama: Now or never?

In a NY Times feature piece about how the current crop of Republican candidates is trying (and failing) to assume the mantle of Ronald Reagan, author John Broder unintentionally hits on a parallel between Reagan and one of the Democratic presidential candidates: (Reagan) had become a

A reminder about the email digest

The Interpreter now has an Email Digest feature (in the column to the right, just below the RSS button). Enter your email address, and you can receive a daily or weekly email that lists all the items that have been posted on The Interpreter in the previous day/week. The emails will contain the

Black Watch

This week I saw a cracker of a play at the Sydney Festival – one with strong international policy resonances. The National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch is the latest instalment of Iraq War-related art, after Mike Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs and David Hare

Quote of the day

From Gideon Rachman's hilarious Financial Times column: Extrapolating slightly, my friend developed what you might call “the erection theory of British foreign policy”. His argument was that British government’s bias towards the “special relationship” with the US, in

Foreign policy in the US election

Mitchell Reiss, a Director of Policy Planning at the State Department under Colin Powell, was kind enough to break into his holiday today to speak on 'The presidential election and US foreign policy' to a big audience at the Lowy Institute. For a man who, according to Wikipedia, is an

Rambo story a touch overwrought?

This NY Times story about the apparent propensity of Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans to commit murder when they return home — which got a run this morning on ABC Radio National and earlier in The Age — has provoked a furious reaction in the US blogosphere, with claims it is

Climate change: Still more low-hanging fruit

Low-hanging fruit is everywhere, with the juciest in the tropical developing countries. In Jakarta, every business, small or large, and many middle-class households, have their own small electricity generator, to cope with the frequent brown-outs. If the PLN (the state-owner electricity generator

Climate change: More low-hanging fruit

Back in December I noted University of Queensland economist John Quiggin’s argument that adjusting our economies to cope with climate change need not be too painful because there is so much ‘low-hanging fruit’; that is, relatively easy ways we can reduce carbon emissions without changing our

Regarding the zombie threat

Of the video clip we posted last Friday, Andy Butfoy writes: Regarding the zombie threat: The existence of zombies is conceivable. Absence of proof is not proof of absence. The fact that the UN has not been able to eliminate the

Satellite navigation: The fifth utility

If Russian ambitions for an indigenous internet sound faintly ridiculous, don’t forget that Russia does have its own version of what has been described as the world’s ‘fifth utility’ (after water, gas, electricity and communications): a satellite navigation network. On Christmas Day Russia

The last word on intelligence agencies

With this rejoinder from Frank Ashe, I'll close down the intelligence discussion for now: Your position in the last post on intelligence is too pessimistic. Going further into questions of risk management and using the terminology of Tetlock, I'd make the following points

The $2500 car: Is this really a good idea?

One of the toughest aspects of the global environmental debate is that when rich countries insist that developing countries must curb emissions and improve standards, it looks to those developing countries like the rich want to deny the poor the opportunity to improve their lot. Which is why it is

So what are intelligence agencies really for?

My post of yesterday brought this further response from Paul Monk:  Tetlock’s study of predictive judgments demonstrated just how faulty even well-credentialed experts tend to be in their estimates. This certainly applies to intelligence analysts, and the world of secrecy within

Rejoining the intelligence debate

Reader Frank Ashe comments on a debate I started in December (with a response by Paul Monk here) about whether it is really the job of intelligence agencies to make predictions: Your reference to Tetlock is much needed for a think-tank, any member of which would be designated as one of

Bill Clinton, Secretary of the Department of Faint Praise

It looks like Hillary Clinton will lose the New Hampshire primary to Barack Obama, and she's cratering in national polls too, so she can use all the help she can get. Enter Bill: [youtube:FIhzeLlpuzI&eurl=

Dutch tall tale told no more

People seem to find it fascinating when I tell them (with a hint of pride, due to my heritage) that the Dutch are the tallest people on earth. Now my days of repeating this factoid might be coming to an end: it seems the Dutch have stopped growing, probably because Holland's advantages (

Climate change: One to bookmark

Via Foreign Policy's blog, Passport, I see that Denis Dutton, editor of the marvellous and popular Arts & Letter Daily, has developed a spin-off site devoted entirely to the climate change debate, Climate Debate Daily. It has a similar format to its parent site, with frequently updated

Give it up for Obama

The Iowa caucuses were a big deal in US politics: a black man won an important, closely-contested primary; the Clinton machine lost; the outsiders surged; the insiders bombed; and Chuck Norris took his place at a presidential election podium. Obama is the hip-hop candidate: he shoots hoops

Is Obama special?

In December I cautioned scepticism about Barack Obama:  '...the mythologising of political leadership has its dangers, none more so than when real leaders inevitably fall short, we are bound to feel badly let down.' Since his victory in the Iowa caucus, it's getting harder to resist

Two smart things I've read about Hillary Clinton today

The first comes from veteran journalist and novelist Joe Klein: The ultimate conundrum: If she were not associated with that other Clinton presidency, she would seem a fresh and exciting possibility--the first woman President, and someone far better prepared than the guys to do the job

Best wishes for the season

Blogging will be light, at best, until 7 January. I'd like to thank our readers for supporting this new blog, and wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year

Lowy staff talk about the year in books (part 7)

A month or so ago I finished the old classic and very entertaining Our Man in Havana: the foreign service (which I just left) is not as fun as it used to be. To countervail this senseless frivolity, a friend gave me the somewhat more depressing Affluenza (yes, I do question her motives). It makes

Blog editor talks about the year in blogs

Here are my favourites for the year: International relations: Passport. Initially a little light and lacking in substance, but it has grown on me, and is one model for what we are trying to achieve with The Interpreter. United States: Spoiled for choice, so I’ll pick the whole

Lowy staff talk about the year in books (part 6)

If anyone is still interested in Iraq they should read Ali Allawi’s The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace; everybody cops a spray, which is as it should be. Also, Waleed Aly’s People Like Us, an incredibly thoughtful dissection of the inanities surrounding

The Melanesia Program

In response to my post of Tuesday, Paul Cotton writes: I note from your introduction that the Institute has a 'new Melanesia programme'. The new Government has appointed a Minister for Pacific Affairs. Could not the Institute establish a Pacific programme? The previous administration only saw the

Lowy staff talk about the year in books (part 5)

As my wife is about to give birth to our second child, it would be overly optimistic for me to compile a Christmas reading list. Nevertheless, there are a good number of books on my bedside table. I recently finished William Dalrymple’s marvellous account of his travels through the ruins of

Taking Tom Clancy seriously

Further to my contribution to our books of the year series (just below), this morning on the train I spotted someone reading Red Storm Rising. Having not seen this novel in years, it brought back a flood of memories about author Tom Clancy. I would guess that tens of thouands of people with a

Lowy staff talk about the year in books (part 4)

A combination of  new parenthood and a mild addiction to blogs accounts for my lack of serious book reading this year, so my list is short. After flirting with it for several years, I finally made serious inroads into Philip Bobbit's impressive Shield of Achilles. That I didn't