Posts Tagged ‘Stirring Trouble Internationally’

Christopher Lee

January 8, 2013


Obama Wants Chuck Hagel On His Second Term Team – But Does Congress?  That’s The Big Test For The Would-be Defense Secretary And Obama Credibility

7th January 2013

President Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel, a one time soldier and then Republican senator from Nebraska to be secretary of defense.


Hagel comes from the no-prisoners school of politics and has a tough Vietnam rep’s history as his starting point.  Famously, Hagel, then Sergeant Hagel, single handedly rescued  his brother in bad shape after hitting a landmine.


As President Obama put it Monday, “More than most, Chuck understands that war is not just an abstraction.”

Hagel’s nomination completes the trio of would-be appointments of a nation at war.  He joins Obama’s special security adviser John O Brennan in line as Director CIA and Senator John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat proposed to replace Hilary Clinton at the State Department.

The three suggest a formidable security team with practical experience in the field, in the Executive and on the Hill.  Trying times are ahead as the United States begins its Afghanistan partial withdrawal, sensitive decisions over Syria and maybe Iran plus assaults from the Department of the Treasury.

Brennan and Kerry are safe choices.  Hagel is a tougher second guess. He is the one Congress will take apart during Confirmation hearings.

Republican senators in particular are wary of his views on Iran, Islamic militants and Israel – all subjects that can split Congressional views anyway.

In Washington even apparently innocent at the time long ago remarks are pulled out of the record to confront those going for the big jobs. Moreover, remarks or definitions that would not necessarily excite Georgetown diners are used as ammunition to shoot down public ambitions.

For example, Jewish support organizations suggest that he is vulnerable because he once called pro-Israel groups “the Jewish lobby.”

More politically vulnerable say the same people is Hagel’s past doubts about American sanctions on Iran. There are two issues here: what to do about Iran’s nuclear program and secondly, does a vote against sanctions reflect a lack of support for the Israelis.

Hagel appears unconcerned about Israeli sensitivities. He has also suggested the possible peace advantages of opening even backstairs talks with Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Obama team is totally aware that some in Congress stack against the Hagel nomination.  Yet it is not clear how powerful the anti-Hagel lobby has to be to stop him.  Instead he may run through a barbed wire of questioning in the hope that his present mood and view will ease concerns if not totally satisfy their holders.

The Iranian sanction issue – designed to punish Iran for going ahead with its suspected nuclear weapons programme – remains the most vulnerable area for Chuck Hagel.  It does so because he voted against them when they were debated in the Senate.

The word is that this issue in particular has been dealt with in the White House. Hagel as Secretary of Defense has no vote anywhere, but Obama would not expect him to sound off, even in private, on any subject that could embarrass the White House.  In theory, but only in theory Hagel would not frighten the Oval Office horses.

The Congressional hearings will therefore seek to “clarify” Hagel’s views on about everything. If there’s to be a quiet route to his nomination, Hagel has to clean up his act. Hagel is not by nature, an act cleaner. So Obama is taking a risk with these three men because he trusts them. In his second term with big issues such as Afghanistan, Syria and the Arab Spring plus relations with China and Russia on the table, that trust has to be well placed..

Can Obama trust Hagel.  He should know the answer to that. Hagel was one of the men who escorted Obama to Afghanistan back in 2008 in attempt to put street cred on Obama’s foreign policy ticket. It worked. It’s now up Congress to allow the double-act to get back on stage.

Christopher Lee

December 30, 2012


Time to bin the Queen’s medal tray – the system that twice honoured Sir Jimmy Savile OBE

30th December 2012

The twice a year British crap game, The Honours, has been announced.

In craps a first throw of dice showing eleven or seven wins. Odd figures but the Queen’s Honours are about as unlikely and as loaded as the real thing.

Because this New Year’s Honours and then six months on, the Queen’s Birthday Honours, is when the Queen (really the government) hands out grubby bling things like knighthoods, damehoods, varying Orders of an Empire that no longer exists and medals, crosses and Companionships to time servers and pushy public servants and celebrity figures.

This latest list leans heavily on the impressive sporting success of Team GB in the London Olympics. Great people in their fields, but why be in this list? It’s about as nonsensical as the autobiographies that have appeared about athletic heroes and heroines most of whom are barely in their 20s and have hardly a story to tell other than they won, or came close.

And don’t forget, they’ve had the highest medals of all – the Olympic medallions hanging round their collective neck. Back in the summer they were given, and rightly so, exactly what they deserved – golds at the top because they were the tops, bronze at the bottom because they weren’t even close.

With those medals came honour after honour, book deals, personal appearances, more sponsorship and none of them has to run, jump, sail or cycle ever again. Justly rewarded.

But why knighthoods and the rest?

Sir Wiggo? Doesn’t sound right. Brilliant guy. I paid full price for his book (although appallingly ghosted) and think he’s a bit of a hero. But he’s a sporting hero enough and Sir is almost insulting because what he achieved in France as well as London and what he achieved before 2012, is what he does. A tinsel dubbing turns something he worked hard for into a pantomime.

Look at the list and the big names that do not do much more than play on their names and position are unsurprisingly there. Tapped into the system through friends (or debtors) in pretty high places.

There is, or should be, among impartial observers a sense of the sickening. Could for example, anyone do anything but spit in the gutter when it is announced that Cherie Blair is given a CBE for her charity work and wimmin’s issues – whatever they are?

Her name was discredited when she scrubbed and kept house for her husband in Downing Street. Has there ever been in recent times a more unpopular wife of a Prime Minister? In the Inns of Court, her name is rarely mentioned in any flattering manner. She will probably look to be Dame Cherie and when she is, that will simply go further to discredit the whole system.

But we should not stop with Mrs Blair. It would be throat gurglingly simple to cough another goblet into another gutter with the news that a Cherie look-alike bauble and ribbon from the CBE tray has been handed to the seemingly talentless Tracy Emin – the same Tracy who cannot by any standard draw anything than a squiggle but has been created Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy.

And so it goes on. Did Margaret Becket have to be a dame? No of course not. Nice lady, but there are many as nice and many equally worthy of so much – it would simply be her term. What about the very good policeman, Bernard Hogan-Howe? He has received the handout knighthood for being commissioner of the Metropolitan Police; but might he give it back if he has to resign because of the Plod-Gate affair?

What about Dame Ursula Brennan? She was universally called a total waste of time when she was Permanent Secretary at the Defence Ministry – even her fellow MOD colleagues recognised that. It goes on like that.

Some awards have gone to worthies and it’s a little churlish to deny nice people nice things. I’m truly pleased that if there has to be a throw-up system, then the very good and worthy Wendy White has got something for netball in Wales.

And who could deny the knighthood for Quentin Blake the artist who taught so brilliantly at the Royal College as well as his body of work. Good man, good teacher, good and great in the autumn of his life. Maybe that’s it; handouts should come towards the end – for long service even for not being found out like the standard names on the list of diplomats sent from Whitehall to embassies to lie for their country. Michael and George awards came with every diplomatic bag. (Did I see Jeremy Paxman’s brother in that list? I believed I did).

Like most institutions in the United Kingdom, the New Year’s and Birthday Honours are discredited. Moreover, it is not simply a matter of sour grapes from among those overlooked. Some might also remember that this is the same system that honoured Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile OBE – twice.