Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Change of address

I'm moving!
Daughter Pauline has created a new blog site for me so all new thoughts, articles and news will be added to that.

Blimey Guv'nor, me a dot com. Hope I don't burst. All the articles on this site will be on the new one so I hope you take a look. Don't forget to change your bookmark.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Syria. Why no intervention by NATO?

It’s all the fault of the former colonial power (for once not the UK)
Why is Turkey getting involved in all this?
You can understand Russia’s position, but the Chinese stance?

Before a taking a look at what’s behind the current mess in Syria, take a quick look at these links.
Confused by conflicting advice on salt intake? If you aren’t then maybe you should be.

You’ve all read of the Muslim Brotherhood, now read about them.

The Alawites rule Syria. Who are they exactly?

Officially, the Alawite sect is Shia Muslim, well sort of. Oh dear, getting complicated already. Shia and Sunni Islam parted ways over who was to succeed Muhammad as the leading figure in Islam. The Alawites take the Shia view on this, which naturally makes them unpopular in certain quarters, particularly the seventy-four percent of the Syrian population who are in fact Sunnis. Now don’t run away with the idea that this means the Alawites make up some twenty-six percent of the Syrian population. Estimates vary slightly, but it’s probably safe to say that thirteen to fifteen percent of the Syrian population is Shia, most of whom are Alawite. So let’s pull a figure out of thin air, because everybody else seems to, and state categorically that maybe twelve to fourteen percent of the Syrian population are Alawite. ‘Maybe’ is being categorical? As good as you’re going to get here, or anywhere else come to that. Even that font of knowledge, the CIA World Handbook isn’t too sure about it.

 Allow me to put this in some sort of perspective. Syria is a sort of secular-Muslim country, ruled over by a sect that constitutes perhaps twelve percent of the population. Ten percent of the population of Syria are Christians of one sort or another, so perhaps it’s only an accident that Syria isn’t a Secular- Muslim country ruled by Christians. Now that would have upset several apple-carts, wouldn’t it. The ultimate victory of Richard Coeur de Lion, and Salah ad-Din (Saladin) spinning in his grave.

Before moving on, let me just say that the Alawites have other differences from the Shia branch of Islam. They believe that Ali, Mohamed’s son in law was a divine figure, which puts them totally beyond the pale as far as the Sunni are concerned and a bit suspect in Shia eyes. They also embrace the Seven Pillars of Islam. All the rest make do with Five Pillars. Alawites also celebrate some Christian and Zoroastrian festivals, include Socrates and Plato amongst their list of prophets and believe in transmigration of souls. Naughty people come back as dogs or pigs, but righteous people return with ‘more perfect bodies’. Interesting thought, maybe if I’m good I could come back as Bo Derek and I’d never have to worry about having a date on Saturday nights again.

So moving on, how come the Alawites rule Syria? It’s all the fault of the former colonial power you see. France. This as I said makes a change from it being the fault of the British. After the First World War, in an attempt at exporting Equalité, possibly Fraternité but not Liberté, the French authorities decided that the minorities in Syrian society should be encouraged to enter some form of Government Service. The Alawites came from a mainly rural background, so they were deemed suitable canon fodder and rather than having to educate them and put them in the civil service, the Alawites were encouraged to join the army. Go forward to the revolution in the seventies when Bashar’s Dad Hafez seized power and most of the army were Alawite. Today, those who aren’t Alawite are so closely identified with the Assad regime that they might as well be, they’ll probably all be swinging from adjacent lampposts in the near future. Or will they?

Why does Russia support the Assad Regime?

Good question. On the face of it, you’d have to say they were backing a losing horse. They did of course support Pa Hafez, but the Russians aren’t known for their sentimentality in foreign policy.

Russian exports to Syria were worth $1.1 billion in 2010 and its investments in the country were valued at $19.4 billion in 2009 according to The Moscow Times.

Since the start of the so-called Arab Spring Russia has been losing client states and old friends at an alarming rate, but there is more to it than bidding a tearful farewell to aging dictators. The first question of course is how is Syria paying for Russian weaponry and whatever else the Russians succeed in flogging them?

Well here’s a clue. You see, at the collapse of the Soviet Union, Syria owed the unlamented communist state some US$13.4 billion. If they thought that they were off the hook because the Soviet Union no longer existed, the ‘new’ Russian regime soon disabused them of that foolish notion.   They generously ‘retired’ US$9.8 billion of the Syrian debt, provided Syria agreed to buy it’s arms from them. Not a difficult decision, everybody else had the quaint notion that you actually sold arms. Sold as in received payment in return. The Russians were playing a longer game, as so frequently is the case.

The French might have given ‘easy terms’, but as the former colonial power, they were a bit out of favour and in any case, Syrian relations with the West have always been a bit problematic. Following Syrian support for the Americans in Gulf-War One, it would be reasonable to assume that the Americans would have ‘sold’ them arms. There was a problem of course. Syria was (and is) still ‘officially’ at war with Israel, so any American arms sales would have been counter to Israeli interests. I’m sure the idea was floated that if Syria agreed a peace deal with Israel then the weapons would have been forthcoming. At that time, Israel might have been amenable to doing a deal over the Golan Heights so perhaps you are wondering why it never happened. Well, wonder no more. The majority of Syrians are Sunnis. The majority of the Palestinians are Sunnis. Old man Hafez Assad was an Alawite who in the nineteen eighties massacred some tens of thousand of Sunni Syrians. Nah, he wanted arms with no strings attached. He didn’t get that of course, at least not as it turned out. Additionally, America can turn a bit sensitive if it’s military hardware is used against civilians. Unless it’s them using it against terrorists and their associates, in which case it’s OK. Provided nobody knows much about it.

Tartus. A Syrian port on the Mediterranean which since the early nineteen seventies has been a Soviet, now Russian, naval base. Recent talks between Syria and Russia have centred on expanding Tartus so that it can now take the largest Russian navy ships. In fact, Assad Junior agreed to Tartus becoming a permanent base for Russian nuclear-armed ships. Handy if you are a bit miffed at the American ICBM shield in Europe and want to make a point. The point being that you’ve got a credible naval presence in the Mediterranean, which might come in useful in all sorts of scenarios, including one where the Americans redeploy most of their ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific to counter, or not of course, a growing Chinese naval presence.

It’s worth noting that in the seventies, arms exports to Syria accounted for ninety percent of Soviet military-related exports. Fairly recently, Russia lost out to the tune of US$4 billion in arms exports to Gaddafi. Currently, existing contracts with Syria are worth US$1.5 billion, or around ten percent of their annual exports, so one can understand why Russia is not keen to support any UN-inspired arms embargo on Syria. Of course, if Assad falls there is no guarantee that the new regime would continue to buy arms from Russia or allow them access to Tartus. More on that shortly.

I haven’t mentioned oil. Syria has some of course, but not all that much, so there is still a question of how they are paying for all the Russian equipment. A warm-water seaport has been a Russian dream of several centuries and in Tartus, on paper at least, they’ve hit the jackpot. I wonder what that’s worth?

                        Chinese Involvement

There is trade between China and Syria. China exports US$2.2 billions worth of goods and chattels to Syria and Syria exports US$5.6 millions worth of something to China. Yes, you did read that correctly, US$5.6 MILLION, or a bit less than one percent of the entire trade between the two countries. China is of course interested in what oil Syria has and is involved in developing new fields and extending the life of old ones. Why are they doing this? Well China feels the need to safeguard the supply of oil as much as it can and from wherever it can. The Chinese economy has to keep expanding at about ten percent per year to keep up with population growth and to avoid ‘trouble at mill’, as they say in Yorkshire. The Chinese economy is contracting of course, or at least not expanding at the required rate so there already is ‘trouble at mill’. Not to forget that there is still not a lot of love lost between China and Russia, so if Assad falls China may be well placed to step into the breach when the new Syrian regime slings the Russians out. It could also be that China just wants to give America ‘the bird’, and by not supporting UN resolutions aimed at the Assad regime, they can do this, causing the maximum annoyance with the minimum of effort. There might also be an element of one repressive regime supporting another.

               Where angels fear to tread?

So why isn’t America taking a stronger line? Is it merely wanting to get a UN resolution first and get Russia and China ‘on board’, or is there something else.

Much has been made of this being an election year in the States and as I pointed out in a previous article a second Obama term is not a given. Is this a case of wanting to ‘pussy-foot’ around until after the November election, or is it a case of keeping your powder dry for a confrontation with Iran. Certainly with economic conditions looking a bit ‘iffy’ on the home front, Obama might well be tempted to put on his sincerest face, look straight into the camera and announce that with a heavy heart America must once again take up arms in the altruistic pursuit of others freedom. This would boost the American economy and possibly make everybody feel a bit easier about re-electing him. With World opinion, with the exception of China and Russia, demanding that ‘something be done’ about Syria, this might appear to be a popular option on all fronts. So, why hasn’t it been done? After all, Russia has begun to make noises about relations between countries surviving a change in leadership, which if you were Assad might worry you somewhat. It hasn’t been done because it’s of what might come after the fall of Assad, and I don’t mean the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and yet another Islamist Government. America might well think that Sunni Islamists would have nothing to do with Shia Iran, and they could well be correct so the fall of Assad could be a poke in the eye for Iran, which might calm them down a bit. No, the clue comes in what happened when a Kurdish delegation went to Washington.

The Syrian Kurds didn’t get the reception they were hoping for. The US State department met them, but they were told to seek an understanding with the ‘Official Syrian opposition’. Shades of the French there, eh? We must be inclusive. America would not support a purely Kurdish opposition to Assad, but they would be sympathetic to Kurdish aspirations if they threw in their lot with the rest of the opposition. In other words, America wouldn’t entertain any sort of autonomous Kurdish region in Syria. Possibly because they have an idea what Assad’s fallback position might be. Possibly they don’t, that might not be unusual, but it is becoming if not clearer then at least a little less obscured.

                            Assad’s Game

Why does it appear as though Syrian government forces are trying to cleanse a coastal strip from the Turkish to the Lebanese border? Cleanse of non-Alawites that is. The fact that it’s going on not immediately obvious given the general mayhem in Syria right now, and I’m indebted to a Turkish journalist, Abdullah Bozkurt, who wrote a column in ‘Todays Zaman’, presenting a Turkish view of the situation. He raises some interesting points, some of which tie in with my previous comments concerning a Kurdish State.

 You’re just going to have to wait a couple of days for me to join up a few of the dots. Sorry and all that.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Nato to overthrow Assad of Syria?

                         An unfinished revolution in Egypt, civil war in Syria and Iran seeking  WMD

Around the Right-Wing, Neo-Con world, the cry arises ‘why doesn’t somebody do something about the situation in Syria?’ By ‘somebody’, people have President Obama in mind even if they usually refer to America.

Start by taking a cool look at the latest events in Egypt. There was a leader-less revolution, a popular uprising against Mubarak. Once the protests started and the regime began to lose its grip on power, the previously banned Islamist parties stepped into the developing power vacuum. Due to their being organised, they won the election for the legislative body. Now however, as the reality of what they have voted for begins to sink in, the Egyptians have not voted en mass for an Islamist president. The people who started the revolution are still not politically organised, and are disappointed with the choices they have in the run-off presidential elections. In the meantime former president Mubarak has been sentenced to life imprisonment for causing the deaths of protestors, but the military commanders who carried out his orders have been acquitted. The Military of course are currently running the country so perhaps no surprises there. These verdicts have predictably brought protests from those who are staunchly anti-Mubarak and anti-military. There are fresh crowds in Tahir Square. It would be a mistake to think that they are all there because of the court verdicts. Some will be there because ‘their’ revolution has been hijacked, and gathering in Tahir Square is the only form of protest they can make. They are still not organised, nor do they have a defined leader, whereas the Islamists and the Military are organised and have leaders.

Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, the last Prime Minister under former President Mubarak and widely seen as 'the army's candidate', has accused his Islamist rival, Mohammed Mursi, of wanting to create a sectarian state. Shafiq has accused Mursi of intimidating Coptic Christians and of wanting to repress women. Mursi has pooh-poohed this, saying that if elected he would resign from the Muslim Brotherhood and that there is no intention to force Egyptian women to take to the veil. Pull the other one Mohammed, that’s like saying the present Pope, who before he became Pope and was merely Cardinal Ratzinger the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the historical Inquisition, on becoming Pope resigned from the Inquisition and no longer supports anything that he was previously charged with upholding. I’m not quite sure how wanting to introduce Sharia Law squares with not expecting women to dress ‘modestly’, i.e. wear a veil in public and Mursi has not as yet explained. There will be some Egyptians who are thinking that this is not why they overthrew Mubarak. Some of these people will be in Tahiti Square but most will not. At least they won’t be until those calling for Mubarak’s retrial and wanting the death penalty have found something else to occupy them and left, then a new demonstration will most likely start.

 In Egypt, America supported the idea of democracy but was castigated in some quarters for abandoning long-term ally Mubarak. Bugger democracy, the Neo-Cons wanted at all costs a non-Islamist government. Didn’t America realise, so the argument went, what would happen if Mubarak was overthrown? One wonders what these pundits think America was supposed to have done? By America of course, they mean Obama. By the Right’s reckoning, somehow or other America should have engineered a transfer of power from Mubarak to a representative government that would maintain the status quo vis a vis Israel, have popular support and keep the Muslim brotherhood in check. A great trick if you can pull it off, but pretty much impossible in reality. All America could do was to be seen to support democracy, hold their nose and deal with whatever government was elected, hoping to influence them after the dust had settled. The Right blames Obama for throwing an ally to the wolves and thus, amongst other things, showing America as an unreliable friend. This is a view shared by staunch democrats and now nervous friends such as Abdullah of Jordan, the House of Saud and probably most of the other Gulf rulers. Interesting bed-mates, assuming you think the Right is actually interested in democratic democracy.

What should Obama have done? To try to influence events on the ground was clearly a non-starter, so should America have done something behind the scenes? The problem with this train of thought is exactly who do you exert pressure on and to what end? Obama did put pressure on the Egyptian Military to ensure that elections took place, to abide by the results and hand over power once a president was elected and a constitution approved. What more should he have been done? Nothing, frankly. Anymore would have been seen as meddling in Egyptian internal politics, which would have been the kiss of death for any candidates that America supported.

Teddy Roosevelt's advice to ‘speak quietly and carry a big stick’ is apt here. Once there is a functioning government in Egypt, that will be the time to try to influence events. Obama certainly has spoken quietly and in the form of financial aid, he has a big stick. The question is, will he use it if is in America’s interests that he do so? The Right of course say ‘no’. Their view of Obama is that he is anti-American, anti-Israel and pro Islam. How can an American president be anti-American? Simple, he doesn’t put his country’s interests first, according to his detractors. By that, they mean he doesn’t put what they view as America’s interests first.

Anti-Israel and pro Islam? The Right will point to the fact that Obama has encouraged the formation of an Islamist Government in Egypt, has not criticised the Turkish Government for it’s anti-Israel stance and it’s meddling in Syrian internal affairs, has encouraged the nascent Syrian opposition to include Islamist elements and has not acted fast enough over the Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. They will assert that Obama has pressured Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians whilst not applying pressure the other way. All American aid to Israel, in whatever form it takes, is merely a continuation of what was agreed by previous administrations and Obama has watered it down where he can. That he has been largely unsuccessful they say is due to Democrats’ support for Israel which even a Democrat President cannot ignore.

An unpopular but more charitable and in my view correct assessment of Obama is that he has tried a different approach to Middle East diplomacy, but  that approach has been overtaken by events on the ground. The question now is does he realise this and will he be ideologically capable of changing direction, always assuming that he is re-elected.

You might recall that Syrian President Bashar Assad is quite happily massacring his own people, ignoring UN resolutions and clinging on to power long past the time when most pundits had assumed he would be found cowering in the sewer pipe of history. How can this be? Why has America, fresh from the successful installation of a democratic government in Libya, not bombed the living daylights out of Syrian Government Forces in support of the Opposition? Why did they not either force a resolution through the UN or ignore the UN and act earlier?

To answer that is actually quite simple. It’s a two- part answer, and in part one I’m going to examine some arguments put forward by politicians and journalists of a right-wing persuasion as examples of typical muddled thinking. These arguments have appeared in various op-ed pieces around the World, but without naming names, they regularly feature in the Jerusalem Post. Israel is right next door, so the situation in Syria is of particular immediate interest to them.

The argument goes that NATO/America/ UN/the West, take your pick, missed an opportunity months ago to take decisive military action against the Assad regime and thus establish some sort of democratic government that would in some way or other be beholden to whoever had helped them and might not be Islamist in nature. Think of the tens of thousands already killed and others who may yet be killed when a civil war breaks out. All this could have been avoided if America/NATO et al had only acted.

There are two immediate problems here. For many months, there was civil unrest but no organised opposition, no ‘leaders of the revolution’, a lot like the situation in Egypt, where their revolution is about to enter it’s second phase. So exactly who should America support in Syria, ‘the people’? What happens after they bomb Syrian Government Forces? What do ‘the people’ do then? Where does the idea that American intervention would have ensured a western-orientated or at least western-sympathetic government come from? What evidence is there to support this notion? None, in a word.

Perhaps I should define ‘the Right’, or at least what I mean by it. I don’t mean those who are ‘conservative’ in their politics. I do mean those who believe that the interests of America and her allies are best served by deploying troops to foreign lands and imposing a political system, social norms and vaguely Judeo-Christian concepts of justice, law and order on an unwilling population, largely unfamiliar with what is being imposed on them. It took the West five hundred years to establish what we today consider as democracy, it’s not something that you can simply graft onto a new vine and expect it to flourish in five minutes.

Does any of this mean you shouldn’t defend your own values and hard-won freedoms? No, of course not, quite the opposite in fact. Having respect for other peoples’ way of life and religious beliefs doesn’t mean rolling over and playing dead. Sometimes you’re going to have to fight for what you believe in. Sometimes you’re going to have to insist that migrants coming to your country have to accept your laws and your way of life or don’t come. But sometimes you’re going to have to accept that others’ have different concepts of justice and freedom. Now I happen to believe that in ‘The West’, and you could substitute ‘democracies’ if you’re more comfortable with that word, we’ve pretty much got it right and particularly totalitarian Islamic countries have got it wrong, but I believe in leading by example, not by hitting them over the head. At least, not as a first option. If you are genuinely threatened then you have to respond, but not necessarily by invasion.

In Libya NATO intervened but by and large restricted themselves to support from the air. The result was that the campaign to overthrow Gaddafi took longer than it might have done, but the fact that ‘foreign boots’ didn’t overtly touch Libyan soil doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the political landscape. The country is in a mess, and human rights abuses continued to take place after the fighting was over. What finally emerges is yet to be clear, but it shows no sign of being particularly fond of the West or being more democratic than tribal in nature. At least, for the moment, Libya remains one country, despite an attempt at regionalisation. Not perhaps a stunning success, but as yet not a failure. The cynical would say give it time and it will be. I would say think of the five hundred year flowering of democracy in Europe, then dramatically shorten that timescale because of instant communications, mass media and social media. Don’t over-estimate the impact of facebook and twitter, but equally don’t dismiss them out of hand as the playthings of a bored, decaying Western culture.

 America and her allies went crashing into Iraq and failed to impose a government particularly grateful or well disposed towards the West. In fact, it’ll be something of a miracle if the country holds together as a single entity, and there’s one clue as to why nothing has been done in Syria. Iraq really can’t be portrayed as an example of successful military intervention and America, in the quiet of the night, realises it. If you are going to send in the troops, you have to buy into the concept of nation building, with all that entails in terms of economic burden and time. A strong case can be made for nation building in some circumstances, but there is no ‘half-way house’. It’s all or nothing.

The evidence seems to point to the fact that American/NATO intervention may staunch short-term bloodshed but doesn’t result in a government that is well-disposed towards the West, or at least anti-Islamist, Islamists being the big bogey-men of the Right just at the moment.

So why hasn’t America intervened in Syria? Has the ‘penny dropped’ that the only way to intervene is by nation building? Probably not, but there are other reasons why nothing has happened. In the second part, we’ll take a look at some of those reasons.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

All the Presidents are men

So, you want to be President of America do you?

In the run up to the American November Presidential elections it’s amusingly distracting to put actual the policies of the candidates to one side, always provided you can determine what they actually are, and take a look at some statistics.

Obama is POTUS (President of the United States) number forty-four. There have been forty- three Presidents incarnate but forty- four terms of office. Grover Cleveland managed to get himself elected for two, non-consecutive eight-year terms, possibly proving that you can in fact fool most of the people most, if not all, of the time. Since nineteen fifty-one, under the terms of the 22nd Amendment, a person can only serve two terms as POTUS. Franklin Roosevelt died early in his fourth term during the Second World War, which was undoubtedly why the 22nd Amendment was introduced. Edward the Seventh, when Prince of Wales, famously said of his mother Victoria that it was all very well having an Eternal Father in heaven but one didn’t need an Eternal Mother on earth. Possibly America sat up and took note of his comment.

Of the forty-three Presidents, four died in office of natural causes, four were assassinated and Nixon famously jumped before he was pushed. Additionally there were six assassination attempts made against incumbent presidents, Gerald Ford holding the dubious distinction of having inspired two people try to kill him on separate occasions, and one attempt was made against Teddy Roosevelt when he decided to have another shot at being president, having successfully served two terms. Oops bad taste moment, I meant when he decided to make a further attempt at the Oval office having already served two terms. This means that POTUS has an equal 9.3% of either dying of natural causes whilst in office or of being assassinated. If however we lump together assassination attempts against incumbent presidents and successful assassinations, we find that the chances of somebody trying to be the leading actor in their own version of ‘The Day of the Jackal’ is 23.24%. The assassination technology gets better with time, so the odds of success have probably increased. Not a comfortable position to be in, I would have thought. For an incumbent president, that is. If you had almost a twenty-five percent chance of your being killed in the office, would you not be tempted to change your office for one with a more tranquil view?

Of perhaps more interest in this election year is the fact that of the forty-three Presidents, ten failed to secure their second term. Of the ten, three have failed since the Second World War. It would appear that getting that coveted second term is not the shoe-in that casual observers of the show might have imagined. To play with some statistics, and we all know about statistics don’t we, it would appear that 23.25% of all presidential candidates failed to be re-elected. That doesn’t sound so bad, but let’s look at elections post World War Two.

Perhaps voters became less deferential or perhaps the World became a more volatile place, that’s open to (another) debate. There have been twelve presidential elections from nineteen forty-five until two thousand and eight. Twenty-five percent of candidates were not re-elected. That perhaps isn’t the end of the numbers game though. If you take the view that a ‘run of bad luck’ started in 1976 when the ever-unlucky Gerald Ford failed to be re-elected, there have been eight elections and the percentage chance of failing to be re-elected increases to 37.5%. The other unsuccessful incumbents were Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Bush Senior (H.W.) in 1992. Obama may well be losing some sleep, and it’s probably nothing to do with Michelle telling him he’s in, as his re-election campaign posters announce. This could be unusually subtle play on words for an American political campaign or it could be unintentional, like Romney’s campaign poster that spelled America ‘Americia’. I suppose that could have been unusually subtle as well, in which case the folks down in Langley, Virginia are probably planning some office remodeling, another round of fake vaccinations and of course they still have a chance to actually kill Castro before he dies of old age.

To round off and up this game of musical numbers, POTUS has a twenty five percent chance of experiencing an assassination attempt and just at the moment a thirty-seven percent chance of not being elected for a final term. Why do they bother?

It’s the status, stupid! It certainly isn’t the power because the American system was designed so that the holder of the executive office doesn’t in fact have that much. To be sure, he (so far) is perceived as the most powerful man in the World. After all, isn’t there somebody who trails him around with the ‘nuclear football’, you know, where all the nuclear codes are kept? Now I don’t know this for a fact but I also reckon that at least one of the secret service men has been briefed to confirm that POTUS is not actually having a ‘brain fart’ if he ever reached for it and to stop him if he is. Probably by a bullet between the eyes. So much for absolute power then. I mean if you can’t nuke a country that has really annoyed you what’s the point of it all? Doing a Bush Junior and invading somewhere allegedly because a dictator tried to kill your Dad and because your Vice President’s oil company, allegedly, is finding business a bit slack is all very well, but for real satisfaction, you need to be able to order up a bright flash without having to consult anybody. Anyway, if POTUS had any real power Bush Junior would have ‘retired’ Bill Clinton for beating his dad in an election. See what I mean, it’s just not worth it.

A smart man might take the Eisenhower approach to the presidency and improve his golf game. A really smart man might not bother at all and aim at being a Supreme Court Judge. I haven’t checked but I don’t think many have been assassinated and it’s a job for life. Failing to be re-elected does not look good on the old CV and the after-dinner speaking fees are, I am reliably informed, less for a single-term president. Nobody wants to hear what you would have done next and positively nobody likes a moaner.

Of course, presidents seem to be getting younger, or am I experiencing the same age-related shift in perception whereby all policemen seem to be on day-release from school? Assuming that they are getting younger, and in Obama’s case will be around his mid-fifties when he leaves office, if he is re-elected, what do you do then?