December 2008


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Western leaders love a good challenge when they’re new to office. That’s what you have to hope looking at today’s front pages, which are dominated by images of destruction in the Gaza strip.gaza1

The death toll rose past 280 people after another Israeli airstrike this morning, according to Hamas. The Guardian reported infantry and tanks moving towards the Gaza border in anticipation of a possible ground invasion. Rhetoric across the Israeli political spectrum has been bellicose ahead of February’s elections, with defence minister and former PM Ehud Barak declaring: “Now the time has come to fight.”

One of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton’s few unequivocal achievements was the Good Friday Agreement, pushed through partly thanks to their youthful vigour and self belief. The infamous Parliamentary malcontent Enoch Powell once darkly declared that “all political lives end in failure”; if that’s the case, it’s also true the greatest politicians take to office possessed of an unshakeable faith in their own abilities.

All eyes will be on Time Magazine’s man of the year when he finally moves into the White House. Bill Clinton and George Bush both launched half-hearted attempts to negotiate peace in the Middle East in the dog days of their presidency. Barack Obama’s advent will be the clearest juncture in years for the beleagured process to be given a hearty jump-start.

In a well balanced piece in today’s Sunday Times, Michel Portillo says the incoming president’s in-tray from hell could be the material he needs to fire his ambition:

The conflict between Israel and Hamas is, in a way, an attractive issue for Obama and his team. It has been evident for decades that matters cannot be resolved without the closest involvement of the United States… It could be that for once the Palestinian-Israeli problem will receive the full attention of an American presidency at the outset, at the moment of its greatest prestige and when its mandate is strongest.

One positive omen is the extent to which Obamamania has penetrated Israeli politics. Apparently the right wing Likud Party, which is tipped to win the largest slice of votes in February, has redesigned its website to mirror Obama’s campaign site and has even nicked his “Yes We Can” slogn, adding: “With God’s Help.”

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Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger was in a contemplative mood when he gave a talk at Oxford University last week. Against the backdrop of industry malaise, and despite predictions that the coming year will see a “harvesting of local newspapers”, Rusbridger managed to strike an upbeat note about the Guardian’s growing onrusbridger2line audience on the other side of the Atlantic.

This is the liberal hour in America, and it is the Guardian’s opportunity given its website and liberal style.

We’ve never spent a penny marketing it anywhere outside the UK. The audience came to us.

Rusbridger described the US’ leading papers as “amazingly parochial” and said that journalistically, America was withdrawing from the world.

He referred to American papers’ initial reaction to the Mumbai massacre, which they gave scant coverage.

The only problem at the moment is the fact search engines soak up the lion’s share of advertising revenue on the web. “They have got in between us and the advertisers,” Rusbridger said. “At some point there is going to be a sorting out of rules of trade between Google and content providers.”

He’ll need a strong latte before that meeting.