Peter Beaumont (journalist)

British journalist

Peter Beaumont (November 28, 1961 in Skegness, Lincolnshire) is a British journalist who is the foreign affairs editor of The Observer as well as writing for its sister paper, The Guardian. He has covered wars in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, Kosovo and Lebanon.

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  • László Tökés is not remembered much outside Romania these days. Now 58 and the bishop of Királyhágómellék, in March 1989 he was a parish priest in Timosoara facing eviction from his church apartment. His crime was to have preached against the policy of "systemisation" - the restructuring of his country's towns and villages ordered by the authoritarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. Ethnically Hungarian, Tökés had a long history of criticising the regime and so when he refused to quit his home, it became a cause célèbre and drew the attention of Ceausescu's secret police, the notorious Securitate. By December 1989, it was not only his parishioners who were standing guard to protect his flat, linking hands around the property, but ethnic Romanians who swelled into a crowd that filled the surrounding streets. What followed over the next few days is better known than Tökés 's personal tale: the mass protests in Timosoara which led, in quick order, to the fall of the once-mighty Ceausescu regime. If this story of one man and his country sounds familiar, that is perhaps because it is.
  • A large part of the problem of understanding how modern rebellions come about is the reporting of them. Euphoric moments are condensed to slogans on one hand and on the other into vivid narratives of the crimes of the fallen regime. What falls through the cracks is the process by which the actions of an often small dissident circle are translated into a mass movement involving a sufficient cross-section of society to sweep away a tyrant. If that clouds our understanding, so too does the tendency to limit our examination of rebellions to the facts of the revolutionary moment itself. Instead, what we should be doing is examining why populations ever accept dictatorships. In doing so, we may comprehend more about why they are then rejected, often so suddenly.
  • At its simplest, "coup-proofing" is the way in which regimes consolidate a small mafia-like inner core made up of cronies, family, tribal or ethnic interest while using incentives to encourage the security forces, both military and police, to protect the regime while monitoring each other. The unintended consequence of this, however, is paranoid, inward-looking and detached regimes often isolated from the reality of what their people think, reinforced in their own view of their invulnerability and importance by a cadre of yes-men. This, perhaps, explains why dictatorial regimes, regarded as stable and invulnerable by outside observers can collapse as quickly as they can, not least when a key element like the military - as happened in Egypt and Tunisia - removed its support.
  • In the end, however, the success of a rebellion depends on the crossing of a fear barrier by enough people, not simply the small group of dedicated dissidents. A judgment that the risk is worth it and the rebellion might actually succeed. [...] It is at this point, when fear is gone, that whole nations say no. And it is when tyrants fall.
  • The growing confrontation in the Gulf between the US and its Saudi-led allies on one side and Iran and its proxies on the other is now focused on the spate of recent mine attacks on oil tankers, which have been blamed by the US on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. This is a standoff that has been coming. It is incontestable that Iran has been guilty of destabilising overreach in the Middle East in recent years, as it has moved to build a crescent of Shia influence from Damascus to Baghdad and Lebanon to Yemen. But Iran’s actions can hardly be said to have occurred in a vacuum. [...] In tandem with the US moves, Saudi Arabia – one of the countries seen as pushing US policy – has increased its oil production to sell to former buyers of Iranian oil, while at the same time vocally supporting moves to strangle Iranian exports. It is not hard, then, to see how these moves might be viewed in Tehran: as part of an escalating offensive from multiple sources threatening its own home front in a campaign of economic warfare designed to weaken the regime. The US national security adviser, John Bolton, has been an advocate of regime change in Iran in the past. [...] All of which suggests that far from being the work of an irrational actor on the world stage, the recent attacks on the oil tankers are entirely explicable: a calculated demonstration of the vulnerability of the flow of oil to the world’s biggest economies, including to the EU, India and China. So should the attacks be interpreted as a sign of Iran’s desperation, or as evidence that Tehran has internalised the idea that it is dealing with a weak US administration with little international support for its policies in the Gulf, and is gaming its response accordingly? If the answer is the latter, then that is a judgment which has been encouraged by the wildly inconsistent messaging from Trump himself. The US president has appeared to threaten conflict and then just as quickly rule it out. The tanker attacks – if proved to be the work of Iran – are serious. But they would not represent the most potent move available to Tehran in this standoff. That remains the prospect of the country restarting uranium enrichment beyond the limits agreed in the JCPOA, a move it has already threatened, and which would inevitably trigger an international crisis in which the US would be only one actor and Europe would inevitably become embroiled. Clues as to where the crisis goes from here might be found in asking who has most to lose. For Iran’s leadership, for which the survival of the clerical regime is an existential priority that looms above all others, capitulation on US-Saudi terms would not appear to be an option. The depth of the US stake in this increasingly dangerous game is far harder to judge, given the usual confusion of Trump’s flip-flopping and the machinations of Bolton, who may be freelancing his own agenda. All of which leaves us to contemplate the most frightening element of all in a complex crisis: that the current occupant of the White House lacks any of the skills required to successfully defuse it.

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