Making predictions is a mug’s game, so don’t worry – mine will be 100% wrong (again!)

IN his palatial City office in London’s Canary Wharf, my friend – chief economist of a major, global financial institution – sits behind a desk so gargantuan it could the solve the issue of Heathrow’s third runway.

Chewing the fat with him one day at the height of the 2008 banking meltdown, I asked this master of the universe when he thought the crisis would end.

Instead of answering, he just shrugged, then nodded towards an ornate plinth in the corner of his mini fiefdom, on which was mounted a soccer-sized crystal ball.

‘Take a dekko inside that,’ said my friend eventually. ‘You’ve a better chance of finding the answer in there than from me.’

I left, shaking my head and musing on the folly of making predictions.

This thought was rekindled last week, when I read an apologia from a financial whizkid, who wrote, ‘No-one expected this sudden, sharp drop in crude oil prices.’

His buzzword was ‘sudden’. Because, if the anointed experts had seen it coming, there would have been no shock.

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will forced movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un will be an Oscar winner

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will force movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be an Oscar winner for his role as Wonder Woman

In fact, looking back, the only person in my experience to make an accurate prediction was Madam Petrulengo, the palmist on Blackpool promenade, who forecast I’d get a ticket on my car parked outside on a double yellow line. She was right; I did.

So, generally, it’s been my firm prediction that the likely outcome to making predictions is the predictions will be totally wrong. And, so far, my record has been 100% accurate.

Nonetheless, since it’s that time of year, worst luck, when my arm is twisted into risking a spot of soothsaying, here goes…and heaven help us if I’m right.

Firstly, the nightmarish potboiler that’s a story of purblind Eurozone politicians will rumble on, with no consensus to ease the plight of the EU’s jobless, homeless and hopeless. Shovels will be issued to Euro commissioners, so they can did themselves into bigger holes.

Beyond-the-barmy, Right-wing parties – like France’s National Front, Hungary’s Jobbick and Greece’s Golden Dawn – will democratically vote to end democracy, while Brussels Europrats will take 2015 off and nobody will notice any difference.

Vladimir Putin will order Russians to bathe in oil, because – at $60 a barrel and sliding – it’ll be cheaper than water. The population of Moscow, barring oligarchs who can afford to import Evian by the tankerload, will assume a brackish, oleaginous glow, so they’ll be light-reflective. This will reduce the number of pedestrians struck down by drunk drivers at night, thus hailed as a health and safety success by the Kremlin.

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles banned, rickshaws will be London's most popular form of transport

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles facing a ban, rickshaw pullers will rush to become London’s most ‘eco’ form of transport

Americans will finally realise President Obama is actually a hologram, since he’s been as effective as one for the last half-dozen years. During 2015, he’ll gradually evaporate like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland, with only a grin left behind.

Hillary Clinton will declare her intention to run as Democratic Party candidate for the White House and she’ll face Jeb Bush, brother of G Dubya and son of HW, who’ll fly the flag of the Republican cause.

US geneticists will then discover only members of presidential dynasties possess that unique strand of DNA – the two-faced, lie-through-the-teeth, back-stab helix – to be leaders, so there’ll be a nationwide hunt for descendants of Richard Nixon to stand in future hustings.

North Korean cyber-hackers will blackmail Hollywood’s movie moguls into relocating their studios to Pyongyang and the dashingly handsome Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be the next James Bond, Batman and Wonder Woman, a role for which he’ll award himself an Oscar.

A bloke called Nigel will decide who wins next May’s UK General Election.

No, not that Nigel – the UKIP Farage one – but Nigel Dodds, whom nobody outside Northern Ireland (and few inside it for that matter) has ever heard of.

But with an expected mish-mash outcome to the result, with neither of the major parties winning a majority, the minor cast members will be crucial players in deciding who rules. In short, reprising 2010, the tail will wag the dog.

Which is where Doddsy comes in. Tipped to replace Peter Robinson as leader of Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – the bunch invented by the late Reverend Ian Paisley, who brought the fire and brimstone of religion to bear on politics – Nige could even emerge as Deputy Prime Minister, depending on which way he throws the dice of his eight MPs.

After much cogitation, as a huge fan of Wallace & Gromit, he will come out in favour of Ed Miliband for Prime Minister, since the Labour leader is a doppelganger for Wallace and Wensleydale is also the DUP’s favourite cheese.

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

The Tories will sack David Cameron, merge with UKIP to become the Conservative, Unionist and UK Independence Party and elect London Mayor, Boris Johnson, as leader, who’ll make Nigel – the Farage one – Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Nick Clegg will quit as head honcho of the Liberal Democrats; their core voters will switch to the Greens, who’ll demand a ban on all forms of petrol-powered transport, resulting in an influx of Hong Kong rickshaw pullers, in anticipation they will eventually replace London’s Routemaster buses.

In the Middle East, the Saudis will wreck the Iranian economy by driving down the price of oil to a bucket of camel dung a barrel and do a back-channel deal with Israel to buy the Matzoball Bomb – a doomsday weapon with a difference, since all infected by its fallout turn Jewish.

It will first be tested on the headbanging jihadi rabble of IS/ISIL/ISIS, thorns by any other name in the side of humanity, who will – en masse – discard their AK47s to become rabbinical students.

Pope Francis will be awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his role in patching up the 45-year US-Cuba tiff; the Vatican will be given the worldwide concession to peddle Havana cigars.

Finally, the space probe, Cassini, will discover huge gold and diamond deposits on Saturn; FIFA will announce the 2026 World Cup will be held there.

So those are my forecasts for next year. But they’ll be wrong all counts, because, from long experience, I learnt there’s  no future in making predictions.

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Obama’s rank smell off defeat is the West’s most unwanted fragrance

CONGRATS this week to oddball scientist, Christian Poincheval, for an invention which, if not mind-blowing, should certainly improve the winds of any environment he inhabits.

So ashamed of the odours emitting from his derrière, the flatulently-challenged Frenchman has created a pill to make farts (sorry, but there’s no other word for it) far less objectionable, with bouffée aux chocolat and attar of roses highly recommended.

A consignment of the wonder drug might be welcome at the White House, where the air is rank with the stench of defeatism, after the latest round of talks with Iran over the ayatollahs’ A-bomb ambitions unsurprisingly ground to another impasse.

On reflection, impasse is probably a misnomer if you’re a member of Tehran’s Team Jihadi and its camp-followers in Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other motley bigots, ever willing to perform acts of mass destruction on behalf of their patrons, the saintly mullahs.

Because Christmas – even if they think it’s a pagan festival – has come early for them. And it is hugely due to the magnanimity of lame-duck President Barack Obama, who continues to achieve the near-impossible feat of buddying up to the West’s worst foes, whilst making enemies of the West’s best friends.

PEACENIK PRESIDENT: But Obama is seen a wobbly-kneed, accident-prone, token leader

LAME-DUCK LEADER: Obama is seen a wobbly-kneed, accident-prone, token president by every AK47-toting jihadi

In defiance of ultimatums dating back over 12 years to fess up to the truth behind its multi-billion-dollar nuclear agenda, in Vienna last week Iran once again danced rings round negotiators from the UN Security Council permanent members: America, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany, the so-called P5+1.

By all means send your International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to see our bustling bazaars, admire our wondrous mosques and the ancient ruins of Persepolis, said the smiley Iranians.

The IAEA tourists might even be lucky enough to see dissenters’ corpses dangling from cranes or the regular, pro-regime demos, so well choreographed sceptics might be inclined to believe they aren’t quite as ‘spontaneous’ as the local, state-controlled media reports.

But let’s forget any silly notions about UN watchdogs taking a peek at our subterranean atomic secrets – all purely for domestic electricity purposes, of course.

Okay, IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, is furious, demanding Iran ‘provides timely access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel,’ and wants an explanation about explosives tests that could be used to develop nuclear detonators.

But, after a dozen years of conflabs, what’s the rush? So why don’t we just forget that November 24 deadline for these ‘final talks’ we set last January – after the last round of ‘final talks’ failed – and take a time-out until, say, next July before we chat again?

Meanwhile, our tens of thousands of centrifuges will continue to spin, we’ll avoid any messy, new sanctions Obama’s Republican rivals want foisted on us and thanks again for lifting that ban on us selling oil and unfreezing our overseas billions.

All agreed? Great! So adios, ciao, toodle-pip or whatever they say in Farsi. Oh, and have a nice day.

The only plus is that US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has racked up so many Air Miles visiting the five plonkers+one, he can afford unlimited tickets on Richard Branson’s £100,000-a-seat rocket ship, should it’s ever be deemed space-worthy.

PLAYING HARD BALL: Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khemenei, is a  Islamo-fascist, rapidly imposing his Shia extremist ideology across the Levant

PLAYING HARD BALL: Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khemenei, is a Islamo-fascist, rapidly imposing his Shia extremist ideology across the Levant

If I’m sounding flippant over a situation so dire as this, when the sponsor-in-chief of world terrorism is winning yet more time to weave its web of evil, I make no apologies. Because this never-ending charade has become the mother of all diplomatic farces.

The responsibility lies at the feet of two men: a dithery American president, who – whether he likes it or not – speaks for the free world, and his adversary, a religious fanatic, hell bent on resurrecting the ancient Persian Empire’s influence anywhere he can get it to take root in today’s incendiary Middle East.

With his peacenik default setting, Obama’s messianic belief he could end all conflicts has morphed into a perilous vision of a wobbly-kneed, accident-prone, token presidency, derided by every AK47-toting jihadi.

To underline his detachment from reality, the other day he fired his Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, viewed by Oval Office confidants as having fallen under the spell of America’s military, who recognise apathy when they see it.

In contrast, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khemenei, is a hardline Islamo-fascist, rapidly imposing his Shia extremist ideology across the Levant – from Tehran to Beirut, Baghdad and beyond – by means of ruthless violence and toxic, diplomatic blackmail.

One man seeks only to placate his foe; the other only to subjugate or annihilate all who oppose his pitiless ambition. And you don’t need me to identify which is which.

BITING BACK: Yukiya Amano, the IAEA boss, is furious Iran's time-wasting and failure to come clean about its atomic ambitions

BITING BACK: Yukiya Amano, the IAEA boss, is furious Iran’s time-wasting and failure to come clean about its atomic ambitions

So imagine the nightmare scenario that would unfold from a thermonuclear Iran, which once used unarmed children as cannon-fodder to test the whereabouts of minefields in the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with their tiny feet.

Israel – a Western democracy if not by location in the cauldron of hate – is already on notice from Iran’s former president, the odious Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that it will be ‘wiped off the map’, so would have no recourse but to retaliate in nuclear like for like or take pre-emptive action.

Saudi Arabia, like Israel a snubbed US ally, would seek its own Armageddon weapon to protect the Sunni Islamic states from Shia vengeance and probably turn to Pakistan for an off-the-shelf A-Bomb.

Teheran’s proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon – which last week boasted it had received the latest Fateh-class, Iranian missiles – and Hamas in Gaza would be further embolden by Obama’s inertia to pose an even greater, real and present danger to Egypt and the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Syria and Iraq would continue to burn while Obama fiddles and the self-styled Islamic State would continue to attract wannabe jihadis from its international reservoir of psychotic talent, if only to defend the Sunni cause against rampant Shiites.

If these are not sobering enough thoughts, add to them the direct threat to the West from the snaking tentacles of Iran’s Republican Guard, prompting and funding terror attacks in our homelands by its covert agents or egging on ‘lone wolf’ self-starters.

However, one ray of hope is on the horizon: Obama, the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time, has less than two years to serve.

The only doubt is whether we can survive that long.

Forget IS and the Mid-East mess – Iran’s Artful Dodgers are the biggest threat to world peace

TO nobody’s surprise, the West continues to discover there’s little sanity amid the patchwork of barbaric, conjoined conflicts raging throughout the Middle East and telling the good guys from the bad is nigh on impossible.

At the root is a centuries-old schism between Islam two mainstreams, the Sunni and Shiite, a brooding volcano once capped by a succession of secular thugs – principally the Shah of Iran, Saddam in Iraq, Assad in Syria, Mubarak in Egypt and psychotic Gaddafi in Libya.

The Shah’s overthrow in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini’s ultras was the fuse that’s ignited today’s mayhem, since it signalled Shia Iran’s ambition to be the regional bullyboy, setting it on collision course with Saudi Arabia, champion of the Sunni cause.

Filthy rich, nepotistic and corrupt, for years the Saudis have been exporting their brand of hardline, Wahhabi Islam, while its Royals flew West to indulge in a few playful ‘distractions’. But, with a relatively miniscule population, the Kingdom, as Saudi is known, has had to fend off predators by buying Western protection with its only weapon – oil.

Inevitably, in this domain of feudal vendettas, sideshow clashes erupted – Saddam’s power-grab at Kuwait was a prime example, except the West let him off the hook on the proviso his bloodlust was confined to slaughtering his own folk.

DEAL OR NO DEAL? Iran took a very different view of what was agreed with the P5+1 in Geneva

DEAL OR NO DEAL? The devious Iranians deliver their nuclear ‘promises’ to the P5+1 – only to break four out of five of them

Years earlier, remember, the Butcher of Baghdad was urged and armed by the West to ensnare Iran in a war of attrition that wasted a million lives, before it hit the brick wall of stalemate.

In the world’s worst neighbourhood only the intractable Israel-Palestinian conflict provides a source of unity among the vengeful ‘frenemies’ and the Palestinians continue to be shamelessly exploited by their Arab brethren to this day.

Because, however gold-plated its historical and legal validity, even a tiny Jewish state can’t be countenanced, since it is a beacon of democracy and can-do creativity in a wilderness of ignorance, anchored in 7th Century inertia.

And however sneakily superb the Palestinians’ porkie-peddling PR machine is at painting them as eternal victims, until they stop provocations and get their heads round the benefits of the peace dividend, an independent Palestine never deserves to materialise.

Meanwhile, for all its barbarity, even the so-called Islamic State is a sideshow, creating fear out of all proportion to its size.

So, if you imagine this motley bunch of monsters is a long-term threat to world order, you ain’t seen nothing yet if the Iranians get a nuclear weapon.

And this is where I owe Tehran’s turbaned tyrants an apology.

NO PEACE IN OUR TIME: Hitler greets UK Premier, Neville Chamberlain, in 1938 to deliver a tissue of lies that triggers WW2

NO PEACE IN OUR TIME: Hitler greets UK Premier, Neville Chamberlain, in 1938 to deliver a tissue of lies that triggers WW2

Previously, I’ve dubbed the Iranian leadership ‘fanatical, mad mullahs’, but now I realise that’s a slight misrepresentation.

Certainly they’re fanatical zealots, religious and militaristic, as evidence by their fulsome support of the Assad dynasty’s butchery in Syria’s civil war and funding Hezbollah’s terror grip of Lebanon.

However, allusions to them being daft are…well, daft – because they’re crazy like a fox.

In fact, far from being absconders from La-La Land, they are adroit truth – and probably spoon – benders, masters of skulduggery, who, if caught with a smoking gun over a corpse while nobody else is within miles, would swear on a stack of Korans some bloke on a pushbike did it, then scarpered.

Iran makes no secret of its lust to go nuclear…using the fissile material only for ‘peaceful purposes’, you understand. So perish the thought their top-secret development facilities, some buried hundreds of metres underground, are getting tooled up with evermore spinning centrifuges to make an A-bomb.

Which is why a body called the P5+1 – that’s the toothless US, the gutless EU, the supine UK, the blustering French, along with every dictator’s good buddies, Russia and China – has been trying to sweet talk Tehran into reversing its ban on unwelcome callers from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who’ve been denied access to Iranian nuclear plants since 2005.

Drowning in oily black gold, Iran needs nuclear power like Donald Trump needs to borrow a dime for a cup of Starbuck’s coffee.

In a scam to lift biting, economic sanctions, last December Iran’s Artful Dodgers conned the P5+1 with the vacuous vow of solemnly agreeing to put the brake on its dreams of a nuclear Armageddon.

A-BOMB FACTORY: Iran's nuclear facility at Parchin, where a mystery explosion killed two scientists last week

A-BOMB FACTORY? Iran’s nuclear facility at Parchin, where a mystery explosion killed two scientists last week

The deal, agreed in Geneva and labelled the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), gave the mullahs six months to comply with UN Resolution 1929, which demanded Iran comes clean about its weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and allows IAEA watchdogs back in.

Maybe something got lost in translations, because Tehran’s take on the pow-wow was they weren’t for letting anyone nosey around their nuclear hidey-holes, but they’d accept the five plonkers+one’s kind offer to boost petroleum exports.

Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Khamenei, declared, ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran’s stances are the direct opposite to this [proposal to reduce operating centrifuges] and Iran will by no means accept what the Americans want to impose on this country.’

As I wrote at the time of the Geneva talks, ‘After a decade of deceit, deception and time-wasting, the world’s premier purvey of terror has won the most decisive war of words with the West since Hitler convinced Neville Chamberlain, back in 1938, his intentions towards Czechoslovakia were entirely honourable and pigs could fly.

Ten months on, Iran is still playing hide and seek with the UN’s watchdogs and racing towards the nuclear threshold, despite glitches, like an mysterious explosion last week, which killed two scientists at a military base in Parchin, where the IAEA is convinced nuclear weaponry is being made.

Talks continue to stutter on, but a month ago the nuclear watchdog issued a blistering report, condemning Iran for ‘stonewalling’, failing to meet four of five obligations demanded by the UN Security Council and destroying evidence in a way that ‘likely further undermined the IAEA’s ability to conduct effective verification.’

Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister, Mansour Moazzami, boasts, ‘Our volume of crude oil and gas exports has doubled.’

So no guessing who’s got the penny and the bun – and why all other rumpuses in the Middle East are sideshows in comparison to the threat of an atomic Armageddon, courtesy of the not-so-mental mullahs of Tehran.

If the UN is no longer fit for purpose, then the West must invent something better

UNLESS you’re a news junkie, probably you didn’t notice the United Nation’s General Assembly was in session last month, with world leaders piling into New York as if it were Blue Cross Day in Macy’s sales.

A sombre Barack Obama chaired the fatuous waffling show and so much extraneous CO2 was expended, it probably blew a chasm the size of Alaska in the ozone layer.

As was his privilege, the keynote speech was made by the US President – greyer, gaunter now and a far cry from the jaunty, upbeat figure of global optimism he cut when first addressing the gathering in 2009.

Way back then, he promised ‘a new era of engagement with the world’.  And – lo and behold! – we have it…just not quite the one he envisaged.

By ‘engagement’ Obama meant peace and conciliation, not the vicious, internecine, barbaric collision of religious credos, clashing cultures and political dogmas blighting almost the entire Middle East and swathes of Africa, not to mention Ukraine or the existential threat to the West from jihadis returning home from DIY decapitation courses, courtesy of Islamic State (IS).

Though not entirely all down to his inertia, no-drama Obama bears huge culpability for ignoring how the layer cake of conflicts was rising, not that such an egotistical poseur would have the humility to fess up.

After all, only a year ago he bragged to the General Assembly (GA), ‘The world is more stable than it was five years ago.’

That was either self-delusion or purblindness at its worst.

Because, as some of his once closest advisers have testified – none more so than former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton – Obama’s been hands-off when he should have been full-on, a telegenic prop not a globo cop, a dithery camp follower rather than a trailblazer.

HANDS-ON AT LAST! Obama tells the UN General Assembly he's awake to the evil of Islamic State

HANDS-ON AT LAST! Obama tells the UN General Assembly he’s awake to the evil of Islamic State

Now, after six years of comparatively moribund inactivity, even the peacenik president has finally accepted that actions speaks louder than platitudes and he’s taken on IS in its own backyard.

‘There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil,’ he told the Assembly, showing real fire in his gut for once. ‘The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.’

Quite where what some describe as the Third Iraq War leads to is anyone’s guess, though at least a smattering of Arab nations have overcome their timidity to share the US-led coalition’s heavy lifting.

However, this isn’t about Obama’s flaws, IS carnage, sneaky Iran’s march to the nuclear weapon threshold or even the intractable Israel-Palestinian brouhaha.

It’s about the ineptitudes and blatant, anti-Western bias of the UN, bar some of its useful spin-offs, such as the World Health Organisation and UNESCO.

As the disorganisation celebrates its 69th birthday this month, how the founding fathers – notably President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – must be whirling in their graves in disgust at how their vision of a body intended to bring peace to a devastated, post-war world has begotten a corpse of grubby self-interest and accusatory spite.

Of the 51 original members, only the Soviet Bloc, China and the former Yugoslavia – all WW2 allies – weren’t democracies, even if the probity of some others at that time (e.g. Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and South Africa) was contestable.

Nonetheless, all were signatories to the UN Charter and the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, which ‘reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights and dignity, and worth of the human person’, while committing all member states to promote ‘universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.’

Fine words, noble aims; but fast-forward nearly seven decades and what have we…193 states, a disreputable number of whom couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss for the club rules apropos human rights, gender equality or inter-faith tolerance.

So, only at the UN can indictable tyrannies, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and Sudan – with their penchants for headbanging religious extremism, financing terror and judicial codes beyond the barbaric – share the civilised world’s lustre.

DISUNITED NATIONS: The UN is now a pale shadow of what its creators envisaged 69 years ago

DISUNITED NATIONS: The UN is now a pale shadow of what its creators envisaged 69 years ago

Meanwhile, whatever is the allure of IS’s Islamo-fascist paradise is beyond me. But I fully endorse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s overview, as he told to the GA last week, ‘The Nazis believed in a master race; the militant Islamists believe in a master faith.’

Led by a succession of UN Secretaries General unfit to be short-order chefs, the liberal democracies now find themselves victims of a naïve misbelief their tools of egalitarian governance were beckoning to be adopted by states where people power was zilch or, if it dares show itself, got brutally crushed.

The so-called Arab Spring finally laid waste that fantasy.

Yet now, once again, the altruistic West is expected to intervene in a Middle East bloodbath, albeit at the behest of a slumbering American leader only just awoken to reality.

Strikingly, Obama didn’t bother asking UN permission, before sending his fighter jets to pulverise IS.

And maybe former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, explains why, noting, ‘No organisation embodies as many dreams, yet provides so many frustrations [as the UN]. For most of its history, the Security Council has been the prisoner of great-power manoeuvring; the General Assembly a theatre of empty rhetoric; the Economic and Social Council a largely dysfunctional irrelevance; and the Secretariat, for all the dedication and brilliance of a host of individuals, alarmingly inefficient.’

Now many sage voices believe there is a critical need for a serious appraisal of the UN’s purpose and cost – a thwacking US$30-bn per annum, the tab mainly picked up by American and European taxpayers.

Because, after nearly 70 years, it has degenerated into a shambling old buffer with exorbitant tastes, its ‘halo effect’ dimmed by age, scandal, nepotism and corruption.

Hence, an idea being touted is for the UN to be evicted from its palatial tower overlooking New York’s East River and pack it off somewhere more in kilter with its skewered ethos – Doha and Khartoum have been mentioned.

Then, maybe, a Western-leaning Organisation of Democratic Nations – even if it accommodates China and Russia on the basis they are political and economic powerhouses – can emerge, thus checkmating the preposterousness of a Third World tail wagging the First World dog.

Only then might it dawn on the post-medieval despots that the West has had a bellyful of their inanity and insanity, and they should dump their self-inflicted woes in their own lap, not ours.

The ‘peacenik’ President heeds a call to arms – but is it too little, too late?

THERE must be an awful lot of soap being used up in the White House and Whitehall, as ministers and their minions try to wash their hands of Iraq.

And I bet the label on each bar is stamped, ‘For ditherers only.’ If not, they should be.

Because the great brains of Western diplomacy haven’t a clue whether to stick, twist or chuck in their hand and allow violence to take its unnatural course in sorting out the latest Middle East imbroglio.

Various military acronyms rooted in WW2 slang – like FUBAR and SNAFU, whose meanings I won’t spell out for fear of upsetting those of a sensitive disposition – spring to mind as pertinent descriptions for the plight of those whose indecision may, or may not, be final.

And at the very top of the pile of confused, anguished hand-wringers is an American leader, whose default setting is to gaze at his navel, as if answers to the world’s ills miraculously lie within the lint of his belly button.

In 2008 Barack Obama was elected President on an anti-war ticket, redolent with slogans ranging from ‘Hope’ to ‘Yes We Can’ (whatever that meant). The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, based not on deeds, but the same windy promises that shoehorned him into office. Even the man himself was flabbergasted.

Over six years later his main achievements of note have been extricating his gung-ho predecessor, George W. Bush’s ‘Coalition of the Willing’ from Iraq and downsizing troops in Afghanistan, with the aim of every Crusader GI quitting by New Year.

But, given the daily evidence of mounting carnage afflicting both rudderless states, there’s little to embellish Obama’s legacy, except for taking Hillary Clinton’s advice on obliterating Osama bin Laden.

RUTHLESS & MURDEROUS: The Sunni fanatics of ISIS have ignited  the power-keg of Iraq

RUTHLESS & MURDEROUS: The Sunni fanatics of ISIS march on, having ignited the power-keg of Iraq

Meanwhile, even starry-eyed optimists recognise it’s only a matter of time before the untamed Taliban return to Kabul and fill the void created by the exit of NATO troops.

An even more alarming spectre haunts Western policy-makers over the future of Iraq, where a sectarian strife has erupted in all but civil war, as murderous Sunni fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, mop up the oil-rich hinterland and threaten Shia-dominated Baghdad.

It’s futile to rake over old coals, as former British leader Tony Blair recently did in justifying the 2003 invasion/liberation of Iraq, because history is already writ large, though it was always received wisdom the country would be a powder-keg for decades.

That it has exploded so ghoulishly is largely due to the ineptitude and arrogance of Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia Prime Minister, who ethnically cleansed Iraq’s government, army and civil service of virtually any Sunni and Kurdish influence.

Even if the nation’s religious demographics gave Shias a 65% majority, the vision for a democratic, post-conflict Iraq was intended to be an inclusive one, with a modicum of power-sharing.

Now, stability exists only in far-north, autonomous Kurdistan, while the rest of the country seems damned to imitate next-door Syria and descend into a sectarian bloodbath.

That the blinkered Maliki was stupid and overcome by megalomania is beyond doubt, despite having a democratic mandate.

But, as his paymaster and sponsor, Obama – for all his aversion to confrontation – should have had the wit to nip the shameless power-grab in the bud and read the riot act to the idiot of Baghdad much earlier.

Hence, now we see a battle-fatigued America being re-drawn into the conflict, after the President announced on Thursday 300 special operatives would go to Iraq and ‘provide technical support’ to help overcome ISIS, after Maliki pleaded for US intervention.

Talk about déjà vu all over again!

FAR APART: Obama is angry Prime Minister Maliki (right) has turned Iraq into a Shia-governed state

CLOSE TOGETHER, FAR APART: Obama is angry Prime Minister Maliki (right) has turned Iraq into a Shia-governed state

Meanwhile, how much difference 300 specialists can make – and whether they are too little, too late – is debatable, as is Obama’s vague threat of force, ‘if intelligence recommended it’.

But, at least, he took a sideswipe at the Iraqi leader, underlining the error of his ways.

Nevertheless, it bode ill for the 44th President, who’s hardly put a foot right dealing with crises on foreign fields since his election.

He and his diplomatic corps at the State Department – situated in aptly-named Foggy Bottom – utterly misread the runes of the Arab Spring, ignominiously backtracked over the ‘red lines’ warning to Syria’s butcher, Assad, tried and failed to arm-twist allies Israel into a one-sided peace deal with the deceitful Palestinians and contracted the ousting of Libya’s lunatic, Gaddafi, to France and the UK.

To add to his litany of follies, Obama has practically given Iran a free pass on its nuclear ambitions and allowed Vladimir Putin to run rings round him over Ukraine.

Rarely – if ever – has a US commander-in-chief commanded so little respect on the world stage, now a far more parlous place for his ineptitude and dithering.

The very real and present danger is that matters threaten to grow rapidly worse, because not only does ISIS make Al-Qaeda appear pussycats, their manifesto is to export terror worldwide, once they’ve established a Sharia caliphate across a swathe of Syria and Iraq.

The irony of all ironies is only one nation has sufficient military and diplomatic muscle to halt their charge and lift the West off the peg it’s impaled upon: Iran.

Through its religious ties, only it has the ears of Maliki and Assad, whose Alawite sect is a Shia offshoot.

However unedifying, the notion of Tehran’s terror-mongers and ‘The Great Satan’ of the USA finding common cause is increasing from possibility to probability, as back-channel chatter between the two is said to be buzzing.

The threat is not lost on Iran’s arch foe, Saudi Arabia, whose ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al-Saud, warned last week, ‘There must be no meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, not by us or by the US, the UK or any other government.’

If a US-Iran alliance does come to pass, though, any slender hope of Obama leaving a legacy of a peace-maker president will be forever tarnished.

No wonder they’re busy passing the soap in the White House and Whitehall.

‘Mini’ Crimea War result prediction: Vlad The Invader 1, Wobbling West 0

THE question facing Ukraine’s Crimean citizens in today’s referendum ought to ask, ‘Do you prefer to be part of Russia again – or be mashed into a gooey blinis topping by a bunch of uniformed goons, who’ve apparently arrived from nowhere to offer fraternal greetings?’

Because, however quasi-democratic – and America dubbing it ‘illegal’ – the plebiscite’s outcome is a given: the Crimea, once Stalin’s holiday playground, will revert to its previous status of a Russian entity, this time as part of Vladimir Putin’s new, expansive, nationalist empire.

It will also signal the culmination of one of the slickest coups d’état, a ‘mini’ Crimean War  that’s a throwback to Soviet power plays, with all the familiar Kremlin agitprop used to justify crushing upstarts (think Hungary, in 1956, and Czechoslovakia a dozen years later).

Also, it’s an ominous reminder of Hitler’s 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland, carried out in the name of ethnic Germans living in the Czech province.

Back then Britain and France gave the Nazis a free pass, but the warning signs were glaring. Thus emboldened, Germany invaded Poland – again on the specious pretext of defending nationals there – and the Second World War was up and running.

Like Hitler, Putin claims he’s intervening in Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians and spare the country from ‘fascist, racist revolutionaries’, who overthrew their democratic leader.

CALLING THE TUNE: Putin shows off his piano-playing prowess and makes sure all sing from his hymn sheet

CALLING THE TUNE: Putin shows off his piano-playing prowess and makes sure all sing from his hymn sheet

For the record, that was Viktor Yanukovych, a thieving bruiser with a penchant for sharp suits and tyranny, who hot-footed it to safety under Putin’s protective wing when the people tired of his lies.

As an aside, totally disregard any scurrilous rumours the mysterious horde of heavily-armed men – in uniforms minus regimental flashes – who turned up weeks ago to corral Ukrainian forces into their barracks, are Russian.

They are merely local patriots, insist Kremlin mouthpieces, outfitted by a nearby army surplus store I wish I had shares in, who only sought to restore law and order. That they can’t speak a syllable of Ukrainian is a by-the-by.

So, game, set and match to V.V. Putin.

The only issue to be resolved is: what will be the grand bully of diplomatic chess’s next gambit?

Will he ‘liberate’ the rest of eastern Ukraine, with its Russian-speaking majority, who magically appear as a rent-a-mob to decry the ‘neo-Nazi’ usurpers in Kiev?

Or could other soft-touch nations bordering the Black Sea, like Moldova, be on Vlad The Invader’s wish list, because surely it’s a matter of time before he flexes his muscles again?

And who’s going to stymie the ex-KGB thug’s pursuit to rebuild the Russian Empire?

Enter the brave, bold West, with a procession of foreign ministers trekking to Kiev to allay fears that ‘free’ Ukraine has been abandoned.

Perish the thought, intimated Britain’s William Hague, as his boss, Squire Cameron, fulminated about ‘the most serious crisis in Europe this century’ and ‘unacceptable’ Russian expansionism.

Tough, if empty talk, because the reality was laid bare when a Downing Street policy document was inadvertently revealed, stating, ‘We should not support, for now, trade sanctions or close London’s financial centre to Russians.’

Heartening news, then, for estate agents in Mayfair and South Kensington, if not gladder tidings for Putin: British bluster is a sham.

Conversely, if briefly, it seemed President Obama – or The Great Ditherer as he’s now known – nearly discovered he had a backbone, after announcing, ‘Putin must know that there is a price to pay for his actions.’

HOT LINE: But Obama inaction is interpreted by the Russians as weakness, says a NATO source

HOT LINE: But Obama’s dithering is interpreted by the Russians as weakness, says a NATO source

Inexorably, he reverted to type and sabre-rattled with a penknife, merely despatching a squadron of Phantom jets to Poland and a couple to safeguard the Baltic republics…feeble gestures, indeed, and unlikely to wipe the smirk off Putin’s face.

But hark! More sanctions are being threatened, like Russia being kicked out of the G8, visas revoked, asset freezes on Kremlin apparatchiks and – who knows – oligarchs banned from Harrods’ food hall.

For its part, the punchless, witless European Union vacillates from the sidelines, despite Ukraine proverbially being in its backyard (as was Kosovo, remember – and look what a mess they made there).

Unsurprising, I suppose, since so many EU nations – notably Germany – rely on Russian gas, EU leaders just gassed on, condemning Putin’s moral, political and legal bankruptcy, but paying only lip service to diplomatic retaliation.

And, as regards Obama, the nationalist tsar sussed out long ago he was no Cold War warrior in the Reagan mould; that this occupant of the White House was a navel-gazing poseur, more social-worker than commander-in-chief, whose foreign policy – if, indeed, he has one – is anchored in the biblical credo that the meek shall inherit the earth.

For all Putin’s paranoia over perceived Western encroachment eastwards into Russia’s sphere of influence, like his inglorious Soviet predecessors, he recognises wobbling when he sees it.

As a NATO official noted last week, ‘The Kremlin respects strength and despises indecisiveness – they see comprise as weakness.’

So, for all his macho posturing, Obama has reverted to a default setting that’s hands-off and isolationist – or, in Russia’s eyes, jelly-kneed and wimpy.

Putin probably first recognised it when the President shelved plans to base missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic in 2009, then scotched talk of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO.

The next signals were Obama backing the losing, Islamo-fanatic side in Egypt’s ’s Arab Spring counter revolt and a retreat on Libya, when he subcontracted the destruction of Gaddafi’s maniacal regime to the RAF and French air force.

Then came the vacuous ‘red lines’ warning to Assad over chemical weapons in Syria, which vaporised into nothing and left Putin – of all people – orchestrating US foreign policy towards the Butcher of Damascus (NB: so far it’s going nowhere).

Worse still, security analysts agree almost universally that America’s deal with Iran over checking its nuclear weapons development was a diplomatic farce, with only one winner – the mad mullahs of Tehran.

Little wonder last week The New York Post heaped further scorn on the gullible President, dubbing him ‘Jimmy Obama’ in an unsubtle reference to James Earl Carter, probably the most inept US leader in living memory.

So apologies to the valiant Ukrainians. None of what I’ve said is any consolation, but be assured that with friends like us in the West, you don’t need enemies.

Black gold, Texas Tea…the curious curse of striking it rich with oil

SWATHED in the smoke of burning barricades and swirls of tear-gas, the streets are awash with blood, as angry demonstrators clash with baton-wielding riot police, licenced to fire live rounds into the baying hordes.

In retaliation, protestors resort to farming Molotov cocktails and smashing up pavements to build arsenals of missiles to hurl at the brutal security forces, under orders from a detested, crisis-stricken government to quash the rebellion at all costs.

Up to last weekend at least six people were reported dead and hundreds injured, as unrest snowballed from the capital to provincial cities, where tens of thousands more joined the insurgency.

Meanwhile, from his jail cell, the opposition leader implores the protestors, ‘Don’t give up – I won’t’.

As much as this scenario sounds familiar, let me tell you I’m not describing Ukraine, but a land far away, yet nonetheless riven by violent political, economic and class tensions.

This is Venezuela, the latest state to be consumed by people-power fury and – like previous examples of where outraged citizens have taken to the streets to defy despots – in peril of descending into ‘a spiral of death and destruction’, to quote one of its cabinet’s own ministers.

However, unlike Ukraine, Egypt or Syria, in terms of vast, natural resources, Venezuela is one of the richest nations on the planet, sitting on top of the world’s largest reservoir of oil.

The contradiction, though, is food shortages are chronic, inflation hovers at an unbelievable 60 percent, unemployment is at astronomic levels, corruption endemic and, according to the UN, the country has the world’s fifth highest murder rate.

Commentators attribute this wretched fiasco to Venezuela’s 15-year dalliance with red-raw socialism, first imposed by the late president, Hugo Chavez, who died a year ago, aged 58, and was replaced by his weakling underling, Nicolás Maduro.

PAYING HOMAGE: Venezuela's Maduro unveils a giant portrait of his predecessor, firebrand president Hugo Chavez

PAYING HOMAGE: Venezuela’s Maduro unveils a giant portrait of his predecessor, firebrand president Hugo Chavez

In contrast to the firebrand Chavez, who established a rabid, anti-US alliance with communist Cuba’s Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, and South America’s other, far-Left regimes – Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua – the new boss is a pale, ineffectual shadow.

True, Maduro won a hotly-disputed presidential election last April, but only by the narrowest margins and against a backdrop of claims his United Social Party resorted to its usual ploy of bribing the underclass with government cash.

The former bus driver, though, has not forgotten some lessons from his late, unlamented predecessor, including crushing media freedom – he recently expelled CNN – and using the security forces as personal enforcers.

His problems, however, stem from the country’s greatest gift: oil. Because, like many nations similarly blessed, Venezuela is a virtual one-product economy, relying on its vast coffers of petro dollars to import almost everything else.

Nor are profits spent wisely at home. Hugely impractical social programmes invented by Chavez no longer resonate with the frustrated poor. Unable to buy the daily basics, they, too, have enlisted at the barricades.

This, though, isn’t about a nation in critical melt-down; no, it concerns the mixed blessing of those countries whose most tradable asset is the black gold lying beneath their parched earth, sand or sea beds.

Of the dozen members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), barely one can be described as a functioning democracy. Indeed, most are repressive autocracies, using their stupendous wealth to suppress civil rights, finance international terrorism or prop up other repugnant regimes (i.e. Iran backing Syria’s butcher, Basher Al-Assad).

Outputting over 33,000,000 barrels of oil a day, for the record they are: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, of course, not forgetting Venezuela.

Add Vladimir Putin’s ultra-nationalist Russia to this unholy mix and it’s not difficult to deduce that control of the world’s most vital commodity lies in the grasp of some of the most detestable fists.

OILING THE WHEELS: A refinery employee rides to work at a Middle East oilfield

OILING THE WHEELS: A refinery employee bicycles to work at a Middle East oilfield

Unsurprisingly, then, the ‘oil weapon’ – even the mere threat of it – has been used to hold the industrialised West over the proverbial barrel for nearly half a century.

So, ignoring the negatives of this fossil fuel being an environmental blight – a debate for another day – there is a shrieking need to find a cheaper, synthetic replacement to power our factories, homes and cars purely on economic grounds.

As yet, there is no total answer. Hence, various Western nations dicker with a potpourri of solutions, by various, greener means of energy manufacture…from wind farms, to seawater wave power, to vegetable crops, to kinetics and hydrogen, to solar panelling, to – would you believe it – donkeys tethered to a dynamo wheel.

In lieu of the ultimate alternative to Texas Tea, America’s interim brainwave is fracking, which, in tandem with its homeland output, has taken the USA to the point of petroleum independence, if not beyond.

Elsewhere, the idea of drilling into the bedrock, then injecting it with high-pressure water to coax out oil molecules, is meeting with resistance, notably in the UK.

Nuclear generation meets with similar hostility: Germany, for instance, is shunning the whole idea for fear of a repeat of a Fukushima-style disaster, though it’s a mainstream source in France, which even exports nuclear-produced energy to the UK.

In summary then, in a world where a robot vehicle can be propelled to Venus, people can be linked by voice and video to others thousands of miles apart and innumerable killer ills are now curable, scientists haven’t yet invented a safer, all-embracing, affordable alternative to a dirty, dark, viscous fluid that’s a hangover from the industrial revolution.

And it’s darkly ironic that the nations blessed by a lucky toss of the geological dice should be the worst possible custodians of the substance that makes the world’s wheels turn.

Oil, though, isn’t a finite resource – even for Venezuela.

The multi-national petroleum corporations know time is running out; so do the tin-pot monarchs (no prizes for guessing who), pseudo-democratic tyrants (Venezuela’s Maduro) and religious fanatics (Iran and Iraq)

So, if ever there was a moment for science to solve the planet’s most pressing dilemma –discovering a viable, economical, non-fossil substitute for oil – it’s NOW!