Age: 56 |
Birth City: آبادان |
Joined on October 02, 2012
by Jamelle Bouie
Slate: On Tuesday, millions of Americans marked Juneteenth, a celebration of emancipation from chattel slavery in the United States. That same day, President Trump made vicious attacks on immigrants and asylum-seekers at the southern border, blaming them for “death and destruction,” blasting them as potential “thieves and murders,” and likening them to an infestation—vermin that must be removed.
America exists, and has always existed, in the tension between the values of Juneteenth and those of our current president—of freedom and equality versus hierarchy and caste, of inclusion versus white supremacy, of democratic optimism versus the tyranny of fear. You can almost look at the past several years as a national debate over the boundaries of American identity and the reach of our compassion and concern—a dialectic with Barack Obama on one side and Donald Trump on the other. And while millions of Americans have responded to Trump’s election by rallying on behalf of women, refugees, and now immigrants, embodying our most expansive values, there are also many Americans—far more than we tend to acknowledge—who share the president’s circumscribed view of our national promise.
“It’s the parents that bring them up, and they already know they’re going to take them away, so to me there’s no issue there,” said Ron Carroll, a 69-year-old retiree and Trump supporter who spoke to CNN about the president’s family-separation policy. “I blame it on the parents for letting it happen because they bring them up and know they can’t get across there legally.” Another Trump voter, 84-year-old Carl Bier, echoed this view. “Here’s how I feel about it: When I was a kid, 16 years old, I got fined for swimming in a lake ’cause I didn’t follow the rules,” he said. “These people that we have coming across the border illegally are breaking the rules. I have no feelings for them at all.”
These are just ordinary people. But it’s that ordinariness that makes their view noteworthy. They express a common indifference that is justified through an appeal to authority. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same attitude has marked four years of arguments over violence against black Americans, from Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman, to Renisha McBride’s at the hands of Theodore Wafer, to Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling—who were each killed by police officers.
After each of these deaths, outrage from activists and community members was met by incredulity and hostility from those who believed the killings were justifiable. Some of this came from pundits, like former NYPD detective Harry Houck, who argued on CNN that police “didn’t have a choice” but to shoot Rice on arrival. Or Bob McManus, an opinion writer for the New York Post who blamed both Garner and Brown for their own deaths: “Each broke the law—petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police. And then—tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably—each fought the law.” Garner, he concluded, “was a victim of himself. It’s just that simple.”
But in social media posts, letters to the editor, and occasional interviews, ordinary Americans also expressed similar views, sympathizing with police and sometimes blaming victims. “Why is the press all over the police for just doing their jobs?” read one such letter to the Chicago Tribune, citing the potential danger to officers if they reacted too cautiously. “If you hesitate or make the wrong choice, you are dead.” Some of the rebuttals became common refrains: “He shouldn’t have resisted” or “He should have followed orders,” reflecting the same belief in obedience and authority we see now with the defense of family separation.
In terms of policy, police violence against black Americans and child separation against migrants and asylum-seekers are very different issues. But they share a thematic connection. Both reflect racial hierarchies that place some people beyond the reach of decency and humanity. Both reflect, in striking clarity, the actual origins of this country in racism, violence, and expropriation, and both raise a fundamental question of national identity: Who is this country for?
This question has always been at the center of our politics, and we’ve almost always fallen short of its most inclusive answer, as articulated by Thomas Jefferson. But there are long periods when we fall especially short, when we abandon the aspiration of universal equality in favor of old notions of blood and soil. Jim Crow was one of them; the nativist 1920s were another. And it appears we’re now living through yet another era of democratic retrenchment, personified by our current president but driven by larger forces of culture, society, and economics.
“On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been,” wrote Abraham Lincoln in an 1855 letter to a fellow lawyer and Kentuckian. “When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that ‘all men are created equal’ a self evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim ‘a self evident lie.’ ”
Lincoln was writing of chattel slavery and its presence in an ostensibly democratic republic. But you could say the same now, in the wake of child detentions, as our government prepares tent cities and internment camps for people desperate to find freedom and safety. On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been.
Hamas Changes Tactics: Even Non-lethal Israeli Strikes Now Met by Rockets
Haaretz: Hamas is changing the pattern of its respoinse to non-lethal Israeli attacks on Gaza, Israeli army sources said Wednesday after dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel overnight in retaliation for IDF attacks on the Strip.
Top Israeli army brass conferred Wednesday morning over Israel's policy toward the rocket attacks. According to military sources, in the past, Israeli attacks on Hamas targets that did not cause fatalities passed without a reaction from the militant Islamist group. As a result, the sources say, the IDF has taken care in recent months not to harm members of Hamas or Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons.
In a shift on Hamas' part, on Tuesday night, about 45 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza toward Israel in response to non-lethal Israeli attacks on Hamas targets. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted seven rockets; five landed in Israeli border communities – including one that landed near a kindergarten. At least three of the rockets landed inside the Gaza Strip itself.
"The Gaza Strip isn't going to be a firing range for Israeli F-16s," commented Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shihab. "The time when the occupation had freedom of movement is over. It is the duty of the resistance forces to react according to the circumstances in the field and as they see fit."
In response to the rocket barrage into Israel, the IDF attacked the Strip again, taking aim at 25 Hamas targets.
Army sources say that Hamas' decision to carry out its attacks during the nighttime hours, when residents of Israeli border communities are at home and close to shelters, demonstrates that the Islamist movement is using a measure of discretion. The fact that Hamas has been firing rockets at small communities rather than large cities is also seen as an indictation of caution on its part, officials believe.
Meanwhile, the military acknowledges that the current situation could create tensions between the army and residents in the south. The IDF has yet to announce any change in policy toward Hamas, and officers stress that the view that Hamas should be attacked in response to incendiary kites and balloons sent over the border into Israel continues to prevail.
Trump ends separation policy
Politico: It took images of children in cages and reports of babies left screaming in modern-day orphanages but President Trump did something he almost never does, he backed off. Trump signed an executive order to end the policy of migrant parents being forcibly separated from their children. Though it remained unclear how long families would be detained.
And HHS indicated it would make no special effort to reunite the thousands of splintered families. And Trump previously blamed Democrats and said only Congress could fix the problem while DHS secretary Kirstjten Nielsen said there was no child separation policy to reverse in the first place.
Via POLITICO’s Andrew Restuccia and Lorraine Woellert:
“The action came after Trump and his team faced harsh criticism from lawmakers, activists, religious leaders and former first ladies over the separation of children from their parents in custody, which was panned almost universally as cruel and damaging to the kids’ well-being.
“It was a remarkable shift from a president who is typically reluctant to bow to outside pressure. He often doubles down on his existing stance when confronted with criticism. With cable news flashing images of migrant children held in cages and lawmakers’ offices facing a flood of angry phone calls, the president was under increased pressure to come up with a speedy solution.”
You Can Hate Putin But Love the World Cup
by Leonid Bershidsky
Bloomberg: The soccer World Cup has barely started, but it’s already created a moral dilemma for some.
Ukrainian artist Andriy Yermolenko made a series of “alternative promo posters” for the soccer World Cup now unfolding in Russia, replete with blood, skulls and dead babies. They’ve gone viral in Ukraine, but Ukrainian state TV still broadcasts the World Cup despite the war Russian proxies wage in the country’s east. The official reason is that the national broadcaster doesn’t want to lose the rights to the 2022 World Cup, which it has also bought. But then some 4 million Ukrainians watched the World Cup’s opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia, so it wasn’t a bad business move either.
In the U.K., Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson agreed with a Labour legislator’s suggestion that the World Cup is similar to Hitler’s 1936 Olympics and said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “glorying in this sporting event” would be “an emetic prospect.” The U.K. has sent no officials to the tournament, and the royal family has made a point of not having any of its members attend. And yet the U.K. is one of the top 10 countries outside Russia when it comes to World Cup ticket sales; 32,362 Brits decided to attend the games.
Despite the Russia-centered political storm, which has convinced many Americans that Russia tried to undermine U.S. democracy, Americans bought the most tickets to the World Cup of any foreign nation – 88,825.
“Fans and politics are the hopeless combination,” Nick Cohen wrote in the Guardian. “The battle is always unequal. If you wonder how you would have reacted to Hitler’s 1936 Olympics, look at how you are reacting to Putin’s 2018 World Cup and learn something about yourself and the nature of sport.”
But the sports fans visiting Russia despite warnings of anti-Western sentiment, homophobia, racism and rampant crime will inevitably see more than just the soccer games or the propaganda facade Putin would like them to see.
Unlike Olympics, held at a handful of heavily-guarded, easy-to-monitor locations, big soccer tournaments are wide-open affairs. The current World Cup is played in 11 Russian cities, from the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea to Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains. Some Australian, Chinese and Japanese fans took the Trans-Siberian railroad to get to Russia’s European part, where the World Cup is played.
There and everywhere, fans have been exposed to an unadorned version of Russia. Despite the many attempts to spruce things up (including the jails!) for the event, many fans will witness cramped, barely furnished apartments renting out for a fortune on Airbnb. They’ll brave the potholes on Russian roads, fly rickety planes on local routes and ride the shabby but convivial trains. German fans will encounter youths with mocking Nazi salutes, and the Brits will be asked disbelievingly about the Skripal poisoning affair. There will likely be racist incidents, too, and Communist lawmaker Tamara Pletnyova actually warned Russian women against having sex with people of other races during the World Cup – not that anyone was listening.
On Saturday, a Moscow taxi driver drove into a crowd of people, injuring eight, including two Mexican World Cup visitors. The driver, from the impoverished former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, had spent 20 hours behind the wheel after just three hours of sleep; he lost control of the car after mixing up the brake and gas pedals. With crowds of foreigners of every conceivable nationality reveling in central Moscow, exposure to this side of the Russian capital’s life is inevitable.
In other words, there’s no way to build a Potemkin village big enough to deceive the visitors about what Russia is really like; Leonid Brezhnev had a much better chance at that with the 1980 Olympics.
Sure, Putin and his allies use the opportunity to milk the event for some soft power. Putin, not a soccer fan, kicked a ball around with FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the Kremlin. Chechnya’s brutal ruler Ramzan Kadyrov had his pictures taken with Egypt and Liverpool striker Mohammed Salah, presumably to boost his standing in the Muslim world, where Salah is a superstar. But then fans won’t see much of Russia’s rulers, nor do they care one way or another.
They get to party with Russians, see the country and watch the games, which, so far, have been impeccably organized and mostly exciting. Only 28 percent of Russians hold passports that enable them to travel abroad so many others now get to see the world at their doors.
Those who have compared the World Cup with the 1936 Olympics, held when German Jews were already being stripped of citizenship and after their businesses had been “Aryanized,” should keep in mind that Russia isn’t about to launch a version of the Holocaust or a world war. It’s a country teetering between closing down to the world and staying as open as it became in the 1990s. It can be both ugly and welcoming, sometimes at the same time; and in any case, it’s not adequately represented by its leaders, as anyone will find out even after a few days spent going to soccer games.
Turkey's Islamists and secularists join forces in bid to unseat Erdoğan
The Guardian: The leader of Turkey’s largest Islamist party rattled off what he believes to be the failures of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government: a high unemployment rate, a widening trade deficit, a chaotic foreign policy, a stalled European Union membership application and a state of emergency since the failed 2016 coup – all of which have damaged fundamental rights and freedoms.
Temel Karamollaoğlu, the Manchester-educated head of the Saadet (Felicity) party, says it is for these reasons and more that he is running for president. He has also allied with staunch secularists in the race for parliament – a coalition that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.
Although Erdoğan remains the most powerful and popular politician in Turkey, his opponents have performed exceptionally well in opinion polls, with recent ones suggesting the legislative hold of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) could be broken.
In an environment of declining freedom of expression and purges of dissidents as well as growing displays of public piety in a country where secularism is enshrined in its founding principles, a consistent voice of opposition has emerged from an unlikely quarter.
Islamists, who were once ideological allies of the president, have joined the alliance trying to weaken his hold on power.
“The policies that Erdoğan or his government are following do not help Turkey stand up on her own feet in almost all aspects and policies, whether economic or foreign policies,” Karamollaoğlu told the Guardian. “His method of approach, the discourse, causes polarisation in Turkey. He is in great extent disrespectful to the upholding of law.”
Karamollaoğlu’s party was once led by Necmettin Erbakan, the father of Turkey’s modern political Islamist movement, one-time prime minister and former mentor of Erdoğan.
Erdoğan and other key figures in the movement, who were seen as more reform-minded at the time, split off to form the AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002.
Turkey’s president likes to portray himself as the global defender of Islam and has sought to position himself as a champion of Muslim causes and a leader of a solidarity movement for the oppressed faithful around the world, another stance that plays well with conservative voters.
Karamollaoğlu said his party’s vision for Turkey is one of UK-style secularism in which religion and the state can co-exist peaceably, a self-sufficient economy and a foreign policy based on dialogue and diplomacy, with closer ties to Muslim nations. He wants to abandon the pursuit of EU membership in favour of a special status agreement, as well as the strategic alliance with the US that is already frayed under Erdoğan >>>
‘America is better than this’: What a doctor saw in a Texas shelter for migrant children
by Kristine Phillips
The Washington Post, June 16, 2018
The small shelter along the Texas border to Mexico held 60 beds and a little playground for children. Rooms were equipped with toys, books and crayons. To Colleen Kraft, this shelter looked, in many ways, like a friendly environment for children, a place where they could be happy.
But the first child who caught the prominent pediatrician’s attention during a recent visit was anything but happy. Inside a room dedicated to toddlers was a little girl no older than 2, screaming and pounding her fists on a mat. One woman tried to give her toys and books to calm her down, but even that shelter worker seemed frustrated, Kraft told The Washington Post, because as much as she wanted to console the little girl, she couldn’t touch, hold or pick her up to let her know everything would be all right. That was the rule, Kraft said she was told: They’re not allowed to touch the children.
“The really devastating thing was that we all knew what was going on with this child. We all knew what the problem was,” Kraft said. “She didn’t have her mother, and none of us can fix that.”
The girl had been taken from her mother the night before and brought to this shelter that had been redecorated for children under age 12, Kraft said staffers told her.
The little girl is among the multitude of immigrant children who have been separated from their family as part of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, meaning any adult who crosses the border illegally will face criminal prosecution. That also means parents were taken to federal jails while their children were sent to shelters.
Nearly 2,000 immigrant children were separated from their parents during six weeks in April and May, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said colleagues who were alarmed by what was going on at the border invited her to see for herself, so she visited a shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“We needed to see what was happening and tell the country and the world about it,” she said.
One thing immediately became clear to Kraft: Those who work at this shelter, whom she declined to name for privacy reasons, were doing what they could to make sure the children’s needs are met. The children were fed; they had beds, toys, a playground and people who change their diapers. But there are limits to what workers could do. Not only could they not pick up or touch the children; they could not get their parents for them.
“The really basic, foundational needs of having trust in adults as a young child was not being met. That contradicts everything we know that the kids need to build their health,” Kraft said.
Such a situation could have long-term, devastating effects on young children, who are likely to develop what is called toxic stress in their brain once separated from caregivers or parents they trusted. It disrupts a child’s brain development and increases the levels of fight-or-flight hormones in their bodies, Kraft said. This kind of emotional trauma could eventually lead to health problems, such as heart disease and substance abuse disorders.
Kraft and her organization are not alone in this opinion.
“While not all of the children we are ripping from their parents will suffer the full consequences of toxic stress, many may,” child psychologist Megan Gunnar of the University of Minnesota told BuzzFeed News.
“The age of the child matters,” Gunnar said. Children under age 10 are of deep concern, she said. “Those under 5 should get us all running around with our hair on fire to get this practice stopped.”
Nearly 4,600 mental-health professionals and 90 organizations have joined a petition urging President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and several elected officials to stop the policy of separating children from their parents. The petition says:
These children are thrust into detention centers often without an advocate or an attorney and possibly even without the presence of any adult who can speak their language. We want you to imagine for a moment what this might be like for a child: to flee the place you have called your home because it is not safe to stay and then embark on a dangerous journey to an unknown destination, only to be ripped apart from your sole sense of security with no understanding of what just happened to you or if you will ever see your family again. And that the only thing you have done to deserve this, is to do what children do: stay close to the adults in their lives for security.
It further says: “To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma.”
As of Thursday, 11,432 migrant children are in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, up from 9,000 at the beginning of May. These numbers include minors who arrived at the border without a relative and children separated from their parents.
The policy so far has pushed shelters to their capacity. Administration officials had started making preparations to hold immigrant children on military bases. On Thursday, the Trump administration said it will house children in tents in the desert outside El Paso.
Though the policy has been enacted and touted by his own administration, Trump has avoided publicly owning it and, instead, blamed Democrats on Twitter for “forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.”
Health and Human Services blames Congress, saying its inability to pass legislation on border security “created perverse and dangerous incentives for illegal border crossings and child smuggling.”
For Kraft, lost in the partisan wrangling and finger-pointing was the long-term impact on children.
“As partisan and as divisive as the whole topic of immigration is, we need to start with what’s right,” she said. “Can we start with just keeping parents and children together while we figure out some of the other details?”
“The kids need to come first,” she added. “America is better than this.”
The Military Industrial Drain – OpEd
Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley
Eurasia Review: As Trump stokes tensions around the world, he’s adding fuel to the fire by demanding even more Pentagon spending. It’s a dangerous military buildup intended to underwrite endless wars and enrich defense contractors, while draining money from investment in the American people.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower once noted, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
Eisenhower was a Republican and a former general who helped win World War II for the allies, yet he understood America’s true priorities. But Washington–and especially Trump–have lost sight of these basic tradeoffs.
Since 2001, the Pentagon budget has soared from $456 billion–in today’s dollars–to $700 billion, including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other national security expenses. All told, when you include spending on the military and war, veterans’ benefits, and homeland security, military-related spending now eats up 67 percent of all federal discretionary spending.
According to the 2018 Military Balance report by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the United States already spends more on the military than the next 10 nations combined. Even if the Pentagon budget were cut in half, the United States would still outspend China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea combined.
The military budget has become bloated with waste and abuse. According to the Pentagon’s own internal figures, the department could save at least $125 billion by reducing operational overhead.
Out-of-control defense contractors also drive up spending. In the coming years, cost overruns alone are projected to reach an estimated $484 billion. Meanwhile, the CEOs of the top 5 defense firms took home $97.4 million in compensation last year.
Despite all this, some still argue that military spending is necessary to support good-paying jobs and economic growth. Baloney. America would be much better served by a jobs program that invested in things we really need – like modern roads and highways, better school facilities, public parks, water and sewer systems, and clean energy – not weapons systems.
The biggest reason for increases in Pentagon spending is the incredible clout of the military-industrial complex – Eisenhower’s term. Every year, defense contractors spend millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions to keep federal dollars flowing their way. More than 80 percent of top Pentagon officials have worked for the defense industry at some point in their careers, and many will go back to work in the defense industry.
Since taking office, Trump has increased military spending by more than $200 billion. Let’s take a second to look at how else that $200 billion could be spent. We could, for example:
Offer free public colleges and universities, as proposed by Bernie Sanders.
And fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
And expand broadband Internet access to rural America.
And meet the growing needs for low-income housing, providing safe living conditions for families and the elderly.
And help repair the physical devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Spending more on bombs and military machinery funnels money away from the American people and into wars. It’s time to rein in Pentagon spending and this endless war machine, and demand investment in America.
Trump likely doesn’t realize the dark path he’s taking his country down
The National Post: Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland raised some eyebrows when she quoted Adolf Hitler in a conversation devoted to the current political realities in Washington.
It’s rarely a good idea to reference the Nazi dictator. Few humans, with the arguable exception of Joseph Stalin, rival his crimes. Comparing anyone or anything to Hitler usually serves only to identify the accuser as lacking perspective or historical knowledge, and undermines whatever cause they’re arguing by demonstrating that fault.
Freeland’s case may be an exception, however. The foreign minister, who easily holds the most difficult portfolio in Canada, encompassing both the NAFTA trade talks and the general chaos engendered by the Trump White House, made her remarks in an interview with The New York Times. That alone would be enough to have heads exploding in conservative circles, as the Times has plunged into a single-minded jihad against all things Trump.
In the article, Freeland quotes Hitler boasting of the secret to his rise to power: “Our political problems appeared complicated. The German people could make nothing of them. … I, on the other hand … reduced them to the simplest terms. The masses realized this and followed me.”
Freeland, reported the Times, “leaned forward, a look of concern in her eyes. ‘How do you attract voters and public support compared with the flashiness of exciting, chaotic, fact-ignoring populism?’ she asked. ‘The reason Hitler won was because all of the other politicians were giving complicated and difficult explanations about difficult things. Hitler just told people simple things that they wanted to hear.’ ”
She didn’t specifically identify the U.S. president, but the inference is clear. Trump’s rise relates directly to his success at dismissing complex issues and relations as simple matters he can easily fix. His aggressive nature impresses angry audiences as strength and determination. He encourages a vision of America against the world, of a right-thinking nation surrounded by enemies. So virulent is the danger, apparently, that even Canada can be presented as a threat. As a Wall Street Journal article noted this week: “It finally happened: U.S. President Donald Trump picked a fight with the nicest people on Earth.”
Trump’s Washington isn’t anything like the Nazi horror, of course, but Freeland wasn’t suggesting it was. It just happened Hitler was the one who made the remarks she’d come across. Her allusion was to the danger of demagoguery, to the abandonment of standards of political discourse and international engagement, to the deep problems that ensue when one rule book is thrown out for no rules at all.
Freeland is no neophyte in these things. She has an extensive understanding of the dangers that occur when democratic norms are challenged, both from her years as a journalist, and personally from her family’s experience in Ukraine, a country devastated by Nazis and communists alike. Her maternal grandfather worked on a Nazi-operated newspaper in Krakow during the war, a publication that reportedly identified Poland as “infected by the Jews.” She denies charges he was a Nazi collaborator, insisting his actions have been distorted by Russian efforts to destabilize democracy and undermine elected representatives like herself.
I have no idea where the truth lays in that matter, but it evidently inspired in Freeland an intense awareness of the dangers of demagoguery and the forces it unleashes where democracy is weak. Wikipedia defines demagoguery as “a leader in a democracy who gains popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the common people, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation.” That precisely sums up Donald Trump, a demagogue who has become increasingly reckless as he grows in confidence as president. He reduces the most complex issues to the most simplistic of terms. He felt no need to prepare much for his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, convinced he could wing it on a problem that has evaded solution for 60 years and 11 presidents. He happily sneers at other leaders, belittles them in public, mocks their countries, dismisses less fortunate nations as “shitholes,” shatters relationships that have taken decades to forge with allies that have time and again come to America’s aid.
His imperiousness appeals to a certain American hunger for a time when it bestrode the world as unchallenged leader. After the Soviet collapse, the U.S. was supposed to be the world’s sole superpower, but it hasn’t been feeling very super-powery. Syria’s president audaciously crosses America’s red line and suffers little for it. Terrorists leave it feeling threatened in its own home. Someone apparently forgot to inform China and Russia of their subordinate status. If Americans can’t run the world, they can still enjoy Trump swaggering around as if he did, breaking treaties, disregarding agreements, insulting friends and allies. It may result in long-term damage as trust in America erodes, admiration fades and friends begin to treat it as a problem to be contained rather than an ally to support. But what matter is that in the short run, against “the flashiness of exciting, chaotic, fact-ignoring populism?”
Trump is interested in the world only as it affects him. He surrounds himself with toadies and opportunists, flatterers and yes-men. He identifies more with the likes of Putin and Kim than Justin Trudeau or Angela Merkel. He shares their instincts, their disregard for truth and the rule of law, their overweening dedication to their own interests above all else, their belief in the power of aggression. He has an ability to rouse dark instincts and give them a target. He probably lacks the depth to appreciate whose steps he’s following in, and the long history of disaster demagoguery has wrought. That’s probably part of what alarms Canada’s foreign minister, with good reason.
Trump really has achieved a historic breakthrough – for the Kim dynasty
The Guardian: A useful way to test the deal Donald Trump has reached with Kim Jong-un is to imagine what Trump himself would have said had it been Barack Obama rather than him who shook hands with the North Korean dictator. Trump and his echo chamber on Fox News and elsewhere would have poured buckets of derision on Obama for the piece of paper he signed with Kim, for the fawning praise he lavished on a brutal tyrant, and for the paltry non-concessions he got in return. He would have branded the agreement a “horrible deal” and condemned Obama as a sucker for signing it.
Look first at what Kim got from the encounter. Once ostracised as a pariah, Kim was treated as a world statesman on a par with the president of the United States, the two meeting on equal terms, right down to the equal numbers of flags behind them as they shook hands. The tyrant now has a showreel of images – including his walkabout in Singapore, where he was mobbed by what the BBC called “fans” seeking selfies – which will feature in propaganda videos for months, if not years.
What’s more, Trump lauded Kim as “a very talented man … who loves his country very much,” a man the US president admired for his ability to take over North Korea at such a young age and to “run it tough”, as he put it in a later press conference. There was not so much as even a rote condemnation of the brutality of the Kim regime – indeed Trump reserved the word “regime” for the Clinton administration of the 1990s. And when asked if he had even mentioned human rights in their talks, he said it had only been discussed “briefly”. The harshest words he had for a country that starved its own people in a famine that cost up to three million lives, were: “It’s a rough situation there … it’s rough in a lot of places by the way.”
So Kim leaves Singapore having gained much of the international legitimacy the dynastic dictatorship has sought for decades. But the gifts from Trump did not end there. He also announced an end to US military exercises in the Korean peninsula – the “war games” which he said were costly and, deploying language Pyongyang itself might have used, “very provocative”. Trump also hinted at an eventual withdrawal of the 28,000 US troops stationed in the Korean peninsula.
And what did Kim give Trump in return for this bulging bag of goodies? The key concession, the one Trump repeatedly invoked, was a promise of “complete denuclearisation”. Trump held this aloft as if it were a North Korean commitment to dismantle its arsenal, with work beginning right away. To be sure, such a commitment would be a major prize, one that would merit all the congratulation a beaming Trump was heaping on himself. But this is where you need to look at the small print.
First, the text itself says merely: “The DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.” Kim has promised not “complete denuclearisation” but simply “to work toward” that end. Negotiators the world over know is the fudging language you use when you’ve extracted something less than a real commitment. Kim has offered only an aspiration, with no deadline or timetable, not a concrete plan.
Still, even if Kim had pledged “compete denuclearisation” that too would be less than a genuine breakthrough. The longstanding goal of US policy has been CVID: complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear arsenal. The words “verifiable” and “irreversible” are entirely absent from the agreement.
Again, think of what candidate Trump would have said about that. The Iran deal, which he regularly denounced as “horrible” and from which he withdrew last month, consisted of 110 pages of detailed arrangements – including the deployment of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, cameras, seals and the like – to verify Tehran’s fulfilment of its nuclear promises. The Singapore text, which barely runs to a page and a half, does not so much as breathe the word “verifiable”. Indeed, Trump could not even get a commitment from Kim to basic transparency, to disclose the scope of North Korea’s current nuclear capacity, both the weapons it has and its manufacturing capability. How can the world know what Pyongyang has got rid of if it doesn’t know what it has?
But the heart of the matter is the word “denuclearisation” itself. The problem here is that that word does not mean to Kim what Trump thinks it means. To North Korea, it is not shorthand for unilaterally scrapping its arsenal, but a vague aspiration for a nuclear-free region (a move that would, incidentally, require the US to withdraw its nuclear forces from Asia and remove South Korea from the protection of its nuclear umbrella). It would be like misreading the speeches Obama often made calling for a nuclear-free world as a firm US commitment to ditch its nukes. That’s not what they meant at all.
On the contrary, analysts say that the Singapore text’s reference to the Panmunjom declaration of April this year – when the leaders of North and South Korea met for the first time in over a decade – is a further signal that Pyongyang sees the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula as part of a wider process of global disarmament. Put simply, Kim is saying he’ll get rid of his nuclear weapons only when Russia, China, the US and everyone else gets rid of theirs.
In his press conference, Trump praised himself for achieving a historic milestone that had eluded his predecessors. But it turns out that Pyongyang already offered very similar pledges in agreements it signed with the US in the early 1990s and in 2005. In fact, those earlier accords pushed the North Koreans much further: the former included an inspection regime, the latter a verification process. As the former US negotiator with North Korea, ambassador Wendy Sherman, told MSNBC, “Not only have we been here before, we’ve been here before with much greater specificity.”
Small wonder that the Seoul-based analyst Andrei Lankov declared of the agreement: “It has zero practical value. The US could have extracted serious concessions, but it was not done. N Korea will be emboldened and the US got nothing.” Other experts chorused that the deal was even “thinner” and “looser” than they’d feared.
Of course it is better for the world that Trump and Kim are shaking hands rather than hurling insults and threatening nuclear war. For that we should be grateful. It’s also possible that US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, might now get stuck into the detail and work to fill the yawning gaps. But for now, this is only a historic breakthrough for the Kim dynasty, whose rule over an enslaved nation has been given a huge boost. They will be celebrating. For the rest of us, it is further cause to grieve that the world’s most powerful nation is in such incapable hands.