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[l] at 7/16/19 10:18am

Yamamoto Taro (YouTube)

The Shinzo Abe administration in Japan, and its promotion of militarism and racist attacks on Koreans and Chinese, might seem impossible to displace. But a counter current in Japanese politics is gaining momentum. It and has put in motion new political players who speak with a frankness and engage in politics with a passion that has not been seen since the 1970s.

One of the most impressive of this new generation, who is currently touring Tokyo to give speeches in the lead-up to the July 21 elections, is the charismatic and committed Yamamoto Taro.

A long-time critic of the government’s denial of environmental damage resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, he has openly advocated on behalf of the citizens of the region who suffer from high rates of cancer. Yamamoto made headlines when he handed the previous emperor, Akihito, a letter in 2013 describing the terrible health conditions of children living around the disabled nuclear plant and the workers involved in the cleanup. Mainstream politicians attacked him for trying to use the emperor for political purposes at a public event, and many demanded that he resign and that be barred from future such events.

Yamamoto’s willingness to talk about the details of daily life for those confronted with the fallout of the nuclear disaster – in spite of the virtual media blackout on the issue – won him a small but devoted base in Japan.

Yamamoto started his career as an actor and established himself as a “talent,” a popular figure who appears on late-night talk shows to discuss current affairs and culture in a lighthearted manner. He took up the anti-nuclear issue after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor caused by the March 11, 2011 earthquake. To the detriment of his acting career, Yamamoto threw himself into activism, promoting renewable energy and working with those whose health was effected by the disaster.

He ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in 2010 as an independent from the Eighth district of Tokyo. His platform included unconditional opposition to nuclear power and to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. He was successful, however, in 2013 when he ran for the House of Councilors with the support of multiple minor parties. There he established himself as one of the most assertive young politicians.

A New Party

Yamamoto broke his primary affiliation with Jiyuto (Freedom Party) in April 2019 and launched a new political coalition known as Reiwa Sinsengumi. The Reiwa Sinsengumi (Reiwa New Election Team) coalition has fielded multiple candidates for the current elections (including Yamamoto) and has taken forceful positions not found among other established opposition parties. For example, Reiwa Rinsengumi demands an immediate end to the regressive consumption tax (other opposition parties only ask that the rate not be raised), has openly opposed the construction of the Henoko Base in Okinawa, has demanded an immediate and unconditional end to nuclear power in Japan, and has proposed a 1500-yen-an-hour minimum wage.

Reiwa Sinsengumi has also been outspoken in its opposition to the broad security and terrorism laws passed in 2017 that include numerous “preventive” approaches that limit freedom of speech. Other opposition parties have moved on after the fight back in 2017 and for the most part have accepted the reality of limited freedoms in contemporary Japan.

Reiwa Sinsengumi has relied on funding from individual citizens and has a lean organization of volunteers who avoid the thick net of financial obligations that weigh down other political operations. Yamamoto held a series of open lectures around the country that helped him to amass 100 million yen for the party within one month of its founding. Reiwa Sinsengumi has also fielded unusual progressive candidates such as Yasumi Ayumi, a professor of economics at University of Tokyo.

Kawanaka Yo, a volunteer in Yamamoto’s campaign working at this Yotsuya office, spoke about her work calling up his supporters to gather funding. “I was impressed by the incredibly positive response I received from his previous donors when I called to ask for support for the current campaign,” she said. “The enthusiasm was palpable and support for the party was not a matter of old ties but of a new vision for what is possible.”

In addition to its opposition to nuclear power and the TPP, Reiwa Sinsengumi supports a guarantee that Japanese “will not go hungry.” This is a promise to provide all citizens with free education, free medicine, and free social services. This plank declares that citizens should “work to live, not live do work” and that the terrible psychological and physical abuses of overwork must end. The coalition also opposes the revision of the constitution, the use of the term of “collective security” to justify an enlarged military, and the development of nuclear weapons.

An Unusual Candidate

Yamamoto has tirelessly travelled around Tokyo giving speeches and focusing on the disadvantaged and the disabled. His speech on July 8th was particularly powerful. Yamamoto launched into his discussion in this manner:

I started my career in politics with the thought that “I want to live.” But there are so many people in this country who do not want even to live in this country these days. There are twenty thousand people a year who choose suicide. It would be 50,000 if you include all the attempted suicides. This country is clearly completely broken. What about you? Can you say with confidence that you are someone whom this society will allow to live? Do truly believe that you are something of great value in this society simply in that you are alive? If you are in trouble, do you have the confidence to call out for help?

Yamamoto combines a disarming and even humorous rhetoric in his speeches, which is combined with a logical and scientific analysis (addressing his audience as if it were capable of understanding complex issues). He also launches into trenchant critiques that go to the core of a dehumanized market economy.

Rather than rely on the traditional broad strokes of Japanese politicians, Yamamoto talks about the daily lives of ordinary Japanese who are completely ignored in the larger picture presented by the mainstream media. In his speech, Yamamoto describes a Japan made up of numerous ordinary citizens, young workers, single mothers, the disabled, and the elderly, all subject to the increasing pressures of a rapacious economic system. He does not try to pin the problems on Abe or any particular bogeyman but demands that the actual issues be addressed directly.

Yamamoto declares that the essential question is one of a profound correction of the system itself. He sets out his goal as creating a new political culture that can move beyond denial and address topics like poverty and pollution with honesty. As such, he represents a new potential in the political culture of Japan.

The post Yamamoto Taro: New Prospects for Progressive Politics in Japan appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Emanuel Pastreich is the director of the Asia Institute (asia-institute.org) and a senior scholar at FPIF.

[Category: Uncategorized, Japan, Nuclear Power, Shinzo Abe, tpp, trade, Yamamoto Taro]

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[l] at 7/15/19 10:21am


It’s easy to be confused about what’s happening between the U.S. and Iran.

On July 10, President Trump again accused Iran of violating the Obama-era nuclear deal, in a tweet that he concluded by promising to increase U.S. sanctions “substantially.”

Similarly,  headlines — such as a recent New York Times article that originally proclaimed, “ With a New Threat, Iran Tests the Resolve of the U.S. and Its Allies ” — strongly suggest that Iran is the aggressor, and taking steps that heighten tensions in the Middle East.

That view is driven by Trump administration officials like Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, National Security Advisor and long-time proponent of invading Iran John Bolton, and other right-wing officials like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. Cotton said in an interview on Fox News Sunday that he sees “Iran steadily marching up the escalation chain,” which he said justifies U.S. air strikes against the country.

In June, administration officials made the serious allegation that Iran had attacked two cargo ships in the Gulf of Oman — only to see their account disputed by a captain on one of the very ships that was attacked. Then there was a week of movement toward military action — at the height of which the acting secretary of defense stepped down because stories of horrific domestic violence toward his wife came to light. 

Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone, with Iran and the U.S. asserting conflicting stories about whether or not the aircraft was in Iranian airspace. And then, of course, the president ordered an airstrike on Iran — only to cancel it with U.S. planes presumably moments away from killing up to 150 Iranians , which would have dramatically escalated the conflict.

Throughout these twists and turns, Trump , his Secretary of State, and other officials have repeated the phrase “ we don’t want war .” If that’s the case — that the U.S. wants to avoid war, even as Iran is supposedly taking a hostile posture and unilaterally escalating tensions — then the Trump administration’s instability and incompetence is surely worrisome. As a result, critics in both the media and Congress, not to mention the Democratic presidential field, are warning the administration could “bumble” into a war .

But whatever officials say, and as erratic as the sequence of events has been, one thing is clear: It’s the U.S. that is belligerently threatening Iran, not the other way around. And if a war breaks out, it won’t be because the administration “bumbled” into one.

It was, after all, the Trump administration that pulled out of the nuclear agreement — an agreement that Iran was fully complying with — which makes the administration’s complaints about Iran’s present enrichment levels totally bankrupt.

It was the U.S. that sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln , to the Gulf of Oman, right off Iran’s coast. It’s worth imagining how Americans might respond were Iran to send military vessels to the coast of California. And it’s the U.S. that’s sent nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the region, too.

In May, Trump announced that he was deploying 1,500 U.S. troops to the Middle East — in addition to the thousands already stationed in the region. At the same time, the U.S. withdrew diplomatic staff from Iraq, removing them from harm’s way should there be a military confrontation. In June, officials announced the deployment of 1,000 more troops . And as the U.S. has shifted ships, sailors, and marines toward Iran, the Middle East is now home to the largest number of U.S. naval personnel , despite American officials’ preoccupation with an increasingly powerful China many thousands of miles away.

Having set assets in place to carry out military operations, Hook and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked on a tour of the Middle East and Europe to shore up alliances and isolate Iran.

All this comes on top of the punishing sanctions regime the U.S. has imposed on Iran, breaking a promise made under the Iran nuclear agreement. Targeting Iran’s oil, steel, copper, and other industries, these sanctions have isolated the country’s economy from financial systems around the world. They’ve caused Iran’s currency to plunge in value , which has sharply curtailed access by ordinary Iranians to consumer goods. They’ve made diapers, baby formula, and feminine hygiene products especially difficult to buy, disproportionately impacting Iranian women and children — as sanctions typically do.

The U.S. is brutalizing ordinary Iranians, even as its actions and rhetoric are driving toward a more serious military confrontation. Despite this clear pattern, the U.S. media has more typically expressed concern for what seems to be an inept approach by the Trump administration. As the New York Times editorialized a month ago, “the Trump administration’s lack of a coherent strategy for dealing with Iran has resulted in a series of conflicting messages, all of which contribute to a growing sense of foreboding and unpredictability.”

But we should pay more attention to the administration’s actions than its words. In fact, rhetoric that decries war — coupled with actions that pursue it — seems to be the order of the day for Trump and his officials, as well as commentators itching for a U.S. attack.

Perhaps the right-wing Times columnist Bret Stephens captures the contradictory approach best. He concluded a bellicose recent column by saying that “nobody wants a war with Iran,” but points out that the U.S. has sunk the Iranian navy before and that “Tehran should be put on notice that we are prepared and able to do it again.”

It is simply a lie that the U.S. — or its hardline government, at least — does not want war. Politicians’ and commentators’ words may be muddled, but we should be clear: The administration is already devastating Iran with sanctions and is setting the stage for worse. We must do everything we can to stop it.


The post Iran’s Not the Aggressor. The U.S. Is. appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Khury Petersen-Smith is the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

[Category: War & Peace, diplomacy, Donald Trump, Iran Sanctions, iran war, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Trump administration]

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[l] at 7/15/19 6:27am


Over the past several months, President Trump has betrayed U.S.-allied militias in Syria and Libya, proving that he is willing to abandon partners that have fought and died alongside U.S. military forces in the wars in the Middle East and North Africa.

The president’s actions have left Kurdish militias in Syria vulnerable to attack by Turkey. Trump has also left Misratan militias in Libya defending Tripoli against an attack by Libyan General Khalifa Haftar. For years, both militias have worked closely with U.S. military forces in the war against the Islamic State.

The Kurdish forces, who are well-known on the left for leading a social revolution in Rojava, played a central role in defeating the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) in Syria. Many U.S. officials have praised the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces as the most effective fighters on the ground in Syria.

“We have full confidence in our partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, and we are proud to work with them to rid Syria from the scourge of ISIS,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a press statement last year.

When President Trump made his surprise announcement in December that he was withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria, he expressed no concern about the fate of the Kurds. His declaration prompted strong criticism from his closest allies in Washington, a number of whom warned that a rapid U.S. withdrawal would leave the Kurds vulnerable to attack by Turkey.

“If we leave now, the Kurds are going to get slaughtered,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said.

The foreign policy establishment, which pushed back against Trump’s decision, persuaded him to delay the U.S. withdrawal, but it remains unclear if the president will approve a long-term plan to provide security for the Kurds. The administration has not responded to repeated requests from members of Congress for detailed planning.

To “leave the Kurds in jeopardy, it would just be the wrong thing to do morally, it’d be the wrong thing to do in so many ways,” Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has said.

In the meantime, events unfolding in Libya have closely mirrored events taking place in Syria, as Misratan militias that have partnered with the U.S. military have also been betrayed by Trump.

In 2016, Misratan militias played a central role in a U.S.-led military operation against the Islamic State in the coastal city of Sirte. As a number of former U.S. officials confirmed during a congressional hearing in May, Misratan militias worked closely with U.S. military forces to defeat IS forces in the city.

“The actual people who cooperated with the U.S. government and AFRICOM in 2016 when a six-month operation took place to rid ISIS of Sirte were largely a group from Misrata,” former U.S. official Benjamin Fishman said. Air Force veteran Frederic Wehrey, who had been embedded with the Misratan militias, told the congressional committee that “I saw the sacrifices they made.”

Now, those very same Libyan forces are trying to defend Libya’s Government of National Accord from an attack by forces led by Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, a longtime asset of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In April, Haftar started a brutal military campaign to seize control of Tripoli as part of his bid to control all of Libya. “I don’t know that there is a political solution that he would accept other than complete domination,” former U.S. official Thomas Hill told Congress.

Regardless, the Trump administration has worked to help Haftar. Shortly after the general began his attack, the U.S. military withdrew its forces from Libya, making it clear that they would not stand in Haftar’s way. Then, in a phone call with Haftar, Trump endorsed the general’s campaign, despite the fact that it posed a direct threat to the Misratan militias that had previously worked with the U.S. military to fight IS.

The Misratan militias “are the people that Haftar is now fighting and those are the people that are on the defensive,” Fishman said. They “are currently under attack by Haftar’s forces,” former U.S. official Megan Doherty confirmed.

With the Misratan militias now defending Tripoli from forces supported by President Trump, their earlier contributions in the war against IS apparently mean very little to the president. Various officials in the Trump administration insist that they value U.S. partners in the world, but Trump’s actions show that U.S. partners are expendable.

Indeed, Trump’s actions in both Syria and Libya prove that he is willing to abandon U.S. partners at a moment’s notice, even if it means leaving them vulnerable to attack.

The post Trump Is Betraying U.S. Partners in Syria and Libya appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

[Category: War & Peace, civil War, Donald Trump, Islamic State, Khalifa Haftar, Kurds, Libya, Mike Pompeo, Misratan militias, Syria]

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[l] at 7/11/19 10:59am

A cemetery in Taft, Louisiana, in the shadow of a petrochemical plant. The area is known as “Cancer Alley.” (Shutterstock)

If you’ve read anything about climate change over the past year, you’ve probably heard about the IPCC report that gives a 12-year deadline for limiting climate change catastrophe. But for many parts of the world, climate change already is a catastrophe.

Recently in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, more than 40 people were killed by a severe heat wave in just one dayA study by UNICEF suggests that “in the next decade, 175 million children will be hit by climate-related disasters in South Asia and Africa alone.” Closer to home, Miami’s steady sinking is depleting useable drinking water at an alarming rate.

The truth is, vulnerable communities have been dealing with the effects of climate change and environmental pollution for decades now.

The 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans — aptly nicknamed Cancer Alley — is a stark example. Thanks to petrochemical pollution there, Louisiana at one point suffered the second-highest death rate from cancer in the United States, with some localities near chemical plants getting cancer from air pollution at 700 times the national average.

This is no accident: Corporations deliberately target places like Cancer Alley because they’re home to socially and economically disadvantaged people whom the corporations assume can’t fight back.

There’s even a name for it: “least resistant personality profiles.” Sociologist Arlie Hochschild discovered this term in a 1984 study done by a consulting firm to determine where a waste board could build a plant without local communities complaining.

According to the study, the people least likely to protest having their health put at risk were typically “longtime residents of small towns in the South or Midwest, high school educated only, Catholic, uninvolved in social issues, and without a history of activism, involved in mining, farming, ranching, conservative, Republican, advocates of the free market.”

While this study only tells part of the story, it does a lot to explain why poor communities face the worst consequences of climate change and pollution. These inequities cut across racial lines: As Hochschild’s study shows, “least resistant personalities” include small town, working-class white communities in the South and Midwest, as well as poor black people in places like Cancer Alley.

The problem isn’t just corporations, but government at all levels.

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, the federal government did next to nothing. The comparison between the responses to 9/11 and Hurricane Maria — whose death tolls were almost exactly the same — highlights just how overlooked the suffering caused to marginalized communities by climate change is.

The idea that environmentalism is an “elite” concern is a lie. Those who stand to gain the most from sweeping environmental protections are the marginalized people corporations assume can be put in toxic environments without fear of backlash.

That’s the best reason yet to support a Green New Deal, which would not only curb climate change, but also revitalize the U.S. economy, create millions of jobs, and create alternatives to harmful, unsustainable industries like the petrochemical industry in Cancer Alley that have harmed people for years.

That could make poor communities a lot less poor — and a lot more resilient.

The only way to move forward is to fight back against corporations that deliberately target the people they think can’t fight back — and against a government seemingly unconcerned about the effects of pollution and climate change. The catastrophe is happening now, but so it the movement to combat it.

The post Climate Change Is a Poor People’s Issue appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Mallika Khanna is a freelance writer from New Delhi and a graduate student at Indiana University.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Energy, Environment, Human Rights, Labor, Trade, & Finance, climate change, climate justice, environmental justice, green new deal, louisiana, Pollution, poverty, Puerto Rico]

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[l] at 7/10/19 1:27pm

By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could be under “water stress” conditions, setting the groundwork for conflict and wars. (Shutterstock)

During the face-off earlier this year between India and Pakistan over a terrorist attack that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, New Delhi made an existential threat to Islamabad. The weapon was not India’s considerable nuclear arsenal, but one still capable of inflicting ruinous destruction: water.

“Our government has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan,” said Indian Transport Minister Nitin Gadkarikin on February 21. “We will divert water from eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.” India controls three major rivers that flow into Pakistan.

If India had followed through, it would have abrogated the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between the two counties, a move that could be considered an act of war.

In the end, nothing much came of it. India bombed some forests, and Pakistan bombed some fields. But the threat underlined a growing crisis in South Asia, where water-stressed mega-cities and intensive agriculture are quite literally drying the subcontinent up. By 2030, according to a recent report , half the population of India — 700 million people — will lack adequate drinking water. Currently, 25 percent of India’s population is suffering from drought.

“If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water,” warns Ismail Serageldin , a former executive for the World Bank.

Bilateral Strains

While relations between India and Pakistan have long been tense — they have fought three wars since 1947, one of which came distressingly close to going nuclear — in terms of water sharing, they are somewhat of a model.

After almost a decade of negotiations , both countries signed the IWT in 1960 to share the output of six major rivers. The World Bank played a key role by providing $1 billion for the Indus Basin Development Fund.

But the ongoing tensions over Kashmir have transformed water into a national security issue for both countries. This, in turn, has limited the exchange of water and weather data, making long-term planning extremely difficult.  

The growing water crisis is heightened by climate change. Both countries have experienced record-breaking heat waves , and the mountains that supply the vast majority of water for Pakistan and India are losing their glaciers . The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report estimates that by 2100, some two-thirds of the area’s more than 14,000 glaciers will be gone.

India’s response to declining water supplies, like that of many other countries in the region, is to build dams. But dams not only restrict downstream water supplies, they block the natural flow of silt. That silt renews valuable agricultural land and also replenishes the great deltas, like the Ganges-Brahmaputra, the Indus, and the Mekong. The deltas not only support fishing industries, they also act as natural barriers to storms. 

The Sunderbans — a vast, 4,000 square-mile mangrove forest on the coasts of India and Bangladesh — is under siege. As climate change raises sea levels, upstream dams reduce the flow of freshwater that keeps the salty sea at bay. The salt encroachment eventually kills the mangrove trees and destroys farmland. Add to this increased logging to keep pace with population growth, and Bangladesh alone will lose some 800 square miles of Sunderban over the next few years. 

As the mangroves are cut down or die off, they expose cities like Kolkata and Dhaka to the unvarnished power of typhoons, storms which climate change is making more powerful and frequent.

The Third Pole

The central actor in the South Asia water crisis is China, which sits on the sources of 10 major rivers that flow through 11 countries, and which supply 1.6 billion people with water. In essence, China controls the “Third Pole,” that huge reservoir of fresh water locked up in the snow and ice of the Himalayas. 

And Beijing is building lots of dams to collect water and generate power. 

Over 600 large dams either exist or are planned in the Himalayas. In the past decade, China has built three dams on the huge Brahmaputra that has its origin in China but drains into India and Bangladesh.

While India and China together represent a third of the world’s population, both countries have access to only 10 percent of the globe’s water resources — and no agreements on how to share that water. While tensions between Indian and Pakistan mean the Indus Water Treaty doesn’t function as well as it could, nevertheless the agreement does set some commonly accepted ground rules, including binding arbitration. No such treaty exists between New Delhi and Beijing.

While relations between China and India are far better than those between India and Pakistan, under the Modi government New Delhi has grown closer to Washington and has partly bought into a U.S. containment strategy aimed at China. Indian naval ships carry out joint war games with China’s two major regional rivals, Japan and the United States, and there are still disputes between China and India over their mutual border. A sharpening atmosphere of nationalism in both countries is not conducive to cooperation over anything, let alone something as critical as water.

And yet never has there been such a necessity for cooperation. Both countries need the “Third Pole’s” water for agriculture, hydropower, and to feed the growth of mega-cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Beijing. 

Stressed water supplies translate into a lack of clean water, which fuels a health crisis, especially in the sprawling cities that increasingly draw rural people driven out by climate change. Polluted water kills more people than wars, including 1.5 million children under the age of five.  Reduced water supplies also go hand in hand with waterborne diseases like cholera. There is even a study that demonstrates thirsty mosquitoes bite more, thus increasing the number of vector borne diseases like zika, malaria, and dengue.

Regional Pacts Won’t Cut It

South Asia is hardly alone in facing a crisis over fresh water. Virtually every continent on the globe is looking at shortages. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030 water sources will only cover 60 percent of the world’s daily requirement.

The water crisis is no longer a problem that can be solved through bilateral agreements like the IWT, but one that requires regional, indeed, global solutions. If the recent push by the Trump administration to lower mileage standards for automobiles is successful, it will add hundreds of thousands of extra tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which, in turn, will accelerate climate change. 

In short, what comes out of U.S. auto tailpipes will ultimately be felt by the huge Angsi Glacier in Tibet, the well spring of the Brahmaputra, a river that flows through China, India, and Bangladesh, emptying eventually into the Bay of Bengal.

There is no such thing as a local or regional solution to the water crisis, since the problem is global. The only really global organization that exists is the United Nations, which will need to take the initiative to create a worldwide water agreement. 

Such an agreement is partly in place. The UN International Watercourses Convention came into effect in August 2014 following Vietnam’s endorsement of the treaty. However, China voted against it, and India and Pakistan abstained. Only parties that signed it are bound by its conventions.

But the convention is a good place to start. “It offers legitimate and effective practices for data sharing, negotiation, and dispute resolution that could be followed in a bilateral or multilateral water sharing arrangement,” according to Srinivas Chokkakula , a water issues researcher at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research.

By 2025, according to the UN, some 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water shortages, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be under “water stress” conditions. There is enough fresh water for seven billion people, according to the UN, but it is unevenly distributed, polluted, wasted, or poorly managed.

If countries don’t come together around the conventions — which need to be greatly strengthened — and it becomes a free for all with a few countries holding most of the cards, sooner or later the “water crisis” will turn into an old-fashioned war.

The post The World Needs a Water Treaty appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middlempireseries.wordpress.com. 

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Environment, Food & Farm, Health, Human Rights, War & Peace, climate change, glaciers, Kashmir, Water, water rights, watercourses convention]

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[l] at 7/10/19 12:23pm
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un shaking hands.

A widely circulating photo of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un shaking hands across the DMZ is promising for peace, but troubling for other reasons. (Shutterstock)

When Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un shook hands on June 30 at the line dividing the two Koreas, the pictures that appeared on front pages all over the world depicted two very different leaders. Trump is a tall, 73-year-old white man who leads the world’s most powerful democracy. Kim is a short, plump, 35-year-old Korean who heads up the world’s most notorious non-democracy. They look like the Laurel and Hardy or the Penn and Teller of geopolitics.

Appearances can be deceptive. Beyond their superficial differences, the two leaders share a great deal in common. In fact, their underlying similarities have helped cement an unlikely friendship. 

But what is beneficial for international peace is ominous for the future of American democracy. 

Back in 2011, Polish politician Lech Kaczynski looked longingly at how the right wing had taken over Hungary. Viktor Orban was running roughshod over Hungarian democracy, rewriting constitutions, controlling the press, suppressing civil society. Kaczynski said that he couldn’t wait to remake Warsaw, the capital of Poland, as a “Budapest on the Vistula.” When his party won both the presidency and a parliamentary majority, Kaczynski set about doing just that.

Donald Trump likewise looks longingly at the authoritarian states of Asia. He has remarked that the United States should experiment with China’s system of a “president for life.” In a host of other ways, Trump has emulated North Korea. Indeed, especially after his July 4 fusion of the personal, the patriotic, and the military, Trump seems to want nothing less than to create a Pyongyang on the Potomac.

He’s the Decider

The handshake at the Demilitarized Zone on June 30 was both an excellent PR stunt and a potentially important way to advance peace on the Korean peninsula. 

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un know a good photo op when they see one. They also have advisors whispering in their ears about the risks of rapprochement with the great devil across the sea. Yet they have established a rapport on the basis of their mutual love of self-aggrandizement. For better or worse, that’s often the currency of geopolitics. It’s certainly best to spend it on peace, not war.

For any progress to be made on improving U.S.-North Korean relations, however, the Trump administration has to move away from its all-or-nothing approach to negotiations. The administration has made some noises in the direction of the so-called small deal that would represent mutual compromises on the way to the goal of denuclearization, the elimination of economic sanctions against North Korea, and a peace agreement to replace the Korean War armistice. 

Any deals of this sort, however, require patience and competence, two qualities sorely lacking in a president given to volatile mood swings and an administration that has gutted its chief institution of diplomacy, the State Department.

In both North Korea and the United States, the two leaders are increasingly the sole deciders. The North Korean political sphere has a veneer of collective leadership through the Politburo and the larger Workers Party, not to mention input from the army and the intelligence services. But in reality, nothing of significance goes forward without Kim Jong Un’s say so. In the United States, meanwhile, Trump’s “brain trust” promulgates the unitary executive theory , according to which the president controls the entire executive branch. Of course, Trump doesn’t need a theory when his gut feeling is sufficient. Never one to pay much attention to other people, Trump routinely ignores the advice of top officials and experts.

Both leaders have attempted to concentrate power in their own hands. Kim did so by simply killing his uncle Jang Song-Thaek and a host of other top officials (including the vice minister of the army, the ministers of education and agriculture, and several ambassadors). 

Trump has resorted to less violent means but the result has been the same. The Trump administration has presided over a vast reduction of personnel in key U.S. agencies, like the Census Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency. He’d like to get rid of the entire Office of Personnel Management. The purpose behind these cuts is not just to save money. It’s to eliminate potential hubs of resistance to the Trump administration’s plans and to Trump himself.

Trump has also increasingly relied on “acting” heads of agencies, including the Pentagon and Homeland Security. The president argues that this gives him greater “flexibility.” In fact, it allows him to prevent cabinet members from establishing much in the way of institutional legitimacy. Trump was not happy with the somewhat more independent thinking of Jim Mattis at the Pentagon or Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department. 

One way that Trump has centralized power has been to fire his underlings and keep the administration in a state of flux. Trump “has the record for White House staff turnover, for cabinet turnover and now for the highest turnover within a single department,” according to Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of Brookings. Of course, some of the resignations have been because of incompetence or corruption. But high turnover is a tactic that Trump uses to keep appointees in line and diminish the power of the bureaucracy.

This kind of approach is well-suited to destroying things: a nuclear agreement with Iran, détente with Cuba, multiple efforts to address climate change. But actually creating something — like a treaty with North Korea — may prove beyond the capacity of an administration determined to reduce its own capacity.

Executive Orders

The difference between North Korea and the United States is that the former is a democracy in name alone. Despite Trump’s best efforts, he still comes up against what remains of democratic governance in the United States.

Consider Trump’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census in 2020. The ploy is a naked attempt by the Republican Party to rig future elections. Don’t take my word for it. A top Republican operative, Thomas Hofeller, left behind evidence of just such a strategy on his computer when he died. According to The New York Times :

Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.

Even without considering Hofeller’s computer files, the Supreme Court decided by a slim majority that the administration was lying about its rationale for including the citizenship question on the census. Just as in the administration’s earlier attempt to destroy the Affordable Care Act, it was Chief Justice John Roberts, an otherwise very conservative judge, who represented the swing vote.

But none of that matters to Trump. He has instructed Attorney General William Barr to come up with another rationale for the inclusion of the question, which will be no doubt as duplicitous as the first one that the Supreme Court rejected. And if that fails, Trump will bypass the Supreme Court — and the constitution — simply by issuing an executive order. 

It’s not the first time that Trump has ruled by decree. He has issued more than 100 of them through the middle of May. Many are uncontroversial or just ceremonial . Others, like his Muslim travel ban or declaration of a state of emergency at the border, have provoked fierce opposition. 

It’s one thing to try and bypass Congress. Other presidents have done that. It’s another to try and bypass the Supreme Court in such a blatant manner. That could very well throw the country into a constitutional crisis . Such a crisis would not be an unintended consequence of Trump’s attempt to create a semi-permanent Republican majority. It’s a deliberate effort to scupper the checks and balances of democracy.

Parallel Styles

Parades in Pyongyang feature displays of military might, patriotic bombast, and scores of cheering followers of the leader’s personality cult. 

And now, in Trump’s America, so do celebrations of July 4.

Commentators expected a self-serving Independence Day speech from the president. So, when he instead offered a rambling review of American history, they gave him passing marks. 

But the speech provided the same kind of distortions you might expect in North Korea. Trump urged young people to join the army, though he did everything he could to avoid the Vietnam War. He gave a shout-out to Harriet Tubman but has done his best to delay Tubman’s replacement of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. He praised the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, though his administration has done its utmost to reverse the gains of those struggles. 

By devoting most of his speech to America’s military history, he turned the holiday into a celebration of martial spirit, an apt mirror of North Korea’s military-first doctrine. The tanks on the ground and the fighter jets overhead punctuated this point. The hardware also supplied a powerful subliminal message: if he deems it necessary, this president will bring the military out onto the streets of Washington, DC to secure the country’s freedom from all those who threaten it, whether they work for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or write for The New York Times

The military-first approach is not the only similarity in style between Trump and Kim Jong Un. In North Korea, nepotism is the very structure of governance, with the Kim family controlling the state apparatus from the country’s inception. Today, Kim Jong Un’s sister serves as a top advisor and emissary. Similarly, Trump has installed his daughter and son-in-law as top advisors, and he imagines that Ivanka will become president one day. Perhaps even one day soon, as Bob Cesca explains at Salon:

In fact, there’s a rumor currently circulating among Republican circles in Washington in which Trump suddenly declines the nomination sometime next summer, presumably for health reasons, then lobbies the convention delegates to toss their votes to Ivanka as his rightful heir and the 2020 nominee. 

Then there’s the personal enrichment. Kim has a fortune of $5 billion at his disposal , with plenty of resources socked away in overseas accounts. There is no emoluments clause in North Korea’s constitution: the leader can use his office to extract as much wealth from the system as he pleases. 

Trump’s ambitions are only somewhat more modest. For instance, he doubled his hotel income from 2016 to 2017, netting nearly $30 million, and he’s made more money at places like Mar-a-Lago from elevated fees . He even hopes to make money from his presidential library . But Trump probably hopes that presidential immunity will protect him from any future charges of financial impropriety, which would save him a great deal more money in the long run. 

Back to That Handshake

As a relatively young man at the top of a rigidly hierarchical system, Kim Jong Un no doubt expects a long career ahead of him. But if U.S. sanctions continue to squeeze the North Korean economy, he will have an increasingly difficult task of delivering the goods to the elite, the sliver of middle class, and the struggling majority of the population. He needs a helping hand from the first American president willing to step onto his territory. Trump’s successor will not likely be so generous. 

Donald Trump’s tenure is considerably more fragile. He’s no spring chicken. Many people in Congress are itching to impeach him. And plenty of voters can’t wait to eject him from office in 2020. But Trump knows that his political fate, not to mention his overall legacy, rests on his ability to shake things up and produce unexpected results – like a peace treaty with North Korea. But that depends on Kim Jong Un’s willingness to compromise.

The handshake across the DMZ might have united unusual bedfellows. But these two leaders also need each other for their own political survival. That’s good news for the potential reunification of the Korean peninsula. But the mirror-imaging that is taking place, the ongoing construction of Pyongyang on the Potomac, is bad news for transparency, good governance, human rights, and economic justice. 

The post Pyongyang on the Potomac appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, War & Peace, Donald Trump, kim jong-un]

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[l] at 7/8/19 11:46am


It was not very long ago that Donald Trump was calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to rain “fire and fury” down on North Korea. In response, Kim called Trump a “dotard” and promised an equally fiery attack on the United States.

But now, two summits, the exchange of friendly letters, and a dramatic handshake at the DMZ have nearly erased what had once been a very tense relationship between the two leaders.

It’s tempting to assume that Trump approaches international relations according to the same template: aggressive threats followed by cordial diplomacy. It’s how he recently treated Mexico, for example, by threatening to impose an escalating series of sanctions on the country if it didn’t stop the flow of refugees across its northern border into the United States. The administration backed down after an interim agreement. The U.S. president seems to be approaching China in a similar fashion, with threats followed by a recent truce.

And then there’s Iran.

Since he took office, Trump has kept up a constant attack on Iran and its leadership. He has also taken aim at the nuclear agreement that the United States (alongside EU, Russia, and China) negotiated to eliminate any path Iran might take to building nuclear weapons. Last year, he withdrew the United States from that agreement.

More recently, the United States and Iran moved closer to the brink of outright conflict. The United States accused Iran of attacking several ships in the international waters of the Persian Gulf region. And Iran shot down an unmanned drone, which it accused of flying over Iranian territory. The Trump administration authorized a cyberattack on Iran in response and came very close to launching an aerial bombing of Iranian infrastructure.

Although several members of the Trump administration – notably National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – support a more active regime-change campaign against Iran, Trump seems less certain. He is not eager to start a ground war in the region. And he has expressed his desire on several occasions to sit down with Iranian officials to negotiate another agreement to replace the nuclear accord that he has done so much to destroy.

On the face of it, then, it seems as though Donald Trump is preparing to make the same pivot on Iran that he did with North Korea. He defied his advisors and the opinion of the Washington commentariat more generally to reach out to Kim Jong Un. Perhaps he is on the verge of doing the same thing with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

There are, however, significant differences between the two cases. With North Korea, Trump was effectively dealing with a clean diplomatic slate. The Obama administration had failed to negotiate any lasting agreement with Pyongyang. So, Trump has been able to position himself as a pathbreaker, as a president who not only outperforms his predecessor on this issue but all previous modern administrations as well. Indeed, Trump believes that his initiatives on North Korea will ultimately net him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Iran is a different matter. By coming close to destroying the Iran nuclear deal, Trump is not only ripping up a legacy of the Obama administration. He is angering European allies – as well as Russia and China – who have invested a great deal of political capital in that agreement. He is undermining U.S. credibility in the international community, particularly the assumption that Washington will abide by agreements that it signs.

And, of course, Trump has infuriated Iran. The restoration of sanctions removed by the Obama administration as part of the nuclear deal – plus the addition of even more sanctions – has severely affected the Iranian economy. The threat of secondary sanctions against any country doing business with Iran has further hurt the country, particularly by cutting into revenues from the energy sector.

The only segment of the Iranian population that is happy with Trump’s moves is the group of hardliners that never wanted rapprochement with the United States in the first place. These hardliners occupy important positions in the clerical hierarchy as well as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The latter was responsible for the shootdown of the U.S. drone and may have been involved in the naval incidents as well.

Even if Trump intends to pivot toward negotiations, Iran may no longer be interested in talking with Trump. Iranian officials don’t believe that they can trust anything that Washington says – and, after Trump has walked away from so many agreements that the United States has signed, they have a point.

Also, it’s not entirely clear that Trump has a consistent approach to U.S. adversaries. He doesn’t seem to have any interest in negotiating a new deal with Cuba to replace the Obama-era agreement. He doesn’t appear to want to talk with Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. Perhaps Washington will eventually reach a trade deal with Beijing – but the Trump administration has continued a hardline approach to China on other issues from information technology to cybersecurity.

In other words, there is no consistent Trump doctrine such as “speak loudly, wave around your big stick, but ultimately get down to negotiations.” Worse, U.S. foreign policy has become concentrated in the hands of the president, with considerably less input from the State Department, the National Security Council, and the intelligence agencies.

The risk of war with North Korea has diminished considerably over the last year. But the risk of war with Iran remains high. It could happen by accident. It could happen by miscalculation.

Or it could happen because Donald Trump wakes up one morning and decides to follow through on all the threats that he has made. The same split-second decision that led him to meet Kim Jong Un at the DMZ might lead him to launch an attack on Iran. That’s what it means to have an erratic, inconsistent, and fundamentally irresponsible president in the White House.

The post Trump’s Bluster Diplomacy appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: War & Peace, Donald Trump, Iran, JCPOA, North Korea, Nuclear Deal, santions]

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[l] at 7/3/19 12:44pm


When Ismail Ahmed was a schoolboy in Somaliland, he received remittances from his brother, one of thousands of Somalis who went to work in the Saudi Arabian oil industry. After Ahmed left Somaliland to study economics in London, he himself sent remittances to relatives back home. He used traditional money transfer models controlled by agents of large companies — a process both costly and cumbersome. He wondered if there wasn’t a better way.

Now WorldRemit , a company Ahmed founded in 2010, is one of the leaders in the transition to lower-cost digital transfers. It has competitors, such as Paypal’s Xoom and TransferWise , founded by Estonian entrepreneurs in 2011. Who will prevail in the global marketplace is still to be seen. But so far WorldRemit is the one with the greatest momentum in Africa. 

Remittances are a vital component of the global economy and of African economies in particular. Annual remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries are likely to reach $550 billion in 2019 . That would make remittance flows larger than either foreign direct investment or official development assistance flows to these same countries. 

Families in Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the world depend on remittances from relatives working abroad for daily survival and special expenses — to pay school tuition or medical fees, repair or build homes, or invest in new livelihood enterprises. 

Worldwide, remittances are a critical, if underestimated, component of national income. Nigeria, for example, received remittances of $24.3 billion in 2018, accounting for over 6 percent of the country’s national income. In some African countries the percentage is even higher.

Remittances could have far greater impact if not for the high transaction costs going to banks and dominant money transfer agents such as Western Union. Sending money through these channels incurs an average of 7 percent in fees, and in sub-Saharan Africa, 9 percent. 

This means that a nurse in New York who works extra shifts to send money to her family in Malawi loses almost a tenth of the value of every transfer she sends. The Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations target a rate of just 3 percent for such transfers .

New digital technology, however, can lower costs, make transfers more convenient, and protect against risks of fraud or money laundering. 

After his studies, Ahmed worked for the United Nations on a remittance program for Somalia. He was fired in 2006 after he uncovered corruption in that program. But he filed a complaint with the UN as a whistleblower, and four years later won compensation of £200,000. He used these funds to launch WorldRemit. 

Its innovative model allows people to send remittances digitally with a computer, or with a smartphone and an app. In an email interview in April, WorldRemit Middle East and Africa managing director Andrew Stewart, based in Johannesburg, said that most of their customers “choose to send via smartphone, and over 90 percent of all transactions are authorized in less than 10 minutes.” 

The digital model is much cheaper than offline transfers, which are still the most common, Stewart noted. “The vast majority of remittances today are still sent offline at corner shops and bricks-and-mortar money transfer agents. People in the diaspora have to find the time in their busy lives, many working multiple jobs, to visit a money transfer agent during business hours and then pay extortionate fees to send money home.”

With digital transfers, the sender can check out comparative prices for any country pair and mode of transfer with services such as Monito . Since exchange rates and fees differ from day to day, the prices are updated in real time. For example, checking United States to India gives five different options, including TransferWise and several lesser-known companies. (WorldRemit is not currently available for that transfer, but it turns up as the cheapest option for most African countries and even for USA to Jamaica transfers .)

The company sends money to 40 African countries and 100 countries in other parts of the world.

I came across WorldRemit in March of this year when trying to send a donation to a local organization in Maputo, Mozambique, that was raising funds for the victims of Cyclone Idai . Using my local bank in Washington, DC, would be, I knew from experience, time-consuming and costly. I checked out my options on Monito for Mozambique , and found that WorldRemit was not only the cheapest but also the only way to send funds online to a bank account in Mozambique. For sending money to Kenya , which has pioneered mobile money payments, the options are even wider. Families can receive funds through mobile money accounts, pick up cash at a bank, or receive airtime on several mobile phone networks.

WorldRemit is now targeting making it possible to send money between African countries. It has started with South Africa, where the workforce includes many migrants from other African countries. Remittance transfers from South Africa have long been among the most expensive in the world, with fees averaging 15 percent or more. But WorldRemit is now able to offer average rates below 4 percent from South Africa to neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique. 

According to the company’s research, remittances help 3.5 million children worldwide go to school each year . If all remittances were sent through cheaper digital transfers, as much as $825 million could be unlocked for families to spend on education or other basic needs. 

The United Nations has included remittances in its sustainable development goals, and is raising consciousness through an annual International Day on Family Remittances . The World Bank is collecting data and researching the impact of remittances . But so far, these efforts have failed to generate specific proposals for governments to assist in lowering the cost of sending to the goal of 3 percent.

Given that reality, reaching that goal will depend for the time being on the advance of digital technology in the private sector. WorldRemit may or may not end up leading in this space, as bigger players become more involved. But given the cost advantages to senders and the rapidly evolving technology, the outlook seems promising for a rapid shift in the direction Ismail Ahmed foresaw. 

The post Sending Money Overseas Needs to Cost Less appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

William Minter is the editor of AfricaFocus Bulletin. The May 13, 2019, issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains additional charts, interviews, and links on the issue of remittances.

[Category: Labor, Trade, & Finance, development, Millennium Development Goals, Remittances]

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[l] at 7/1/19 9:57am


“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night,” Donald Trump tweeted about Iran on June 21, showing us just how close we are to yet another war.

In light of the shooting down of a U.S spy drone, the tanker incidents just a few days prior, and a trajectory of other escalatory moves, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton aren’t waging a maximum pressure campaign to change the behavior of their enemy, but are paving a path toward war. 

Regardless of the clear facts about the incidents, one thing is clear — military escalation must not be the response. 

The consequences would be disastrous in terms of casualties on all sides, further destabilization of the Middle East, the increased risk of nuclear proliferation and war, and the waste of trillions of dollars. Now more than ever, diplomatic efforts need to be pursued at all costs. 

In addition to the tangible checklist for preventing war, I suggest that it is overdue to change the narrative around Iran and its people. 

First, however, the context in which these events are occurring needs to be understood. 

The recently escalated tensions all take place within the context of the U.S. unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. This needs to sink in: the U.S. pulled out of a working agreement between Iran, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union, added sanctions, issued threats, and thereby created the current crisis. 

The broader historical context is Iran’s insistence not caving to U.S. interests in the region. I heard this point of view directly from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, whom I met in Tehran as part of a citizen peace delegation earlier this year . “Iran’s biggest crime against the U.S.”, he told us “was the desire to be independent.”

In Iran, I learned that the Iranian people expected to see improvements in their lives from the nuclear deal. They are aware of their own government’s problematic behavior, but the last thing they want is the “help” of the United States. Outside pressure strengthens hardliners in Iran and leads to Iranians to rally around the flag. Without external pressure, Iranians can work toward social change on their own time and on their own terms.

To de-escalate the current tension and prevent war, a few components are clear. Congress needs to make stopping war with Iran a priority and exercise its authority to oppose a war of choice with Iran. Citizens can flood the congressional phone lines to encourage that. The U.S. should also re-enter the Iran nuclear deal as quickly as possible. Until that happens, the other signatories need to take on a leadership role, defy U.S. pressure, and work tirelessly and creatively to uphold the commitments of the agreement. 

The destructive sanctions also need to end, and genuine diplomacy needs to be supported. Given that there is little chance and incentive for high level dialog, backchannel negotiations like the ones that paved the path for the Iran nuclear deal need to be pursued. 

I want to suggest another component, one that goes beyond immediate legislate and diplomatic issues. It is time to change the narrative around Iran. 

There are many staunch advocates for diplomacy, in Congress and beyond, who are still caught in the good “us” vs. bad “them” narrative. We need to look beyond that and think about how a country of 80 million people is constantly vilified as the root of all evil in the Middle East. That is simply wrong. The problematic behavior of the Iranian government must not be an obstacle to rethinking how we can create better understanding between the people of the U.S. and Iran. In fact, all Iranians I talked to liked Americans, but for obvious reasons were not so keen about our president and the policies. 

When we are talking about the possibility of war with Iran, we must refuse to think about the faceless enemy that is so often being dehumanized in our political system and in the media. 

I think about the people I met. Sama and her husband Ali, who came to pick her up after a long day of working as our tour guide; Shahram, who sends me WhatsApp messages about classic rock bands that we both like; Ebrahim, who would love to take Americans on trekking tours in Iran; Farimah, who asked me to speak English with about 10 of her young students; Roozbeh, the young waiter who insisted that I not leave without desert. 

They deserve to live a life without sanctions and without the threat of war. When foreign policy as we know it is not working, creative citizen diplomacy can step in. We have our responsibilities to make that happen by recognizing that Iranians are not our enemies. 


The post Iranians Are Not Our Enemies appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Patrick T. Hiller, Ph.D., is a Conflict Transformation scholar and professor. He served on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association (2012-2016), is a member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, and is Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.

[Category: War & Peace, citizen diplomacy, diplomacy, Iran deal, Iran Sanctions, iran war, iranians]

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[l] at 7/1/19 9:39am

A Japanese-American internment camp in Colorado (Shutterstock)

In our history textbooks, “Japanese internment,” as it’s carelessly called, features as a mistake, blunder, or brief departure from constitutional piety following the trauma of Pearl Harbor. 

The summary detention of 120,000 people of Japanese descent — around 80,000 of whom were American citizens — can be more accurately described as one of the worst officially-sanctioned crimes in the country’s history. But it was a crime with many authors, and many ugly subplots that even civil libertarians have buried. 

Above all, this dark episode, for all its distinctiveness, exposes the deeper weaknesses of our much-vaunted democratic checks and balances — weaknesses that are now being exploited in remarkably similar ways. 

The Politics of Euphemism

In 1942, the Army insisted that Japanese-Americans were not going to “concentration camps,” but instead “ relocation centers .” The main supervisor of the camps, War Relocation Authority (WRA) head Dillon Myer, continued to resist the label in the 1970s, while the state of Arkansas still retains the original euphemism for its Register of Historic Places. 

As with the current debate surrounding American concentration camps, the straightest talkers were historians: especially Roger Daniels in Concentration Camps USA: Japanese Americans and World War II (first published in 1971) and Michi Weglyn in Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps (first published in 1976). 

The basic defense was also the same: We aren’t Nazis. We might not be giving them lawyers, trials, or any indication of when they might be released, but we are giving them food, water —  even toys

It’s hard to make this kind of argument without the sterilizing language. As Orwell put it after vividly describing what terms like “pacification” and “transfer of populations” meant in practice: “Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

Building Fifth Columns 

Of course, one of several major differences between 1942 and today is war. Although the U.S. government has not been shy about terrorizing the home countries of people now mired in immigration detention, there is no ongoing, formal state of belligerency like there was with Japan. 

Nevertheless, the idea of a foreign horde destabilizing the country from within is as popular now as it was then. After Pearl Harbor, everyone from California Governor Earl Warren (later the liberal darling of the Supreme Court) and General John DeWitt of Western Defense Command, to the esteemed journalist Walter Lippmann warned of the “Fifth Column” on the Pacific Coast , ready to fight for its true fatherland at any moment. 

The evidence for this was very thin, as FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover — decidedly not a man with a reputation for living civil liberties — publicly stated . But the absence of any concrete plots was only taken as more proof of Japanese cunning. Ultimately, General DeWitt, who authored the infamous “Final Report” recommending internment, concluded , “There is no way to determine their loyalty” because “the Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on U.S. soil, possessed of U.S. citizenship have become ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted.” 

You won’t hear Trump administration officials put things quite so baldly, but we do — now on a regular basis — hear spectacular tales of “ Terror Travel ” across the Southern border, possibly funded by rich liberal Jews in cahoots with lecherous Mexicans aiming to simultaneously steal jobs and leech off the welfare state. 

When a subset of the population is framed as a national security threat, barbed wire is the next logical step.

Loyal Partisans

Franklin Roosevelt cannot escape final responsibility for the concentration camps created on his authority (he, by the way, used that term in private correspondence ). Yet it’s important that other people don’t get off the hook. 

First, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). As Peter Irons fastidiously documents in Justice at War , the leadership of the ACLU was cautious about confronting the Roosevelt administration, which had been a useful ally in protecting the rights of organized labor throughout the 1930s and early ‘40s. This might have made sound political and strategic sense, but it did not bode well for people like Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu, who sought to challenge their treatment in court. 

Most damagingly, the ACLU’s leaders left their tiny Seattle chapter to defend Hirabayashi alone — despite initially promising support from the organization’s full resources. “By late 1944,” Roger Daniels writes , “the ACLU had quietly filed an amicus curiae brief for Fred Korematsu, something it still brags about in its literature while ignoring its prior silence.” Meanwhile, no organized left-wing political group, except the miniscule Socialist Workers Party, formally protested or condemned internment for essentially the same reasons. Why attack a rare friend in government during a national crisis? 

A similar calculus is clearly motivating many of the Republicans falling into line with President Trump. To be sure, a good number — maybe most — have always supported his policy of deliberate cruelty or, as they say call it, “deterrence.” But others — especially the Mitch McConnells and, formerly, Paul Ryans of American politics — are simply willing to tolerate a few concentration camps in exchange for a more reliably conservative judiciary or tax reform.

Someone’s Making Money

Finally, let’s not forget that this is America. Whenever you see suffering, you can safely assume someone is profiting from it. 

By 1942, Japanese farmers and their American-born children had established a strong economic base on the West Coast. White agricultural interest groups had long attempted to prevent “the Japs” from owning and cultivating land, and the Pearl Harbor panic provided a unique opportunity. 

“We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons,” the Managing Director of the Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association frankly admitted . “We might as well be honest. We do… If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we’d never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows.” By the end of the war, this goal had been mostly achieved .

The immigration-detention-industrial-complex is a more sophisticated operation. The private prison component is relatively straightforward: throw a few hundred thousand dollars at the president’s inaugural committee, and get more business from the Justice Department. But there’s also the complex technological infrastructure — facial recognition, biometric tracking, cloud storage space — linking Silicon Valley to the deportation juggernaut. 

One Important Difference

One obvious objection to all these parallels is the question of citizenship. The reason we’re so ashamed of the WWII internment — and why, for once, we paid some reparations — is because we locked up law-abiding American citizens. By contrast, the argument goes, as non-citizens, undocumented immigrants don’t have constitutional rights.

This line of reasoning is not only rejected by Supreme Court precedent, which repeatedly if vaguely has upheld elementary rights for non-citizens , but it also misses the obvious point that citizenship provided no extra protection for 80,000 of the WWII internees. If there is any overarching lesson from a comparison between then and now, it’s that even the most sacred constitutional protections can be easily and quickly undermined.  

However, one vital difference should be underlined. Virtually everyone within a sniff of political power abandoned the Japanese-Americans, but resistance to the Trump administration is real — and embodied in prominent public figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Although the prospect of immigrant children being shipped off to former WWII internment camps doesn’t inspire much confidence about the future, this battle is not lost yet.

The post American Concentration Camps, Then and Now appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Harry Blain is a PhD student in political science at the Graduate Center, CUNY (City University of New York).

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Human Rights, alexandia ocasio-cortez, concentration camps, Donald Trump, immigrants, immigration detention, Internment, japanese internment, private prisons]

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[l] at 7/1/19 9:00am

John Bolton (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Some things are still unclear about Trump’s recent decision to bomb Iran — and his rapid-fire follow-up decision not to.

We still don’t know what he or his bomb-Iran cheerleaders — National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — thought the bombing would actually accomplish. We also don’t know why Trump decided to recall the bombers. (Trump claimed it’s because a general told him 150 people would die in the attack. But given Trump’s indifference to civilian casualties in Yemen and elsewhere, I’m willing to bet the store that had little to do with it.)

But some things are pretty clear. One is that while Trump pulled back on starting a shooting war, the administration is directly attacking millions of Iranians already.

Three sets of new sanctions, imposed in recent months, are crippling much of Iran’s economy. They’re killing Iranians, as the health care system strains to survive shortages of medicine and medical equipment. “Sanctions [are] the first problem in our country and in our system. We can’t transfer the money and make the preparations for surgery. It’s a big problem for us,” says Dr. Mohammad Hassan Bani Asad, managing director of the Gandhi Hotel Hospital in Tehran. “We have the procedures, but we don’t have the instruments. It is very difficult for patients and maybe leads to death of some patients.”

A set of sanctions fourth was added just last week, ostensibly aimed at Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khameini. Those are likely to have less immediate impact on the public than the earlier ones, but the political impact is huge, with Iran subsequently threatening to cut off diplomatic channels altogether.

Sanctions are simply war by other means. Under the terms of the United Nations Charter, in fact, the unilateral imposition of economic sanctions may constitute an internationally prohibited act of aggression.

Meanwhile the risk of armed conflict still remains on the table.

In recent weeks, Trump sent a U.S. aircraft carrier group with 7,500 or so troops to join two other carrier groups with about 10,500 forces already prowling the region. He also deployed a squadron of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, plus another 2,500 U.S. troops to the already over-armed and over-occupied Middle East.

Meanwhile Trump administration officials blame Iran for the mine attacks on U.S.-allied oil tankers in the waters surrounding Iran — a possible pretext for an attack. These are serious escalations. Even more serious were the cyber-attacks the U.S. launched against Iran shortly afterward.

These are all actions designed to provoke Iranian responses, deliberately edging us closer to a direct military exchange that could easily lead to a full-fledged regional war. Such a confrontation doesn’t have to start with a direct U.S. military strike on Iran, although Bolton and Pompeo have certainly been pushing for that.

By now there are strong political pressures on both governments from hardline elements keyed up for a confrontation.

On the U.S. side, Trump’s under pressure from both his own hawkish advisers and from allied anti-Iranian governments in Saudi Arabia and Israel, which would be happy to see the U.S. go to war with Iran. In fact, Israel or Saudi Arabia — armed to the teeth with U.S.-provided weaponry — could even force the issue by attacking Iran and demanding that the U.S. protect them from an inevitable Iranian response.

On the Iranian side, hardliners have been pointing out that diplomatic measures like the nuclear deal, negotiated by the reformist-led government, failed to end crippling sanctions by the United States. That could make future diplomacy much more difficult, especially following Trump’s latest sanctions on the Supreme Leader.

The most immediate danger, though, lies in the narrow, crowded, hyper-militarized Strait of Hormuz off the Iranian coast, through which a huge percentage of the world’s oil and natural gas heads for global markets. It’s there we see the “what if” scenario that should be keeping us awake at night.

What if a young sailor — U.S. or Iranian — on duty in the Strait of Hormuz, late at night, sees a flare and thinks it was a weapon fired by the other side? Maybe they thought it came from one of the U.S. destroyers, or from one of the small Iranian speedboats, all of which cruise the strait. Maybe they’re scared and feel like they have to respond. Do they fire their weapon into the dark? Then what?

In Syria, the U.S. and Russia communicate military-to-military to avoid killing each other’s forces (even while continuing to kill Syrians). But there’s no such military hotline between Washington and Tehran. Small misunderstandings in the dark could spiral massively out of control, with no way to de-escalate. That’s the nightmare scenario.

The tensions between the two countries go back a long way, but the threat of war right now is rooted in Washington walking away from the Iran nuclear deal two years ago, not in the Iranian response to that rejection. There’s no strategic reason for either side to go to war, but war could absolutely result.

And with key figures in the Trump administration trying so hard to provoke Iran, it would hardly count as an accident.

The post If War Breaks Out with Iran, It Won’t Be an Accident appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

[Category: War & Peace, diplomacy, Donald Trump, Iran deal, Iran Sanctions, iran war, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, strait of hormuz]

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[l] at 7/1/19 8:45am


Elections are often regarded as the quintessential expression of democracy. Yet elections can have undemocratic outcomes. 

The carefully choreographed election designed to give a fig leaf to an authoritarian regime is something everyone is familiar with. But there is also the paradoxical case where a relatively free and fair election ends up bringing the winner closer to absolute power. 

The recent elections in Thailand, the Philippines, and India provide interesting contrasts in the ways elections can be used to derail democracy.

Choreographed Elections in Thailand

For many observers, the March 24 elections in Thailand provide a classic case of the usual manner authoritarian regimes use the electoral process to achieve anti-democratic outcomes —  that is, to rig it in plain sight. 

First, to neutralize the results of the elections even before they took place, the military authorities — who deposed the elected government aligned with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2014 — scripted a constitution that set up a 250-member Senate whose members would be appointed by the regime and empowered to negate an elected 500-member House of Representatives. 

Second, shortly before the elections, the Constitutional Court dissolved a pro-Thaksin political party that had been expected to gather a sizable number of votes on questionable legal grounds. 

Third, the ruling National Council on Peace and Order unleashed a legal assault on the head of a party, Future Forward, that had caught the imagination of the country’s young people owing to its agenda to confine the military to the barracks, resulting in his being eventually barred from assuming his duties as an elected MP. 

Despite all these handicaps, the opposition won nearly half of all parliamentary seats in contention. Ironically, the Thai military’s manipulation of the elections, by eliciting widespread resentment at what is widely regarded as procedural disenfranchisement, has created an outcome that contradicts the goal it had tried to achieve by calling for the elections in the first place — that is, to gain legitimacy for a system of authoritarian rule with democratic trappings.

Not Politics-as-Usual in the Philippines

Contrast this to the Philippines and India, which also had elections this year. In both countries, there were the usual instances of irregularities and violence in some localities, but overall the elections were relatively free and fair, as even the opposition and international observers conceded, albeit grudgingly. 

Yet in both countries, the results are likely to provide momentum towards the concentration of power in the hands of authoritarian personalities.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte was not running for office, but everyone knew that the election was a referendum on his three years in office. If it were politics- as-usual in the Philippines, the president’s record could have done him and his favored candidates for the Senate much damage: the worst inflation in nearly a decade, kowtowing to China, credible charges of hidden wealth, a penchant for misogynistic comments, a provocative anti-clerical attitude in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, intimidating the press, imprisoning or ousting from office vocal opponents, and, perhaps, most seriously, over 20,000 deaths, a large number owing to extra-judicial executions, in his war on drugs. 

But it is not politics-as-usual in the Philippines. At the time of the elections, Duterte had an astonishing 81 percent approval rating, and the results of the polls drove this home: his favored candidates and allies captured all 12 of the senatorial seats at stake. Not since the late 1980s had the opposition been completely shut out in a Senate race. As the results poured in on election night, May 13, it became clear that Duterte, warts and all, had been given an overwhelming mandate by the electorate, making him the most powerful person to occupy the presidency since Ferdinand Marcos.

Since electoral fraud wasn’t a credible explanation for the results, some political commentators elected to blame the voters. “We have most of the voters to blame for it,” wrote one prominent journalist critical of Duterte. “They’re the millions who approve of mass killings, who’re indifferent to the violations of human rights, who despise intelligence and who’ve never read a book. They disparage democracy without knowing what it is and approve of tyranny because they can’t tell the difference.”

“A Moment of Dread for Indian Democracy”?

In contrast to Duterte’s prospects, things did not seem as auspicious for Narendra Modi and the ruing Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) at the beginning of the six-week long elections in India in April. 

The annual growth rate was down to 5.8 per cent; the economic crisis triggered by “demonetization” — the sudden withdrawal from circulation of 500 and 1000 rupee notes, which represented 86 percent of the value of circulating currency — was not over. Farmers’ marches reminded the country of the crisis of agriculture, and violence spawned by an aggressive Hindu nationalism had become commonplace. 

Yet after the votes were counted, the whole country was stupefied. The BJP had expanded its majority to 303 seats, 20 more than its 2014 tally. 

Congress, the main opposition party, was badly beaten, emerging with only 52 seats, with its leader Rahul Gandhi losing in his family’s traditional constituency, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh. Modi came out much stronger from an election where he had been expected to emerge much weaker. The desperate mood that engulfed those critical of Modi was captured by the words of one academic, who claimed that his victory was “a moment of dread for Indian democracy” because it had resulted in “the greatest concentration of power in modern Indian history.” 

Suddenly, BJP boss Amit Shah’s boast that the BJP would rule India “for the next 50 years” no longer seemed incredible.

As in the Philippines, despairing liberals in India wondered what on earth made their compatriots “outsource their destiny” to a strongman, as one of them put it. Just as the Philippine intelligentsia expressed wonderment at how serious charges would simply bounce off Duterte, Indian liberals could not figure out what it was that made voters across the board readily absolve Modi for the very real problems being faced by the country, whether this was rising unemployment, farmers’ suicides owing to economic distress, lynchings of Muslims accused of trading cattle, or the unsolved murders of prominent intellectuals. 

Even his party’s endorsement of a known terrorist who had praised the assassin of Gandhi did not hurt Modi, leading one analyst to attribute his success to “smart political communication” that consistently projected him as being “above the fray.”

Controlling the narrative was certainly part of the explanation for Modi’s success, as it was for Duterte’s. Modi’s discourse placed him and the BJP as the agents of India’s economic development and the restoration of Hindu civilization’s ancient greatness. Duterte combined an earthy discourse that many saw as refreshingly free of the usual liberal democratic froth with a stern message of cleansing the country of the drug menace that was “destroying the youth of my country.” 

This analysis, however, assumes the relationship between the voters and the strongman is a one-way street, whereas anyone who has lived through the tumultuous politics of both countries in the last few years would not have failed to note the very real synergy or mutually constructive relationship between the strongmen and their people.

For other analysts, Duterte and Modi had tangible achievements that overrode the problems pointed out by their opponents. In the case of Modi, for instance, voters were said to appreciate his campaign to build a toilet for every household, his free LNG connections for poor families, and a program of giving 6000 rupees a year to subsistence farmers. 

These material benefits do not, however, add up to a viable explanation for the massive mandate. Politics in India and the Philippines today is not arithmetic, to use a famous Filipino politician’s inimitable description of democracy. Promising and providing goods and services is the stuff of patronage politics, of democratic politics-as-usual, but what is happening in both countries today is a political earthquake, a massive transformative change, a fundamental reconfiguration of politics.

The Era of Charismatic Politics

At the epicenter of this earthquake is a discontented citizenry, and it is as much an agent of change as the unorthodox personalities that have found a way to unlock its swirling passions. 

The focus of citizens’ discontent is a system of liberal democracy that has simply not delivered on its promises. “India is a grotesquely unequal society,” writes Pankaj Mishra. “A great majority of Indians, forced to inhabit the vast gap between a glossy democratic ideal and a squalid undemocratic reality, have long stored up deep feelings of injury, weakness, inferiority, degradation, inadequacy, and envy; these stem from defeats or humiliation suffered at the hands of those of higher status than themselves in a rigid hierarchy.” This could be a description of 21 st century Philippines as well.

It is the explosive synergy between a deeply disaffected citizenry and a political personality who has captured their imagination — and on whom they have rested their dreams and aspirations for the future — that today drives politics in both countries. It is perhaps easier to understand this dynamic in the case of Modi, who unites a dynamic personality to an aggressive ideology of wounded but assertive nationalism that has tapped into a country’s feelings of pride and shame, deep disappointment, and persistent hope. 

Yet Duterte is, in his own way, a magnetic personality, bringing together a tough law and order stance, a discourse that is deliberately politically incorrect, and the image of the “punisher” who has what it takes to tame exploitative elites and discipline a people that famously regard themselves as rowdy and undisciplined. The very qualities that liberals despise in Duterte is what enables him to “connect” with the masses, especially with the volatile middle classes that feel most sharply the yawning gap between aspirations and the possibilities of fulfilling them in the “really existing” democratic dispensation.

The “connection” that has been forged between strong personalities and their people has ushered in a period that may best be described as one where charismatic politics has displaced democracy-as-usual. Here we might take a leaf from the great sociologist Max Weber, who saw “charismatic” authority or legitimacy as a dynamic transformative process that overwhelms both “traditional” and “rational-legal” authority and structures co-existing in society. 

Charismatic politics exploits the contradiction between traditional authority structures that legitimize inequality and injustice and a rational-legal order based on the principles of democracy, justice, and equality. Charismatic politics is not politics as usual and is a fluid process that moves in uncharted waters until the charisma of the leader is “routinized” into a set of rules, procedures, and processes which become the new source of authority and legitimacy.

Charismatic legitimacy is hardly benign. Indeed, it almost invariably ends up with a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of the charismatic individual. And, equally alarming, its emergence has been accompanied by the imaginative creation of an “Other” or “Others” upon whom the ills, contradictions, and disharmony of society are projected. The achievement of social harmony is dependent on the excision or neutralization of the Other or Others — in the case of the Philippines, drug users, liberal politicians (“dilawan” or “yellows”), and communists; in the case of India, Muslims, Christians, westernized intellectuals, and Marxists. It does not take much for the leader and his disciples to set the mob on these “enemies of the people,” as persecuted communities in India would readily testify.

A key feature of the dynamics of charismatic politics is that it is both authoritarian and intensely “democratic.”

One the one hand, followers are willing to hold their critical faculties in abeyance, ready to give the leader the benefit of the doubt even when they may not agree with everything that he stands for or promotes. On the other hand, it is through the mediation of the electoral process, through direct contact with the masses during the campaign and through their act of willingly voting for him or his anointed ones, that the leader renews his legitimacy. 

Managed elections like Thailand’s are fatal for charismatic authority. Indeed, the less controlled and more spontaneous the expression of approval, the greater the legitimacy that can be turned into even greater power.

Context then spells the difference for the outcomes of recent elections in Asia. Thailand remains in a state of polarization, one that has been aggravated by a choreographed electoral exercise. India and the Philippines, on the other hand, have gone through relatively free elections that, by bestowing greater legitimacy on them, is, paradoxically, leading to the concentration of even greater power in the hands of charismatic authoritarian personalities who are intent on doing away with the post-World War II liberal democratic dispensation and leading their consenting citizens to a brave new world.

The post Elections in the Era of Charismatic Politics appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

FPIF columnist Walden Bello is a former member of the House of Representatives and the author of Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right. This article reflects the results of a study he did for the research institute Focus on the Global South.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Human Rights]

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[l] at 6/26/19 10:40am


The ongoing conflict with Iran showcases all the reasons why Donald Trump remains a hit with his base. 

First of all, the guy tells a ripping yarn. While critics of U.S. policy drone on about complex agreements with opaque acronyms, Trump boils down the problem to a TV episode with a ticking clock. The bad guys shot down a U.S. drone. The good guys prepare to strike back. But the greatest president of all decides at the last moment — with only ten minutes to spare — to take his finger off the trigger and save the day. Or, at least, that’s how The Donald tells it.

Trump also presents himself as all things to all people. He threatened Iran with war. But he also promised to restart negotiations with the country. He opposed the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration, among others, patiently negotiated. But he offered (however implausibly) to put a better one in its place. He decided to rescind his authorization of airstrikes on Iranian infrastructure. But he also went ahead with cyberattacks and additional economic sanctions, all of which add up to a war with Iran in everything but name .

What should ordinarily be a defect — Trump’s rapid oscillation in positions — becomes a virtue in this era of instantaneous news. The country hangs on the man’s every tweet. Which Trump will emerge the winner in the battle among the president’s many avatars: Killer Trump, Dealmaker Trump, Madman Trump, Joker Trump? The man keeps you guessing, which is an indispensable element in this age of infotainment.

In the end, Trump has successfully made politics all about himself. It’s not just that he has asserted executive privilege over the legislative branch. It’s not even that he’s ignored the advice of his cabinet and concentrated decision-making power in his own hands. 

It’s worse than that.

When it comes down to a potential war with Iran — or one with North Korea or Venezuela or China — even Trump’s opponents are left rooting for…Trump. They hope that, in the end, the better angels — or at least the more opportunistic ones — of the president’s nature will prevail over the lesser angels of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo.

The only person who can stop Trump, in other words, is Trump. This is not democratic politics. This is the politics of the man on the white horse, of the caudillo, of the generalissimo

It’s bad enough that Trump dominates politics. He also dominates the political imagination.

The Triumph of Conflict

Barack Obama is an intellectual. Even when he waxed martial, he did so in an intellectual way, like when he supported the just war doctrine in his Nobel Peace Prize address. Obama was judicious to a fault. He went back and forth on issues as he weighed the various pros and cons. He didn’t push ahead with a program unless he thought it had a very good chance of success and widespread support. 

Trump is another creature altogether. He doesn’t think through problems. He thinks around them. He keeps the nation updated on the various unformed ideas in his head on a regular basis. The result of this process is endless conflict. There’s the conflict of positions inside Trump. But there are also the conflicts that Trump generates with everyone around him — the appointees that he’s always on the verge of firing, the institutions of government, large swaths of the American population, a variety of international institutions, and virtually every major country of the world.

In the same way that Marx turned Hegel on his head, Trump has turned Marx on his head. The president wages class struggle virtually every minute against his enemies, which are essentially the 99 percent (of the United States and of the world).

Of course, there’s another way of looking at this triumph of conflict. For all his invocations of a golden age of the past, Donald Trump is actually a Futurist.

Consider, for example, these lines from the Futurist manifesto , written by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti:

We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman… Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.

Trump might have a personal aversion to military conflict. He opted out of the Vietnam War. He once claimed , to Howard Stern, that having sex with lots of women, and risking sexually transmitted diseases, was somehow more courageous than going into battle. He has occasionally voiced skepticism about U.S. military engagements overseas, such as the Iraq War.

But the man pursues all sorts of other wars. He has declared war on undocumented Americans. He is battling Congress over various investigations (and, occasionally, legislation as well). He has declared trade wars against allies and adversaries alike. He continues to struggle against Hillary Clinton, however ludicrous that might seem. 

And, of course, he has bombed Syria (twice), considered air strikes against Iran and North Korea, contemplated military action against Venezuela, and blocked congressional efforts to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Like his Futurist forebears, Trump is aggressive, misogynistic, hyper-patriotic. Governance, for him, is a violent assault on the forces of the unknown in order to force them to bow before none other than Trump himself. As Marinetti once wrote about art in his manifesto, Trump approaches politics as if it were “nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.”

Marinetti penned his Futurist manifesto in 1909. His movement applauded Italy’s entry into World War I. The Futurists who survived that war would eventually rally around the political figure who best embodied the movement’s fascination with militarism, masculinity, and modernity. In their support for Benito Mussolini, the Futurists morphed into fascists. 

There but for the grace of America’s remaining democratic institutions goes Trump.

Countering Trump

Fact-checking Donald Trump is truly a Herculean effort: as in the Augean stables, there’s always more bullshit to deal with. And the fact-checkers are largely preaching to the converted. Itemizing all of Trump’s mischaracterizations of Iran, for instance, is like pointing out all the ways that Star Trek departs from the rules of verisimilitude. Fans don’t care. And everyone else doesn’t listen.

Nor is it possible to out-Trump Trump. He can’t be outshouted. He can’t be out-insulted. He can’t be shamed into doing anything, for he lacks shame, and he can’t be goaded either, since he bristles at any attempt to push him in one direction or another.

Some world leaders have opted for flattery. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, for instance, has gone out of his way to praise Trump’s leadership, statesmanship, and all-around sagacity. That hasn’t prevented the U.S. president from squeezing South Korea hard on trade and the financial contributions that Seoul makes to the maintenance of U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula. And Trump hasn’t pulled off an agreement with North Korea yet. So, flattery will only get you so far.

What’s left, for those who can’t stomach flattery, is storytelling. 

Trump, remember, tells a compelling story. Those who want to prevent a war with Iran have to tell a better story, without technical terms, without acronyms, without the usual inside-the-Beltway vocabulary. Such a story should do an end run around Trump’s reduction of politics to what’s going on inside his own head — by not mentioning Trump at all. 

It’s also not a story about Iran. A deep vein of suspicion runs through the American public about the country that held U.S. hostages for 444 days four decades ago. As with North Korea , most Americans simply don’t care about the fate of Iranians.

Rather, this must be a story of what has made America (occasionally) great — Nixon shaking hands with Mao, Reagan shaking hands with Gorbachev, George W. Bush setting up an AIDS relief program in Africa, Republican senators (other than John McCain) supporting rapprochement with Vietnam. It’s the story that puts a Republican face on diplomacy. It’s a story and a set of visuals that should attract support from precisely the base that speaks to Trump. It’s a story that would not look out of place as a PSA on Fox News. 

To prevent a war with Iran, you can’t fight Trump’s fire and fury with an equal but opposite fire and fury. But you can just possibly win with a ripping yarn about peace. 


The post On Iran, It’s Trump vs. Trump appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: War & Peace, diplomacy, Donald Trump, iran war]

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[l] at 6/25/19 11:44am


For the second time in a row, Turkish voters have rebuked President Recep Tayyir Erdogan’s handpicked candidate for the mayoralty of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest and wealthiest city. The secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, swamped Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yildirim in an election that many see as a report card on the president’s over 16 years in power.

So what does the outcome of the election mean for the future of Turkey, and in particular, its powerful president? For starters, an internal political realignment — but also maybe a dangerous foreign policy misadventure.

The AKP Stumbles

Erdogan and his party have been weakened politically and financially by the loss of Istanbul, even though the president did his best to steer clear of the campaign over the past several weeks. Since it was Erdogan that pressured the Supreme Election Council into annulling the results of the original March 31 vote, which the CHP also won, he owns the outcome whether he likes it or not.

His opponents in the AKP are already smelling blood. Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, whom Erdogan sidelined in 2016, has begun criticizing the president’s inner circle, including Berat Albayrak, his son-in-law and current finance minister. There are rumors that Davutoğlu and former deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan are considering forming a new party on the right.

Up until the March election that saw the AKP and its extreme nationalist alliance partner, the National Movement Party (MHP), lose control of most the major cities in the country, Erdogan had shown an almost instinctive grasp of what the majority of Turks wanted. But this time out the AKP seemed tone deaf. While Erdogan campaigned on the issue of terrorism, polls showed most Turks were more concerned with the disastrous state of the economy, rising inflation, and growing joblessness.

The “terrorist threat” strategy — shorthand for demonizing Turkey’s Kurdish minority — not only alienated conservative Kurds who once reliably voted for the AKP, but forced the opposition into a united front . Parties ranging from the leftist Kurdish People’s Democratic Party and the Communist Party, to more conservative parties like the Good Party, withdrew their candidates from the Istanbul’s mayor’s race and lined up behind the CHP’s Imamoglu.

The AKP — long an electoral steamroller — ran a clumsy and ill-coordinated campaign. While Yildirim tried to move to the center, Erdogan’s inner circle opted for a hard right program, even accusing Imamoglu of being a Greek (and closet Christian) because he hails from the Black Sea area of Trabzon that was a Greek center centuries ago. The charge backfired badly, and an area that in the past was overwhelmingly supportive of the AKP shifted to backing a native son. Some 2.5 million former residents of the Black Sea region live in Istanbul, and it was clear which way they voted.

Erdogan at Bay

So what does the election outcome mean for Turkish politics? Well, for one, when the center and left unite they can beat Erdogan. But it also looks like there is going to be re-alignment on the right.

In the March election, the extreme right MHP picked up some disgruntled AKP voters , and many AKP voters apparently stayed home, upset at the corruption and the anti-terrorist strategy of their party. It feels a lot like 2002, when the AKP came out of the political margins and vaulted over the right-wing Motherland and True Path parties to begin its 17 years of domination. How far all this goes and what the final outcome will be is not clear, but Erdogan has been weakened, and his opponents in the AKP are already sharpening their knives.

An Erdogan at bay, however, can be dangerous. When the AKP lost its majority in the 2015 general election , Erdogan reversed his attempt to peacefully resolve tensions with the Kurds and, instead, launched a war on Kurdish cities in the country’s southeast. While the war helped him to win back his majority in an election six months later, it alienated the Kurds and laid the groundwork for the AKP’s losses in the March 2019 election and the Istanbul’s mayor’s race.

The fear is that Erdogan will look for a crisis that will resonate with Turkish nationalism, a strategy he has used in the past.

He tried to rally Turks behind overthrowing the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but the war was never popular. Most Turks are not happy with the 3.7 million Syrian refugees currently camped in their country, nor with what increasingly appears to be a quagmire for the Turkish Army in Northern and Eastern Syria.

In general, Turkey’s foreign policy is in shambles.

Erdogan is trying to repair fences with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, because he desperately needs the investment that Gulf monarchs can bring to Turkey. But the price for that is a break with Iran and ending his support for the Muslim Brotherhood. While the Turkish president might be willing to dump the Brotherhood, Erdogan feels he needs Iran in his ongoing confrontation with the Kurds in Syria, and, at least at this point, he is unwilling to join Saudi Arabia’s jihad against Tehran.

In spite of the Turkish president’s efforts to normalize ties with Riyadh, Saudi Arabia recently issued a formal warning to Saudi real estate investors and tourists that Turkey is” inhospitable.” Saudi tourism is down 30 percent, and Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia are also down.

Erdogan is also wrangling with the U.S. and NATO over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system, a disagreement that threatens further damage to the Turkish economy through U.S.-imposed sanctions. There is even a demand by some Americans to expel Turkey from NATO, echoed by similar calls from the Turkish extreme right.

Talk of leaving NATO, however, is mostly Sturm und Drang. There is no Alliance procedure to expel a member, and current tensions with Moscow means NATO needs Turkey’s southern border with Russia, especially its control of the Black Sea’s outlet to the Mediterranean.

Crisis in Cyprus — And Greece

But a confrontation over Cyprus — and therefore with NATO member Greece — is by no means out of the question. This past May, Turkey announced that it was sending a ship to explore for natural gas in the sea off Cyprus, waters that are clearly within the island’s economic exploitation zone.

“History suggests that leaders who are losing their grip on power have incentives to organize a show of strength and unite their base behind an imminent foreign threat,” writes Greek investigative reporter Yiannis Baboulias in Foreign Policy . “Erdogan has every reason to create hostilities with Greece — Turkey’s traditional adversary and Cyprus’s ally — to distract from his problems at home.”

Turkey has just finished large-scale naval exercises — codename “Sea Wolf” — in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean and, according to Baboulias, Turkish warplanes have been violating Greek airspace.

Cyprus, along with Israel and Egypt, has been trying to develop Cypriot offshore gas resources for almost a decade, but Turkey has routinely stymied their efforts. The European Union (EU) supports the right of Cyprus to develop the fields, and the EU’s foreign policy head, Federica Mogherini, called on Turkey to “respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to its exclusive economic zone and refrain from such illegal actions.” While Mogherini pledged “full solidarity” with Cyprus, it is hard to see what the big trade organization could do in the event of a crisis.

Any friction with Cyprus is friction with Greece, and there is a distinct possibility that two NATO members could find themselves in a face off. Erdogan likes to create tensions and then negotiate from strength, a penchant he shares with U.S. President Donald Trump. While it seems unlikely that it will come to that, in this case Turkish domestic considerations could play a role.

A dustup with Ankara’s traditional enemy, Greece, would put Erdogan’s opponents in the AKP on the defensive and divert Turks’ attention from the deepening economic crisis at home. It might also allow Erdogan to use the excuse of a foreign policy crisis to strengthen his already considerable executive powers and to divert to funds from cities the AKP no longer controls to the military.

Budget cuts could stymie efforts by the CHP and left parties to improve conditions in the cities and to pump badly needed funds into education. The AKP used Istanbul’s budget as a piggy bank for programs that benefited members of Erdogan’s family or generated kickbacks for the party from construction firms and private contractors.

Erdogan has already warned his opponents that they “won’t even be able to pay the salaries of their employees.” The man may be down, but he is hardly beaten. There are turbulent times ahead for Turkey.

The post A Wounded Erdogan Could Be Even More Dangerous appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, War & Peace, AKP, cyprus conflict, Istanbul, NATO, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish elections]

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[l] at 6/24/19 6:51am

Scientists at the Center for Excellence in Molecular Plant Sciences, Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive Chinese initiative for cooperation and for economic and technological integration among the nations of Asia, defies simple categorization by dint of its scale. It’s expected to involve trillions of dollars of investment over the next decade. The “road”   part, also known as the “Maritime Silk Road,” is an effort to modernize ports and logistic routes from China, through Southeast Asia and across to the Middle East and North Africa, and upgrade infrastructure and facilities at the ports. The road hearkens back to a time when China engaged in a deep cultural exchange with the rest of the world by sea.

The “belt” meanwhile, is an initiative to finance, design, build, and operate transportation corridors and new infrastructure overland, thereby drawing together China, the nations of Central Asia, Russia, the Middle East and Europe. It is designed as a renaissance of the fabled Silk Road that thrived at the time of the Tang Dynasty.

The Belt and Road Initiative has grown by leaps and bounds at the same time that the America’s geopolitical vision has become increasingly isolationist, paranoid, and confrontational. Currently, 20 African Nations have joined BRI, and it has even established a beachhead in Europe with investments in Greece and agreements with Italy.

BRI has been interpreted as a strategic effort by China to avoid being cut off from shipping routes by the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia in the case of a military confrontation. Others have suggested that BRI is a plot to catch developing nations in a debt trap (in the manner that Europeans and Americans have done for decades). According to a third interpretation, this expansion of trade and transportation is simply a means to relieve the pressures of overproduction within China itself.

More to the point, however, are concerns that such development, especially highways and fossil-fuel power plants, will have a negative impact on the environment and on the Earth’s climate.

Nature magazine recently launched a series of articles on the impact of Chinese-supported initiatives for international scientific cooperation as part of BRI, focusing on Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Europe, South America, and Africa. Although this new approach to global collaboration in science is still taking shape, it’s not focused on the familiar groups of elite research institutes in the West and it is less concerned with the profits to be gained from private-sector investments. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has taken the lead in this effort, recently teaming up with the World Academy of Sciences in Trieste, Italy, to start a regular research program to bring 200 experts from nations involved in the BRI to study in China.

Science research related to water quality, transportation, and energy has tremendous appeal for poorer nations, but strikingly, a substantial part of the funding covers pure science. The Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has become a major source of information on work in advanced scientific fields such as nanotechnology. CAS’s Institute of Biophysics has developed together with researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute a new approach to observing the workings of a cell. CAS has pursued relations with the National Herbarium of Uzbekistan, launched anti-desertification projects with Mongolia, Israel and Kazakhstan, and started a program with Tribhuvan University in Nepal for the study of climate change. In fact, climate change is an important theme in CAS research. For example, a China-Brazil Laboratory for Weather has been set up as part of BRI to monitor weather with direct applications to understanding the impact of climate change.

On November 4, 2018, 40 national and international research institutions gathered to establish the Alliance of International Science Organizations (ANSO) to oversee international large-scale scientific research. The stated purpose of ANSO is “sustainable economic and social development” and a “green and innovative path” for the “shared future of humanity.” CAS President Bai Chunli put climate change, biodiversity and disease as the new alliance’s top priorities. There was no mention of profits for business or the sales of products. Moreover, although the promotion of energy consumption in the development of BRI has been an issue of considerable concern, China is addressing this concern directly in its recent scientific initiatives.

The Second Belt and Road Forum in April highlighted the Digital Belt and Road, an effort to make the exchange of information throughout Asia faster and more convenient. Part of that project is the development of BeiDou-2, a Chinese global navigation system that will have 35 satellites up by 2020. This system, which will rival the U.S. Global Positioning System, has already been adopted by Pakistan, Laos, and Thailand.

Even more impressively, China will make the data from the satellites available to nations like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as part of a shared platform for environmental monitoring. The eight challenges identified for this collaborative project are: adaptation to climate change, mitigation of disaster risk, managing water supplies, making agriculture secure, protecting cultural heritage, encouraging sustainable development in urban areas, managing marine areas, and understanding climate change in the mountains and in the Arctic.

The United States and other countries have criticized the Digital Belt and Road for serving as a possible platform for surveillance, via facial recognition technology and other means of harvesting information. True, the potential for such misuse is real in new technologies like 5G. But the failure of the United States to propose any international protocols regarding the use of information makes such criticisms less convincing. No doubt China’s greatest strength in the promotion of science is its willingness to abide by international treaties even as the United States is actively abandoning them.

But the more fundamental shift in the United States has been away from basic science, which requires steady government funding to work on a large scale. The Trump administration has been at war with science since it took office. The denial of climate change has been the core example of that contempt for the scientific method.

Recently, Gale A. Buchanan and Catherine E. Woteki, former chief scientists at the Agricultural Department, coauthored an op-ed in The Washington Post lamenting the brutal manner in which the administration has eliminated science from that agency. In addition to drastic reductions in budgets, two of the department’s major research institutes were suddenly relocated from the DC area to remote locations far from Washington D.C. on extremely short notice, causing many experts to quit in what they describe as an intentional move.

Congress is making it increasingly difficult for U.S. scientists to engage in international collaborations, with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) demanding extreme scrutiny of foreign scientists granted funding by the National Institute of Health. And the NIH has already had its funding reduced by $5 billion. The National Science Foundation had its budget cut by 12 percent to $7.1 billion, and the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent to $8.8 billion. NASA will be cut by only 2 percent, but since Trump’s focus is on returning astronauts to the moon, something that will be likely outsourced, the funding for actual science will be slashed, especially in astrophysics.

Ultimately the issue for the United States will not be about emotional responses to what China says or does, but rather in its ability to stay on the frontiers of science, the wellspring of future technological development. The federal government is incapable of setting the pace during the dark ages of Trump. It is the decline of scientific thinking, rather than any particular technology, that has made the Trump administration’s policies possible. The citizens of the United States need to recognize the critical importance of science for the future of humanity and not be too proud to learn something from China.

The post China’s Belt and Road of Science appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Emanuel Pastreich is the director of the Asia Institute (asia-institute.org) and a senior scholar at FPIF.

[Category: Labor, Trade, & Finance, Belt and Road, China, energy, science, trade, transportation]

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[l] at 6/21/19 12:42pm

Mexican armed forces in an operation in Matamoros (Roberto Galan via Shutterstock)

As Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador begins transitioning his country away from its decade-long drug war, which has killed more than 100,000 Mexican citizens since 2006, officials in the Trump administration have remained largely silent about his moves. Washington is continuing its public relations strategy of saying very little about the war while helping Mexican security forces continue to fight it.

The Trump administration’s silence, which has been enabled by a lack of coverage in the U.S. mass media, has not gone entirely unnoticed. Some members of Congress have begun to question the Trump administration’s strategy, arguing that the administration does not have an effective plan for winning the war.

“We are whistling by the graveyard if we don’t address and talk about an effective strategy for crushing the drug cartels,” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) said during a congressional hearing in April.

To say that the Trump administration has simply been “whistling by the graveyard” as violence increases is not entirely accurate, however. Although the administration has kept mostly quiet about the growing violence, it has been working closely with Mexican military forces to crush the country’s drug cartels, exactly as Senator Johnson demanded.

As one of his very first moves in the White House, President Trump urged then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to “knock the hell” out of the cartels, even proposing a U.S. military intervention. “Our military will knock them out like you never thought of,” Trump said.

The drug war began in December 2006, when then-Mexican President Felipe Calderón began deploying tens of thousands of Mexican military forces across Mexico. Calderón’s move sparked a dramatic increase in drug-related violence, leading to some of the worst violence in Mexican history.

Although Mexican officials have often portrayed the violence as a matter of criminals killing criminals, human rights officials have insisted that the country’s military forces have killed countless civilians. Daniel Wilkinson, the managing director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch, wrote last year about “a vast cover-up” by the Mexican government to hide the truth about the violence, particularly its impact on civilians.

Through it all, the U.S. government has been helping the Mexican government wage the war. By supporting the Mexican government with the multi-billion dollar Mérida Initiative, the U.S. government has provided Mexican security forces with military equipment and training. The Pentagon has provided another half-billion dollars of additional support in amounts that closely correlate to the level of drug-related violence.

With the additional funding, U.S. military forces have extensively trained the Mexican Marines, who have grown more lethal over the past several years. “I am proud of the fact that every Mexican Marine has trained with a U.S. Marine,” U.S. General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the Commander of U.S. Northern Command, told Congress earlier this year.

Not everyone has looked as favorably on the growing ties between U.S. and Mexican military forces, however. Last month, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) called for a complete overhaul of the Mérida Initiative, saying that the program should be reoriented to provide Mexico with funding for economic development rather than military assistance.

“It hasn’t worked,” AMLO said, referring to the Mérida Initiative. “We don’t want cooperation in the use of force, we want cooperation for development.”

So far, officials in the Trump administration have said very little about AMLO’s proposal. President Trump is trying to maintain the impression that the war will continue, insisting that the Mexican government is going to intensify its operations against the cartels. “I think Mexico is going to start hitting them much harder,” the president recently commented.

In fact, some signs indicate that AMLO intends to keep fighting the war. Although he has declared an end to the drug war, even proposing the decriminalization of all drugs, he has overseen the creation of a new National Guard to take over military operations.

Human rights organizations, which have strongly criticized the move, argue that it perpetuates the failed strategies of past administrations. Earlier this year, a coalition of international organizations called on AMLO to consider alternatives.

As the debate continues, officials in Washington and their supporters in the U.S. mass media have remained largely silent. Although the drug war continues to produce record-breaking violence, U.S. officials appear content to keep “whistling by the graveyard,” as they continue funding the very same programs that have been driving the violence for so many years.

This year, Congress provided another $145 million for the Mérida Initiative, providing $68 million more than the White House requested, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. “There has been bipartisan support in Congress for the Mérida Initiative, which has accounted for the majority of U.S. foreign assistance to Mexico provided over the past decade,” the report noted.

The post Whistling by the Drug War’s Graveyard appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

[Category: Drugs, AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Congress, drug war, Merida Initiative, Mexico, Ron Johnson, Trump administration]

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[l] at 6/20/19 4:00am

 (Image: Kheel Center / Flickr)

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this June. In the wake of a devastating world war, its mission was transformational: to realize social justice and the rights of workers everywhere.

But now, 100 years later, exploitative working conditions remain the norm , more people than ever live in poverty , and the richest 1 percent are on track to own two-thirds of all global wealth in a decade. While no single policy could solve these problems entirely, one in particular would be a decisive step forward.

At its centenary conference, the ILO should call for a global minimum wage.

A recent global poll from the International Trade Union Confederation found that an overwhelming 84 percent of all respondents judged their national minimum wage to be insufficient for a decent life. A global minimum wage — not uniform across countries, but based on a common formula for a living wage — would raise millions out of poverty by ensuring all workers the resources necessary for a decent quality of life. But the real potential of a global minimum wage lies in its capacity to correct a dynamic that has, for decades, been eating away at the power and wellbeing of workers everywhere: the global race to the bottom.

Since the 1980s, a “ neoliberal ” model of globalization has empowered investors and corporations to cross borders at will in search of the most profit-friendly environments. Because capital is mobile while workers are not, nations are forced to compete to attract investment by slashing labor regulations, environmental protections, and wages. If workers in one country win improvements, mobile corporations simply move to another country where wages are lower.

A global minimum wage would set a floor to the downward spiral. Corporations could still leave for other reasons, but they would no longer have the option of moving to a country with less than livable wages.

This would dramatically strengthen the position of labor around the world, allowing workers in individual countries to fight for wage increases with less risk of capital flight. If the global minimum wage formula is tied to median wages, it may even set off a climb to the top, as rising minimums in other countries provide further leverage for workers to push for gains in their own.

In conjunction with stronger global regulations on tax havens and an alternative trade policy to protect workers and the environment, a global minimum wage might help end the race altogether.

Such a policy would benefit workers everywhere, not just those in low-income countries. For much of the 20 th century, strong labor unions and the corporate class had little choice but to stay in the United States — which meant steady, middle-class manufacturing jobs with reasonable wages. With the suppression of labor rights and the rise of neoliberal globalization in the 1980s, corporations were suddenly free to leave for countries where wages were lower. This shift in corporate power is one of the major drivers behind the decline in American manufacturing. While a global minimum wage may not reverse the trend entirely, it would help stem the tide.

Importantly, it would do so without appealing to nationalism. Right-wing demagogues from Donald Trump in the United States to Marine Le Pen in France to Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil capitalize on the failures of the neoliberal global system by scapegoating workers in other countries. Even many erstwhile progressives have fallen into the nationalist trap .

A campaign for a global minimum wage, by contrast, would expose the reality: that workers share more interests with other workers across borders than they do with capital in their given country. Such a movement would help catalyze global solidarity, and build the working-class power necessary to achieve any number of other global goals — including an alternative trade policy and a New Bretton Woods .

There is no doubt that the realization of a global minimum wage faces many obstacles.

Determining how it would actually work – from calculating the actual wage to defining an enforcement mechanism — is crucial. Some have proposed a simple formula based on a percentage of national median wage. Others suggest a more complex measurement that accounts for cost of living and national living standards. Implementation may be modeled on international trade law, with a body like the World Trade Organization acting as a forum for multilateral agreements on targets, and an arbiter of state-state disputes. Such technical questions present challenges, but they are not insurmountable.

More difficult is the building of the necessary political will. But there’s precedent for global institutional change of this scale. From the creation of the ILO after the First World War to the United Nations after the Second, moments of crisis breed political opportunities. With the neoliberal world order teetering on the edge , right-wing nationalism on the rise, and climate catastrophe fueled by and fueling both, this is definitively such a moment.

Respected academics from Thomas Palley to Jason Hickel to Nobel-Prize winner Muhammad Yunus are already vocal proponents of a global minimum wage. At the grassroots level, the International Convention for a Global Minimum Wage , the Asia Floor Wage Alliance , and Justice Is Global are pushing the policy into the mainstream. Left-leaning parties in the EU have proposed a continental version. And existing campaigns, such as those for a Global Green New Deal and a New Social Contract , could fittingly incorporate a global minimum wage as a part of their program. The movement for a GMW has already begun.

On the 100 th anniversary of its creation, the ILO has a unique opportunity to become a leader in this nascent movement. By calling for a global minimum wage, the ILO would be taking a crucial step forward in its mission of global social justice as it enters another century.

The post The Time Has Come for a Global Minimum Wage appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Michael Galant is the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy 2019 Economics and Trade Fellow, and a recent graduate of the Master of Public Policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is interested in building global solidarity for left alternatives to neoliberal models of globalization and “development,” and can be found on Twitter at @michael_galant.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, Human Rights, Labor, Trade, & Finance, global minimum wage, globalization, International Labour Organization, manufacturing, minimum wage, outsourcing, trade deals, workers]

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[l] at 6/19/19 1:12pm

opeth91 / Shutterstock

Not a day goes by without the Trump administration imposing a new challenge on us, the Iranian people.

Those who think that the travel ban has been the hardest obstacle for Iranians need to catch up with latest foreign policy developments. Encouraged by Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers, the Iranian people today face an increasing risk of military attack by the United States.

Also, the Iranian currency has lost 80 percent of its value since last year, mainly reflecting the collective sense of fear caused by the increased sanctions and the decertification of the Iran nuclear deal, as well as the increasing empowerment of the most undemocratic factions of the Iranian state. Trump has proudly taken credit for bankrupting an economy that feeds 80 million people, and he has recently promised to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero.

Iran is only marginally reflected in the U.S. news, which means the American public does not hear voices that express the human suffering caused by the U.S. government far beyond its borders. The murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, Trump’s best ally in the region, is a rare instance of attention given to the nature of America’s allies and Iran’s opponents in the Middle East.

Pro-democracy Iranians worldwide are experiencing a political trauma. They feel alienated from both internal and world politics. They are unable to communicate the debilitating pain of, on the one hand, expecting a military attack by the United States and on the other, the worsening of the political landscape in their home country.

Those who feel relieved by thinking that Trump will not engage in an actual war and is merely interested in making threats should realize that the war has already begun. U.S. sanctions are producing a level of suffering comparable to that of wartime.

Sanctions in fact are a war waged by the United States against the Iranian working- and middle-classes. These groups struggle to make ends meet as unemployment dramatically increases even as the inflation rate skyrockets. The same people that the Trump administration is pretending to want to set free are the ones that are hit hardest by current U.S. policies in the Middle East.

I am a woman who grew up in Tehran. I arrived in the United States seven years ago to pursue my studies in sociology. This decision was strongly shaped by my involvement in the peaceful pro-democracy movements of 2009.

I have always opposed, and continue to criticize, the undemocratic elements of the Islamic Republic state. While my profession and studies are very meaningful to me, the political dramas silently affecting my homeland and family on a routine basis make me feel alienated and utterly excluded from this society.

I am weighed down by perpetual worry that my diabetic father is in danger of losing access to needed medication due to sanctions. My millennial friends are so consumed with anxiety over the possibility of war that their collective mental well-being is undermined, and they are unable to make any meaningful plans for their future.

Living a double life between the United States and Iran, I struggle daily with moments of despair and alienation: I am simply unable to communicate my concerns with the most caring colleagues at work and at school. U.S. civil society is so devoid of a voice representing my position that I struggle to find a way to verbalize my sense of panic, frustration, and despair.

These fused feelings emerge because the wall between me and the rest of the society does not allow them to see the impact of the U.S. government’s decisions in lives lived far from them, but so close to my heart.

U.S. civil society needs to include more global perspectives on the country’s foreign policy. U.S. citizens must become more aware that their votes have grave consequences beyond their country’s borders. Although U.S. citizens are equipped with various safety nets and enjoy economic and military global superiority, their elected administration’s foreign policy is a matter of life and death for the citizens of other countries, especially in the Middle East.

For the United States to truly honor its claims to protect human rights and moral integrity, these issues need to be included in the upcoming election debates.

The post For Iranians, The War Has Already Begun appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Elham Pourtaher is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at SUNY Albany. She works at the New York State Department of Health on programs that respond to the opioid crisis.  

[Category: Human Rights, Labor, Trade, & Finance, War & Peace, Iran Sanctions, iran war]

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[l] at 6/19/19 12:42pm

Jordan Peele’s deep fake version of Barack Obama, produced by BuzzFeed

Imagine, on the day before the 2020 presidential election, that someone posts a video of the Democratic candidate talking before a group of donors. The candidate admits to being ashamed to be an American, confesses that the United States is a malevolent force in the world, and promises to open borders, subordinate the country to the UN, and adopt a socialist economic system.

The video goes viral. It doesn’t matter that it sounds a bit suspicious, a candidate saying such things just before the election. A very careful observer might note some discrepancies with the shadows in the background of the video or that the candidate makes some oddly uncharacteristic facial expressions.

For the average credulous viewer, however, the video reinforces some latent prejudices about Democratic Party candidates, that they never thought America was all that great to begin with and are not ultimately interested in making the country great again. And hey, didn’t Mitt Romney make a similar mistake by dissing the 47 percent just before the 2012 elections?

The video spreads across social media even as the platforms try to take it down. The mainstream media publish careful proofs that the video is fabricated. It doesn’t matter. Enough people in enough swing states believe the video and either switch their votes or stay home. It’s not even clear where the video came from, whether it’s a domestic dirty trick or a foreign agent following the Russian game plan from 2016.

Forget about October surprises. In this age of rapid dissemination of information, the most effective surprises happen in November, just before Election Day. In 2020, the election will take place on November 3. The video drops on November 2. The damage is done before damage control can even begin.

This particular surprise comes courtesy of artificial intelligence (AI). Sophisticated computer programs are now able to create “deepfake” videos that are becoming increasingly difficult to identify. In fact, as The Washington Post reports , the AI systems designed to root out such deepfake videos can’t keep up with the evil geniuses that are employing other AI programs to produce them.

It’s an arms race. And the bad guys are winning.

It’s Already Happened Here (and There)

You’ve probably heard by now about the fake video of Nancy Pelosi appearing to slur her words during a speech.

On one particularly popular website, Politics Watchdog, the video received 2 million views and 45,000 shares. This video didn’t require an AI program. The creator just altered the speed of Pelosi’s speech and raised the pitch of her voice to disguise the manipulation. It wasn’t much different from all those drunk Trump videos (also fake) that Jimmy Kimmel has broadcast on late night TV.

Or maybe you’ve seen the video of gun control activist Emma Gonzalez tearing up the Constitution (in reality, she was tearing up a target). Or Jordan Peele’s PSA of Barack Obama saying all sorts of odd things, concluding with “stay woke, bitches.” The video was meant to warn people to be skeptical of what they see on the Internet.

Elsewhere around the world, deepfakes are beginning to cause havoc.

In Gabon, the military launched an ultimately unsuccessful coup after the release of an apparently fake video of leader Ali Bongo suggested that the president was not in fact as healthy as his advisors claimed. In Malaysia, a video purported to show the economic affairs minister having sex has generated a considerable debate over whether the video was faked or not. “If it’s a deepfake, it’s a very good one,” a digital forensics expert has said .  

So far, there’s been more concern than actual product. The technology is available, but it hasn’t been widely weaponized. At least when it comes to the United States, that might just be a matter of timing. Next year’s presidential primaries might prove to be a testing ground. Or a troll might be keeping such a weapon in reserve for an even more opportune moment, like November 2.

The Deeper Problem

Fakes have been around for ages, from the poems of Ossian to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

In the age of photography, the Soviet Union notoriously airbrushed out politically purged individuals from snapshots (and that, of course, was before PhotoShop). In the video age, selective editing has fooled some of the people all of the time — as in the case of Live Action’s abortion clinic videos or the misleading way that Fox News edits its clips to emphasize its ideological points. “Reality” shows on TV dramatically alter the raw footage — not to mention staging the action to begin with.

You might think that this history would make people increasingly skeptical of what they see and hear. But Americans believe in all sorts of crazy things. One in three doesn’t think that climate change is happening (and about half of Republicans deny that climate change is real). About four in ten Americans are strict creationists. One in four believes that the truth of the Sandy Hook shooting has been suppressed . Nearly one in three believes that the Mueller report exonerated Donald Trump.

The ability of pollsters to find some significant percentage of Americans who believe in one crazy proposition or another prompted the following Onion headline : “Poll: One in Five Americans Believe Obama Is a Cactus.”

In ordinary times, the president doesn’t give an assist to fringe theories. But Donald Trump made a political name for himself with his false claims that Barack Obama was born outside the United States. As president, he has promoted the notion that the mainstream media — CNN, The New York Times — publishes “fake news.” He has claimed that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election, that Russia didn’t interfere in that election, that the National Park Service doctored photos of the inauguration crowd, that Vince Foster and Chief Justice Antonin Scalia were murdered, that Democrats inflated the number of people killed in Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and so on.  

These aren’t conspiracy theories, as Russel Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum write in The Atlantic . They are simply assertions. Trump doesn’t have the capability to develop an actual theory. He is not trying to explain a set of facts or data points. He is just throwing stuff out there. He is brainstorming without the benefit of a brain.

As a result of the relentless attacks on media, common sense, and reason more generally, Americans are losing the capacity to distinguish between the real and the fabricated. Case in point: nearly 63 million Americans voted for a presidential candidate in 2016 who lied repeatedly about himself, his record, and his opponent. In 2016, Americans elected a very artificial intelligence.

Adding AI

Computer scientists worry about the “singularity,” the moment when artificial intelligence acquires consciousness. They are concerned that a super-intelligent entity might decide to take over the planet, enslave humans, colonize the known universe, and so on. In other words, they worry that such a creation might behave exactly like its creators.

I’m not sure why computer scientists are so anxious about a hypothetical when they should instead get riled up about the very real applications that humans are using AI for right now.

The Pentagon, for instance, developed its first AI strategy this year, saying that “it will take care to deploy the technology in accordance with the nation’s values.” Presumably, the Pentagon is talking about its own interpretation of the nation’s values, which is far from reassuring.

Last year, the United States (and Russia) blocked a UN effort to ban “killer robots” — weapons that don’t need any human intervention, as drones do at the moment. Banning killer robots would seem to be a no-brainer. But the United States has said that it would be “premature” to regulate them. That’s because the Pentagon’s research arm and U.S. corporations are busy trying to establish technological hegemony by exploring ways to merge soldier and computer on the battlefield, fight the next generation of cyber-warfare, and ensure full-spectrum dominance.

Then there are the uses of AI to improve surveillance , create “predictive policing technologies,” and steal your job .

Considering all these malign impacts, deepfake videos might be the least worrisome trend involving AI. Yet, in the short term, these deceptions further undermine any hope of returning to a pre-Trump moment when national conversations could be conducted on the basis of observable reality. As Jamie Bartlett writes in The Guardian , “the age of deep fakes might even succeed in making today’s visceral and divided politics look like a golden age of reasonableness.”

To understand this point, let’s imagine a slightly different November surprise unveiled on the day before the 2020 elections.

On November 2, 2020, a video is released in which Donald Trump says that, regardless of the results of the election, he will declare himself president for life and throw anyone who disagrees into prison.

This, too, is a deepfake video created by an AI program. But Trump has said and done so many outrageous things that the public responds to this particular video with a collective shrug. #NeverTrumpers are confirmed in their assumptions about the president and vote as they intended. Trump’s base dismisses the video (or secretly supports the message) and vote as planned. The few people left in the middle, inundated with four years of Trump’s pronouncements, ignore the video. It’s just another day in Trump’s America.

AI can’t be blamed for this scenario. The fault lies not in our bytes but in ourselves.


The post Will AI Swing the 2020 Election? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

[Category: Democracy & Governance, 2020 elections, AI, artificial intelligence, deepfakes, Donald Trump]

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[l] at 6/17/19 6:53am

Fence between Hungary and Serbia (BalkansCat via Shutterstock)

During 2018, 24,000 migrants and refugees entered Bosnia, travelling along the Balkan route. Compared to only 755 in the whole of 2017, it is a serious increase. The three largest nationalities were Pakistanis, Iranians, and Syrians.

Over the same period, Croatia registered more than 7,500 migrants, of whom 352 asylum-seekers stayed in the country. According to the Asylum Information Database, the Slovenian government registered 798 asylum applications in the first four months of 2018. In 2017, a total of 1,476 applications were lodged. Most of the asylum applicants came from Afghanistan and Algeria, and most of these were rejected (83.3 percent and 100 percent respectively.)

These migrants are not a homogenous group. Coming from different countries, some are fleeing wars, some are seeking refuge status and asylum, and others are escaping poverty and hope to find a better life in the West. But Europe views them as a single, menacing body, rejecting them as “other.” Many leaders imagine a new wave of invading Ottoman forces bringing Islam to Europe’s doorstep. Without stating it openly, many countries in southeastern Europe see themselves as bulwarks of Christianity, just as they did centuries ago, forgetting that the newcomers are not coming to conquer but to survive, live, and work. Only the bold right-wing nationalists dare to express this sentiment openly.

The Balkan Route, through which thousands of non-European citizens are attempting to reach Western Europe, connects the countries of southeastern Europe with the Middle East, North Africa, and southwest Asia. This route initially passed through Turkey and Greece, then across Bulgaria or Macedonia, and then Serbia and Hungary before heading toward Germany or Austria and points west and north. But the route changed after Hungary, under Viktor Orbán’s nationalist government, sealed off its borders via heavy surveillance, fences, and police brutality against migrants. The route has thus shifted towards the south, crossing Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, and then Bosnia, where thousands of migrants are now stuck. Croatia is the next step and Slovenia/EU comes after that.

European politics have moved to the right as a result of this unsolved problem, especially because it is often presented as unsurmountable. In southeastern Europe, anti-immigrant sentiment has become routine among mainstream politicians. For example, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, a big admirer of the immigration politics of both Trump and Orbán, said in 2015 during her visit to the Opatovac refugee camp:

Only one family told me they were from Syria. Most of them are coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re all going to Germany. Most of them are migrants for economic reasons. You can feel sorry for them, but neither EU nor Croatia can accept all the misery of this world.

On another occasion, she said:

 When I’d see migrants, I’d often ask myself if that child, who looked terrified while holding someone’s hand, really belonged to that people? Or was it some random child that was taken with them to make it easier to pose as a refugee family?

Despite these comments and Croatia’s low rate of asylum acceptance, the Council of Europe’s Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees Tomas Boček had this to say about the country’s policies:

Croatian authorities have succeeded in providing fairly good material reception conditions, both for adults and children… The authorities expressed the understanding that the existing institutions were not adequate for unaccompanied migrant and refugee children.

Close by, in Slovenia, live approximately 50,000 Muslims, which represents around 2.4 percent of the total population of two million inhabitants. They came mostly from Bosnia in search of work and a better life in the 1950s and 1960s, and have never fully been accepted. In May 2018, the right-wing populist Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) held its main election convention, where former Slovenian prime minister and head of the party Janez Janša said that the “degenerate left” is “inviting migrants from completely different civilizational backgrounds. We do not accept that.” Orbán endorsed SDS and said at the rally that “if Europe surrenders to mass population movement and migration, our own continent will be lost. Unless we watch carefully we could lose our countries.”

Bosnia is in the heart of the region. Today, around 50 percent of the population is Muslim (followed by Orthodox Christians and Catholics). Bosnian Muslims were the biggest victims of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, and many learned first-hand what it meant to be a refuge. But that experience is lost on many Bosnian politicians. Dragan Mektić, the Bosnian minister of security, announced that freedom of movement will become even more restricted in the country with the potential introduction of measures to limit people residing in the camps from leaving in the evenings.

Serbia, meanwhile, is disgracing itself less than its neighbours, at least for the moment. Serbia hosts around 4,200 refugees and migrants who arrived recently. Serbian media and politicians are criticizing Croatian and Bosnian police brutality, quoting stories of the migrants and refugees who had to return to Serbia and are now sleeping in the parks of Belgrade.

The response to refugees and migrants is by no means unified. At the end of 2018, Balkan Insight reported that more than 700 organizations, individuals, journalists, and public figures in Croatia signed an open letter criticizing the media’s “one-sided, simplified and ultimately dishonest and unfair reporting” about migrants and refugees.

In a report published in March 2019, Amnesty International criticized the way the Croatian border police treats refugees stating that they are sent back to Bosnia-Herzegovina without access to asylum procedures. “Many described how they were beaten and intimidated,” Amnesty reported, “how travel documents and mobile phones were stolen or destroyed.”

Croatia had always rejected previous allegations of this sort. Although a member of the European Union, Croatia is not part of Schengen. It is eager to demonstrate its readiness to join the border-free area in 2020 by protecting the EU’s external borders from irregular migration. As such, according to Amnesty:

The north-western Bosnian towns of Bihać and Velika Kladuša, nestled at the very border with Croatia, have become a temporary refuge for some 5,500 refugees and migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty. These men, women and children currently occupy defunct former factories without basic amenities. Limited capacity and resources, along with the political stalemate and institutional dysfunction that has paralyzed the country since the end of the war in 1995, mean that Bosnia and Herzegovina has been ill-prepared to provide adequate protection or living conditions to refugees and migrants.

In 2015, fences went up between North Macedonia and Greece, Serbia and Hungary, and Slovenia and Croatia. The latest fence is now under construction between Croatia and Bosnia. These barriers are designed to keep out a lot of people who happen to be Muslim, non-white, and indigent. European nationalists have also accused them of being terrorists, even if many of them are just three years old. But that’s what it means to be a bulwark of Christianity and police the borders against so-called civilizational threats.

The post Balkans: The Bulwark of Christianity? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Mira Oklobdzija is an independent researcher, activist, sociologist and anthropologist. For the last 12 years, she was a researcher on the team of experts working for the office of the Prosecutor at the UN ICTY. Her books include Revolution between Freedom and Dictatorship and, with Slobodan Drakulic and Claudio Venza, Urban Guerilla in Italy, as well as a number of articles dealing with human rights, political violence, war crimes, reconciliation, migrations, human nature, xenophobia, marginal groups, and outsiders. She lives in The Hague, Netherlands.

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[l] at 6/14/19 9:37am


President Donald Trump has announced that he will decide whether or not to add another $300 billion in tariffs on imports from China, in addition to the $200 billion he has already imposed, and that he will do so in the two weeks following the G20 summit in Osaka. Trump’s “Art of the Deal” pressure tactics are familiar. He wants to try to make China give even greater concessions, perhaps following a frosty meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the G20, or perhaps no meeting at all.

China, however, is in no mood to make concessions.

Behind Trump’s impulsiveness can be glimpsed a profound shift in U.S. trade policy, and in US diplomacy, which has transformed the nature of international relations, with particularly disturbing implications in the case of U.S.-China ties.

Donald Trump, acting on the advice of U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, is making demands of China—or for that matter Mexico, Germany, or France—in a unilateral manner. He has attempted to immediately implement tariffs and other forms of punishment (such as bans for reasons of national security in the case of Huawei phones) without any institutional consultative process.

The U.S. constitution has a “commerce clause” that clearly assigns to Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes.” Since 2002, the trade promotion authority (an upgraded version of the fast-track authority established in 1974) gives the president the right to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can vote for or against, but cannot amend.

Over the last 20 years, fast-tracking has become the center of trade policy to a degree that undermines the balance of powers and the constitution.

Although the executive’s usurpation of trade authority has a long history, only now is the president making such a transparent move to exclude the legislature—not to mention economic experts, let alone citizens—from the formulation of trade policy. That means that a handful of people can make decisions that impact every aspect of the U.S. economy.

Newspapers rarely mention the role of Congress in trade negotiations with China. It’s almost as if the various congressional committees involved in formulating trade policy have no role in this process.

Equally striking is the absence from the policy debate of multilateral institutions that address trade issues according to common practices and international law. For instance, the World Trade Organization was established in 1993 with an explicit mandate to address trade and tariff issues. The WTO and its trade experts once played a central role in U.S. trade discussions—when U.S. policy ostensibly conformed to established global norms, and Washington even set new models for the world to follow.

Trump’s unilateral demands of China make it crystal clear that Trump, and Trump alone, is empowered to decide trade policy. What institutions and mechanisms remain to assure that the president’s authority in trade negotiations will not be abused and that trade is conducted with the long-term interests of the country in mind?

But it goes further than that. Now Trump is demanding “detailed and enforceable commitments” from China as a condition for a trade deal, suggesting that the United States alone determines whether or not China is conforming with the agreement. Such an approach makes sense in Washington these days. After all, the U.S. Commerce Department imposed an export ban on the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE last year because it did not pay fines for violating U.S. sanctions against sales to North Korea and Iran. In other words, the United States thinks it can unilaterally set sanctions and punish violators without any consultation with multilateral institutions.

This step goes beyond what the Chinese can tolerate.

“China is not a criminal. Nor is it making any mistakes. Why does the US want to supervise us?” remarked Professor Wang Yiwei of Renmin University of China in a recent interview, “If there’s a supervision team to oversee the implementation, just like what happened to ZTE, it is definitely directed at sovereignty and can’t be accepted.”

These “enforceable commitments” are offensive to China for a reason. This approach to trade seems little different from the sanctions regimes that the United States put in place against Iraq before its military invasion, or against Iran as part of an increasing military buildup that could end in a military conflict. Moreover, the increased U.S. military drills off the Chinese coast has given the trade negotiations process a negative spin.

The recent comments about the political protests in Hong Kong by secretary of state Mike Pompeo suggest that those tariffs could quickly become sanctions—which require even less adherence to international norms.

And then, in the midst of all that tension, the U.S. military released an Indo-Pacific Stategy Paper that refers to Taiwan as a “country,” the first time the United States has done so officially in 40 years. The agreement between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, after the normalization of diplomatic relations, required that the United States not recognize Taiwan as a country, and the People’s Republic of China has stated explicitly that military action was an option in the case of U.S. interference in the Taiwan question.

The combination of these actions threatens to erase all established norms between the two nations.

The United States is now considering ending agricultural exports to China, and China is considering cutting off the sales of rare earth elements to the United States. The latter are essential for the guidance systems and for sensors in missiles and advance fighter planes. A F-35 Fighter, for instance, requires 920 pounds of rare earth elements like neodymium iron boron magnets and samarium cobalt magnets, according to the Asia Times.

The risk of a rapid acceleration in tensions is no longer theoretical. Remember: the U.S. decision to end the sale of scrap metal and copper to Japan in 1940, followed by the oil embargo on August 1, 1941, transformed a trade war into a real war.

Trade should remain separate from security concerns. Moreover, it should not be the plaything of a small number of men in the White House. The United States and China need to open a broad dialogue on common concerns, from climate change and rapid technological evolution to the growing concentration of wealth globally. That dialogue should rely more on citizen-led dialogues and scholar-led conferences in order to move beyond the narrow negotiation process that has brought the two countries to the brink of war.

The post US-China Trade War: Stepping Away from the Brink appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Emanuel Pastreich is the director of the Asia Institute (asia-institute.org).

[Category: Labor, Trade, & Finance, China, Congress, Donald Trump, Iran, sanctions, Security, Taiwan, trade]

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