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11 August 2020   Leave a comment

A week after a horrific explosion in Beirut’s harbor, the entire Lebanese government has resigned. There have been large protests in the capital city after it was determined that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material, had been stored in the harbor for over six years. The resignations represent a long history of failure in Lebanese governance. The country is extraordinarily diverse:

“Lebanon is extremely diverse religiously, culturally and politically. This diversity has complicated the development of a stable political arrangement, and impeded the development of a single national identity. As for diversity, there are six different Muslim sects (in numeric order: Shi’a, Sunni, Druze, Isma’ili, Alawite or Nusayri), and twelve different Christian sects (in numeric order: Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Copt, Protestant.) These sects are largely geographically defined. This mosaic of peoples and politics has led the Lebanese to historically seek a balance of power through a political arrangement known as confessionalism.”

That system was entrenched in 1943 as the Lebanese threw off French control and the rules of the confessional system were explicit: “The president is always a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker a Shia Muslim. Seats in parliament and government jobs are split between Christians and Muslims.” Unfortunately, the confessional system became increasingly sclerotic as there was little actual competition in the realm of political ideas–it was more a system that allowed entrenched elites to enrich themselves at the expense of the people.

That atrophy was obvious in 1973 as Lebanon descended into a protracted civil war that lasted to 1989. There were many underlying issues that led to the civil war:

“The Ta’if Accord that ended the war in 1989 failed to resolve or even address the core conflicts of the war, including the sectarian division of power in Lebanon, the Palestinian refugee issue, the presence of Syrian forces on Lebanese soil and Syrian tutelage, and Hizbollah’s status as the only armed militia. The killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005, the 2006 war between Hizbollah and Israel, and continued political instability in the country have only added to the sense among many Lebanese that political violence is endemic to their body politic. In daily discourse in Lebanon, and even in academic writings about the war, the widespread experience of being caught in recurrent cycles of mass violence can translate into descriptions of violence as “irrational”, or simply beyond belief.”

None of these fissures were resolved by the Ta’if Accord and the country essentially decided to continue on without changing the terms of the confessional system. Indeed, Lebanon has not held anything like a national census for fear of upsetting the terms of the 1943 agreement. More recently, Lebanon has been taking in very large numbers of Syrian refugees which has strained government resources, leading to significant breakdown of government services such as garbage pickups.

The Guardian outlines the types of changes that would be necessary to create a more representative and stable government:

“Attention is now being focused on the dysfunctional parliament, where process is cosmetic at best, but better described as redundant. A clean sweep of the country’s MPs and a new electoral law that governs how the next round are chosen is being touted as a chance to do things differently. For that to happen, 43 MPs would need to quit. Eight have done so, so far, and more will follow.

“A critical mass of resignations would pave the way for new blood, who may be emboldened to take on an old guard, which shows no signs of going anywhere – even now. Losing control is inconceivable to the men who run Lebanon, as the IMF has found out during three months of talks to try and find a way to hand over up to $5 billion in aid, by conditioning it on structural reforms.

“Every attempt has been rebuffed. In the meantime, Lebanon had been savaged by rising prices, increasing poverty, a plunging currency, and capital controls. And now an apocalyptic blast. If this isn’t the time to overhaul a failed state, it’s hard to see when could be.”

In an op-ed for the Middle East Eye, Rima Majed expresses the views of many Lebanese about the future of the country:

“After blowing us up and burning down our city, officials announced a state of emergency and Beirut was put under military rule. A day later, protesters in central Beirut were met with heavy repression, tear gas and rubber bullets targeting protesters’ eyes – yet again. 

“This story has no end yet. The streets will explode again, but this time it will be either a full-blown war or a full-blown revolution. If a massive explosion of this scale does not lead to radical change in Lebanon, nothing else will. If we let this pass without accountability and serious political transition, we will have signed our death warrant.

“As talk emerges of early elections, it is crucial that we demand the banning of all parties and politicians who have been in any position of power since the 1990 Taif accords from participating in political life after 4 August. The very basis of the neoliberal sectarian power-sharing system must end, before we can start talking about a democratic transition through elections in Lebanon.  

“Let our rage guide the coming days. Beirut and all its residents deserve so much better.”

Lebanon is a country that was once the financial center of the Arab Middle East and it is hard to believe how corruption has hollowed out this major cultural and economic power. The future will shed a great deal of light on whether it is possible to transform a deeply entrenched political system dedicated to protecting the interests of the elites.

Posted August 11, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 August 2020   Leave a comment

In my lifetime, the US has suffered a number of major setbacks in its foreign and domestic affairs: The US defeat in Vietnam, the attacks on US territory on 11 September 2001, and the financial debacle of the Great Recession in 2008-09. In almost everyone of these setbacks, there were few who believed that the US’s position as a dominant power in world affairs was over. Most people were aware of the resiliency of American institutions and the underlying dynamism of its culture and economy. The US inability to get control of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, appears to be different. The Associated Press ran a story that seems to indicate that the prestige of the US may have suffered a setback from which it may never recover:

“Dr. David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, who is leading a team seeking treatments for COVID-19, decried such behavior, as well as the country’s handling of the virus.

“’There’s no national strategy, no national leadership, and there’s no urging for the public to act in unison and carry out the measures together,’ he said. ‘That’s what it takes, and we have completely abandoned that as a nation.’

“When he gets on Zoom calls with counterparts from around the globe, ‘everyone cannot believe what they’re seeing in the U.S. and they cannot believe the words coming out of the leadership,’ he said.

“Amid the scorn from other countries, Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien, newly recovered from a bout with the virus, gave an upbeat picture Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“’We’re going to fight like heck. We’re working hard on vaccines. We’re working hard on testing machines that are portable and fast. … We’re working on therapeutics,’ he said. ‘I’m so impressed with our scientists and our doctors and our first responders and the folks who are attacking this disease, and God bless them all.’

“Many Europeans point proudly to their national health care systems that not only test but treat COVID-19 for free, unlike the American system, where the virus crisis has only exacerbated income and racial inequalities in obtaining health care.

“’The coronavirus has brutally stripped bare the vulnerability of a country that has been sliding for years,’ wrote Italian author Massimo Gaggi in his new book “Crack America” (Broken America), about U.S. problems that long predated COVID-19.”

It may be the case that states will no longer look to the US for leadership on any issue. Jose Ramos-Horta expressed clear contempt for US COVID policies in an op-ed in Newsweek:

“We are appalled and saddened to see rising infection rates in 48 U.S. states, Americans throwing tantrums when asked to wear a mask in a store, and American leaders acting with reckless disregard for American lives. We fear we may be witnessing a nation that so many of us admired and even venerated taking the final tumble off the pedestal of international leadership.

“After World War II, the United States invested in rebuilding Europe and Japan, creating new markets for its goods, ushering in an economic boom and building brand America. Today, it’s astonishing that America’s corporations and wealthy citizens are silent while America’s brand becomes a laughing stock. In exchange for tax breaks, wealthy Americans have kept quiet while the U.S. President ridiculed, denigrated and bullied America’s traditional friends and allies, started a trade war with China that American farmers and consumers paid for, and undermined the United Nations at a time of great need around the world and halted funding to the World Health Organization.

“Despite the pleas of hundreds of former and current heads of state, Nobel laureates and other international leaders to make the COVID-19 vaccines patent free and available to all (as was done with the Salk polio vaccine), the Republican leadership in the Senate has fought any bill that would rein in American drug companies’ ability to set exorbitant prices for COVID-19 vaccine. Although these vaccines are being developed with billions in taxpayer money, pharmaceutical companies are already bragging about windfall profits they stand to make by setting prices that would put the vaccine out of reach for the rest of us.

“The rest of the world sees this as the antithesis of leadership. We see an America willing to let us die to enrich already obscenely wealthy U.S. corporations. We see wealthy, entitled Americans abandoning America’s ideals, and behaving like the corrupt aristocracy and royalty the American Revolution and many subsequent revolutions were fought to upend.”

Whether any nation can step in an take up the role of global leader is an open question. But it may be the case that states have already decided that the US can no longer be trusted.

Posted August 9, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

7 August 2020   Leave a comment

U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook has resigned his position from the US State Department and will be replaced by Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams. Hook’s departure follows the resignation of Acting inspector general Stephen Akard from the State Department. The move comes at a particularly crucial time, as explained by CNBC:

“Next week, the United Nations Security Council will vote on whether global powers should extend an international arms embargo on Iran. The arms embargo on Iran is currently set to end on Oct. 18 under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“The 2015 nuclear agreement lifted sanctions on Iran that crippled its economy and cut its oil exports roughly in half. In exchange for sanctions relief, Iran accepted limits on its nuclear program and allowed international inspectors into its facilities. Tehran has said it will not negotiate with Washington while sanctions are in place.”

Abrams is a noted foreign policy hawk and his appointment suggests that the US policy toward Iran will take an even harder line. Abrams was convicted of “unlawfully withheld information from congressional committees in 1986 when he testified about the secret Contra supply network and his role in soliciting a $10 million contribution for anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua. He was subsequently pardoned by President George Herbert Walker Bush. Abrams also served in the George W. Bush administration and was an advocate of the Iraq War.”

The US will introduce a resolution to the UN Security Council extending its current arms embargo on Iran to all states. US Secretary of State Pompeo said this in a press conference yesterday:

“…the United States will put forward a resolution in the Security Council to extend the arms embargo on Iran.

“The Security Council’s mission is to maintain ‘international peace and security.’

“The Council would make an absolute mockery of that mission if it allowed the number-one state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell weapons freely.

“The United States has conducted now a years-long diplomacy on this matter. We have a bipartisan consensus in Congress. We have a 13-year consensus on the Council. And the proposal we put forward is eminently reasonable.

“One way or another – one way or another, we will do the right thing. We will ensure that the arms embargo is extended.”

That resolution will likely be vetoed by both Russia and China. That veto will then trigger another step in the US strategy, as outlined by Middle East Eye:

“The UN imposed a ban on the export of most major conventional weapons to Iran in 2010. But when the Iran nuclear deal – known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – went into effect in October 2015, a potential date for some aspects of the embargo to expire was set for 18 October 2020.

“Since the US withdrew from the accord, Iran has steadily reduced its compliance with restrictions on its production of enriched uranium and has substantially boosted its stockpiles.

“If the US is unsuccessful in extending the embargo, the Trump administration has threatened to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran under a process agreed in the 2015 deal.

“Such a move would kill the deal, touted as a way to suspend Tehran’s alleged drive to develop nuclear weapons. Washington argues it can trigger the sanctions because a Security Council resolution still identifies it as a participant.”

The strategy is straight out of a Kafka novel. The agreement to impose sanctions if Iran violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA–more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) was part of the deal between Iran and the US, France, Great Britain, Russia, China and Germany. But the US withdrew from the agreement in May 2018, raising questions about the legitimacy of the agreement. Iran upheld strictly to the terms of the agreement for a full year after the US withdrawal, but matters have become quite complicated since then:

“Iran accused the United States of reneging on its commitments, and Europe of submitting to U.S. unilateralism. In a bid to keep the nuclear agreement alive, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom launched a barter system, known as INSTEX, to facilitate transactions with Iran outside of the U.S. banking system, but it is only meant for food and medicine, which are already exempt from U.S. sanctions.

“Following the U.S. withdrawal, several countries, U.S. allies among them, continued to import Iranian oil under waivers granted by the Trump administration, and Iran continued to abide by its commitments. But a year later, the United States ended the waivers. ‘This decision is intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue,’ the White House said.

“This was the tipping point for Iran, which said it would no longer be bound to its commitments as long as the other parties to the JCPOA were in breach of theirs. In July 2019, Iran exceeded the agreed-upon limits to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and then began enriching uranium to the higher concentration used in medical isotopes, still far short of the 90 percent purity required for weapons. Zarif said that these incremental breaches of the JCPOA were reversible but would continue absent European compliance. The European signatories reiterated their commitment to the JCPOA, and Mogherini said that INSTEX will be opened to additional countries, and that its shareholders were considering using it to trade oil. In September, Iran further weakened its commitments by starting to develop new centrifuges to speed up uranium enrichment, and in November, it resumed heavy water production at its Arak facility.”

We are left with the bizarre circumstance that the US is insisting upon the terms of an agreement it no longer honors. The gambit will undoubtedly fail and the US will lose both prestige and credibility in this fool’s errand.

Posted August 7, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

5 August 2020   Leave a comment

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has laid the cornerstone for a Hindu shrine in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya. Hindus believe that Ayodhya is the birthplace of the deity Rama. Muslims, however, believe that the first Mughal ruler of India, Babur, built a mosque there in 1528. Others believe that the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb razed a Hindu temple there and built the mosque in 1668. The mosque was destroyed in December 1992 by Hindu nationalists and about 2,000 people were killed in the subsequent riots.

Since that time, the status of the site has been heavily contested by Hindus and Muslims. Muslims are the largest minority in the country and account for about 13% of the Indian population. The Indian constitution is staunchly secularist, but the rise of the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its subsequent dominance in Indian politics, has amplified the strains in Indian society. National Public Radio describes the tensions:

“‘The word ‘Ayodhya’ brings back haunting memories. When the Babri Masjid was demolished, it was when for your next-door neighbors, for your schoolmates, you became a Muslim overnight,’ says author and activist Rana Ayyub, who was 9 years old in 1992 and had to go into hiding amid Hindu-Muslim riots in her native Bombay, now Mumbai. ‘It ripped apart the facade of India being a secular nation, a democratic republic.’

“India’s constitution defines it as a secular republic, but Modi and his BJP have sought to transform the country into a Hindu nation with special rights for its majority faith. In recent years, minority Muslims have increasingly become victims of hate crimes and lynchings.

“A legal battle over the land under the Babri mosque’s ruins spanned more than a century. Last year, India’s Supreme Court handed over the disputed 2.77-acre patch of land to the Hindu litigants in a unanimous verdict. The court also ordered 5 acres of land to be allocated to Muslims, at a separate location in Ayodhya.”

Many Hindus all over the world celebrated the laying of the cornerstone. But some Indians are concerned that the building of the shrine will aggravate social tensions and damage the integrity of the Indian constitution. Those fears resonate with similar fears concerning the stripping of the autonomy of Kashmir last year by India. Kashmir is populated with a majority Muslim population and the region has been a constant source of tension with Pakistan since the independence of the two states in 1947. Over the last year, India has steadily increased its control over the region despite the opposition of the Muslim population.

Proposed Hindu Shrine at Ayodhya

Posted August 5, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

3 August 2020   Leave a comment

The US has worked to secure an oil contract with a US oil company for Syrian oil. The US occupied the oil fields last year even as it pulled most US troops out of Syria in accordance with the wishes of Turkish President Erdogan. According to Time magazine:

“As the Trump administration pulls American troops away from Syria’s northern border, the President has repeatedly insisted that the region’s oil has been ‘secured,’ even going so far as to suggest the United States is now responsible for the fate of the oil.

“’We’ve secured the oil and, therefore, a small number of U.S. troops will remain in the area where they have the oil,’ Trump said during an Oct. 23 press conference. ‘And we’re going to be protecting it, and we’ll be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future.’”

In hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Secretary of State Pompeo stated that the US has been working on this proposal for some time and its purpose is to provide funding for Syrian Kurds who have been experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis because of attacks by the Syrian government which is supported by Russia. Politico outlines the US efforts:

“The State Department is leading the effort under James Jeffrey, United States Special Representative for Syria Engagement and the Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL, and his deputy, Joel Rayburn, the former Trump administration official said.

“However, they have sought to keep the deal quiet for fear that Russia, which backs Assad’s regime and deploys military and paramilitary forces across the region, might retaliate, both the State Department official and Syrian source said.

“A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the contract but noted that the U.S. government considers requests ‘on a case-by-case basis to authorize U.S. persons’ involvement in activities that would normally be prohibited.’”

The US oil company was only created in 2019 and is comprised by government and military officials with strong contacts with the current US government:

“The company, Delta Crescent Energy LLC, was incorporated in Delaware in February 2019, according to its business license. Its partners include former U.S. ambassador to Denmark James Cain; James Reese, a former officer in the Army’s elite Delta Force; and John P. Dorrier Jr., a former executive at GulfSands Petroleum, a U.K.-based oil company with offices and drilling experience in Syria.

“It has been in talks with the Kurds for more than a year but only received a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for the work in April, according to a State Department official and a Syrian source familiar with the discussions. The arrangement is to refine and use some of the oil locally but also export some through northern Iraq and Turkey, they said.

“The Treasury Department has multiple sanctions against Syria’s oil market. In a March 2019 the Trump administration issued the orders targeting companies that deliver or finance petroleum shipments of Syrian oil on behalf of the country’s government. The effort is designed to punish the Assad regime for atrocities committed amid the country’s civil war.

“However, the Pentagon and State Department have long been working to enable the Syrian Kurds to harness the crude oil in the region, a former Trump administration official told POLITICO. The idea is that revenue from the oil could help the Kurds deal with the dire humanitarian situation in the war-torn country, including overflowing refugee camps from years of civil war, the person said.”

It is not clear that the agreement is a done deal–there are myriad legal and technical issues that remain unanswered. Needless to say, the Syrian government is adamantly opposed to the deal:

“Damascus ‘condemns in the strongest terms the agreement signed between al-Qasd militia (SDF) and an American oil company to steal Syria’s oil under the sponsorship and support of the American administration’, the Syrian statement said. ‘This agreement is null and void and has no legal basis.’

“Syria produced around 380,000 barrels of oil per day before civil war erupted following a crackdown on protests in 2011, with Iran and Russia backing President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the United States supporting the opposition.”

Turkey is also opposed to the deal since it would provide the Kurds with a steady stream of revenue which would strengthen the Kurdish position toward greater autonomy or even a nation-state of its own. Russia has yet to comment on the deal, but Syria awarded two oil contracts to Russian oil companies last October.

Posted August 3, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

1 August 2020   Leave a comment

Music Night

It’s hot. I truly believe that I am going to lose my mind as the President of the United States quotes as a medical authority a doctor who believes that medicines are made from alien DNA and that demons practice astral sex. We are nearing 155,000 COVID deaths. A hurricane is bearing down on the US east coast. Congress let unemployment benefits lapse after the US GDP decline by 33% in the second quarter. And President Trump just took his 283rd golfing trip in less than 4 years.

So no news. Just good music.

As we contemplate the possibility of domestic and foreign meddling in the November elections, it is useful to consider the words of Goethe as he describes the last night of Egmont, waiting in a dungeon for his execution by a Spanish ruler. His crime? Working toward the independence of Dutch Provinces from Spanish rule. It is hard to imagine how revolutionary the idea of freedom was in an era of an uncontrollable king, buttressed by a Catholic Church intent on preserving its power in the face of the Protestant Reformation. But in 1787 Goethe captures the exhilaration of the moment as people begin to consider seriously lives without oppressive tyranny:

“Behind his couch the wall appears to open and discovers a brilliant apparition. Freedom, in a celestial garb, surrounded by a glory, reposes on a cloud. Her features are those of Clara and she inclines towards the sleeping hero. Her countenance betokens compassion, she seems to lament his fate. Quickly she recovers herself and with an encouraging gesture exhibits the symbols of freedom, the bundle of arrows, with the staff and cap. She encourages him to be of good cheer, and while she signifies to him that his death will secure the freedom of the provinces, she hails him as a conqueror, and extends to him a laurel crown. As the wreath approaches his head, Egmont moves like one asleep, and reclines with his face towards her. She holds the wreath suspended over his head,—martial music is heard in the distance, at the first sound the vision disappears. The music grows louder and louder. Egmont awakes. The prison is dimly illuminated by the dawn.—His first impulse is to lift his hand to his head, he stands up, and gazes round, his hand still upraised.)

“The crown is vanished! Beautiful vision, the light of day has frighted thee! Yes, their revealed themselves to my sight uniting in one radiant form the two sweetest joys of my heart. Divine Liberty borrowed the mien of my beloved one; the lovely maiden arrayed herself in the celestial garb of my friend. In a solemn moment they appeared united, with aspect more earnest than tender. With bloodstained feet the vision approached, the waving folds of her robe also were tinged with blood. It was my blood, and the blood of many brave hearts. No! It shall not be shed in vain! Forward! Brave people! The goddess of liberty leads you on! And as the sea breaks through and destroys the barriers that would oppose its fury, so do ye overwhelm the bulwark of tyranny, and with your impetuous flood sweep it away from the land which it usurps.”

EGMONT, A Tragedy In Five Acts, By Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Translated by Anna Swanwick

Beethoven translates that exhilaration in his Egmont Overture.

Posted August 1, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

30 July 2020   Leave a comment

John Lewis, the Congressperson from Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District who recently died, had a distinguished career and was a tireless and courageous advocate for protecting the civil rights of African-Americans. He wrote a final note just before he died, and I, like most other Americans, was deeply moved by his words:

“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

“That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

“Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

“Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

“Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

“You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.”

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

These words need no elaboration. But some may not know the story of Emmet Till which Lewis references–I was six years old at the time. The US Library of Congress relates the facts behind the murder of Till in 1955:

“The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 brought nationwide attention to the racial violence and injustice prevalent in Mississippi. While visiting his relatives in Mississippi, Till went to the Bryant store with his cousins, and may have whistled at Carolyn Bryant. Her husband, Roy Bryant, and brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, kidnapped and brutally murdered Till, dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River. The newspaper coverage and murder trial galvanized a generation of young African Americans to join the Civil Rights Movement out of fear that such an incident could happen to friends, family, or even themselves. Many interviewees in the Civil Rights History Project remember how this case deeply affected their lives.”

The murder of African-Americans at that time was not unusual. But Till’s mother made the decision to hold an open casket at his funeral, and the magazine, Jet, published the gruesome photos of a boy who was first tortured before he was murdered. The outrage was amplified by the acquittal of Bryant and Milam by an all-white jury. Many Americans were forced to realize the incredible injustices faced by African-Americans–the story broke through all the separations between whites and blacks enforced by segregation and Jim Crow laws. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis this year was a simple re-run of all the indignities suffered by African-Americans over the last 400 years. It is a story well known to them and perhaps more white Americans will have finally gotten the message.

Posted July 30, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

29 July 2020   Leave a comment

Johnathan Swan of Axios held an interview with US President Trump and, in it, he asked Mr. Trump if he had discussed the New York Times report on 26 June that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban for killing US soldiers in Afghanistan. Mr. Trump has had eight telephone conversations with Russian President Putin since the Times report was published but in the interview Mr. Trump confessed: “I have never discussed it with him.” Mr. Trump has defended his unwillingness to confront Mr. Putin by asserting that the intelligence report was not “definitive”.

The inability to be “definitive” is often the case with intelligence, particularly intelligence about the relationship between Russia and the Taliban. But Zach Dorfman makes these points about such intelligence:

“While there were indeed ‘rumblings’ of GRU (the Russian counterpart to the CIA) support for the Taliban toward the end of the Obama years, says a third former official, it was very different than ‘specific threat information.’

“Threat information, such as bounties, is considered so important that it is shared more widely even when not fully verified due to the potential harm to human life, say former officials.

“During the last few years of the Obama administration, no reporting on potential GRU bounties in Afghanistan appeared in the President’s Daily Brief, a written document provided every day to the president and select senior U.S. officials that summarizes key intelligence and analysis from U.S. spy agencies, recalls a former U.S. national security official. This points to a lack of such knowledge within the U.S. intelligence community at the time, says this person — especially because of the lowered bar for disseminating threat data.

“According to the Associated Press, by 2019, however, some U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had transitioned from merely providing support to the Taliban to actually paying them to kill U.S. soldiers.”

There was disagreement among the US intelligence agencies about how solid the evidence actually is. According to another story in the New York Times:

“Based on intelligence that included accounts from interrogated detainees and electronic intercepts of data showing payments from a bank account linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., to the Taliban, the C.I.A. concluded that Russia had escalated its support to the Taliban to include financial incentives for killing Americans and other coalition troops.

“The C.I.A. — as well as analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center — expressed medium or moderate confidence in that conclusion. The National Security Agency, which puts greater stock in surveillance intercepts, was more skeptical, officials have said.

“The White House initially denied that Mr. Trump had been briefed, but did not deny a subsequent Times report that the intelligence was included in his written daily briefing in late February. But Mr. Trump often chooses not to read his written briefing, and White House aides later stressed to lawmakers that a C.I.A. official who delivers his oral briefings did not bring it up.”

The episode is just another episode of Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to confront Mr. Putin. The most infamous example was when, in Helsinki, Mr. Trump said that he believed Mr. Putin’s denial of interference in the 2016 national election over the unanimous agreement of US intelligence agencies that Russia had in fact interfered: “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others and said they think it’s Russia…I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be…” The fact that Mr. Trump has not even questioned Mr. Putin about the bounties is extraordinary and is a clear dereliction of duty by the ostensible Commander in Chief.

Posted July 29, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

28 July 2020   Leave a comment

Katherine E. McKinney, Scott D. Sagan, and Allen S. Weiner have written an essay for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists entitled “Why the atomic bombing of Hiroshima would be illegal today”. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a highly contested event in international relations, but the title of the essay is misleading. In my opinion, the use of the atomic bomb in 1945 violated pre-existing laws of war, notably the prohibition against killing civilians. But the fact that the bombing was illegal is not really the issue. The discussions conducted by US officials at the time centered almost exclusively on the question of how to end the war against Japan, the terms of Japan’s surrender was almost exclusively a political question.

The laws of war had been extensively by all sides during World War II. The carpet bombings of Dresden and Hamburg, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, the Japanese treatment of US and allied prisoners of war, and the German V-2 bombing of London were all violations of the Geneva and Hague Conventions. And the war was conducted against the backdrop of extraordinary violations of human rights in the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanjing, and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.

There are essentially three political considerations that are relevant to the analysis presented in the article. First, was the US demand for unconditional surrender by the Japanese an impediment to an earlier conclusion of the war without either an invasion or the use of the atomic bomb? There is considerable evidence that the Japanese were seeking an end to the war that did not involve the abdication of the Emperor or his trial as a war criminal. Ultimately, the US did accept the continuation of Hirohito’s rule, but with massive restrictions on his role in political and military affairs. After dropping the bomb, there was little question about the ability of the US and its allies to demand these restrictions, but there is room to doubt that such a course of action would have been possible absent the shock of the bomb. It is perhaps more useful to discuss why the US and the allies decided to issue such a stark demand on an adversary. The demand for unconditional surrender was tied to the outrage against the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, anger at Japanese conduct with respect to allied prisoners of war, and the ingrained racism in the US against non-white populations. US officials should not have succumbed to these non-strategic matters.

The second consideration is the possibility of an allied invasion of Japan. In the absence of the atomic bomb, such an invasion would have involved both American and Soviet troops (Stalin had promised in Yalta to send troops six months after the end of the war in Europe). The evidence from the American amphibious assaults on the islands of Saipan, Iwo Jima, and other islands suggested to military analysts that the deaths involved in the homeland of Japan would have been comparable (Iwo Jima had witnessed 21,000 Japanese deaths and almost 7,000 American deaths–the size of Iwo Jima was only 8 square miles). The estimates of the likely losses in an invasion of the Japanese homeland were all over the place. The US had two strategic plans for the invasion, Operations Olympic and Coronet:

“The main concern for the Americans was the potential for huge casualty rates. Nearly every senior officer involved in the planning did his own research regarding American casualties – this was based on the experience America had fighting the Japanese since Pearl Harbour.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated that Olympic alone would cost 456,000 men, including 109,000 killed. Including Coronet, it was estimated that America would experience 1.2 million casualties, with 267,000 deaths.”

“Staff working for Chester Nimitz, calculated that the first 30 days of Olympic alone would cost 49,000 men. MacArthur’s staff concluded that America would suffer 125,000 casualties after 120 days, a figure that was later reduced to 105,000 casualties after his staff subtracted the men who when wounded could return to battle.

“General Marshall, in conference with President Truman, estimated 31,000 in 30 days after landing in Kyushu. Admiral Leahy estimated that the invasion would cost 268,000 casualties. Personnel at the Navy Department estimated that the total losses to America would be between 1.7 and 4 million with 400,000 to 800,000 deaths. The same department estimated that there would be up to 10 million Japanese casualties. The ‘Los Angeles Times’ estimated that America would suffer up to 1 million casualties.”

Again, the issue is whether the allied demand for unconditional surrender was reasonable. Faced with these losses, it may have been the case that the allies would have accepted some conditions rather than invade. Unfortunately, we will never know the answer to this counterfactual.

Third, and finally, the decision to use the atomic bomb was based on a number of considerations: the desire to limit further US casualties, the desire to end the war quickly, the perceived need to send a message to the Soviet Union and to avoid it from being a party to the Japanese surrender (which ultimately failed–the Soviets took control of North Korea and the Kurile Islands in the northern part of Japan, issues which continue to fester today. There was a concerted effort by some of the nuclear scientists, led by Leo Szilard, to not use the bomb because of the potential civilian losses.

Ultimately, the decision to drop the bomb was rushed and not really subject to careful study. The first test of the bomb (“Trinity“) occurred on 16 July 1945 and the bomb was dropped on 6 August 1945. The decision was made by a President who had only been in office since the death of Franklin Roosevelt on 12 April 1945 and who had little or no foreign policy experience and was unaware of the existence of the bomb until 25 April 1945. Truman later claimed that he did not lose a moment’s sleep after making the decision: “For his part, Truman never regretted his decision—nor did he ever gloat, even in the face of decades of second-guessing by those who disagreed with him. Truman made the decision, and, as he was fond of saying, ‘that’s all there was to it.’”

The real question is not whether dropping the bomb was legal. It is whether the future use of an atomic bomb could ever be justified. For me, the answer is an emphatic no. But I doubt that anyone in power would ever ask me for my advice.

Posted July 28, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

26 July 2020   Leave a comment

Reading newspapers from other countries is always a very useful exercise. The US media has a number of ideological blinders that make self-examination nearly impossible. Crispin Hull has written an opinion piece from the Canberra Times in Australia, one of the US’s closest allies. His analysis of the US is searing:

“Look at the US now. Its president is so psychiatrically disordered with narcissism that he is incapable of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis in a coherent, empathetic way. Everything he says and does is through a prism of himself. He has now turned his whole re-election campaign into one of race hate, law and order and a bizarre invention of a threat from ‘left-wing fascists’.

“But worse, the US seems to have a national self-delusion that once Trump loses and is gone, everything will return to normal. The delusion extends to a belief that the COVID-19-stricken economy will bounce back to normal in a V shape.

“Trump is as much just a symptom of the underlying rottenness as an integral part of it, even if his sucking up to authoritarian leaders in Russia, China and North Korea is unprecedented….

“Tragically, American exceptionalism – ‘we are the first and best democracy on Earth’ – contributes to the self-delusion of indestructibility. There is nothing automatically self-correcting in US democracy. Even the so-called checks and balances are not working – they are causing gridlock, rather than adding a bit of mild caution to a system that is overall supposed to be geared to problem-solving, not political point-scoring.

“The system has become so warped that those disenfranchised, disempowered and disenchanted are taking to the streets, questioning the legitimacy of the whole system.

“The only question is whether the taking to the streets can break these vicious circles, or whether it is just another step in the decline and fall of a great power.”

Hull is unquestionably correct that the damage to the political institutions of the US over the last three and a half years will last long after Trump leaves the scene. We should avoid thinking that a different President will be able to restore the Republic quickly and easily.

Posted July 26, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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