Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

18 February 2020   Leave a comment

The is a desperate humanitarian crisis in the Idlib Province of Syria. It is one of the few areas in Syria still held by opposition forces to the Assad regime in Syria. Since the withdrawal of US forces from Syria, the Syrian government, backed by Russian airpower, has pummeled the province with little attention to civilians and other protected agents such as hospitalsand schools. About 900,000 people, 500,000 of them children, have been displaced by the violence and the numbers of people living in tents with no heat in the bitter cold have overwhelmed the humanitarian relief organizations. From a strategic point of view, the opposition forces have little hope of resisting the Syrian attacks, but there is no place for the people to go. Turkey closed its border to refugees in 2015 and the Syrian/Russian attacks seemed designed to cut off any supplies to the civilian population from Turkey. The New York Times reports:

“Russian and Syrian forces, advancing rapidly from the south and east of Idlib, have reached the town of Al Atarib, barely 15 miles from the Turkish border.

“The attack seems to be a bid to cut supply lines from Turkey to areas held by the opposition forces or even an effort to encircle and besiege the city of Idlib itself, where some 700,000 people live, aid organizations said.

“The Turkish army has deployed hundreds of troops and armor in the north of the province to protect the approaches to the Turkish border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has demanded that Syrian government troops withdraw to previously agreed positions by the end of February or be forced to do so by Turkish forces.”

Turkey and Russia have been conducting talks to resolve some of these issues, but their efforts have failed. There was an attempt to create a “de-escalation” area in Idlib which was signed by Russia and Turkey in Sochi, Russia in 2018. But both sides support factions in the Syrian civil war which have no interest in reconciliation or in easing the violence against civilians. Over the last few weeks, the rhetoric coming out of Turkey has become increasingly strident, raising fears that Turkey may decide that its only choice would be to confront the Syrian forces. Those forces are backed by significant Russian air power which might lead to rapid escalation if the Turks choose to intervene militarily.

NATO has made it clear that it does not wish to become involved and President Trump lacks any clear policy in Syria other than the ad hoc defense of Syrian oil fields. The United Nations has tried to keep the catastrophe visible, perhaps hoping that other states would take action rather than be accused of doing nothing in the face of such a large humanitarian crisis.

Posted February 18, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

17 February 2020   Leave a comment

Paul Pillar has written an essay on the perils of the Trump Administration’s plan for a settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I have written before, the plan really does not offer a basis for a lasting settlement to the dispute–it rather poses new problems for both the Israelis and Palestinians. Pillar writes:

“But dreams can only support a position so far, especially when a dream runs up against the full ugliness of formal subjugation of one nation by another nation. Palestinian nationalism will not go away. It will not be bought off with enticements in glossy brochures about economic development. Support for it will not be abandoned by other Arabs—as demonstrated by the firm position on the subject that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has repeatedly expressed. Regardless of what is done in future years by whatever passes for the Palestinian leadership, terrorists and other extremists will continue to exploit for their own purposes an unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“Another element of Israeli strategy—also underlying the Kushner plan—is still intact, which is to use the inevitable Palestinian rejection of the plan as an opportunity to add to the mythology about the Palestinians, and not Israel, supposedly always being responsible for missing opportunities for peace.  Many who are not familiar with the long and tragic history of this conflict will continue to believe the mythology.  Those who are familiar with that history know that it is a myth.  (To cite just one chapter in that history, when the two sides, nineteen years ago, were last close to reaching a comprehensive peace agreement, it was the Israelis, not the Palestinians, who walked away from the negotiating table, never to return.)

“Whatever the remaining power of the mythology, by making the apparent death of the two-state solution more visible, the Kushner plan will encourage people, both inside and outside Palestine, to think and act less in terms of two states and more in terms of advocating for the rights of Palestinian Arabs within a binational state. That shift will make it harder than ever to avoid comparisons between the Israeli version of apartheid and the earlier South African one, and to the sorts of international pressures that helped to end the latter injustice.”

Israelis and many others find the comparison to Apartheid to be very offensive, but the Kushner plan, with its emphasis on a fragmented Palestinian entity whose existence only comes into play if and only if the Israelis decide that the Palestinians have “earned” a state, makes the comparison inevitable. Seraj Assi writes for The Foreign Policy Journal:

“The irony is that the idea of evoking the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians was not invented by Israel’s enemies, let alone Arabs and Palestinians, but by Israel itself. For decades, Israeli officials have employed the Hebrew term Hafrada (“Separation” or “Segregation”) to describe Israel’s governing policy in the West Bank and Gaza, and its attempts to separate the Palestinian population from both the Israeli population and the Jewish settlers population in the occupied Palestinian territories. The so-called Israeli West Bank Barrier, known in Hebrew as “Gader Ha-Hafrada” (“Separation Fence”), was built on this Hafrada vision.

“But the magic has apparently turned over the magician: By citing the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s official policy towards Palestinians, Israel’s critics are simply using Israel’s own terminology against it. They have at their disposal a long series of official declarations, platforms and plans predicated on Israel’s commitment to the principle of Hafrada.”

In 1976, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution entitled “International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the
Crime of Apartheid
” and one of the conditions of Apartheid is described in these terms:

“(c) Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;

“d) Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;”

The separations between Israelis and Palestinians is certainly not based upon racial distinctions and in this respect using the term apartheid is not justified. But the political, economic, social, and legal distinctions are clear in the Kushner program. By giving Israel the right to determine whether the Palestinians have “satisfied” the interests of Israel and thereby have earned the right to a state, the plan clearly places the Palestinians in a position of subjugation. Hafrada means “separation”; Apartheid means “apartness”. I am not sure how to differentiate the two concepts.

Posted February 17, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

16 February 2020   Leave a comment

In a breathtaking act of hypocrisy, the Trump Administration has decided to defund its contribution to a State Department program created to honor the memory of Ambassador Christopher Stevens who was killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. The current US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, made headlines at the time by his relentless attacks on the then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for what Pompeo described as putting “political expediency and politics ahead of the men and women on the ground”. The US House of Representative conducted three sets of hearings on the Benghazi tragedy and, at one point, subjected Secretary Clinton to an 11 hour grilling. Talk–grandstanding–is cheap.

Congressman Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

The Munich Security Conference is an annual event where analysts, governmental officials, and journalists get together and hold discussions about the state of security in various parts of the world. The topic this year was “Westlessness” and the question posed to the conference was whether the multilateral institutions created by liberal democracies after World War II are still relevant and useful. The report defines the “West” in these terms:

“Despite its widespread use as a shorthand for a community of mostly North American and European liberal democracies as well as a normative project, the ‘West’ is a concept that is not always easy to pin down. The ‘West’ has never been a monolithic concept but rather an amalgam of different traditions, the mix of which changed over time. Yet, for the past decades, the answer to the question what it was that kept the West together was straightforward: a commitment to liberal democracy and human rights, to a market-based economy, and to international cooperation in international institutions. Today, the meaning of the West is increasingly contested again. We are witnessing
‘the decay of ‘the West’ as a relatively cohesive geopolitical configuration anchoring a normative model of global order in which commitments to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are central.'”

The report does an excellent job of framing the debate, quoting statespeople like Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban, who have both argued that the liberal idea is no longer valid. On the other side, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, delivered a speech entitled “The West is Winning”. It is fair to say that the speech was not well-received by many in the audience, particularly by French President Macron who warned of a “weakening of the West.” Secretary Pompeo also displayed extraordinary chutzpah when he remarked:

“You know, just 15 days ago I was in Kyiv, Ukraine. I visited a hospital where Ukrainian service members who had been injured in the conflict, who had been wounded in the fight against Russian-backed aggression, were being convalesced. There was a young, brave warrior there – we had a conversation – who had sustained a serious injury and he was in significant pain. We spoke for a few moments. He, through the translator, told me that he was a captain. I reminded him that several decades ago I, too, was a captain.

“And as we were getting ready to leave, he got up. He grabbed his crutches. He moved across the room and he went to his wall locker, grabbed his uniform, pulled off his patch, and he handed me his unit logo. He told me to keep it; he wanted me to have it.

“That moment hit home for me. It reminded me that sovereignty is worth fighting for and that it’s real, that we’re all in this fight together.”

It is hard to believe that Pompeo would use the example of aid to Ukraine to prove the unshakable commitment of the US to freedom after the revelations about how the aid was used as a political weapon.

Posted February 16, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

15 February 2020   2 comments

I need a break. The news is getting to me.

Posted February 15, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

13 February 2020   Leave a comment

Marie Yovanovich, the former US Ambassador to Ukraine, received the Trainor Award from Georgetown University. The award is given annually to “an outstanding American or foreigner for distinction in the conduct of diplomacy.” Her speech, an excerpt from which is below, gave a frank and sober analysis of the difficulties facing the US State Department in the Trump Administration. The full speech is on You Tube and can be accessed here. She is a disciplined and thoughtful analyst and her words resonate strongly with those of us who wish that the US would pursue its interests in line with a vision of a more just and more peaceful world: “At a certain point, it is harder to do the wrong thing than the right thing”. President Trump’s proposed federal budget also weakens the State Department. The New York Times reports: “Funding for the State Department and international aid programs would be cut by $3.7 billion, or nearly 8 percent, from current spending levels. It would dramatically reduce or eliminate aid to international organizations, including the United Nations. The hollowing out of the State Department is mirrored by the dramatic changes to the National Security Council staff which has lost almost 70 people, many of whom have been replaced by political appointees. National Security Adviser, Robert O’Brien, has managed that change and MSN reports:

“O’Brien had dismissed or transferred about 70 people, or about one-third of those employed by or temporarily assigned to the NSC, according to senior administration officials.

“O’Brien told a Washington think tank Tuesday that his efforts to trim the staff would conclude this week, and aides said the final cuts would involve only a few more employees. O’Brien denied that his downsizing of the NSC was an effort to dismantle what Trump has called the ‘deep state.’

“O’Brien said his primary aim isn’t to remove career government employees and other professionals in favor of Trump loyalists. But he conceded that the realignment has increased the proportion of politically appointed staffers.”

In the absence of a strong diplomatic corps, the military options begin to take on a much larger role. That type of default policy option is dangerous and short-sighted.

Posted February 14, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

14 February 2020   Leave a comment

As required by law, the White House sent in a report, called a 1264 notification, to justify the use of force against Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani. There are two interesting aspects to the report. First, the report legitimizes the use of force on the inherent powers of the President as Commander in Chief as specified in Article II of the Constitution. The Commander in Chief rationale only works in the case of an “imminent” attack, and that word appears nowhere in the 1264 report. The Trump Administration is no longer using that justification.

Second, the report invokes the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that the Congress passed to justify the use of force against al Qaeda and its affiliates.The AUMF argument also lacks legal force since General Suleimani was not an agent of al Qaeda, and was in fact an avowed enemy of al Qaeda. Interestingly, the State Department had argued in 2019 that the decision to kill Suleimani was not based upon the AUMF: “State Department officials repeatedly assured lawmakers last year that ‘the administration has not, to date, interpreted either the 2001 or 2002 AUMF as authorizing military force against Iran, except as may be necessary to defend US or partner forces as they pursue missions authorized under either AUMF.'”

Neither of these justifications has any validity in the strike against Suleimani which leaves us in a very difficult situation. The Congress has passed a War Powers Resolution that requires the President to seek the approval of Congress for any further strikes against Iran. National Puclic Radio reports: “The vote was 55-45 — with eight Republicans joining all Democrats to pass the measure. The tally fell far short of the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto.” President Trump will likely veto the resolution so it will not have the force of law. But the vote does send a strong signal that any military action against Iran will be scrutinized carefully. It is also a significant act, as described by The Washington Post:

“This is only the third time ever that the full Senate has used its authority under the 1973 War Powers Resolution to block a president from using military force abroad. All three efforts were against Trump — with a Republican-led Senate.

“The first such vote came in late 2018 when the GOP-led Senate ordered an end to U.S. military operations abroad in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The second took place last year, when both the Democratic House and Republican Senate agreed to a measure — vetoed by the president — to curtail U.S. military involvement in Yemen.”

It seems as if Congress is finally getting the message about defending Congress’s rights on the issue of war and peace. Perhaps, if the Senate changes its composition in the 2020 election, we can expect a more enduring statement on those rights.

Posted February 14, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

11 February 2020   1 comment

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs has published its annual report entitled “World Social Report 2020: Inequality in a rapidly changing world”. The report analyzes the effects of inequality on four major trends in global affairs: technological innovation, climate change, urbanization and international migration. The report notes that inequality in most countries in the world appears to be getting more severe:

“Despite progress in some countries, income and wealth are increasingly concentrated at the top. The share of income going to the richest 1 per cent of the population increased in 59 out of 100 countries with data from 1990 to 2015.1 Meanwhile, the poorest 40 per cent earned less than 25 per cent of income in all 92 countries with data.”

The report also notes that all current trends that inequality will only become more serious in the future: “Under a scenario where inequality trends within countries observed since 1980 continue, the income share of the top 1 per cent would rise from 20 per cent in 2016 to 24 per cent in 2050, while the share of the bottom 50 per cent would remain unchanged (ibid., p. 252). That is, global inequality would increase further”. The report points out that inequality is a serious moral concern: “High inequality is an ethical and moral concern across cultures around the world. Promoting equality is a common ideal, a principle that should be upheld and actively pursued.” But the report also stresses that reducing inequality is in the self-interest of most societies. Inequality 1) reduces economic growth possibilities; 2) limits social mobility; and 3) decreases the legitimacy of political institutions.

The report is filled with data and examples from specific countries. It is a rich source of information for those who are concerned about the future of the global economy. It is also clear-eyed about the political difficulties in trying to reverse the trend toward greater inequality: “People in positions of power tend to capture political processes, particularly in contexts of high and growing inequality….Efforts to reduce inequality will inevitably challenge the interests of certain individuals and groups. At their core, they affect the balance of power.”

Inequality in the US

Posted February 11, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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